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brains and beauty

Salman Rushdie with one of his four ex-wives, Indian supermodel Padma Lakshmi: the poster boy for intellectual males who are irresistible to women.PHIL McCARTEN

The world gasped last week as rotund, owl-browed author Salman Rushdie, 62, attended a writers gala - with 26-year-old Harvard grad and stunner Min Lieskovsky on his arm.

The sighting came merely one week after Mr. Rushdie, a four-time divorcé, lashed out at his ex-girlfriend, statuesque actress Pia Glenn, 32. Ms. Glenn had complained about Mr. Rushdie's lingering obsession with his ex-wife, Indian supermodel Padma Lakshmi. The distinguished novelist responded by calling Ms. Glenn a "radioactive bucket of stress."

In short order, Mr. Rushdie has become the poster boy for the intellectual who routinely lands babes much to the bewilderment of everyone.

Photo after photo shows the author with his porcine arm around his latest, much-taller conquest.

The brainiac holds a particular sex appeal for women. From Woody Allen, who dated Diane Keaton and married Mia Farrow, to Malcolm Gladwell, who according to the Daily Beast's Sean Macaulay is quite the "love guru," and Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, who reportedly gets hit on by breathy groupies at book signings, it's clear that geeks can captivate.

The allure often lies in power, said Gloria MacDonald, matchmaker and founder of Perfect Partner dating service in Toronto.

"The woman gets to shine in all of her glory and beauty and splendour, and he gets to shine in all of his brilliance."

Prominence was the attraction for Lee, a 22-year-old postgrad who considered but ultimately rebuffed the advances of a professor who was about 40 years her senior.

Lee, who did not want to give her full name for fear of identifying her teacher, said she liked the "idea of a mature man who has power."

"He was an older man who … had this confidence as well as intelligence when he spoke."

She added: "The fact that many other girls also thought he was dreamy also helped things. The idea of dating or hooking up with a prof is one of those kinky dreams I'm sure many girls have."

Women have long overlooked appearances for character and status, said Susan Semeniw, founder of Divine Intervention, a Vancouver-based matchmaking comp-any.

"Presumably [Mr. Rushdie]exudes a ton of charisma. He's probably brimming with confidence. A lot of men are intimidated by beautiful women and clearly he's not," Ms. Semeniw said.

Poise aside, intellectuals generally need to fulfill several criteria before landing Indian supermodels.

"They have to have something to offer, and it's not necessarily just their person- ality," said Susan Kates, Toronto-based president of, a social-network- ing company for singles.

When it comes to well-to-do nerds, women seek several things "subconsciously," Ms. MacDonald said.

"Women are looking for provision, protection and status. The nerd tends to be someone who would be a good provider. They'd have a good solid job and they might have a very high income because they're so bright."

She added: "Salman Rushdie has status. His nerdiness has provided him with status."

But if it's a high profile that women are attracted to, why not date an athlete or a model, the way Ms. Lieskovsky did before she was spotted with Mr. Rushdie? (The young woman boasted to Elle Girl about bagging six "top" models in her short life.)

The answer might be competition: Dating an aging intellectual versus a chiselled supermodel inevitably means less rivalry with other women, Ms. Kates posited.

"Do you want to be with the guy that everybody else wants? Not really, because then you're not going to have the guy. He's not going to be focusing on you."

A well-circulated, anonymous Craigslist post lists the more calculated advantages of dating a nerd: "You won't have to worry much about what he's up to. You'll probably come home to find him asleep on his keyboard in a sea of Mountain Dew cans with code blinking from the screen."

That sentiment is echoed on "I Love Nerds," a Facebook page counting 1,433 members. On one discussion board, members discuss the charm of the brainy man.

"I know I am never going to be cheated on," writes Ashley Carpenter, the site's page administrator. Adella Rose Khan of Lindsay, Ont., concurs: "They are the [sic]loyalist guys you'll ever find."

But not all intellectuals are created equal.

Lee said the "awe factor" rubbed off once she realized her professor had slept with other students. "When you start to hear about all the women he's womanized, it also takes the novelty off the attraction."

She added: "You think you have the upper hand, being young and beautiful, but then you realize he's got all the cards in his hand, and he's got the power."