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The Ex-Friend Zone and Too Smart For Her Own Good 

The Science Advice Goddess Weighs In

Loathe Story

My boyfriend who dumped me says he wants to be friends (talk to me, see me sometimes), but I'm not ready for that because I'm still in love with him. A female co-worker said that if he can be friends, he was never in love with me to begin with — that if he'd really loved me, he'd hate me now. Is this true?

—Feeling Worse

According to your office Socrates, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" should be answered with "I slashed your tires. I sprinkled a strong laxative in your latte. And I'm looking forward to chasing you down the street while waving highly realistic replicas of scary medieval weapons..."

Romantic love actually comes in two flavors — "passionate" and "companionate" — explains social psychologist Elaine Hatfield. Passionate love is the initial "wildly emotional," lusty kind that wanes over time. Companionate love, on the other hand, involves "friendly affection and deep attachment" — deep appreciation for who somebody is and what they do and believe in — and tends to have more staying power.

The difference between the two is best illustrated in relation to what we'll call "car trouble." Passionate love is what leads to the physics problem of how to have sex in a Porsche in your driveway (because going inside and doing it in the foyer instead would take too long). Companionate love likewise gets two people working out a physics problem in a car; however, it's trying to collectively muster the NASA-level intelligence required to install an infant car seat.

Companionate love does sometimes lead to "I hate you! I hate you"-style loathing, but typically just when there's been a betrayal. But sometimes what people call love is really an unhealthy dependency with sparkly hearts painted on it — one person using the other as a sort of human grout, to fill the empty spaces in themselves so they can take a shortcut to feeling whole. In this situation, "I'm nothing without you!" really does feel like the case, and who doesn't hate a person who makes them feel like nothing?

However, real love doesn't suddenly curdle into hate. If the respect and the "wow, you're an amazeballs person" and all the rest was there, that remains as a base — even when the relationship tanks. Even so, this doesn't necessarily mean you should convert your ex into your BFF. What you should do with respect to your ex — now and in the future — is whatever works for you, when it works for you. This may mean never seeing or speaking to your ex again — despite any "love becomes hate!" urging from your co-worker that you owe him a scolding phone call: "If you'd ever really loved me, you'd want the best for me now — the best undetectable poison money can buy!"

Pi In The Face

Not to brag, but I'm a very intelligent woman with probably too many degrees. I'm always thrilled when a guy says he's seeking "a smart woman." However, a guy who initially said that just stopped dating me because he finds my intelligence "emasculating." Do all men feel this way? Am I supposed to dumb it down to find a partner?


Men don't mind being corrected by a woman if it's "Oooh, yes...a little more to the right" — not "I think you meant 'whom,' but hey, no judgments."

The reality is, intellectually average women tend to have an easier time finding a partner. In research by social psychologist Lora E. Park, men imagining their hypothetical ideal partner expressed interest in a woman of high intelligence — even higher than their own. However, when they were in the same room with a woman and they were were told she scored far better on a math test (getting 90 percent correct versus their 60 percent), the men were less interested in exchanging contact info or planning a date with her.

Park and her colleagues speculate — per research by evolutionary psychologists reflecting women's preference for male partners who are higher-achieving than they are — that being intellectually "outperformed" by women leads men to experience "diminished feelings of masculinity." (Understandable — as nothing quite ignites romance like needing to coax your date out from under the couch: "Why are you hiding? I promised not to hurt you with my mind!")

The answer for you, as a very smart woman, isn't dumbing down; it's being selective about the men you date (while recognizing that there are brainiacs working as, say, cabinetmakers). Assuming you aren't chasing guys away by lording over them — "Well, hello...intellectual earthworm!" — it's probably best to narrow your search parameters to the highly intelligent: men who won't feel like their IQ test results, in comparison with yours, would read something like "Water every other day, and place in indirect sunlight."

(c)2017, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail (

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