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Whenever I get together with a crowd of women and discuss men and dating, particularly if the women are educated professionals, inevitably one woman will ask this question:

Why are men threatened by strong, successful women?

You’ve probably heard the stories: the woman whose partner didn’t like that she out-earned him, the power-suited woman who got overlooked for young waitress with the ample bosom, or the guy who got offended because a woman out-argued him about the pros and cons of Obamacare. What’s the deal? Are guys really threatened by successful women? Do they really prefer a submissive girl with fewer accomplishments so they can feel superior and special? Are their egos that fragile? Some would say yes.

But I say NO.

Define “Strong,” Please

Certain words and phrases get overused so much that they lose their meaning. I think “strong woman” is one of those phrases. As a film lover, I hear people comment on movies that have a “strong woman” in a lead role. Usually this refers to a role where the woman can defend herself, fight, or play the hero, rather than get shuttled to the sidelines as the supportive partner, the damsel in distress, or some other throwaway role. But the issue here isn’t so much how strong the role is, but how important it is to the film’s plot. A woman doesn’t have to play a knife-wielding femme fatale to be “strong.”

In dating, everyone has a different idea of what a strong woman is. Some use is more broadly, referring to any woman who asserts herself and confidently pursues what she wants out of life, whether it’s to run her own company or to raise healthy kids at home. But others use it more narrowly, referring to women with “strong personalities” that are pushy, opinionated, loud, etc. Some say that the women in this latter group have “masculine energy” and that’s why men don’t like them. I disagree. Since when is being loud or opinionated masculine, when we all know women like this? And for every pushy, domineering woman, there’s a man who’s easygoing enough to hang with her.

And, well, once in a while an ill-tempered, bitchy woman — not comfortable in her own skin — will euphemistically describe herself as “strong” until she learns that real strength doesn’t need claws, thorns, or insults.

Defining success is just as tricky. To me, success is achieving what you want out of life, whatever that may be. But many people define success through more conventional metrics: education, income, and social status. More importantly, men and women place different value on conventional success in a partner.

 

Men Don’t Rank “Success” as Highly as Women Do

Successful women who aren’t achieving the dating success they want may think, “I’m successful, I have a great job, I own my own condo… I should have plenty of options.” In some cases, the problem is something else, and “success” provides a handy excuse for rejection from men, much the way some men will claim that they were rejected because they don’t make enough money. But more often, these successful women assume that their success will attract men, especially successful men. But it doesn’t work that way.

Many women place a man’s success pretty high on her list of wants. But men have a different list. Men look first at whether a woman is physically attractive to them, then evaluate whether they have stuff in common and get along well. The rest is bonus. This means that, in the dating market, a successful woman’s success doesn’t have the same value that a man’s does.

I’m not suggesting that men don’t value a woman’s success. Many do. It’s just not as important to them as other things. Speaking for myself, I have some indicators of conventional success (a PhD, published books), and I found that men were often impressed by those things when I was single. Very few were threatened by my success. But I guarantee you my education and achievements were not the primary things that attracted men to me.

 

What About the Men who ARE Threatened by a Woman’s Success?

Yes, they’re out there. These are the men who were raised in very traditional homes where Dad rules the roost, who are stuck in the Mad Men past when women weren’t supposed to wear pants or have careers, or, more commonly, who are experiencing insecurity about their own lack of success and don’t like the feeling that they don’t measure up to their more successful girlfriend.

But these men are the exception. And if you’re a successful woman, they aren’t your problem because you shouldn’t be dating them. Let them find their conservative Christian wife who believes men should lead, or let them work through their struggles with their lack of success.

What do you all think about this? Let’s hash this out.

 

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