Driven, successful, and... always single: Do guys really find power sexy?
Today, more women than ever are wildly ambitious and intellectually curious. According to Harvard Business School's e-publication "Working Knowledge," women now make up 35 to 40 percent of business school applicants; women also make up the majority in the undergraduate populations at more than one Ivy League college.
According to the BBC, the average woman's workweek is now half a day longer than it was five years ago—sometimes with more work waiting to be done at home. The media has coined the term "alpha female" to describe these assertive, strong, successful women who are big on work.
But how do these hyper-ambitious alpha females navigate the dating land? What's an alpha female to do if she wants a male counterpart as ambitious and powerful as she? Historically, men have been breadwinners and women have played the supporting role, and that made up a huge part of gender roles and the balance of masculinity and femininity in relationships.
The gender landscape certainly has shape-shifted: women are entitled to their capabilities and desires to earn professional success and money. However, they're not automatically entitled to a supportive boyfriend who is completely, totally cool with his girlfriend or wife being just as successful (if not more!) than he is. While a power couple could fuel each other's success (like Bill and Hillary Clinton), because of outdated ideas on women's roles, men might look outside the relationship to have a gentler, more amenable feminine presence in their lives (like Bill and Hillary Clinton). While it sounds retro for successful women to be wondering whether their power will turn men off, unfortunately, it's often a pertinent issue.
In her book Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd discusses the ups and downs of sex and gender today, and some of her findings aren't encouraging. She discusses how in movies like Maid in Manhattan and Spanglish, powerful men find their ambitious female counterparts loathsome and instead fall for women working as maids and nannies. Dowd discusses her life as a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist (and the sole female columnist on the New York Times op-ed page) and the lives of her similarly successful friends, who have to temper their success to seem desirable (Dowd wrote of a friend who was disappointed after having won a Pulitzer prize because she'd have an even harder time getting men to date her). Dowd sees the highly successful men of the baby boomer generation as repelled by successful women: "If there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties."
In Ross Douthat's book Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, the reporter looks at his four years at Harvard (where he claims to have learned relatively little) and writes that Harvard women found their affiliation with the Ivy League school to be a big problem in the dating sphere. He writes that his female classmates referred to telling a guy that they attended Harvard as "dropping the H-bomb," which could blow the romantic pursuit at hand to smithereens. On an episode of Sex and the City, Harvard Law-educated Miranda Hobbes pretends to be a flight attendant because she senses that her lawyer gig is making men run.
Last July, Hilary Duff told the London newspaper the Guardian, "The women I know are more successful than the men. It's hard for me to meet someone. I don't need someone who, like, has as much as me, but I don't want someone who has much less because then you never really feel taken care of. And it would always make a guy feel not like a man."
But in "real life," some don't see this as such a huge problem. Perhaps today's guys—the twentysomethings who were raised alongside the girls who were taught that it was cool to be smart—will be more open to ambitious young women. Says Allie, a young aspiring actress from New York, "I sense that some guys want to be with women who are less successful than them and that some guys might feel less masculine if their significant other was the breadwinner. But if a guy were to admit that, I think most people would see that as really out of style." Allie, who says she's been an overachiever her entire life, has never had problems finding guys who appreciate her drive: "The guys I've dated, I think, have tended to admire my ambition and in some cases have sort of fed off it and become more ambitious and successful because of being around me."
Amber Madison, author of Hooking Up: A Girl's All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality, who tours the country lecturing at colleges about sex, is very familiar with being a successful woman on the dating scene. She feels that, for the most part, the panic over successful women having trouble finding a mate is inflated, and that the successful gals will find a guy. "As a successful woman, there might be a lot of guys who are insecure who don't want to date you because of your success. But you don't want to date them anyway. The guys who are going to be turned on by your success are the ones who you want to date, and they are out there."
"At first I think guys might be intimidated when they first meet me, but within five minutes they realize, 'Oh, she's funny and she falls all the time and she's always spilling things. She's not threatening, she's Amber!'," says Madison.
Allie agrees: "Women should present their success and their accomplishments as something that's really sexy and makes them sexy, and I think that guys will sort of pick up on that and see women's accomplishments and success and such as something that's appealing, too."
There may be some ego issues along the way, though. When Erin, a 33-year-old editor, met her future husband David, he was a struggling grad school student. "I had established my career a little earlier than David, and in turn, was making about three times as much as he was," she explains.
When it was clear that his budget didn't allow him to pick up the check for every dinner, movie, and museum exhibit, money quickly became a sticking point—from his perspective. "I didn't want to emasculate him, so I got strategic: We would take turns paying for dates. I made sure his turn was breakfast or something else inexpensive, and I'd cover dinners." When he caught on, she says she smiled and explained that she wanted thing to be fair, and it was her turn to pay. "He knew exactly what was going on, but it offered him a way to contribute," she adds.
Erin, who continues to outearn her husband, says that she occasionally wishes things were different. "Sure, I'd love to be surprised with some glittering rock of jewelry, but it's not going to happen. I knew that going into the relationship," she says. "I'd rather have a partner who is emotionally and physically present than some Wall Street guy who's never home and apologizes with presents."
Personally, this reporter has faith: the Bill and Hillary show might have had a few bumps in the road, but when Bill was a Yale Law grad and a Rhodes scholar, he chose the smartest girl at Wellesley... Hillary!