Just as birds may flash plumage or wail in ways irresistible to members of the opposite sex, budding scholars and weary academics alike engage in specific actions to signal their suitability as a mate. Carrying around a book, in hopes of sparking conversation, is such a time-honored tactic -- although one must be careful to pick the right title. Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a solid choice, because many intellectuals have a warm opinion of it: you start discussing Tomas and Sabina, and fifteen minutes later you have a coffee date. However, some books are a little too obvious as props for romantic chatter: D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover falls into this latter category.
In the same vein, some eccentricities and modes of dress can serve as the intellectual's romantic calling card. A lobster on a leash (to take a cue from French poet Gerard de Nerval and his choice of pets) will drive someone to ask the inevitable question, which in turn could lead to what the online dating sites so ambiguously refer to as "something more."
If you're looking for another intellectual with whom to swap theories, feelings and the occasional cold virus, the following places could serve you well in your hunt.
Putting Theory Into Practice
- Libraries: A noted gathering place of intellectuals since the ancient Library of Alexandria. Pros: No shortage of prospective intellectual mates, who could find charming your attempts at wooing via handwritten note. Cons: The no-talking rule, enforced by the librarian's Glare of Doom, requires you to work fast when asking for a later meet-up.
- Coffee Shops: Your local coffee shop serves double-duty as an office or study lounge for many intellectuals, raising your chances of finding a suitable date while ordering your daily cup of caffeine. Pros: As with libraries, people make their corner hangout a part of their daily or weekly routine, giving you multiple chances to flash the art book you bought for that very purpose. Cons: The combination of caffeine and nervousness can turn you into a babbling, sweaty wreck.
- University Bars: Across the street from the University of Chicago's main campus sits a dive called Jimmy's, whose only difference from your standard-issue watering hole is the set of encyclopedias that supposedly live behind the bar, for settling scholarly disputes. That's exactly the sort of detail separating university bars from regular ones, and why intellectuals looking to unwind gravitate toward the former. (Although it must be said, with regard to Jimmy's, that I never saw anyone use the encyclopedias in question during my many, many hours "studying" in the corner.) Pros: Alcohol, dim light prove forgiving. Cons: The jukebox blasting Modest Mouse's "Float On" for the twentieth time in a row can drown out your titillating conversation about D.H. Lawrence.
- Lectures and Talks: These draw intellectuals like moths to a bug light. Pros: Ample fodder for opening lines: "So, what'd you think of the lecture?" Cons: The majority of people attend these events to learn, not to flirt.
And the Inevitable Footnote...
Many of these places double as intellectual's home (or office) away from home. If the object of your affection rejects your advance, don't press your case -- otherwise you'll create an uncomfortable atmosphere, and probably need to find another café for ordering your daily cup of java.
Adapted from How to Become an Intellectual, a firmly tongue-in-cheek guide to becoming a truly brainy thinker, published by Adams Media.
Follow Nick Kolakowski on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nkolakowski