Apollo, Gauss, Buffett, and You

This post left me musing about the things people look for in a mate.

I should start by saying that I don’t know the statistical basis for the 0.2 number. It seems rather small to me—so far to the right on the bell curve that it would be indistinguishable from its mirror on the left. But I’ll use it here as a synonym for “extraordinary people” so I’m in sync with PNN’s meaning.

What he seems to be saying, if I read the post right, is that extraordinary people need extraordinary spouses. This is why they have a harder time getting married.

My first impulse is to snark, “How do you know which 0.2 you’re a part of?” After all, it’s safe to assume that the extraordinarily pathetic also have a rough time hitching up. It’s comforting to tell yourself that you’re not married because you’re special, but “special” can be used to describe Charlie Gordon at both ends of the Algernon experiment.

But what about people who really are extraordinary? They can’t marry just anyone, can they?

Well, no. I mean, think about, say, Richard Feynman. Fun to read about, but a potential pain in the neck to be married to. At the same time, though, you can’t have two R. Feynmans in a family—it wouldn’t function. Nor would a Feynman married to an Einstein or a Spielberg or a Lance Armstrong. Or, to make it gender appropriate, to a Clara Barton, Sarah Schneirer, Annie Oakley, Sandra Day O’Connor, or Sarah Palin.

It’s no accident that highly successful people are usually married to less-successful  people. You can’t have two stars – they wind up in competition with each other, if only over who comes first. Usually, one person will wind up taking the supportive role. This is most obvious in cases like Annie Oakley, whose husband gave up his career to launch hers, or the Roosevelts or the Gilbreths, where the couple worked as a team, with one spouse contributing to the work of the other.

In fact, if you look at the best teams and partnerships, you’ll often find that it’s not an all-star lineup. Think Warren Buffet and his partner Charlie Munger (what? Haven’t you heard of Munger?), or the 1980s US Olympic hockey team.

The idea that great people need to be surrounded by ordinary but supportive people is not a new one. The Belbin team role theory grew out of a management training exercise where teams were formed and a game was played. Belbin, who ran the games, couldn’t resist throwing all the most brilliant managers into a single team, called the Apollo team, to see what happened.

What happened was that the Apollo team lost. Always. Placing third was the best an Apollo team ever did, but ninth was more typical.

Brilliant people, Belbin found, are drawn to and respect other brilliant people. They enjoy discussing ideas with people who understand them and can match wits in debate. They also spend most of their time pointing out flaws in other people’s ideas while refusing to recognize the holes in their. Instead of working as a team, Apollo worked as a group of individuals. And they failed.

In short: people who are 0.2 for brains have disastrous instincts when it comes to picking their partners. But it’s probably safe to say that being a 0.2 for anything and looking for another 0.2 is a poor strategy in general.

So what does a 0.2 need?

I would posit that truly extraordinary people need ordinary spouses with one extraordinary trait: patience. And if you check out the spouses of some historical luminaries, you will find that forbearance and respect for their spouses were their most shining characteristics.

In other words, if you’re a 0.2 then what you need most is someone who will put up with you.

Regardless of where you fall on the gaussian curve (because who really knows where they land?) I think it’s always worth pausing and reevaluating, especially when you’re about to dump someone. Are you looking for what you like, or for what you need?

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Objectification of Me

I’ve written a large amount about the business of requesting photos of one’s potential date.

(Say Shidduch! and A Glance at Looks and Visual Incentive and Visually Unreasonable.)

And why not? It comes up on a regular basis. Like just last week. My mother’s sister’s friend has a neighbor who knows a guy who really seems my type, but he wants a photo.

“Then we want one too,” my mother gave the rote response.

“Well, I don’t have any of him, and I’ve never seen him, but I heard he was written up in the Washington Post; I’m sure you could get that photo.”

Odd how she doesn’t hesitate to ask for my photo (which is readily googlable) but tries sending us to a long-lost newspaper when we return the request.

It occurred to me that even if we swapped photos and he sounded interesting and everything was in order – I still didn’t want to go out with him.

And no, it’s not because I think he’s a shallow jerk, though I admit that his character will be forever tarnished by his request. It’s because a casual, fun date has just been turned into a beauty pageant.

It’s like this:

We all know that looks count on a date, which is why we put in our best efforts to look less scruffy for the occasion. But once we’re done primping, shaving, mascara-ing, and tweezing our nose hairs (not all the same person), we get on the with evening. (At least I do.) We no longer worry if our eyebrows are in line. We just get to know the other person.

But when a guy asks for a photo he’s saying that not just anyone will do. There’s a baseline beauty requirement you must meet to avoid wasting his precious time. So you send the most stunning photo of you ever taken and lo! he looks and sees that it is good.

So you go out.

And then what? You’re super-worried. Because you know that in real life, away from a professional makeup artist and the flattering lights of a professional photographer, you’re just not drop-dead gorgeous. And you know he’s looking at you and going “Where’s the girl from the photo?” So you’re super-self-conscious, and this makes you dumber. By the end of the evening not only have you failed to be eye candy, but you’re also a ditz. Unless he’s looking for a bimbo, you’ll probably never see him again.

And then, to be fair: I’d probably be looking at him the same way. “This is the dude who thinks he can request a photo beforehand? Phew – it’s amazing there’s enough room in this car for me and his ego and his hairy ears!”

The whole business is one gigantic turnoff. Guys, don’t do it.

Question of the Weekend

Flint and Sam go out

Meteorologist Sam Sparks and Inventor Flint Lockwood on a date (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sony Pictures Animation.)

“People don’t set up accountants with accountants. They don’t set up teachers with teachers or PTs with PTs. So why do they think they have to set up engineers with engineers?”

~ MF #1