Why We Love Smart Guys

updated 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

I have nothing against dumb guys. I've dated them in the past and no doubt will in the future.

Yet, inevitably, there comes The Cringing. In my early 20s I had a boyfriend, a dark and handsome bookie, whose conversation ran to "I like the Redskins, but I love the Cowboys" and who recited poetry at the most intimate moments. Alas, he only knew one love sonnet—"Casey at the Bat." And so he struck out.

I took another sexy-but-not-so-brainy beau out to dinner one night with several of my super-smart girlfriends from The New York Times. Before dinner, I called each friend to beg her to avoid weighty topics that might leave this guy feeling threatened. They tried for a while, but then inevitably fell into conversation about the day's news—more trouble in the Middle East.

"Why," my date assayed, "can't they all get along?"

My girlfriends swung around to look at mc, six eyes full of astonishment and pity.

Beefcakes have a short shelf life. Once a cute guy has made you cringe, he doesn't seem so cute anymore. And once a smart guy has made you laugh—with him—he seems a lot cuter. It takes a braincake to dream up dialogue to make your love story witty and sophisticated.

My friend Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once called to say, "I'll meet you for cocktails at 6—unless Intelligent Design intervenes."

Leon agrees with D.H. Lawrence that sex is significantly in the head. He insists that smart men are better in bed because they're more imaginative and more studious, poring over a woman as though they're getting a master's degree in her. The downside, of course, is that sometimes they're given to murmuring sweet nothings about tomes like Jared Diamond's Collapse, about how civilization is destroying itself with overconsumption leading to indolence leading to death. But at least if they spend more time decoding a woman, they'll know how to give her cooler, more customized presents. As Leon says, "There's nothing like getting a La Perla garter belt with a sly allusion to Heidegger on the card."

And their e-mails! "In my wallet between the pages of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I carry detailed instructions on how to get to Kuhio Beach, Hawaii ... and the EXACT spot where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embraced while the waves washed over them in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY," wrote one smart swain. "There is but one person on earth with whom I would like to reenact that wonderful scene."

Guys whose IQ exceeds their body temperature are more versatile. They can take care of all your wireless computer needs, set up online banking for you and explain the Ring Cycle rather than just Lord of the Rings.

Biology, they say, is destiny. Women are drawn to better genes. That once meant stronger hunters. Today, it's the smarter hunters who can keep the wildebeest on the table. My friend Julie Bosman, a lovely 26-year-old Times reporter, was a goner after a guy she had just started seeing picked up her paperback of Anna Karenina and said, "Oh, this is a bad translation. I'll get you the good one."

Which, of course, leads us to the feminist hustle. Another Times friend, James Bennet, who is clever enough to insist he isn't clever, told me wryly, "A smart man knows how to work it. He can figure out what the woman wants to hear, even if it is just him sounding smart." He can also be smart enough to simulate an interest in her soliloquy about which eyelash curler works best while he's really thinking about which wide receiver the quarterback should use.

Lately, I find myself drawn to smart, tart and brooding curmudgeons. There may be no joy in Mudville, but at least they never serenade you with "Casey at the Bat."

ANDERSON COOPER
How smart is he? Called "CNN's Man of the Hour," he's changing the direction of TV news.

Cooper's emotional coverage of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina raised his profile at CNN, which moved his show, Anderson Cooper 360°, into a coveted prime-time spot. "I am haunted by people I have met, stories I have told, places I have been," he says. "I am changed by all the stories I do."

Other occupational hazards:

Hair: "Generally whenever I go to cover a hurricane, I get a haircut because it's easier."

Wardrobe: "I have many editions of the same blue shirt, but I was wearing the same shirt every day in New Orleans, Thankfully they have not invented smellavision."

Makeup: "Eye cream seems so expensive. I can't believe it really works. Then I feel like if I start using it, and if I stop, my eyes will stretch out."

Looking at himself on a monitor: "I am pale and skinny with gray hair. I don't get the appeal."

BONO
How smart is he? He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

This policy wonk in rock star's clothing can talk nitty-gritty economics with presidents and prime ministers and still own the microphone after nearly 30 years onstage. Alternating between Oval Office powwows and sold-out arena gigs, the U2 frontman has the kind of electricity that can make even European Union trade proposals sound sexy. A shake-the-rafters music god with change-the-world ambitions? Rock on.

MICHAEL MANGA
How smart is he? He just won a MacArthur "genius" award to research volcanoes.

The University of California, Berkeley. Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Science says:

•"Looking at nature, often you see something different from what you expected."

•"Watching fresh lava flow is spectacular. Along with the heat and the visual part, there is the sound—all of your senses notice it."

•"The Western United States has earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, the ocean. All the things I study, I get to see right here."

PATRICK FITZGERALD
How smart is he? He's been called "Eliot Ness with a Harvard degree."

SUBPOENA
To: Very Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald

You are commanded to testify to your incorruptible appeal and unfathomable lifestyle. You must bring with you the evidence indicated below:

•The ties and underwear you keep at the office that allow you to maintain your workaholic schedule.

•The pizza boxes and Chinese food cartons that expose your dishonorable eating habits.

•Your voice of reason.

Compliance with this subpoena will be deemed satisfactory when somebody cooks you a meal—and bottles your political intelligence.

CARYL PHILLIPS
How smart is he? The New York Times considers him "one of the best and most productive writers of his generation."

He writes: Fiction, nonfiction, plays—his most recent novel is this year's Dancing in the Dark.

He teaches: At Yale, where he's a professor of contemporary fiction and creative writing.

And...he's totally charming, even when he's deconstructing: "Years ago, a girl in Poland said to me, 'You have eyes like coal mines.' I couldn't uncouple the insult from the compliment."

"I don't think of writing as a sexy profession.... It gets taken for granted that you could look like one of the 101 Dalmatians if you're a rock star and you're still sexy. I never think that about writers."

He knows how to impress a woman: "I flew 6,000 miles once to have dinner with somebody. And she didn't know I was coming. It was received, as I hoped it would be, as an impetuous, romantic gesture, which suggested the possibility of commitment. It could also be perceived as a crazy gesture."

Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and best-selling author. Her latest book, Are Men Necessary?, was published this month by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

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