Reviewed by Renée LaReau
In a well-known “Sex and the City” episode, Miranda, a high-powered attorney who works 16-hour days, tells a man she meets at a speed dating event that she’s a flight attendant. Why? She’s afraid she’ll intimidate him with the truth, ruining her chances for a real dinner-and-movie date or even a romantic relationship. Despite her professional successes and girl-about-town independence, Miranda has clearly internalized a longstanding social bromide: Men don’t make passes at girls with glasses.
New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd pulls no punches with her own interpretation: “I’d been noticing a trend…famous and powerful men took up with the young women whose job it was to tend to them and care for them in some way: their secretaries, assistants, nannies, caterers, flight attendants, researchers and fact-checkers…unfortunately a lot of those guys want to be in relationships with women they don’t have to talk to.”
Conventional wisdom has often dictated that smart, successful, well-educated women pay a price for professional success and high incomes, with marriage and family being the casualties of the “success penalty.” This conventional wisdom, according to journalist, social historian, commentator and BustedHalo.com columnist Christine Whelan, has left many accomplished women feeling “overqualified for love.” Scores of academic studies published by the media have done little to dispel the notions that men prefer “yes dear” or “how high” helpmates to ambitious, strong-willed achievers; that the higher a woman’s IQ the less likely she is to marry and have children; that women are biologically driven to seek a strong provider.
But the landscape is changing, and Whelan uncovers new sociological data that indicate marriage is not only likely for SWANS (Strong Women Achievers, No Spouse) but probable. “New, large-scale survey data show that today’s successful, well-educated young women will marry at the same rates as all other women—and that more income and education may in fact increase a woman’s chances of marriage,” Whelan says. “Times have changed, but our perspectives haven’t.”
Remember Three Things
In a chatty yet authoritative voice, Whelan couples hard statistical data with conversations with high-achieving women—single, dating and married—in major metropolitan areas, as well as with smaller numbers of high-achieving men. “The modern, successful men in their 20s and 30s today are the sons of pioneering generations of high-achieving career women,” Whelan writes.
Amid the statistics and case studies, Whelan doles out some practical advice:
—Make an effort to meet new people at weddings.
—If future marriage is a priority, be prepared to invest time and effort in meeting the right guy.
—Success isn’t necessarily holding you back in your dating life—but your attitude might be.
PhD vs. Mrs.
This book will likely be the source of lively discussions among single women as well as women involved in serious relationships. It might be just the thing to anonymously mail to mom or any other relative who says “that Ph.D. is fine and good, but you need your Mrs.,” as Whelan’s grandmother once told her. Married women and mothers of young children will find the “Features and Options” chapter—a candid discussion of the career-family juggling act—especially timely as Whelan shatters the myth of the “barren female executive,” reporting that seventy-eight percent of married high-achieving women ages 36 to 40 have kids.
In the middle of the book, Whelan tosses out an insight that may be the most important perspective of all: “SWANS are accomplished, smart young women who realize that the goal isn’t to get married,” Whelan writes. “It’s to have a good marriage, and to lead a happy and fulfilled life.”
Though they may fly in the face of the experiences of Miranda and Maureen, the findings in Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women point to a bright, fulfilling future for high-achieving women who strive for lives that include a satisfying partnership, meaningful work and a healthy family.