So you just got promoted. Will your pulling power soar – or won’t you see the men in your life for dust? Here’s the scary truth on how the 9-to-5 can affect your love life. By Jane Alexander.
Most of us have spent our whole lives being told that we’re caught in a biological trap: Women are programmed to desire stockbrokers with bulging bank accounts, while men crave chicks with childbearing hips and childlike faces. While most women have had their doubts about this for some time, even the “expert” now admits that the stereotypes are collapsing and that we’re living through an unprecedented time of transition in our relationships. Things, they predict, may never be the same again.
The reason is that women are working hard. Although we often earn pitiful small wages, many women are taking high-powered jobs with the income and status that such positions entail. And while most of us revel in the potential freedom and income work provides, few have really considered how it could affect our love lives. The reality is that almost overnight the rules have changed.
Now it’s no longer just giddy girlies who go weak at the sight of a loaded wallet- these days men too are being ensnared by the sex-charged allure of success.
Jack, a 31-year-old tv researcher, is dating Sue, a successful director. He has no doubt that Sue’s status and power were part of initial attraction. “The first time I saw Sue she was bawling someone out over sloppy work. She was magnificent: Totally assured, completely in control. She was the sexiest woman I’d ever seen.”
Jack freely admits that he finds Sue’s success, prestige, confident and money a complete turn-on. “I love the fact that she’s got a top of the range Merc, wear designer clothes and know loads of famous people. It’s a seductive mix.”
Tony, 30, a banker, fell in love with his girlfriend Rebecca, a lawyer, after seeing her in court. “She won and I was furious because I thought the court had made the wrong decision, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. I asked colleagues about her and was told she was a rising star. They said she was highly independent, very ambitious and lived for her career. I became obsessed with her work persona before I even talked to her.”
What’s wrong with a man being impressed by a powerful woman? And why not? Why should we find it surprisingly that increasing numbers of men are finding prestige and wealth in woman a heady aphrodisiac? Perhaps because the “experts” have always prophesied doom and gloom for this new dynamic in relationships.
Feminist and sex educator, Shere Hite warned that men are fundamentally scared of women’s success and that deep in the male psyche lurks the terror that, if women are financially independent, they won’t need them anymore. Michael Argyle and Monika Henderson, authors of The Anatomy Of Relationships, cheerlessly predict that, “The more wives earn, the more marital disruption there’s likely to be.”
And it seems that, in theory, they may have a point. Researchers found that marriages in which the woman had a much higher status occupation than her husband were more likely to end in divorce than those in which couples were at roughly the same level. But why for heaven’s sake? Blame the subconscious, says Kati Cottrell Blanc, a psychotherapist. “At the moment we have a gender nightmare,” she warns. “The rules has changed suddenly, but the subconscious hasn’t yet assimilated it.” She believes that women are dangling above a barbed a wire no-man’s-land between the old stereotype and the new fledging breed of relationship.
“What we want is an integrated personality, but we haven’t got the makings of it yet. Women still want a knight in shining amour, but they want that knight to be a caring, sharing knight as well. Women are now supposed to be sexy, successful and powerful, but also nurturing, feminine and mothering. It’s double bind and we usually fall into one category or the other.”Cottrell-Blanc says when women are playing the sexy, successful role are almost irresistible to the new breed of men who are seduced by power in women. But don’t get too excited. “Underneath he still wants the old stuff as well – and so, to be honest, do we,” she adds, “As a result enormous clashes occur.”
It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar to Caroline, 29-year-old public relations consultant. “James left me because he couldn’t handle the fact that I was more successful than him,” she says. “He’s in marketing and is successful, but I earn quite a lot more than him and, because of the nature of my job, I’m in the limelight more. It’s a funny thing: Men like James like the idea of a high-powered, successful partner but when it comes down to it, it bruises their ego. Basically, I got sick of nurturing his ego and he couldn’t hack me hogging the limelight.” After only six months James left Caroline for his secretary. “He said he loved me, but that I emasculated him,” says Caroline. “He swears we had a better sex and that he found me more attractive, but that his new relationship has given him back his pride.”
And yet they are drawn to successful women like bees to the proverbial honey pot. Why? Is it the money? If the woman is bringing home the bacon surely it takes the economy pressure off the man? Isn’t that a relief? Apparently not. “It’s not the money,” insist Tony. “In fact, if I could earn more it would be wonderful. But my work doesn’t pay as well as Becky’s.”
Frances Pyne, director of Dateline, a matchmaking agency, says this is not unusual. “ The extra money may be an added bonus,” she says, “but it isn’t something most men actively go for,”
Jack finds this an interesting proposition. “I suppose part of me imagines people think I must be pretty brilliant because she’s interested in me. And when we have sex, there’s this sexy, successful woman lying in my arms and I am capable of reducing to tears of ecstasy – I find it one hell of an ego trip.”
Tony, however, cringes at the thought of basking Becky’s reflected glory. “I just love her – all of her,” he insists. “I love the strong, powerful, impassioned lawyer but equally I love the fact that, when she’s at home, she can be sensitive as any other woman. I like to think I’m a man enough to cope with the fact that she’s the bigger earner and has the higher profile in this relationship.” Tony seems to be one of Cottrell-Blanc’s rare, integrated modern men, but he also appears to be in minority in this country. However, the prognosis looks more promising.
Therapist Janet Giler and Kathleen Neumeyer, authors of Redefining Mr. Right, that we are already adapting. “We interviewed successfully married career women and found some new patterns emerging,” says Nuemeyer. “Men are more self-possessed and able to express their feelings. Women are more able to have an identity separate from their relationship.”
The result, they say, is a reversal of the old marriages in which women had no choice but to marry for shelter and economic comfort. Now women are free to choose mates who might be “more satisfying life partner.”
“I’m not looking for a boss, I’m looking for a partner,” says Dianne, one of their interviewees. “I own several million dollars worth of property. I can take care of myself. I want a man to have fun with.”
This situation, say Giler and Neumeyer, will become more common. Analysts predict that as information technology gradually takes precedence in the world, women will become richer and more powerful.
However, if women keep looking for men who are more successful or wealthier, they could chase a vanishing breed. “The notion of ‘marrying up’ sets a high-achieving career woman up for frustration,” says Neumeyer. “The more successful a woman is, the more the pool of men who are more successful.”
But women generally don’t find this a problem. Unlike the old-style who was quite happy to boast about how helpless his stay-at-home wife was, successful women want to empower their partners. “Most of the women we spoke to felt they had chosen men who had something to offer them emotionally,” says Giler and Neumeyer, “Something that far outweighed what they might have got from a man who could’ve contributed more financially.”
But what of the future? “It is moving; it’s being pushed to move,” says Cottrell-Blanc. “It’ll either come to the point where there are no more one-to-one relationships because they’re impossible to sustain, or relationships will have started to look deeper and get to place of mutual trust.”
Pyne agrees. “It’s almost a natural evolution. Men are having to become attuned to women’s success because that’s the way it is.” Kathleen Neumeyer sums up this relationships watershed. “The Noughties are clearly a transitional time with couples who have grown up accepting basic premises of feminism attempting to put them into action in their own lives. The children of these couples will grow up with quite different role models than their own parents had.”
The dawn of an age of harmony and understanding; of equality in bedroom and boardroom? It’s a lovely thought. And it’s up to us to make it happen.