I had to change the title of this blog to "Married to a COMPASSIONATE Genius" instead of EMPATHETIC Genius. Last night Johnny and I were having a conversation about his brain after reading a few articles on the difference between genius brains and those with an average IQ. Apparently, according to tests, genius brains are physically different as well as operationally different from that of a normal brain. That said, there are other types of intelligence to be measured, I don't consider myself just an "average person". I don't want it to sound like Johnny is somehow "better" than me, but I do find it fascinating that he is in the top .01% of the population. That is unique.
I changed the title because I noticed something about Johnny. He isn't necessarily empathetic...it's actually very hard for him to be empathetic on a large scale. In certain areas, yes, but as a whole, no. His brain functions on such a high level that he finds it hard to relate to others way of processing information or decision making.
Empathy is described as, "a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person, fictional character, or sentient being. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress."
I'd say Johnny has a lot of Sympathy and Compassion. Sympathy is: "I care about your suffering." And Compassion is, "I want to relieve your suffering." He is incredibly concerned with relieving the suffering of others. So much so that for most of our marriage he hasn't allowed himself to use his gifts because of guilt. He has always felt bad about things being easy for him. Unfortunately, this led us to live a life of service to others while neglecting our truest gifts.
I started to think, if Johnny is as intelligent as his IQ states, wouldn't he be able to help more people if he tapped into that gift? Isn't his intellect a benefit to society if he uses it for good? This is why I began researching the genius brain. I want to see him operating at his full potential. I think it will make him feel more whole and be a huge gift to society.
So, back to the brain.
His brain can process an immense amount of information, not only that, it can also hold on to an immense amount of information. This makes it tough for him to understand how a brain like mine works. It's funny, he talks to me constantly. He's a verbal processor. Even if I'm not around, or he doesn't know I'm nearby, I can hear him talking to himself. It never stops.
According to the research I've read, there are a few main differences between his mind and average mind. First, the long and short connections in the frontal cortex tend to be balanced for most people. In the mind of a genius they are more heavily weighted toward one side. If they are toward the short connections the person is more likely to be a savant; really talented at one thing. If they are more toward the long connections they will be incredible at a lot of things. I'd say Johnny is toward the long connections. This has been a downside for him. He has termed this issue, "analysis paralysis". He sees so many options that it makes it hard to come to a decision or direction.
That leads me to the next key difference between a genius brain and the average. Dopamine receptors in our thalamus determine, essentially, what gets through. A lot of stuff never comes to full thought because it gets weeded out. It's basically the bottleneck for all possible thoughts. In a genius brain there are less dopamine receptors and thus more thoughts get through. This means that a genius has a greater capability to problem solve and they have more ideas to draw upon. For Johnny, this seems to be a blessing and a curse. Once he decides on a direction, though, his resources are endless.
Genius brains also contain more gray and white matter, which is where dendrites hang out to receive and process information. The larger quantity of nerve cells in the gray and white matter means that communication happens more quickly and effectively. This means not only does Johnny have access to more thoughts and resources, he also is able to process them at a much higher speed. It's very common for me to feel competitive with him in conversations with other people because we'll both be trying to explain the same thing but he is able to remember details more quickly and come up with ideas faster. You can imagine my frustration. He's sweet about it though, all I have to do is remind him to let me talk sometimes and he turns up his awareness the next time. He is constantly striving to be the best husband and person he can be. I love that about him.
These differences are very apparent to me in our romantic relationship.
His access to more thoughts, ideas and his ability to process at high speed means:
-He is verbally processing with or without me constantly. I have to be available to listen much more than the average person. Sometimes I have to tell him I don't have the ability to actually take in and process all the things he is telling me. He reads 5x the amount (or more) than I do and can synthesize that information.
-I am his sounding board and am constantly on deck to process through something with him. He has so many ideas that it can feel a bit all over the place.
-I jokingly call myself his "agent". I help him with the social aspect of his thoughts and ideas and how they might play out in the real world. I remind him that we aren't all like him. Haha. Statistically, almost none of us are like him. A wise friend told him at the age of 19 that he should definitely get married sooner rather than later because he needs a "buffer". Haha!
-Like I said, in public his rapid processing and thought accessibility is hard to compete with when we're both trying to tell the story or explain the same thing. Even when it's frustrating I remind myself that I'm glad to have him on my team.
Every couple has their frustrating moments, the beautiful thing is that we can combine and share our gifts with one another to make a more well-rounded team. While Johnny is shockingly intelligent, he has had to grow to be more "empathetic" or at least learn to communicate his sympathies with people. I've heard from many people that their first impression of him was nothing like he actually is. He has a heart of gold, a genius mind and the desire to sew goodness into the world with his gifts. I am so happy to be his partner, buffering him, encouraging him, listening to him and sharing my gifts with him.
It all comes down to:
He has made me a better person and I, him.
I'm not entirely sure if all geniuses share the quality of excellent self-control and idealism that Johnny exhibits. A few months after we met his ability to harness his desires for whatever reason became apparent to me. At the time it was his belief in purity that cause him to reign it in. Unfortunately for me, this meant no make-out sessions, and for an 18 year old I wished he had a little less self-control in this area. But alas, the moment I kissed him at the alter was only our third kiss in 2 years, since he had buckled under my immense pressure and temptation a few times. I take a small amount of pride in being able to to tempt the most self-controlled person I've ever met.
He was so methodical about life, relying on information to help him make decisions, while I relied on my intuition. In conversations he would spout of readings or quotes with a perfect word for word recollection. He also knows the first and last name of almost every person he quotes, while I would be able to give you the idea or feeling behind the quote but not be able to regurgitate it or tell you who said it. Like I mentioned, he had memorized more of the Bible than anyone I know and was able to impress anyone with his knowledge and viewpoints. The thing that always worried me, though, was his lack of emotional connection. Now that we've been married for 8 years I have a different view on this, but at the time it was hard for me.
If you've never been to a church before there are a few ways people go about showing their faith outwardly. Some people are incredibly warm and friendly. They will usually ask you what God's been doing in your life, they will spontaneously pray over you if you are in need and they will close their eyes and raise their hands to the ceiling while singing. It's a very emotionally connected faith. Johnny, on the other hand, was more of a theological teacher. It's not that he lacked warmth, but he wasn't going to be the comforting person or the recklessly abandoned person prostrate on the floor in the sanctuary. He was reserved, constantly relying on his knowledge of the Bible instead of his emotions.
I grew up with male role models that weren't emotional, so I thought that I wanted an emotional male. Someone who was comforting and able to be vulnerable in a real way. But it's often that we're attracted to the exact thing we're used to seeing. I was so used to my emotions being disregarded and seen as volatile/embarrassing that I thought I would never be with someone like Johnny who perpetuated those feelings in me. It was probably the most confusing and difficult part of my decision to marry him.
Luckily, I am also a collector of all things novelty. I love quirky, weird and unique things. Johnny's brain is unique. He drew me in because he was so different. And surprise! This was one of the reasons I married him. We need to be intrigued by our partner. If we expect them to be a certain way and then they "obey us" how is that fun? We think we know what we want for ourselves but what if we approached love and relationship with more curiosity instead of trying to find the "perfect match". I don't think we can calculate what kind of person we would be good with. I think we can get close, but at the end of the day we need that curiosity about the other person and how they see the world. It's a fresh perspective. It kicks us out of our normal way of thinking and can challenge us.
Back to the story. An interesting piece of this story is the fact that Johnny and I never really "dated", or at least we never labeled it as that. And as I mentioned, there wasn't any physical contact...what do you call that? So you can imagine my surprise one evening when we were out visiting with his parents and he took me down into one of the bedrooms to talk. Remember how I said he made decisions? The previous Sunday he heard a sermon about marriage and wanted to share his thoughts with me. He said, "the pastor was talking about how we always think we need to have all our ducks in a row in order to get married. We think we need to have our life figured out, a job in place, a home, etc. But in reality we can go through those things with someone. Literally build a life with someone. We don't have to always wait to have stuff figured out." (I want to remind you that we were 19 years old when he was saying this to me.) In my head I was like, "..........okay..........and?!?!" He continued, "So, I think we should get married...and I know you want a summer wedding so I was thinking this summer." (it was March at the time) My response? "I feel like I could throw up."
Little did I know that Johnny had already told his parents about this and had the plan to talk with my parents later that week. At this point in time we had known each other for a year and a half. The part of the story I haven't mentioned is Johnny's incredible obsession with me since day one. It was actually very healing for me to be pursued by a genius, given my track record with school and measurable intelligence. When Johnny loves you, he's very serious about it, and he doesn't give up. I can remember multiple letters he wrote me explaining in detail why he loved me. They were sweet but also felt like persuasive essays. I found it endearing and a little weird. So when someone like this asks you to marry them, you know they've thought it through in ways you can't even imagine.
But now it was my turn. I needed to tap into my intuition and decide if this was right for me. I came up with a 3 part plan. First, I made a questionnaire for my best friends to fill out about Johnny. Second, I wrote over 10 pages of non-stop thoughts on who Johnny was, without stopping, I just let it flow. Third, we went to a marriage counselor who actually ended up cutting our sessions short because he said we were ready. I was really shocked by this. By all accounts we shouldn't have "been ready". We never dated, we had only know each other a little over a year and we were 19 years old.
About a month after our first conversation Johnny proposed for real. He didn't get me a ring, because I'm not a diamond girl and we had no money, but he did hand me a quarter from 1960. He proceeded to tell me about how quarters from before 1960 are made of close to 80% silver and he thought we could hammer out our own rings. Which we did.
(later we tattooed our rings)
Two months into our three month engagement I had what you might call Cold Feet. Johnny's inability to connect emotionally with me was just one of the components in my anxiety. I also had this fear that due to his intense self-control and idealism that he would never let loose, except on a snowboard...which was a small glimmer of hope. I met with my family and told them my worries. They agreed that this didn't sound like a good decision. I was convinced for a moment that I should call it off.
I wanted my intuition to give me a big YES or NO. But it rarely works that way. Intuition is when our mind draws upon all the data we've gathered in our heads, all the scenarios we've experienced, how their voice sounded, what they did, who I believe I am...and I'm sifting through all of it at rapid speed to come to a decision.
Immediately after talking with my family I headed over to break the news to Johnny. I told him we needed to talk. He asked if I wanted to take a walk. Walking has always helped us process things together and since that walk we've worked many things out this way. We walked briskly through the dark neighborhoods of NE Portland as I poured my heart out. I said everything, I expressed all my fears about marrying him and why I wanted to call it off. He stayed emotionally stable, no begging, no tears, yet I could hear the sincerity in his voice. He said, "If this is how you truly feel then I want you to do what you need to do, I don't want a reluctant wife who regrets marrying me later on." And when I told him I wanted a man more like my previous boyfriend; an adventurous, spontaneous, romantic guy, Johnny said, "He never truly loved you, he may have been romantic, but he didn't love you, I LOVE you, so much."
At this moment I wanted him to make a scene, get emotional, "fight for me"...But he expressed his love with an intensity that was serious and realistic. He wasn't going to try and force someone into marrying him if they didn't want to. And something deep within me knew I needed this. I needed his realistic, genius mind to balance out my romantic, day dreaming mind. He could ground me and love me with a commitment that surpasses the volatile nature of many romantic relationships.
This is when I began falling in love with his stoic nature and genius mind.
After that walk I felt more comforted but still needed to think things through. I left Johnny that night with a question mark. I went back home and re-read the 10 pages I had written about him. This is one of the many reasons I like writing down my experiences, thoughts and feelings. They act as a mentor in times of confusion. So there I was, mentoring myself with past writings about Johnny. These are some of the most beautiful pieces I've ever written because they describe the truth about Johnny's character. In re-reading these words I discovered that I truly admired him. I also trusted him...he says what he means and means what he says. He is of the highest quality.
I realized that we tend to chase after the "fluff" of a person instead of the truth of that person. I wanted Johnny to be this romantic, emotional man, but that wasn't him. And over the years we have built new parts of our relationship together, and he has become more romantic and emotional, but he is still Johnny. I've come to truly love him for that. I now see his own version of romance in the ways he cares for me. They may not look like the typical romantic movie scenes, but they are deep, honest and intentional.
So...we got married. I still didn't feel like I "loved" him. But I don't think I really knew what that meant. What I did know was that Johnny was committed to me fully. And within that container of trust ANYTHING can be built and cultivated. When you're married to a empathetic genius you know they will never stop growing. They have high standards for themselves. Those qualities transferred into his desire to be an epic husband to me. More on that later...
I don't know if I realized it right away, but looking back I can kind of see it. The day I met my husband, Johnny, was a day I won't forget. We have a lot of these little moments in life, but we only take note of them when they turn into something unexpected. This is how it was for us. I noticed Johnny the same way I noticed any other guy I was attracted to from afar. That one small moment, like a tiny spark, can only turn into a raging fire when given the fuel.
He had a way about him. His choice of dress spoke deeply to me, as I've always drawn a lot of value from the way I dress. It is a window into someone's personality, or at least how they feel about themselves and what they want to be associated with. Johnny was dressed like a thrift shop, cabin dwelling, snowboarder; my type. The moment I saw him he had his head thrown back in laughter, exposing his beautiful, large straight teeth. My mom is a dental hygienist, so teeth are a thing I notice, although I think we all do. The crazy thing about that moment with Johnny, a moment that only I have...since he didn't notice me at this time, was that we were standing in a crowd of hundreds of college age kids at a church group.
The choices for possible mates were endless. A high percentage of the male population at this gathering were fancy in nature. I can't be with a guy that uses more products than I do, which is relatively easy to do as I use maybe 3, and those are homemade. I also can't be with a guy that has more expensive clothes than I do. I don't want to be the ragamuffin sidekick. So there Johnny stood, like a ragamuffin sore thumb in a group of heavily clad cologne wearing pretty boys. Scanning him from the ground up I noticed: plaid snow boots (cute, practical), ripped up brown corduroy pants (so cute), a striped gray and white sweater (it was winter) and a red beanie. I wish I had a photo of this moment. (Below are a few from that year)
After I saw Johnny for the first time we were all corralled into the sanctuary for an hour of singing and a sermon. I wasn't thinking about Johnny or how I might try and find him later. Like I said, we have a lot of these tiny moments where we notice someone attractive to us, I was drawn to him but I guess I didn't think about looking for him after. Well, as luck would have it, my friend Rachel, who had brought me there that night, had a group of friends she ate dinner with afterward. And you guessed it, Johnny was a part of this group. Out of the hundreds of people that were there that night I was now sitting next to him, a completely unknown person to me at the time. He turned to me, thinking I was the girl that was previously sitting next to him who had just left, and with surprise said, "you're not who I was sitting next to..." And I was like, "no, but I'm Bailey." reaching my hand out for that first skin contact.
Like I said, I don't know if I realized it right away, but looking back I can see that Johnny was different. The first thing you notice about someone, after their outward appearance, is usually their voice, how they talk. The way Johnny spoke was unexpected to me. Here he was, a ragamuffin, snowboard type guy, with a strong, methodical, confident way of speaking. I was immediately thrown off by this. Our first conversation was a nose dive into life dreams and what we saw ourselves doing in future and what we were doing right now. I had never spoken to a guy who was not only interested in what I was saying but who had a plethora of insights to add. He was different from the get-go. But I didn't know why.
Fast forward, after a few months of flirting, hanging out and getting to know one another...I rejected him. Like I said, there was something really weird and different about him that I wasn't used to. I see myself as more of a free spirit, creative to my core and highly emotional. He was incredibly sweet, but very stoic and stuck in his head. I remember watching him with curiosity after I'd share my thoughts with him. They say eyes are a window to the soul and I will forever remember watching his eyes as he thought about his responses. It's like he wasn't staring at anything but his eyes would go back and forth rapidly like he was searching the inner library of his brain for the right book with the right information to answer this question. He has always been incredibly thought FULL and thoughtful for that matter.
When I ask him, now, why he liked me so much...someone who has been somewhat insecure about their intellectual abilities, as far as school/grades are concerned, he has an interesting answer. "Every girl I've ever liked has been too agreeable for me. You are a punk, and you challenge me. I like that. I need that." He also has said that I read people's emotions better than he does. Which is true, that is a strength of mine. Meanwhile he is lost in his mind, hyper focused on information and less able to pin point emotions in people. The problem was, I was looking for someone a little more like me, not that Johnny isn't emotional, he's actually highly empathetic to the point of paralysis, which I'll speak on in later posts. But our love truly began when I realized what a beautiful and intense mind he really has. He is a part of me that I've never had. Like I said, growing up I had a really hard time in school. The only way I could memorize things was by putting them into song or story. It's how my brain works. Johnny, on the other hand, had a vastly different experience.
At the age of 3 Johnny was sitting in the back seat of his parents car while his mom drove. All of a sudden he says, "mom, how many days until my birthday?" his mom responds, "I don't know Johnny, like 3 months." Johnny responds, "how many days in a month?" she thinks, "about 30 days." He's silent for a minute. "So like 90 days until my birthday?" (the numbers may be wrong in this story but you get the point) His mom was floored. Again...he was 3 years old.
As time went on he must have continued impressing people with his intellect because by the 4th grade teachers were begging to have his IQ tested. Johnny's mom, wanting him to grow up with a sense of normalcy and the ability to relate and interact with others, was wary of testing him so young. She soon succumbed and had him tested. Her reaction to the results was an understandable, "oh shit." When recounting the story she said she immediately apologized for the outburst only to have the tester tell her that her response was valid and understandable. Johnny's IQ was in 165-179 range (see photo below). Any higher and he may have been more socially awkward. That and his mom was determined to keep him well socialized. The test showed that he had a 12th grade reading level in 4th grade, as one example.
Johnny's experience, as he tells me, was that teachers either loved him or hated him. Unfortunately for some, he was way smarter then them and could fall asleep in class only to be woken up and asked to answer a question about what they were learning. To their embarrassment he would always be able to answer correctly...even though he was asleep. Some teachers saw his gifts and wanted to help him in any way they could. Johnny said one of the teachers got a piano to put in the janitors closet specifically for him to play during recess or free time. And while he was in all the high achievement classes he never felt stimulated by school. He fell asleep often, skipped every Friday to go snowboarding and graduated months earlier than his classmates.
I met him soon after high school. He had no intention of going to college at the time and wanted to be a professional snowboarder, which seems crazy, but he is also incredible at that. If you have any doubt check out the highlight reel above. Snowboarding and Theology were the things he was most interested in at that time. Theology was where I saw his intellect truly show itself. He took the basic ideas of Christianity and studied them so intensely that he had memorized more of the Bible than anyone I knew and could argue almost any point with cross references. He was so well versed (no pun intended) that at the age of 19 he was asked to come speak at a college level theology class.
You might be asking yourself, what does Johnny do now? It's be 10 years since then. And you may also be asking, what is it like to be married to him? That's the whole point of this blog. I think it's finally time I share the intricate workings of Johnny's mind and how it's played out in our marriage. For my next post I will start with the story of our engagement and the beginning of our marriage. This is the story of the highly emotional artist (me) with the highly empathetic genius husband.