Are Men Afraid Of Successful Women?

Driven, powerful women appear to have everything. But too many of them are asking “Where’s the romance?”

By Jane Ganahl

ou’re an impressive woman: powerful, accomplished, leading the pack in your job as an executive, a politician, a venture capitalist. It’s a pretty great life, isn’t it? Sure — except when it comes to romance and dating.

Many of my high-powered single women friends — especially those over 45 — have complained that it’s
Yes, there is a double standard that makes people look askance at single women in power.
hard to find a romantic partner. It seems that women’s power and success make many men feel threatened, and so they either won’t come close or head for the hills soon after the first kiss. Honey, it could be worse. You could be a part of the Washington Spinsters Club, an elite group of some of the most powerful and influential women in the world... who are also known for their perennially single status.

Who are these fabulously powerful women? In recent years, the names Condoleezza Rice, Janet Reno, Donna Shalala and Anita Hill have become synonymous for “single and proud.” In the media, two of the most powerful voices — Arianna Huffington and Maureen Dowd — are unattached.

And now, with the new Obama administration, we have a few new names to learn: Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. Veteran politicos and scarily accomplished, they will still come to be scrutinized as single ladies. I’m waiting for the Vanity Fair photo shoot — they’ll call it “Obama’s Angels” or something of the like, dress them in sexy clothes and omit mention of their years at Yale and Stanford.

Yes, there is a double standard that makes people look askance at single women in power, while it’s rarely noted if a powerful man is unmarried. In case you missed it, there were ruffled feathers a couple of months back when then-governor Napolitano’s name was thrown in the ring for homeland security chief. Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania commented, “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect.”

Ouch. Last time I checked, single women like me and Napolitano have to pull double duty on pretty much everything! We handle home repair, cooking, cleaning, shopping and anything else that happens to crop up. There’s no handing off of honey-do lists in our households.

Gail Collins of the New York Times was rightfully indignant over Rendell’s comments. She wrote, “Unmarried women at the top... often wind up portrayed as vestal virgins who live only to serve their chief executive… Instead of being celebrated for their achievements, they wind up regarded as slightly fanatic.”

As if that’s not bad enough, again, how on earth do you find a suitable dinner companion? One can only imagine the conversations Rice had on dates during her eight years as President Bush’s favorite spinster. Her dinner date: “I sold a new insurance policy today that includes two cars as well as accidental death and dismemberment.” Rice: “That’s nice. I reopened nuclear negotiations with North Korea and crafted a United Nations resolution to investigate war crimes in Darfur. Pass the bread sticks!”

Clearly, it takes a special kind of man to want to romance this special kind of woman.

“To be a good partner for this kind of woman, the man doesn’t need to be as accomplished as she is or competitive with her,” says Michelle Gannon, Ph.D., a San Francisco psychologist and cofounder of Marriage Prep 101. “But he
Perhaps he does not feel secure and confident in himself.
needs to be self-confident, enthusiastic about her success and power and willing to let her have the limelight.”

He also needs to realize that at the end of the day, a powerful woman is still a woman, with female wants and needs. “As much as he needs to accept the woman for her brilliance and success, he also needs to recognize her vulnerability,” says Gannon. “Even super-powerful women want love, attention, support and adoration from an important man in their life.”

Recall, if you will, a famous scene from Notting Hill, a movie about a famous movie star (Julia Roberts) who falls for a lovable lunk (Hugh Grant) who works in a bookstore.

Hugh Grant: “I live in Notting Hill. You live in Beverly Hills. Everyone in the world knows who you are; my mother has trouble remembering my name.”

Julia Roberts: “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

What helped Hugh Grant’s character win the actress’s love (aside from being drop-dead gorgeous, which didn’t exactly hurt) is that he was self-confident and happy in his life. Even though she was famous and he was not, he exuded contentment — and she gravitated toward that.

“I know plenty of super-successful women who are very content with their loving, intelligent guys who might not be as successful as they are, but who celebrate their successes with them,” says Gannon.

She acknowledges that the intimidation factor is an issue when powerful women are seeking partners — but says it’s up to the man to deal with it. “If a man is intimidated by such a woman and thinks she is too successful, he should take a look at himself. Perhaps he does not feel secure and confident in himself. And a powerful woman needs a confident man.”

There’s another good reason it’s harder for these women to find love, says dating and relationship coach Sierra Faith, and it has to do with their staying connected to their femininity.

“When a woman is a power broker, probably the toughest part of meeting men is finding the means to stay connected to her own female energy,” says Faith, whose practice is based on spirituality. “A lot of men will walk away from this kind of woman, not because they need to hold power but because there is no room for her to receive his attempts at pleasing her. Or she’ll attract narcissists who are attracted to her ‘I can handle it, provide and take charge’ energy, and she’ll end up feeling drained, disillusioned and more armored as a result of those interactions.”

Yikes, it’s beginning to sound like a single woman has to make a devil’s bargain to ascend to a position of authority. Power is heady and intoxicating, but so is the scent of romance. I’m hoping a perfume is invented someday that combines them both!

Jane Ganahl is a nonfiction author and journalist who wrote for San Francisco newspapers for 24 years. She is codirector of the San Francisco Litquake Festival and author of the novelized memoir, Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife.
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