Posted by: Amy Spencer
Topic: Do you think couples in which the woman is more successful than the man are more likely to break up than other couples (all else being equal)?
I must admit, I cringed a little when I read this topic. Why? Because I *wanted* my answer to be, "No, of course not. A woman can be more successful and make more money and a man should be secure enough to deal with it!" But unfortunately, I don't feel it's that simple. Because as far as women have come in terms of career and money—and I'm all for it, believe me—I think men and women still have some emotional wiring that dates back to caveman times that gets in the way. Men like to provide. And when they're not the ones providing, it affects the dynamics of the relationship.
So, "All things being equal, are couples in which the woman is more successful than the man more likely to break up?" I say, yes, they ARE more likely to break up. No, they're not guaranteed to break up, and no, they're not necessarily going to break up. But are they more likely to? Absolutely.
Now, just to introduce myself a little here, I'm a former single girl from NYC. And much like some of my fellow female bloggers, I wasn't shy. I'd ask guys out. I was looking for someone secure enough to handle a strong, successful woman. But man, it wasn't easy. I watched meek, giggly, girly girls get the guys far more than I did. I even sunk low enough at one point to try out "The Rules" and got myself a few steady dates by doing it. But man, it didn't feel right. I wasn't that girl, and I knew I couldn't settle for anything less than a guy who could handle me. Luckily, I found one (a man I'd known since grade school who I hadn't seen in 15 years when I ran into him again in New York; I was instantly re-smitten). So I moved to Los Angeles and two months ago, married him. And as much as I'm sure I'm still wearing my honeymoon-colored glasses, I also feel like I see relationships more realistically and logically than ever before.
Yes, love conquers all, it's beautiful, it's magical, and I feel lucky as hell to have found such a great match. But, from what I'm told, eventually real life will seep in again and we'll just be two people maneuvering with and around each other, and all of our differences or potential issues are going to play factors at some point. And one of those potential issues is always going to be money. In fact, most marriage counselors will tell you that money issues are one of the top factors leading to Americans filing for divorce. (And as far as I'm concerned, money is tied in with success at least somehow.) With that kind of evidence looming, that money will come up no matter *who* makes it, it's not something a couple can cast off as being an old-fashioned issue. This isn't about who "should" be more secure or who "should" learn to handle it or who "should" keep up with the times. This is clearly something a couple needs to be prepared to deal with.
Now, pardon my "Exhibit A: Celebrities" example, but I'm throwing this out there anyway. It's the theory of the Best Actress Oscar curse: Basically, 4 out of the last 7 Best Actress Winners (more than half) had their long-term relationships/marriages break up following their win (Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank, Halle Berry and Julia Roberts). Yet all 7 Best Actors are either still going strong with their partners, or still going single as they were. I'm sure there were other issues going on in behind closed doors (duh), but I find it fascinating just the same: Just when these women reached the peaks of their professional careers, their personal relationships tanked. Maybe the women changed and didn't act the same toward their mates following success; maybe the men changed and pulled back. Maybe both. We'll never know. But whatever happens when the traditional money/success roles are flipped, it's obviously a serious shift.
Like Helen pointed out, the women-make-more lifestyle is still relatively new in this country. We're still working out the kinks. It's like one of those drugs that seems to have barely passed FDA approval, the kind where the commercial is required to list all the pros and cons: Yes, this is a new kind of relationship and you're a modern couple and you have no more restless legs... But then, at the end? That's when the guy starts mumbling: "Couples may experience a stressful household. Men may experience a lack of drive and a hurt ego. Women should not operate the motor vehicles and should allow their men to do so."
Because seriously, I think that caveman wiring is always going to be there in some way: How is a hunter going to feel when he comes home exhausted with a squirrel to feed his woman, and she's licking her fingers from the Thai banquet she had delivered after work? I can only imagine it's hard to feel like the maaaan right about then. Margo Z and Lindley both list some things you probably need to do to keep things going smoothly in a case like this. And guess what, if you don't do them? I think the relationship will suffer.
It can last, of course it can. And for the sake of myself and every woman who wants to succeed and make as much money as men out there already do, it's well worth the effort. I'm just saying the relationship definitely requires *more* work to make it work than it does for a couple in a man-earns-more scenario. Hopefully, over time, as we all get more used to it, it will get easier. But for now, it's going to take a lot of effort on our generation's part to turn these currently untraditional households into more normal ones.