He Said, She Said: Are Men Intimidated By Strong, Smart and Successful Women?

For years, my single friends and I consoled one another after breakups or blow-offs by employing reductive reasoning, repeating a misinformed, yet token girl power refrain: "He's probably just intimidated by you -- you're strong, smart and successful -- and that scares him."
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Portrait of young pretty woman sitting in restaurant
Portrait of young pretty woman sitting in restaurant

For years, my single friends and I consoled one another after breakups or blow-offs by employing reductive reasoning, repeating a misinformed, yet token girl power refrain: "He's probably just intimidated by you -- you're strong, smart and successful -- and that scares him."

In the twenty-first century, women have come a long way. In fact, we're beginning to surpass men in many areas: We have more master's and college degrees, better GPAs and single, childless women have higher earnings than their male counterparts in urban areas. By 2025, more than half the primary breadwinners in America will be women.

Given this growing ascendancy, one might surmise that men have started to feel emasculated, put off by financially independent, strong women who make their own way because of the fear they're losing value as men. Some people opine that men are less attracted to a woman who is on an equal or higher level when it comes to matters of the pocketbook or education, and that a successful woman should dumb herself down to get a man.

My time in the world of dating and relationships, both personally (as a former serial dater) and professionally (as a columnist, host and now a dating coach), has taught me that these conclusions, for the most part, are fallacies, the aforementioned girl-power refrain a line women repeat when they don't want to tell each other or themselves to look inward or at their dating behaviors or their choices in men. In reality, I think many men appreciate and admire women who are accomplished, and are not at all intimidated by their strength, intelligence and position in the workplace.

To unpack this issue a bit more, I decided to ask... a man. Enter dating Expert Joshua Pompey of www.getrealdates.com. Here's an excerpt of our conversation on this topic:

Joshua Pompey: This is definitely a big issue in today's culture. As you say, women are more successful than ever, receiving higher levels of education, and the disparity between men and women in positions of power shrinks every year.

But are men really intimidated by strong, smart and successful women?

Obviously, all men are different, and to generalize an entire gender would be wrong. There will always be men, regardless of how much the times change, who hold up the male chauvinism glory days of the 1950s as the golden social model. With that said, for the most part, men are not intimated by strong and successful women. In fact, most men find these qualities very attractive and will brag to their friends and family about what a smart, great girl they have found.

The problem arises when the qualities that make a woman such a big success cross over into the relationship. In a woman's career, she may rise to the top by being very opinionated, aggressive and decisive. But when these same qualities cross too far into the relationship, we don't like it.

Neely Steinberg: That's where I was headed. Men appreciate an accomplished, successful woman but don't want to have to come home to a stressful, competitive environment after spending all day in a similar type of work environment. I don't think most women want that either, and as we become more successful in the workplace, I can hardly imagine we'd want to come home to an aggressive, hard-headed, controlling man.

Oftentimes, I think women lead with their accomplishments, as if their bona fides alone will attract a man, and I don't necessarily think that approach works. Maybe it works still for a man to lead that way, but not so much for women. Most men don't care where a woman got her three degrees or that she's made partner at her law firm -- it's a nice bonus, and, understandably, a woman is proud of these achievements, but it's not what leads a man to be attracted to her. A lot of women are baffled by that: Why is he with that girl and not me, when I'm so smart and successful? It could have nothing to do with her level of accomplishment (maybe she's a Ph.D.!) and more to do with that woman's easygoing nature and her ability to create a feeling of emotional safety and peace within a relationship. Thoughts?

Joshua Pompey: I think you hit the nail on the head, Neely, in regards to accomplishments being "a nice bonus." Great accomplishments don't cause men to feel an attraction towards women. They will only have the potential to enhance that attraction if we already feel it.

It is true that most men have some requirements. We strongly prefer to find partners who have more than high school degrees, have serious work ethics and have dreams of their own that they aspire to achieve. These qualities matter to us because we know on a fundamental level that we will connect more with women who are well rounded, have a high intelligence level and independently have goals of their own. But we don't necessarily care where a woman went to college or what her specific dreams are as long as they exist. An impressive goal doesn't have to fit the mold of a woman aspiring to work her way to the top of a law firm. It could be as simple as raising a nice family.

As long as women meet these minimal requirements, everything else mainly comes down to attraction. We won't stay with a woman because she is "so smart and successful." If we aren't attracted to her, this is irrelevant. Sometimes women forget that men are visual creatures above all. There has to be a physical spark. If this is present, her career, success and goals will enhance the attraction. At the end of the day, it comes down to how we feel when we are with the person, not how much she brings to the table.

In our relationships, we want to have equal input on situations showing that our opinions are valued. We want to feel that we are being listened to and understood. More importantly, we want to be allowed to make big decisions, even if we are just being humored.

Why? Quite simply: Because we are men, and, well, we still want to feel like men! Most men who are not OK with women who are strong and successful feel that, on some level, their partners are not making them feel like men anymore. And this is when resentment starts to build.

We are fine with there being an imbalance of income, but in a relationship we want to feel as if there is a healthy balance.

Neely Steinberg: Do you think also this newfound notion of women not "needing" men makes men resentful? It seems to me there's a growing number of strong, proud women who defiantly proclaim they don't need men for much; they may want them in their lives, but they don't need them, when push comes to shove. Maureen Dowd even wrote a book about it. Does that sentiment or mentality create an element of frustration among men?

Joshua Pompey: I think the resentment builds specifically towards women who, in your words, "defiantly proclaim they don't need men." It is one thing to not need a man. It is a whole different matter to defiantly act as if you don't need men.

Not being reliant on a man is a positive movement for women in today's society. In my opinion, all women should strive to achieve this. The problem arises when women make men feel as if they are not needed in the relationship. At the end of the day, men are still providers at heart. Whether we are providing emotionally or financially, men still have an inherent need to feel needed and appreciated.

When we are treated as if our women don't need us, that is when the resentment starts to build and the relationship becomes poisoned as a whole. This will rise to the surface with meaningless fights being picked, quitting in the romance department, and the like.

I would also argue that men these days are frustrated by women who act is if they are too good for most men. As the success of women in modern times increases, their options do as well. With women marrying late into their twenties and early thirties these days and facing less societal pressure to settle down, exponentially more women are endlessly serial dating in a quest to find the "perfect man."

They pursue the perfect man in the same manner that they have spent their entire lives pursuing the perfect job and education. The problem is, romance isn't a trophy. Not enough "regular guys" are given opportunities because women have so many options these days. Especially with the emergence of online dating. This creates a cultural resentment towards women who are only interested in, say, the top ten percent of the dating population. And because women "don't need" men, they can afford to search endlessly for a man that may or may not exist.

Neely Steinberg: Interesting. I think both men and women fall into that trap today more so than ever before -- the search for the perfect mate. It's a childish fantasy but one that seems to be on the rise. I would say that women can't afford to search endlessly because of the tick-tock of the biological clock (for those women who want children); men don't have that pressure nearly as much. But I would say that the ticking clock puts relationships into perspective for women as they enter, say, their early thirties -- they start to realize what's important in a man and a life-long partner.

I am curious, though, about the issue of hypergamy, the act of marrying up, in which women, in particular, traditionally have taken part. But times are changing. If women start taking over the breadwinner role in society, which, according to some experts, will soon be the case, they might eventually have to accept coupling with men who are less educated, less career-inclined, and make less money, that is, if they want to be in relationships or get married. I hear a lot of women today complain that they can't find men at or above their level in this regard, and the truth may be that the pool is shrinking. Do you think strong, smart, successful women are ready to be the ones "marrying down" and do you think men are prepared to start "marrying up"?

Joshua Pompey: I would argue that both genders have adapted to the shifting nature of today's culture. With women, I believe it is less about weighing who is more successful on a monetary level and more about the ambition a man demonstrates.

For the most part, from what I hear and observe, women in society are comfortable marrying a man who makes less money than them. What they are more concerned about is the level of their partner's ambition. Women don't want to "marry down" into a relationship with a man who has no drive, hopes and dreams. This not only makes the man less interesting, and consequently, less attractive, but it also raises red flags as to what he will be like in a marriage one day.

Men who lack ambition also tend to carry these behaviors over to the romance department. The last thing a woman wants is a husband who will turn into the guy who stops trying after three years of marriage, gains thirty pounds and sits around watching television all day.

Yes, there are still women who cling to gender roles of the past. Then there are other women who have hundreds of deal breakers, such as height requirements, salary, education, etc. However, women who have an endless list of requirements generally wind up alone and lonely, or married and unhappy.

For the most part, I think women only have a problem "marrying down" when it comes to motivation and education. If these qualities are lacking, then yes, it will be a problem and vastly shrink the dating pool for successful women. However, I don't think it is a problem if the sole issue is monetary.

I would also argue that men as a whole are prepared to marry up. While there will also be a small portion of the population that clings to the 1950s definition of what a man is supposed to be, we are, for the most part, past those notions.

Again, our primary concern in the relationship is that the women we marry will not hold their careers over our heads, bring career dominance into the relationship and will not make us feel as if we are replaceable. If all of these factors hold up, we are happy to date smart, successful women. It will only enhance the overall quality of our lives.

Joshua Pompey is an expert in the field of online dating. Check out his free online dating tips for plenty of advice.

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