Two months ago, I told a man I’d been dating that I had plans to go back to school for my doctorate.
He grew quiet. A little too quiet. For the rest of our conversation, I pretended that the tense moment of silence had only existed in my own mind. Within a week, however, he had all but ended our fledgling relationship.
Although I won’t ever know the whole deal with this particular guy, the experience made me wonder if some men are freaked out by powerful and successful women. To be clear, I don’t feel all that successful most of the time — but neither did I make up my date’s awkward reaction to my statement of personal goals and career aspirations. So, is this really something we have to contend with? Goals, accolades and — gasp — personal opinions as man-repellent?
Relationship coach Hunt Ethridge says that this dynamic is an unfortunate reality for some women. “I just had a special session at Saks Fifth Avenue where these beautiful, well-dressed, powerful and awesome women were all single and complaining about how difficult it was for them to get a date,” Ethridge explained. “One woman even shared a story that a man she liked finally asked her out on a date only to tell her he couldn’t date her because he’d be too scared to lose her.”
The evidence that men often shy away from successful women extends beyond dating anecdotes, though. Psychotherapist Ellen Boykin explains that this dynamic is a common one that she sees in her practice, and our society in general. “The truth is that men are often not afraid of her achievements or confidence, but how that influences his sense of self in the relationship,” she explained. According to Boykin, many men struggle to feel necessary to their wives or girlfriends, and this feeling of deficiency is pronounced when a successful woman ostensibly doesn’t need a man to provide for her. “They just don’t know what their role is supposed to be.”
Of course, most women balk at such a statement. We don’t want a man to provide for us monetarily. We want a man who is an emotionally available partner, and willing to weather life’s storms with encouragement and love. “Unfortunately, many men are not raised to see their self-worth in those traits first,” Boykin said. “The intimidation is really about self-doubt and uncertainty about their role.”
Well, that’s distressing. Thankfully, Ethridge states that all is not lost for confident and successful women. The trick is to grow more approachable for that first meeting, in order to give a prospective date a chance to feel encouraged and confident, too. “By no means do I suggest that women dim their stars,” Ethridge said. “But there are ways to learn to be approachable.” First, he tells women to forego handshakes on a date, and instead greet their dates with a peck on the cheek. “Are your arms crossed? Uncross them. Meet eyes, smile, look away and look back.” It’s all simple, really, and doesn’t diminish your power or success — and it might just make you a little more approachable for the guys with fragile male egos.