Rachael Berkey
July 03, 2012 6:00 am

Intelligence is sexy.

This is definitely not why I read as much as I do, but it has definitely come in handy. Much like the old adage “You get more bees with honey than with vinegar,” you’re going to get much further with someone like me if you can challenge my mind.

I bring this up because it’s been on my mind the last few weeks as I’ve seen some very confident and intelligent women engage in flirtatious verbal swordplay with equally intelligent men, and as I’ve been reminded of the stereotype of “bookish” girls that is quiet, calm, and oh yes, mousy. I’d like to think that the image of an older spinster in an armchair, surrounded by cats, with a lace shawl and a book in her lap is fading now that we’re into the 21st century. Please tell me it’s changing.

The bookish girls I know are loud, opinionated and, quite literally, whip smart. The wordplay and exchange of titles and ideas that fly around the tables I socialize over and in online communities I frequent are enough to make me occasionally sit back and just watch, tired from trying to keep up. I sometimes find my head snapping back and forth between two passionate debaters whether they’re arguing about a novel written by someone long dead or the latest remake of a superhero franchise.

Since I began identifying myself, loudly and proudly, as a “nerd” both online and off, I’ve gotten mixed reactions. There are the men who physically do a double-take when I identify the class of a star destroyer on their computer wallpaper. There are the girls whose eyes glaze over the minute I start babbling about a comic book. And then there are the men and women who chuckle – not with disbelief or condescension but with some bizarre hybrid of the two – and don’t believe me until I am dancing a metaphoric circle around them with book titles, film quotes and music recommendations, simply because I don’t “look” like the stereotypical socially-stunted nerd with basement pallor. Sure, I say that I’m socially inept to my friends – mostly because I wouldn’t recognize someone flirting with me if they hit me with a 2×4 – but that doesn’t mean I can’t fake social skills.

But I don’t read, watch movies, or obsess over my writing because I want other people to think of me as smart and nerdy. I do it because I love to learn. As I’ve looked for full-time work over the last eighteen months in cities across the country, I have answered that standard interview question, “What are you looking for in a workplace?” with the same answer: My idea workplace is somewhere that will always encourage me to learn, grow and improve. I look for the same thing in friends and potential dating prospects. If you can’t hold an intelligent conversation, and can’t make me think, I’m probably not interested.

But when I find someone who challenges my intellect? I am all atwitter. Seriously. Just ask my friends. It’s kind of hilarious, or so I’m told.

Maybe this all circles back to not judging a book by its cover. Maybe it’s yet another reminder to listen more than you speak. All I know is that debating the finer points of my favorite things like coffee, The West Wing or Laura Marling is a hell of a lot more fun, and memorable, than getting the elevator eyes from across the room and a lame pick up line over a margarita. Not only that, but much like the books I reread over and over again, making me think will keep me coming back for more.

I guess I can only hope that I provide as much of an inspiration and challenge to the guys who engage me. Appeal works both ways, and I’d rather be sexy in the brain than the body.

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