My friend Anna, who’s in her mid-fifties, is an extremely accomplished business owner. She has two degrees from two prestigious universities, plus she’s multilingual, well-traveled, and, due to her hard work and career dedication, rich. If all that wasn’t enough, she has a beautiful figure and is always impeccably dressed. In short, Anna is impressive.
But Anna is also twice-divorced, and every time I see her I get the lowdown on her latest man troubles. I try to help when asked, but I’ve never come right out and told her what I want to tell her—which is this:
Anna, you’re too damn smart and successful for your own good.
In fact whenever I’m with Anna, I’m reminded of something Jackie Kennedy once said:
“There are two kinds of women: those who want power in the world, and those who want power in bed.”
This is a truism many women today resent. After all, they’ve been raised in a culture that taught them to value autonomy and professional achievement. That this course of action would undermine their success in love was never entertained, let alone discussed.
Yet that is precisely what has happened.
There are two main reasons super successful women struggle in love. The first is a matter of practicality: people who pursue big careers, whether they’re male or female, typically find their personal lives suffer as a result. Careers (as opposed to jobs) are all-consuming. Those who are successful in effect give their lives to their work, and this comes at a cost. A good marriage or relationship doesn’t thrive on their own. If it is not prioritized, it will die.
The second reason super successful women struggle in love has to do with biology. Consider for a moment the most significant difference between the sexes. It is women, not men, who have the ability to do the most powerful thing in the world: carry life, give life, and nourish life. What’s more, their DNA is designed to nurture babies in a unique and primal way. Because of this, a woman’s value to society is immeasurable—even if she never earns a dime.
That is not the case for men.
“A woman simply is,” notes Camille Paglia, author and social critic. “But a man must become.”
Indeed, a man’s ability to provide for and to protect the life he helped create is integral to his identity. That’s something he can do. Thus, a man who is stripped of his ability to earn, or who’s overshadowed by a woman who earns more, never really feels like a man at all.
And it’s not just men who feel unsettled with this modern dynamic. When a woman knows she can depend on her man to take charge when necessary, even if she’s perfectly capable of doing so herself, her desire and respect for him comes naturally. When she’s the dominant partner, all of that falls away.
Take Susan Forray, a 40-year-old divorced actuary and partner at a financial consulting firm, who wrote in The New York Times last year about a man she was dating who flat out said to her, “I’m the man. I should be in charge of the money.”
Ms. Forray felt a “jolt of anxiety.” Here she was, an actuary, and the man she’s dating tells her managing money is his job, not hers. But her subsequent feelings were unexpected.
“I found his bluntness surprising but also alluring. He was confident in his desires…I craved a man who sought to take financial responsibility for his family, even if I didn’t need it…. The men I’d previously dated thought of themselves as staunch feminists—in hindsight, frustratingly so, at least in the sense that they were too inclined to defer to me (under the guise of respecting me) to ever take charge, either financially or sexually.”
Few women, deep down, want to be in the dominant role. Every fiber of a woman’s being calls out for a man who’s stronger and smarter and more capable than she. This is what’s known as hypergamy, or the desire of women to marry across and up the socioeconomic ladder.
That’s why a man’s education and work status matters so much in the mating dance. But a woman’s socioeconomic status, or her education and work status, matters very little. In fact, it determines almost zero of her attractiveness. Which means the more educated and successful a woman becomes, the less likely she is to find and keep a husband.
Ms. Forray’s predicament is no different from Anna’s. Ideally, they both need a man who’s at least as accomplished as they are, preferably more so. Problem is, there are very few men in this camp. Most men are regular Joes.
To put it another way, super successful women are up against sheer math: there simply aren’t enough men of their same socioeconomic status from which to choose.
Ergo, if they want to find lasting love, super successful women have exactly three options:
- Hold out for an older and richer man who doesn’t have baggage from a previous marriage or two (and get old and gray in the meantime)
- Marry “down” and accept the trade-offs of having a good man who may not light your fire
- Re-evaluate their lives and relinquish some of the power they’ve acquired in the outside world
Of course they can simply remain single, too. Either which way, at the end of the day super successful women need to ask themselves this question: Which do I want more? Power in the world or power in bed?
Because few, if any, women have both.