‘I Downplay My Career For The Sake Of My Relationship’

Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”-Dorothy Parker

Do some women downplay their career success or ambition for the sake of their relationship? In some relationships, career competition can be a major point of tension. We haven’t taken  a poll, but it seems that men may be more threatened by a driven women than the opposite. We decided to talk to some women who feel they have had to do this to save their relationships.

In the past few months we have been bombarded with studies telling us women are the richer sex, are going to make all the money in the next 25 years and that we don’t even need men anymore to have children or just be happy. Heck some women are marrying themselves! But are all these women going to be single because their career ambition will ruin their relationships?

According to the film world, yes. Sylvia Ann Hewlitt and Melinda Marshall wrote in the Harvard Business Review about the movie Black Swan. “Characters like Nina imply that ambition will cost a woman all her meaningful relationships; it will push her to the breaking point; it will twist her priorities, pervert her desires, and betray her dreams.”

Or look at Sex & the City. When Carrie started dating Jack Berger, they were absolutely perfect together until her book turned into a huge success as his career dwindled. It killed their relationship resulting in the legendary Post-it breakup, setting a new benchmark for note-written breakups everywhere.

But how do women feel in real life?

Nancy Butler told The Grindstone:

“As a single parent running my own business I was finally ready to get back into dating. My business was successful and I found myself in the newspaper, on local television or radio about once a month. Things were finally on their way to where I wanted them to be and now I could start to rebuild my personal life.

It was more difficult than I expected, not just for the usually reasons but also because my business was successful and I was well known in the community. I had a hard time figuring out what the problem was until a guy I had started to date said to me “I think we have a class problem. You area a successful business woman. I work with my hands and am sure you make a whole lot more than I do. This is not going to work out”. And then he left, never to be heard from again.

I decided what I needed was a man that was secure within himself and that was proud of what I have been able to do. He needed to be my advocate and not be intimidated by my success. Actually, after having no self esteem due to my failed marriage, this made me feel good knowing I was finally “someone”.”

Sheryl Warwick told The Grindstone:

“My husband is an airline Captain and his job has overshadowed my  photography and I have hid my ambition for wanting to really crank up my small business. He often might get based in a new city and it’s hard to  build a business on the move. I have always had to downplay what I really wanted which is a large private studio.

Just last month we found out that he will be going to Detroit. But he  was excited for me that I wanted to do this and he will fly from Houston  to Detroit every week to start work so that I can put 110% into my  business here in Houston. It feels good to share what I really want  after having to suppress my big goals. I sympathize with other women who  might have to tone down what they want because of their significant  other. But sharing might not be a bad idea; it was a good decision for me to open up.”

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    • Lastango

      There are several themes in this post, but I’d like to address the notion that men shy away from relationships with successful women because they feel threatened and are not secure within themselves. There’s another possible explanation.

      Men are doers. They need to feel like they have a real contribution to make and a job to do. That’s why men are debilitated by long-term unemployment. When a man meets a woman who has her worldly needs provided for, he may be unable to see that he can add value. Once he has the facts about her situation, he sizes this situation up instantly. But he is not threatened or intimidated. Rather, he is without purpose.

      There has been much writing about women downplaying their jobs and income so that the men they are dating don’t decamp before they get to know her. They want the man to have a chance to recognize that his contribution would be to her emotional life and her happiness. One woman wrote “the guys don’t give you long enough to figure out if you are really vulnerable deep down. They never hear the answer because they’re long gone.” Another woman reported that a man she was seeing “was hesitant to commit, because he had me on a pedestal, as he admitted in a heart to heart, but once I revealed my own vulnerabilities, and he realized I was only human too, with as many doubts as him, he felt free to commit to me to a long-term relationship, and then things were in full swing.”

      Women have also been given advice on how to approach this, centered on two main themes. First, give your date a chance to know you apart from your education and career. Tell him about your other interests. As one writer put it, “Think about what really defines you as a person, and then share that side of yourself with your date. Whether it’s a funny story about your childhood or a story about your love for volunteering, let the real you shine through.”

      Second, bring your feminine side forward. This has been summed up as “When a man goes out with a woman, he’s not as concerned with whether she’s articulate and on track to make partner at the law firm. That’s what women want in men and they assume it’s of equal importance to them. It’s generally not. Men do value intelligence, but they also want from their girlfriend what they can’t get from their business associates. Warmth, affection, nurturing, thoughtfulness.”

      Apparently, professional women often show the wrong side of themselves. They have been described as credential-worshiping, status-measuring, keeping score on everything, brittle, self-conscious, competitive, and hard-edged. No wonder they can’t get a second date; this runs directly counter to the things the man is interested in. But for the woman, switching gears and taking her game face off may be easier said than done. One businesswoman wrote, “There’s certainly no reason why a hard-charging and successful woman can’t stow her tough ways for a while on a date and show the side of herself that is kind and empathetic. There’s certainly no reason why a man can’t take the time to really get to know a woman executive and discover her softer attributes. There’s no reason why, but I suspect it often doesn’t happen.” If I had a chance to talk to Nancy Butler, mentioned in the post above thinking a man stopped dating her because he was insecure and intimidated, I would ask her how she handled this, and what side of herself she showed.

      One other, related point. Successful women tend to be older, and may lack the magnetic beauty of their younger years. That means they need to think more carefully about what they offer that is still attractive to a man, and make sure they don’t get in their own way when they reveal themselves to him.

      If intimidation is indeed present in some situations, it may be an error to think this is necessrily rooted in gender. “Strong, aggressive, ambitious people intimidate weak, passive, lackadaisical people regardless of sex. They remind these people of the existential crisis that cause their current state of being,” says Daniel, 25, a Web editor from Boston. “It’s the gap in intelligence—not gender—that causes the intimidation.” Jeff Kamp, 30, a software engineer, agrees, “The intimidated male might not be intimidated by the woman, but by the power, ambition and aggressiveness, and his reaction may cause a woman to see it as her being a woman.”

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