Intelligent, attractive, funny and ambitious. I do not have enough fingers on my hands to count all the female friends which have all these characteristics. They are great company, know how to make an interesting conversation and are simply great. Most of them, in fact, are single. One could say “So what? You don’t need a relationship to be happy” and while this is generally true, many people have an inner longing for intimacy and companionship. They say it was easy to find your match as long as you are open to new acquaintance, but especially many ambitious women are struggling with the search for a partner and stepping into a number of gender-biased errors, which I call the “Ambitious Woman Trap”.
Sociologists have found out that only 40% of the female managers are married, two third of them do not have children, although the majority expresses the desire to have a stable partnership and is willing to start a family. In contrast, 90% of the male managers are married, 80% have children. Moreover, research has shown that many men prefer a woman who is socio-economically less successful than themselves or at least not more successful. In return, many women still seek a breadwinner-type of man. Considering the increasing education of women, this desire cannot be fulfilled. Are we still struggling with the classic gender stereotypes inherited from our families on a personal while society is attempting to outgrow them?
(Gender) stereotypes are the biggest hindrance
Most women remember the guy who broke their heart, didn’t call or show real interest. The reactions from their friends are often something in the sort of “He’s just intimidated by you, because you are a strong woman”, “He couldn’t appreciate you, because he’s too immature” or my favourite “Pff, men, that’s just the way they are – afraid of commitment”. Your strength becomes a excuse for the fact that you are single – welcome to the “Ambitious Woman Trap”. Of course these “explanations” hurt less than the fact that somebody simply wasn’t into you, but they perpetuate the battlefield atmosphere between the genders. This is paradoxical, since many women who pursue the combination of great ambitions and a functioning private life understand themselves as emancipated as a result of feminism in the past. But emancipation and feminism have been movement in the sense of freedom – not only for women. If women want to be accepted the way they and as diverse characters, it is crucial to allow men the same freedom. In fact, anthropological research by Helen Fisher proves that clichés about modern men are not true – the majority of them is willing to commit and start a family. Men fall in love just as much as women.
Still, some women make the mistake to categorize the majority of men as selfish, immature and highly influenced by their sex drive. Think of the supportive fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles and friends – they have contributed to your development and while, indeed, there are many idiots, it doesn’t mean that automatically all men are, only because they have a Y-chromosome.
Moreover, ambitious women, although being on the high end of education and career search for the protective type of man, who earns more than themselves. While this is partially understandable due to the fact that in case of pregnancy women are facing a higher economic risk, it is about time to reconsider dating patterns. Enough men are willing to support women with the family. Giving men a chance who perhaps don’t earn as much as oneself, but instead are nice, caring and smart, is something more women have to consider. Women’s movements have empowered many women to be whatever they want to be, gender roles have not been as progressive and flexible for men.
Don’t be intimidated by career or looks!
While I personally don’t believe much in the “she’s intimidating” excuse, I was told there was a true core for some people. Admittedly, traditional roles don’t apply as often as they used to in the past and it can be puzzling to grow up in a classic household and then face completely different types of women. Anyhow, I recommend taking risks – yes, you might be rejected, but in 99% of the cases it really isn’t personal. One of my closest male friends told me, many men were thinking they were out of a woman’s league or assume she would be as hard or “exhausting” in private, as she is in professional life. Well, yes, these women do exist, but stop the black-and-white-thinking! A hard-working woman isn’t per se a control freak, pushy, cold or not interested in private life.
Another misconception is that men and women believe that attractive people are always dating and hard to reach. This by far is not true. Mathematician Hannah Fry analyses dating patterns and has observed an interesting behavior on dating websites: Comparing the cases she found out that people whose outer appearance is being categorized as normal/ average, are more popular than very attractive ones – they receive more messages. The logic behind is quite simple: when asked why people do not contact very attractive people, they indicated that they believe that the competition was too high and it would be likelier to be noticed by a “normal” person. The analysis showed the opposite. Concluding, it might be worth it to take a risk and simply approach somebody who appears to be out of your league.
Less drama, more honesty!
Let’s be honest – in private life we have not been as successful as we want to be regarding the changing gender roles and ended up being puzzled about the other gender’s expectations. It seems that men and women are making their lives more complicated than necessary. There is no evidence that the will to commit has decreased in comparison to older generations. On the contrary – the mismatch between the desire to have a family and the high numbers of singles, especially in urban areas, does not prove a lack of interest in relationships. However, it seems that singles, both men and women, have to question their dating pattern – are they judging too quickly? Are they searching for a life model which is not suitable to their own lifestyle? Are they too pessimistic and critic towards the other gender? Are they hiding their real intentions? If all this applies, it is challenging to find a match.
On the positive side, men and women have never been as interesting as they are nowadays. Education, mobility and the possibility to pursue your very own passions and hobbies makes people attractive and interesting. Moreover, since the economic and societal pressure to marry has decreased, men and women are seeking relationships mainly for romantic reasons. The fact that romance actually isn’t dead and the will to commit hasn’t vanished, is a great reason to stay optimistic instead of blaming female ambition – it just takes a little shift of perspective.
Photo: Anton Petukhov (Creative Commons)