Dear Mr. Knightly,
I have a friend who is a loner, an extremely smart nerd with almost no other friends. I hate to see him so alone as he always lights up when someone notices him. I want to reach out, but I feel I’m not smart enough to really maintain a friendship on his intellectual level. When he talks to other smart kids, he’s smiling and happy. When he talks to me, his eyes sort of glaze over. How can I be a good friend?
Not Smart Enough
Your encounter is not a strange one, by any means. Many people of great genius keep very few friends, often because its either hard for others to understand them and their ways, or because it is hard for them to understand other people.
Of greatest importance is that you accurately recognize those small, subtle signs which people project about them. You say your friend’s face lights up around other intellectuals. However, do not assume that this means your friend seeks their friendship. He may only be in awe of their intellect and wisdom. Similarly you should not take his nonchalant gaze to mean he is not interested in your friendship. The more time you spend in his presence the more accurate your readings shall become.
However, if you find that you are in fact correct there are several different remedies to apply.
First of all, you may want to engage him on several different topics and see which one interest him the most. It may very well be that his lack of vigor in your conversations stems merely from the wrong subjects. If he has talked about something passionately in the past, bring it up again, ask questions, not in a challenging sort of way but rather in an inquisitive manner. However, if you notice agitation then your questions may in fact not be stimulating but rather irritating. Desist immediately to avoid damage to the relationship.
A second option is if you cannot make your own company tolerable, then create a company that can be. He who stands surrounded by stars appears the sun. That is to say, if you surround yourself with other people of various intellectual past times and pursuits your own company may seem more palatable, especially to someone of specific tastes. He may find other friends there, which seems to be partially your goal, and you may meet other intellectuals as well, thereby broadening your own personal salon. This will also help in relieving the pressure you feel to match his merits.
However, there is one option you may not already have tried that may be worth your efforts. Your friend may not in fact be seeking someone else who is intellectual. It is most often the case that intellectuals enjoy the company of those who can appreciate their intellect. One does not have to be an intellectual to be able to show appreciation for their knowledge and contributions. You mentioned that he is desirous of attention. It may be that is what he truly needs in you as a friend, not matching his knowledge but rather appreciating it. It may be well worth your time to attempt this, before attempting any of the other, more strenuous endeavors above.
Above all, I would recommend that you reassess your own personal value in yourself. There are many kinds of intellect in the world, and everyone is a genius at something, if one is willing to look hard enough. The way you can be the very best friend is by realizing your own self worth. Only then can you truly appreciate the worth of those around you.