An Introduction to Thinking About Intellectual Attraction

“I’ve been really obsessed with people in the past – obsessed in a way that, on the surface, implied that I was head over heels in love with them. Yes I knew I ‘loved’ them – but it was more an ‘intellectual adoration’ – I felt the ‘love’ in my head, not my heart or my body. They were a role-model, an idol, a muse, an inspiration – I didn’t want to be in a relationship with them, I just wanted to get to know them deeply so I could ask them questions and use them as an inspiration for my own artistic development…”  – AVEN user Monami, as quoted in “From the Forum” in AVENues issue 7

Some people refer to the feelings Monami experienced, and similar ones, as intellectual attraction. Intellectual attraction is one of the many forms of attraction asexual and allosexual people may or may not experience.

“I can definitely be attracted to someone because of intellect. It’s pretty much the only way I’m going to be attracted to someone.” – KidKash on AVEN’s forum

My interest in intellectual attraction can be summed up by the question: what does intellectual attraction mean and how is the term being mobilized?

As I write about this question I am also continuously asking myself, is intellectual attraction a meaningful and/or useful way to describe my own experiences?

I do not experience sexual attraction and this impacts my decision to identify as asexual. I experience other forms of attraction, but romantic, sensual, aesthetic attraction, and so on are probably not my primary form of attraction because none of them can encapsulate or describe the type of attraction I feel most often – that inexplicable ‘thing’ that makes me interested in other people and plays a pivotal role in nearly all of my interactions. As I read the quote from Monami I wondered, is the kind of attraction I frequently feel in my head and what does that mean?

When ‘it’ is not present I fumble over small talk I don’t want to be having and can’t understand. When ‘it’ happens everything in my brain stops and my focus shifts, zeroing in on one person. I am attracted to them, but in what way?

It’s often triggered by someone saying something I don’t understand and have never thought deeply about before. It could also be that they have revealed new information about themselves that I never would have imagined. Even though it happens because of the change in topic, I’m not really interested in the topic; I’m interested in how they think about the topic. Why does this matter to them? How do they experience it? What does it mean to them? Does this change over time? What are the variables? I want to get close enough so that I can understand their thought process and replicate it semi reliably. Unfortunately it’s not polite or socially appropriate to voice the kinds of questions that occupy my mind. Worse still, I can’t think about anything else.

These experiences are very confusing and the cause of many uncomfortable social encounters. Deconstructing people’s word choice, and asking them to explain why they chose one word over another, is often perceived as questioning someone instead of trying to learn about them. Defensive and hostile reactions are common, especially if I’m ‘into’ someone I’m not friends with and have no desire to be friends with. Even if we are friends, these feelings are complicated because the other person might not experience what I do, don’t know they experience it, it might not be the primary form of attraction they experience, or just not experience it for me.

Understanding this experience is important for me because I think it is my primary form of attraction. Not knowing its boundaries, what I want them to look like, and how to best construct them, motivates me to classify what I experience as intellectual attraction so that I might better wrap my head around it.

Before I know if I have intellectual attraction though, I want to figure out, what does the term mean for other people, or, how is it being operationalized?

My working and purposely vague definition of intellectual attraction is: a person being intellectually attracted to someone else.

The terms sapioromantic and sapiosexual are often connected to intellectual attraction. My working definitions for these terms, respectively, are being romantically attracted to someone because you are intellectually attracted to them and being sexually attracted to someone because you are intellectually attracted to them. In other words, intellectual attraction leads to ‘something else,’ but this is not always the case. More on this later.

You might have realized that I have not defined intellectual, attraction, or told you what happens after a person is intellectually attracted to someone else. In my early research I quickly realized intellectual attraction is a vast topic that includes many opinions on what these terms mean, how they do (or do not) intersect, and how we should use them. I will cover these details over a series of blog posts on intellectual attraction (you can find the working table of contents at the bottom of this post).

The rest of this post will focus on, how are we going to think about intellectual attraction? What framework will we view it through? Or, if intellectual attraction is a picture, what’s the frame we’re putting around it, and what are the tools we’re using to decide which frame fits?

In “Producing Facts: Empirical Asexuality and the Scientific Study of Facts” Ela Pryzybylo applies Jeffery Weeks’ work on cartography to asexuality. Pryzybylo’s scepticism regarding uncovering the ‘truth’ about asexuality is relevant to how we will try to uncover the ‘truth’ about intellectual attraction (or not). Pryzybylo writes:

“the territory claiming and boundary drawing just beginning to take shape around asexuality is a form of sexual colonization which purports to identify and label whole sexual realities for groups of certain people. Asexuality becomes discovered (more decisively than before); it is drawn out of obscurity and silence and transformed into a site worthy of scientific interrogation.”

I’m interested in intellectual attraction because I could use this term to make sense of my experiences, but what happens when I demarcate boundaries about what is and is not intellectual attraction and when I try to convince you that intellectual attraction is worthy of your attention or even your interrogation? Drawing on Pryzybylo, I risk distorting the lived experiences people have, transforming them into something else. Worse still, in lieu of Foucault’s arguments in The History of Sexuality, I could be producing the very secret that I claim to be unveiling. These are all dilemmas and considerations I keep in mind when I think about how I will frame intellectual attraction.

I am not an objective scientist looking down on a phenomenon I can detach myself from. In admitting this I give up the ability to claim that I am telling you the ‘truth’ or stating a fact. I also shift my position though, because what I write is not ‘untrue’ either. I locate myself outside a true/not true binary.

Multiplicities are one way to think outside of a true/not true binary. In “Thinking with AND: Management Concepts and Multiplicities” Alexander Styhre tries to explain the term Human Resources Management (HRM) using Gilles Deleuze’s concept of multiplicity. Many people are frustrated by HRM because there are always new definitions of HRM or new terms added to what it means. Some of the definitions are contradictory or don’t fit together neatly. How do you keep track of a word (be it HRM or intellectual attraction) that means so many different things to different people and how can we discuss it in a meaningful way? To answer this question Styhre says we should stop looking for the fixed essences of words.

Take the word chair for example. A ‘fixed essence’ idea of a chair is that the word chair refers to something that is out there in the world. That ‘something’ does not make sense to us, but if we study it close enough, we can unravel its secrets and learn its truth.

In contrast, Deleuze, Styhre, Pryzybylo, and I, think we should look at how the meaning of the chair is constructed by us as a social process. We create the idea of the chair between us, shaping what it is. Styhre refers to this approach as ‘becoming-realism.’ Ideas are constantly becoming – they are not fixed or stable and they do not refer to permanent objective truths.

According to Deleuze concepts or ideas (like chair and intellectual attraction) are made up of multiplicities, or a string of words that uses ‘and.’ A chair is something you can sit on AND often made of wood AND can have four legs AND sometimes has arm rests AND if I go to a coffee shop I will sit on one. The meaning of the chair comes from the meaning made between these separate ideas of what a chair is. A chair is not just one of these things (or one fixed essence we can find if we look hard enough) – it is all of them.

When I write about intellectual attraction I am not interested in uncovering the truth of a fixed essence for you. Instead, this series will focus on what intellectual attraction is as a multiplicity. This is important because there are many different ways that people use the term intellectual attraction and I want to retain as many of them as possible. Some may have logical dilemmas and others may have unintended consequences, such as perpetuating oppressive ideas, but they all make up a web or multiplicity of what intellectual attraction is.

Now that we’ve covered why I’m motivated to ask and think about intellectual attraction (and maybe you’ve thought about why you are as well), and the framework we’ll use, the next post will cover the five ways intellectual attraction is defined.

Working Table of Contents or, My Plan so Far

  • Post I: An Introduction to Thinking About Intellectual Attraction (you are here!)
  • Post II: What is Intellectual Attraction Anyways? in Five Options
  • Post III: What is the Intelligence in Intellectual Attraction? Subjective vrs. Objective Perceptions of Intelligence
  • Post IV: Classist and Ableist Critiques of Intellectual Attraction
  • Post V: An Overview of the Arguments Against Intellectual Attraction as a Term
  • Post VI: Why Intellectual Attraction is Useful to People and Who’s Acknowledging it
  • Post VII: Intellectual Attraction Crushes
  • Post VIII: Connecting Sapioromantic to Demiromantic and Gray-romantic
  • Post IX: Sapiosexuality and the Intellectual Attraction Allosexuals Experience

Every time I publish a new post in the series I will update this table of contents with the finalized title of the post and a link to the post. The order and topics are subject to change.

Questions for the Comments: Do you use intellectual attraction as a term? If so, what motivates you to do so?

About Talia

Talia is a Masters student in Gender Studies and Feminist Research where they are doing research on conceptual frameworks of asexuality. Talia‘s other academic love is veganism and Critical Animal Studies, which they will be exploring this September in a PhD program in Environmental Studies. Talia identifies as agender and asexual panromantic. In their free time they make kale chips, play WoW, and write fiction. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
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7 Responses to An Introduction to Thinking About Intellectual Attraction

  1. Great post! I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. I don’t have much of a response to your question of how I use intellectual attraction as a term (because I don’t use it), but it’s really enlightening to read more indepth about how someone experiences this. Do you feel this could this be part of a larger spectrum of attraction towards someone’s personality and/or social status? Like other people feeling attracted to people with humor? Or people being attracted to those who have power?

    ps: the link to Foucault isn’t working.

    • Talia says:

      Thank you :) For me, if what I experience is intellectual attraction, it operates outside of a spectrum because it doesn’t appear to be linked to other factors. I’ve been ‘into’ people whose personalities I like (and want to be friends with) and people who I can’t stand. I’ve also been ‘into’ people with social power and people without. That being said, I’m sure for other people it certainly does work that way. I’ve seen some speculation that for some intellectual attraction is a preference and for others it is a prerequisite for attraction and so that might be part of the difference.

  2. queenieofaces says:

    I actually think multiplicity is probably a good way to think of a lot of types of attraction–certainly, romantic attraction seems to vary pretty widely from person to person (which is frustrating for people trying to find a single definition of romantic attraction and then decide whether or not they experience it). In any case, I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!

  3. Miriam Joy says:

    I’ve not used it, but that first quote you shared at the top of this post summarises how I feel about a lot of celebrities — actors, writers etc. Whereas my friends will be gushing over their cheekbones, I’ll be wishing I could sit down and talk about Shakespeare over a cup of tea, y’know? My admiration is for their brain and while I can appreciate their face, that’s completely disconnected from me and doesn’t impact my life. I would fangirl like mad over the chance to talk to them about something, though.

    • Talia says:

      Thanks for sharing! Cheekbones, Shakespeare, and tea. Haha that’s very specific. ;) I’ve had similar feelings and the fan/celebrity dynamic as is just doesn’t lend itself to them unfortunately.

  4. Pingback: What is Intellectual Attraction Anyways? in Five Options | The Asexual Agenda

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