What Relationship Dynamic Are You Into?

When it comes to role playing in relationships, do you prefer to be the student to someone's young professor act or do you find yourself playing the parent to the child?

Man and woman sitting
(Image credit: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures)

Not long ago, I went on a date with a dude who, when I mentioned that I was reading The Birth of Tragedy, gave me a pleasant little lecture on Nietzsche. I listened attentively and asked questions that he said were sharp. Shortly before that, I'd been on a date with a young professor of European history who, when I made a comment about Van Gogh, gave me a pleasant little lecture on the period immediately before Cubism. I listened attentively and asked questions that he said were sharp. And shortly before that, on another date, there was another lecture (this time about Aristotle and ethics) ... and ... come to think of it, it happens quite frequently that I listen attentively to a lecture, given to me by a man whom I'm dating.

It's the dynamic I feel most comfortable with: The man plays the role of teacher and I play the role of eager student. In fact, I'm disappointed if I ever find myself out with a guy who doesn't seem to be my intellectual superior. I wonder, sometimes, about this predilection of mine. Sure, it indicates that I love learning — and I do. But I wonder if it isn't also spurred by my insecurity; since I don't think I'm sufficiently smart, I want to be "protected" by a man who is more intelligent than not only myself but most people. I also think my preference for teacher types — both actual professors and men who simply enjoy lecturing me in an informal way — is something of a reaction to my childhood: My father never finished high school, and though he's a very impressive thinker, I think I was aware of the fact that he often couldn't tell me the "full story," which made me nervous. I was also aware of the tension between his raw intelligence and his inability to refine and develop it, and it made me sad he didn't have better opportunities in life.

Or: Knowledge is power, and I want to be with a man who has power.

I wonder if my desire to be in a relationship with someone whom I believe is smarter than I am also has to do with anxiety that I'd be more likely to fight with someone if I suspected we were intellectual equals (the way I used to constantly fight with my father over issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and religion). Whereas if I were with someone whom I accepted as my intellectual superior, I wouldn't feel the need to challenge him so much — and we wouldn't fight as much.

Wow. Freudian ramble there. Am I being anti-feminist?

The real point of this post was to ask you: What dynamic are you most comfortable with, relationship-wise?

Thinking of my friends' relationships and penchants, I can rattle off a few other common dyads, aside from my Eager Student and the Young Professor preference:

The Patron and the Artist

In which one person is the responsible type who makes a living while the other person is involved with some creative pursuit. (Historical example: renowned short story writer Raymond Carver and his first wife.)

The Genius and the Assistant

One partner sacrifices constantly for the other, whom he or she thinks of as more talented, brilliant, or promising. (Historical example: Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sophia.)

The Caregiver and the Invalid

Often the illness isn't an actual condition or sickness so much as it's a state of mind, general feebleness, or easily wounded temperament. (Historical example: T.S. Eliot and his wife, Vivian, maybe? Or F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda?)

The Gentle Parent and the Repentant Child

You know: One of the partners is always screwing up or getting into some kind of trouble, and the other is always picking up the pieces. (Historical example: all the political wives who stand by their men when they have publicly exposed affairs.)

What other categories are there? And which one do you think you fall into?

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