Monday, 6 June 2011

Philosophers in Love: Sharing Your Relationship with Ideas

[Note: Because my philosopher and I are celebrating our third year of marriage this week, I thought it would be fun to talk about philosophers in romantic relationships. I’ve brainstormed and/or collected ideas from readers for a short series of posts this week, dealing with some issues involved with being in a relationship with a philosopher.]

You know that consuming feeling you have when you begin a new relationship—it’s like everything you think or do is about your new fling. You want to be with them all the time. Etc. This is how philosophers feel about ideas. If I’ve not said this outright, I’ve hinted at it before: Philosophers are consumed by ideas.

I can remember one particularly special occasion in the earlier years with my philosopher, an especially intimate one (out on a nice date during the holidays). I was thinking about our future together and all that sweet stuff and he looked especially ponderous, so I asked him what he was thinking about. “I was thinking about how to better teach deductive logic to my next intro class. My previous method just didn’t seem to work . . . [etc].”

Next thing I knew I was reluctantly involved in a two-hour discussion about teaching methods—teaching methods for logic, no less.

Earlier in our relationship when things like this happened, I assumed that I was not interesting enough or that he must not like me all that much. This was false, obviously, and as I came to realize this I developed a mantra that I repeat to myself whenever something like this happens: My philosopher is not only in a relationship with me; my philosopher is also in a relationship with ideas.

Think for a minute about how much time your philosopher spends thinking about ideas, reading about ideas, or talking about ideas with other people? Your philosopher is also likely not just in love with philosophical ideas, but with many other intellectual ideas.

I know some spouses/partners who are so frustrated with sharing a relationship with ideas that they try to require their philosopher to just be a normal person and not think about ideas when they are around. Demanding that your philosopher give up thinking about ideas when you’re around is like asking a cat to give up meat or asking the earth’s core to stop being hot—hello, it’s what they are.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a little time to just talk about something that you want to talk about, too, but demanding this all the time is completely unreasonable. Your philosopher probably doesn’t ask you to always pretend to be a philosopher when they are around (and if they do—shame on them!—now is the time to stand up for yourself and remind them that you are an individual, not a philosophy-book).

So here are some fun methods that you can use to continue to develop a meaningful relationship with your philosopher and her/his ideas, because, frankly, those ideas are just never going to leave:

1. Read a book together.

It doesn’t have to be a particularly deep or philosophical book. Part of developing a relationship with someone is having shared experiences with them. In order to know your philosopher’s ideas and your philosopher, reading a book and discussing it can bring both of them out.

2. Attend a play.

Your philosopher may complain about all of the time it will take, the lack of talent in the theater these days, or the fact that they usually don’t like plays, but ignore all of that. Experiencing a play (particularly more serious ones or tragedies) can be a wealth of conversation topics. You, your philosopher, and her/his ideas might end up having a grand time afterward when you discuss this play over ice cream [going out for dessert or coffee afterward is necessary].

3. Volunteer at a local charity.

Helping those less fortunate can open up a whole slew of interesting discussions about certain ideas, particularly social/political ones. Not only will you be able to share an experience and discuss some interesting ideas, but you’re also helping out other people a bit, which is something that we all like to approve of but rarely do.

4. Invite another couple over and play Trivial Pursuit.

Make sure you find yourself on a team with your philosopher, because you two are going to totally dominate the game. Philosophers are excellent at whipping out of the knowledge they’ve accrued for tight situations (survival techniques: when they present papers or teach classes, they have to be able to defend positions immediately). Your philosopher’s ideas-knowledge can be supremely useful for games like this. My philosopher and I are a particularly dynamic team, so watch out [Note: When my philosopher and I played Trivial Pursuit against each other, I did win, but probably because I made more intuitive choices rather than his method of approaching the questions as if the game makers were trying to pull a GRE question on him—i.e. trying to fool him]. This can be a particularly exciting game with another philosopher + non-philosopher couple like you.

So go out there and get to know the other lover in your philosopher’s life. You will have a much more rewarding relationship if you learn how to use it and enjoy it, not to constantly fight it. 

Please feel free to add your own suggestions or stories in the comments. I love hearing your philosopher-stories.

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email, if you would like. 

~The Philosiologist


  1. "My philosopher is not only in a relationship with me; my philosopher is also in a relationship with ideas." reminds me of the point in Dykes To Watch Out For where Sydney realizes that her girlfriend Mo is only her secondary -- her work is her primary.

  2. Like being in a relationship with two people at once. I wonder if dating a religious person is the same...

  3. Also when your philosopher asks you advise about teaching and research it is their way of showing that they do love and respect you. They have plenty of people to talk to at school/work and the fact that they want your view is meaningful.
    Another thing to do w/ your philosopher and his/her ideas is to watch TV shows together, especially politically/socially intense ones like "The Wire" or "Battlestar Galatica"

  4. Spot on: "Philosophers are consumed by ideas." I've bookmarked this as you nailed why it's futile for people to tell philosophers to stop thinking so hard.

    Some of my friends growing up used to tell me to stop thinking all the time. Nonsense, my head hurts when I'm not spinning ideas around. Yet I have curbed the urge to crack open wikipedia/google search at two in the morning to research a new idea that pops into my head... well at least not everyday.

    "Demanding that your philosopher give up thinking about ideas when you’re around is like asking a cat to give up meat or asking the earth’s core to stop being hot—hello, it’s what they are." <- Yes!!


  5. or watch a movie and let them tell you about all the philosophical issues afterward (as mentioned in a previous post). I would LOVE to be able to do that with my boyfriend without feeling like I was being annoying!

  6. My philosopher does not like crowds or games, BUT the ice cream part YES! And I agree that you are spot on with your comment about philosophers giving up thinking - it IS what they are! I enjoy your blog!

  7. Another thing I've noticed, is I could really tell when my philosopher started showing his respect for my ideas when he let me edit his papers, instead of saying, "You wouldn't want to read it, it would be boring to you." I've also discovered that since I listen to him talk about his current research areas a lot, the papers were a lot easier to understand than I thought they would be. :D

  8. 1. There are philosophers who don't at least claim to like theater of some stripe? Even the most dull or conservative ones I know will go see Greek stuff because it's Greek, or Shakespeare because he's part of The Cannon. If I could ever step away from studying another language/endless work, I'm pretty sure I'd be in the audience of the local avant-garde troupe more often.

    2. Sometimes, philosopher complaining isn't really a complaint about (activity X), but more one about you making us leave our cozy chair where we weren't really getting anything done anyway, but we'd like to think we would if we sat there long enough. Once the crowbar has been applied and our butts are out the door, we're secretly thankful, even if we'd burst into flames if we ever had to admit it.

    3. I know I'm not the only philosopher who has a soft spot for art. While art museums of any/all stripes are good (it gives us a chance to comment about Themes and Ideas, but you a chance to point things out we missed—again, though we'd never admit it, we thank you), even better are art classes. However, you have to remember: philosophers are weird. You can't sell it as just drawing or painting; we think we know how that's done—you just put pencil to paper or brush to canvass, right? Appeal to our love of the weird, obscure, novel, and surprising. If it's horridly complicated, like printmaking, it gets points. If, like pottery, it seems to lay in a "grey area" between craft and abstract art, letting us go off on mental tangents . . . also points. If it involves fire (pottery, metal sculpture, glassblowing), well, um, You Have No Idea how many points this gives you.
    Also, if we can show up to department events/meetings with our students with things we made, we will be the smugest little philosophers you have ever seen. Trust me—getting to be Smug makes us very, very happy.
    A side benefit, of course, is that actually practicing some form of art can be so utterly different than the abstract, non-practical contemplation we like to think we're good at that we're forced to think/feel/Zen in totally different ways than we usually do. This sometimes leads to us (or me at least) not thinking! It's a blissful experience if you do it right; if you ever want to see the "off" position to the philosopher switch, an art studio might be the best place to do it.

  9. Insightful words! It truly is impossible to sever the love affair with ideas. Could you write a post for the philosophers? How to be at peace in a relationship with someone who is not in love with ideas. Historically, how have philosophers dealt with their non-philosopher partners and why don't philosophers just stick with each other?

  10. How about Settlers of Catan instead? In my nonscientific survey, philosophers love Settlers.

  11. We philosophers are definitely in love with ideas, and have a passion for them, but I hope that most philosophers have not forgotten their poetic side either. Philosophers such as Plato, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein found ways to integrate their poetic and rationalist sides. What this means is that we can not only think about ideas, but also experience them and ground them in the world. Consider romance then. There is the idea of romance and beliefs about what romance should be and look like. But then there is the actual experience of romance itself, the poetic beauty of it, the practice of it. I see no reason why this should not be part and parcel to any philosopher's life.

    For myself, my love of ideas does not supplant or replace my love for my lady. She is as much part of what it means for me to be a philosopher as the ideas I study. Seeking this balance in a philosophical life (Aristotle anyone?) is sure to bring harmony. Of course, significant others, you need this balance too. Being with a philosopher means, on the one hand, being yourself, not becoming a philosopher just because you're with one, but on the other hand, it means seeking to understand what motivates your philosopher. As our blogger wrote in an earlier post, we all have our core fixations. Discovering what those are and why we care about them is key to building intimacy with us. But also make sure we explore what it is that motivates you, and discover your heart.

    Personally, I'm a big fan of Katie's first two suggestions. Reading a book together, especially a classic, is a great meeting place, and plays/movies/music/culture in general is too. But ultimately, you have to find what works for you as a couple.

  12. Ideas don't grow old, but you can't cuddle them.
    Ideas are inspirational, but they won't tell you that your clothes are untidy.
    Ideas can bring friends together, but they never have a sweet hello that's just for you.
    Your lover can have ideas, but ideas don't have a true love.

  13. Thanks for this post. The further I've gone in philosophy, the more difficult it has been for me to maintain my relationship with my non-philosopher. In part, though, I think it has been difficult for me to realize that my partner *isn't* in love with and consumed by his profession. Its hard for me to remember that not everyone is in love with ideas.

    Also, a good game for philosopher/non philosopher teams? Scrabble.

  14. The naval-gazing going on here is enough to make one puke.

  15. There are too many naval-gazing captains on the one philosophy ship trying to keep the navel-gazing sailors from steering it into muddy philosophy waters. Thus creating tumultuous rockiness and confusion in its wake.

  16. @Anon 13:18, 15:17

    Ah yes, this is EXACTLY what is going on here. A blog about how to understand certain people groups is, of course, a clear example of navel-gazing. Also, responses from these people-groups about these observations about them is also clearly navel-gazing. This kind of study is called Anthropology. You know, trying to understand people-groups?

  17. I think Anon 13:18,15:17 lacks a fundamental curiosity about the world, and ourselves, which is integral to doing philosophy. What's wrong with navel-gazing when you don't yet understand what it means to be a navel?

  18. Navel-gazing about navel-gazing.

    Philosophy win.

    Right, back to work.

  19. People who aren't philosophers are also in love with ideas.

    However, all of your suggestions are fabulous ones. We have had great times with all of them. We have also loved going to museums of all kinds together. In fact, our first date was at a museum for the ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan cultures.

  20. Philosopher means 'Lover of Wisdom', right? Are you really taking credit for looking up a definition? :P

    (in case it isn't clear; I kid, I kid. This blog contains too much of my lover for me to mock. :P)