Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 69byrpsuch©
No, it was not that easy.
"Jeff, we need to talk."
He started to laugh and continued for some time.
"I'm gratified you seem to be over the fear those words strike in most men's hearts."
"It was a reaction to the fear they strike in most men's hearts. When you say them it's usually a way to make us better. It's usually something I might have thought about but somehow didn't."
"Jeff, I think I'm too beautiful."
He started to laugh again.
"I didn't see that coming. I'm not sure it's possible to be too beautiful. But assuming it is, what problems does being too beautiful cause? What are the consequences when you step over the line from being breathtakingly beautiful to destructively beautiful?"
"Mock me if you will. Let me give you just the short list because there are so many ways extreme beauty can be insidious.
"It made me complacent. Raw beauty allowed me to achieve so much I began to feel I didn't need anything else. I didn't need to develop any skills or talent to get what I want.
"It made me contemptuous. Of what value were the talents of people around me when I could get just as much or more without those talents? And since nobody else seemed to be able to achieve my level of beauty it gave me too high an opinion of myself and too low an opinion of everybody else.
"It blocked my development of empathy. I couldn't understand others' feelings or pain because I had never been in their situations. I was never rejected. I didn't suffer from underperforming. Allowances were always made for me because I was so beautiful.
"It prevented me from learning to develop relationships with other people. I could make connections with people, but they were always based on my superiority in the connections. People connected with me for what it gave them and I connected for what it gave me. I had control. I had dominance. They had status by virtue of the connection.
"It made me pathologically selfish. I saw everything and everyone in terms of what was in it for me. I barely recognized there was another side to the equation. And, to take a page from your ubiquitous math analogies, the equation was always an inequality - Ashley is greater than whomever.
"It denied me the ability to appreciate almost everything. I had almost everything I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. I could get almost anything I wanted and I never had to make much of an effort for any of it. How could I value anything when it came so effortlessly?
"Look at all the work you did for me in high school and it cost me nothing. My grades cost me little effort. And all the help I got from others toward grades or whatever else I rarely even had to ask for. It was offered up on the altar of my beauty.
"It prevented me from gaining any understanding of responsibility. If I didn't do something, if I omitted something, if I didn't properly appreciate the things being done for me or given me, well, you know Ashley is so beautiful you really can't expect, fill in the blank.
"And could I ever ease up on the beauty? What could I do, put on less makeup?"
"You don't wear makeup."
"Exactly! What a useless, pathetic parasite I would have turned out to be if you hadn't slapped me in the face repeatedly to bring me out of my trance?"
Jeff wasn't laughing anymore.
"And look at how it made me treat people. I -"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa up there. You didn't do anything to get that beauty. It was given to you randomly. And I will concede you've made a compelling case that it put enough impediments in your way to make you likely to turn into a wasted, useless husk of a human being."
"Thank you," I said.
"You know what I mean. And all those impediments you listed and all the others I'm sure you were going to elaborate have made your achievements in overcoming them all the more remarkable. They have made you not a wasted, useless husk, but a truly remarkable human being."
"Thank you." This time I said it sincerely. "You're not just saying that because I put out for you, are you?"
"Have I mentioned that amazing sense of humor?"
"So, if I understand you correctly, even though I did nothing to become this breathtakingly beautiful, even though I did nothing to deserve it, I've been served well in learning to overcome it. And there is much more to me than my beauty. And, given that I well know how to use it, I'm developing the capacity to use it for good, not merely for my benefit?"
"You understand me correctly."
"Good. We need to talk. We have another problem to address."
This time he didn't laugh.
"Jeff, you think you're too smart."
He laughed again, but it was a very nervous laugh.
"I'm not sure it's possible to be too smart, but, apparently, you think it is. Look at all the problems it causes.
"It made it possible for you to become complacent. Anything you wanted to achieve you could achieve effortlessly. You barely had to raise a synapse to become your high-school valedictorian.
"It made you somewhat contemptuous, not intentionally, of all those people who could not understand despite your explanations what, to you, was completely obvious. Or, if not contempt, boundless frustration at their inability to understand what, for you, was impossible not to understand.
"You do have empathy. I assume you were able to generalize from the way you were treated as an outsider, maybe even as a freak, because your intelligence is so far beyond almost everyone you've met they feared you or it made them uncomfortable.
"It made it difficult for you to develop relationships. How do people connect with someone so clearly above them? Jeff can do anything. He can even become a superior bowler just by reading a book.
"It made you almost pathologically unselfish. You did nothing to earn that intelligence. It is so unfair. You responded by being helpful to others without any thought of reward. You helped the students in your graduate courses just because they asked.
"It denied you the ability to appreciate almost anything. Nothing took any effort. How could you value any of it? Yet, somehow, you found challenges and worked tirelessly to use and develop that intelligence to produce something that may be helpful to mankind.
"And there is the crux of the problem we have to talk about. You work too tirelessly. It doesn't leave much time for you or me or us."
There followed a long silence. Jeff was clearly thinking about all of this, but I had no idea where it led.
"You are incredible," he said. Unfortunately, he said it with ambiguous intonation. I had no idea whether it was a compliment or an accusation.
"You make it absolutely impossible not to love you," he said as he crushed me in a hug.
"Do you really think that's why I work so hard?"
"Jeff, you keep working even after you're done. You get a problem completely worked out and then you keep working at it, like there was something you might have missed."
"There might be."
"But there never is. You keep trying to put in one hundred and ten percent. Now, I'm no math genius, but I'm pretty certain that one hundred percent is all there is. Once you reach that, nothing you do is going to move you past that.
"In fact, I've heard this guy who is a math genius yell that at the TV when some fool starts talking about somebody giving more than one hundred percent and I have absolute faith in his understanding of these matters."
"So you think the extra time I put in could be put to better use?"
"I know it could be put to better use, even if that is only getting enough sleep."
The subconscious does not usually do a complete turnaround instantly. Jeff checked in now and then to try to solidify his conversion.
"And you're sure my questionable confidence results from all the junk in my subconscious?"
I was working on my conversion as well.
"You'd be surprised at how often you are surprised when you do something that doesn't fit in with the old Ashley. I'd say it happens one hundred ten percent of the time. Wait, I may have the math wrong on that."
We continued to work on it during the little time we had left before graduation. Now and then I would clear my throat to remind him not to get carried away. And when I would start to doubt myself Jeff would get a look that said you know who you really are.