Quick, list off the top three things you look for in a partner.
If “smart,” “bright,” or “witty” made the list, you’re probably looking for someone you’re intellectually compatible with.
If, however, you said “tall, dark, and handsome,” intellectual compatibility may not be quite as important.
But what is intellectual compatibility, exactly? And how do you know if you have it with someone or not? We break it down.
Put simply, it’s the spark between people whose brains are on the same page.
“It exists between people who can connect and engage over similar topics, values, intellectual pursuits, interests, and philosophies in communication together,” explains Shannon Chavez Qureshi, licensed psychologist, and AASECT-certified sex therapist.
Typically, people with intellectual compatibility have read similar books, watch similar documentaries, and consume similar news outlets.
People who are intellectually similar have often had similar upbringings or cultural experiences.
“Usually, when we talk about intellect in the capacity of compatibility, we’re describing a similarity in the way we see the world,” says Zoe Kors, sex and intimacy coach for sexual wellness app Coral and author of “Radical Intimacy: Cultivate the Deeply Connected Relationships You Desire and Deserve.”
(For the record: The term intellectual compatibility is often used interchangeably with intellectual chemistry).
To be clear: Intellectual chemistry is not inherently sexual or romantic!
Intellectual chemistry can exist between friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who don’t have any other forms of chemistry blossoming between them.
There isn’t necessarily inherent sexual or romantic chemistry between people with intellectual chemistry.
“The desire to engage in conversation with this person may be driven by the fulfillment of good conversation and intellectual stimulation alone,” says Chavez-Qureshi, not driven by a desire for an orgasm, snuggle-session, or dinner date.
It makes sense that you might want to share interests and ideas as your partner(s).
But it’s important to note that what you might think is a desire for intellectual compatibility could be masking certain racist, classist, and ableist dating preferences.
Depending on how narrowly you define intellectual compatibility, the concept can be used to exclude people with learning disorders or people who are neurodiverse.
Further, the concept can privilege a very specific kind of intellectualism.
For instance, a type of intellectualism cultivated in higher education spaces, through travel, or observing fine arts — three things that are only accessible to higher-income folks.
The discourse around intellectual compatibility is often similar to the discourse around sapiosexuality.
Looking for proof that you and your partner, potential partner, or pal are intellectually compatible? Ahead, five common signs you have intellectual chemistry with someone.
1. Your conversations feel easy
Could you get lost in your conversations for hours on end, or are you constantly digging around in your noggin for your next question? If it’s the former, you may be intellectually compatible.
“People who are intellectually compatible can talk with each other and not at each other,” says Chavez-Qureshi. “They are also able to leave room for reflection, different perspectives, deeper questions, and more.”
2. You’re not worried about disagreeing
Do you ever hide your actual point of view for fear it isn’t your friend’s? You actually may not be intellectually compatible.
According to Chavez-Qureshi, the ability to have different viewpoints and still talk about the topic is a sign of intellectual compatibility.
“The presence of empathy, curiosity, validation, and respect around different viewpoints and perspectives is a common sign,” she says.
3. You’re excited to hear their POV
The person you want to talk with whenever your Twitter feed is blowing up is probably someone you’re intellectually compatible with.
“If you find yourself wanting to talk to someone or are excited about future topics with a person, that suggests that your conversations are deep and fulfilling,” says Chavez-Qureshi, and therefore that you two are intellectually compatible.
4. You learn something every time you talk
Don’t read it wrong: Intellectual chemistry doesn’t only exist between people who know all of the exact same things! It can also exist between people who are constantly learning from and through one another.
If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be intellectually compatible with someone:
- Does this person challenge me?
- Does this person force me to think about things in new ways?
- Does this person teach me things?
5. You have a shared sense of humor
“A shared sense of humor is indicative of intellectual compatibility,” says Kors.
“When you can laugh at the same things as someone, it means there is an intellectual common ground from which things like irony or absurdity can push against.”
Sure, some people who are intellectually compatible are compatible in that way without much extraneous work. In other words, intellectual alignment comes easy.
But intellectual compatibility absolutely can be fostered by people who don’t have it at first meet!
How? Simply, by consuming — and then conversing about — the same media. After all, intellectual compatibility is all about having similar cultural touchstones to connect through.
You may be wondering why intellectual compatibility is even something you want to foster — especially if you’re already romantically, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually compatibility with someone.
The answer, according to Chavez-Qureshi, comes down to the fact that increasing intellectual intimacy with someone will increase the overall intimacy between you. In other words, you’ll feel closer to them.
“Engaging in intellectual conversations can build feelings of closeness and bonding, so when you actively spend time connecting intellectually, you’ll notice that it improves other areas of intimacy,” she says.
“When we relate to someone’s interests, values, and viewpoints of the world, it can increase trust and motivation to explore other aspects of the relationship,” says Chavez-Qureshi.
Some benefits of increasing your intellectual chemistry include:
- better, more connected sex
- deeper dinner conversations
- more inside jokes
It’s OK if intellectual compatibility isn’t important to you!
Or, if you and your partner(s) don’t have that specific kind of compatibility.
Just as sexual compatibility isn’t important to some people, intellectual compatibility isn’t important to everyone.
It should go without saying, but intellectual compatibility isn’t the only form of compatibility, says Kors.
“There are also emotional, physical, and spiritual compatibilities that are more fundamental to a healthy relationship than the ideas we hold when they are based on our narrow perspective.”
Want some specific tips for growing intellectual compatibility within your relationship? Keep reading!
1. Read or watch things together
“If you want to foster intellectual chemistry with someone, consider reading books together or watching movies together,” says Chavez-Qureshi. But don’t just watch or read the same things, talk about it!
You could structure that with a formal viewing or reading club. Or, you could make a point to grab dinner after watching a documentary or get a pedicure together after you finish your book.
You don’t have to be overly formal about it! You can say something like:
- “Hey, I’ve been wanting to read this book. Any interest in reading it at the same time as me so we can talk about it?”
- “Documentaries aren’t our usual dates, but there’s one playing a few miles from here next Thursday that I’d love to see. Want to join me?”
- “Baby, I was thinking it might be fun to join a book club together. Does that have any interest to you?”
2. Go to events together
The best way to expand what you talk about? Expand the kinds of events you go to!
“Go to events or experiences where it fosters conversation and thought around those areas or topics,” suggests Chavez-Qureshi.
- “after dark” (aka adults only) events at a nearby science museum
- free music or dance lessons at the park
- comedy or trivia night at your local dive bar
3. Learn something new together
“If you want to grow your intellectual compatibility, make it a priority to keep learning and exploring different subjects and topics together,” says Chavez-Qureshi.
“It will open up an opportunity for you to foster intimacy, connect creatively, and spark a new passion, at different stages of learning,” she says.
Learning a new skill or researching a new topic won’t just be good for you in the context of your relationship, it will be good for you, period.
“Overall, learning about new things is good for your own mental health and well-being,” she says. “Fostering your own individual intellectual pursuits can be rewarding and motivating.”
Actually, even if your partner doesn’t want to join you on your new pursuit(s), she says you might experience carryover in your relationship.
“If you bring the positive energy you’ll grow through learning a new skill into your relationship, you may be able to harness it to jumpstart a deeper connection,” she says.
|Skills you might learn together||Topics you might research together|
– squat snatching
– playing an instrument
– writing poetry
– speaking a new language
|– LGBT+ history|
– different religions
– amusement parks
– world music
Evidenced through laughs, (mutual) learning, shared exploration, being innately intellectually compatible with someone can feel pretty darn good!
But it can be cultivated through intentionally co-experiencing and co-consuming books, movies, museums, historic events, and more — if you want to increase your intellectual compatibility, that is.
After all, intellectual compatibility isn’t the only kind of compatibility out there!
Plus, just because you don’t have intellectual chemistry, that doesn’t mean you don’t have sexual, romantic, or emotional chemistry.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.