Pure Sex, Pure Love

Overqualified for Love: Are high achieving women at a disadvantage when looking for a spouse?

Emily is a tall 29-year-old blonde with great fashion sense who knows the bouncers at New York’s hippest clubs. She graduated from an Ivy-League university with high honors in economics and went to a prestigious business school for her MBA. Now she’s moving up the ranks at an investment bank. In her spare time, she’s a painter—and hopes to launch her first gallery opening this year. She’s beautiful, successful and has a full social life. She appears to be a woman who has everything. But her relationships just never work out. Men date her for a while, but then when things get serious, tell her she’s just not the type they are looking for. And she doesn’t see what she’s possibly doing wrong. “If I were a man, I’d be a great catch. Why doesn’t it work the other way?”

You probably know a woman like Emily. In fact, you might even be a woman like Emily. She is part of a growing group of SWANS — Strong Women Achievers ?No Spouse .

Two recent studies have been causing a stir — in the media, on website discussion groups and amongst SWANS like Emily: A University of Michigan study reported that college-educated men would prefer to marry a woman whom they considered subordinate — for example, an executive man would prefer to marry a secretary rather than a boss or a peer. In addition, a British study found that women with higher IQ scores were significantly less likely to marry than women with lower IQ scores ?whereas the reverse was true for men. According to media reports, these studies suggest that successful men are looking for traditional stay-at-home wives.


Below are samples of our readers’ reactions to our SWANS article as well as Dr. Whelan’s responses to their emails.

I’m a 26-yr old SWAN working on PhD in Communication. I read the SWANS article shortly after it came out. And then, I took some time to think about it and share the idea with friends who are also SWANS. I’ve also read many of the responses of both fellow SWANS and a wide array of men on this topic…some of them make me jump up and down in agreement, while others make me sigh.

What kind of conclusions have I reached for myself?

1) I am a SWAN, I’m proud of being a SWAN and I don’t apologize for
being smart and successful. Any man that I connect with will appreciate those qualities about me — no apologies necessary.

2) I look forward to the day when I have a family and children and I don’t apologize for that either. I think there’s a perception sometimes that you can have a career or you can have a family — but you can’t have both. And…that if you’ve always been in the “career world,” as a woman, I would somehow be “selling out” by becoming a mom. We don’t assume that of men — in fact we pat them on the back when family becomes important and I don’t think it’s fair to assume it of women either.

3) God has plan. I may not be able to see it in its entirety — but I know that whatever comes, whenever it comes — will be amazing. I’m not looking for a man I can live with…I’m looking for one I can’t live without. So, if that means I wait a while longer, I shall. –Sarah

Sarah, Here, here! I bet all the SWANS would agree with you 100%. The trouble is, how to we accomplish these goals. How can we have it all?

One of the SWANS I interviewed told me that she thinks she could have had it all ?if all meant smaller goals. “If I’d wanted a decent career and a nice husband, sure, I could have had it all. But if you are a certain type of person, you need to be challenged, to always be interested.”

It’s a challenge—but thoughtful analysis like yours helps us along the way. Good luck with your Ph.D. –Christine

I think statistics and surveys on why men don’t want a high achieving woman is all a bunch of crap scraped off the bottom of a septic tank. I have an IQ of 136, beautiful, independent, strong willed and so on. I am a neurological behavioral counselor and a bartender on weekends. I personally think that men who don’t want swans are insecure momma’s boys who want to be babied and in control. It doesn’t take a PhD to figure that one out. –Heather

If these studies are correct, a growing number of high-achieving women in their 20s and 30s are facing a real problem: Will these SWANS stay single, despite their desire to get married?

More than three times as many women receive master’s, doctoral or professional degrees now than did in 1970. Women make up 57 percent of college classes, nearly 50 percent of law-school and medical school classes. And young women in their 20s and 30s are climbing high in corporate, non-profit, educational and other prestigious jobs.

So let’s be blunt: There are more SWANS than ever. Are there enough men who want to marry them?

The majority of women want to marry a man they consider to be a peer in terms of education and income. So for SWANS, the eligible pool would be high-flying men, and that’s a small group, especially if the studies are true and the majority of those men aren’t looking for smart, successful SWANS.

And then add religion to the mix—and the already difficult matching game gets worse for SWANS.

On a LDS website, Mormon men and women had a heated debate about whether a woman could be family oriented, but also ambitious in her career. According to a post by Christian, “Men may worry that their wife’s independent ambition will either (1) compromise the quality of care his children receive from surrogate caregivers, and/or (2) interfere with his ambitions by requiring him to contribute to child care. It’s likely there’s some correlation between intellectual ability and ambition, and this might be strong enough to raise a red flag in some men’s minds when they encounter a very smart woman.” He concluded; “A devout Mormon man—even one who prizes learning and intellectual ability, in himself and others—will tend to seek marriage and family on his terms at a relatively young age, and will be willing to accept a merely good (but less-than-stellar) intellect to get it.”

I’m a 27-year-old Catholic… and I just finished my Ph.D. in social history, so these studies, data and blunt assessments are hitting a chord with me.

I’m one of these SWANS.

I’ve dated all sorts of men—some religious, some agnostic, and even a very short stint with an atheist. As I’ve gotten older, my faith has become more important to me, and I’ve realized the value of dating someone who shares my beliefs. But the arguments posted on the LDS website might very well apply for Catholic men, too: Is intellectual ability seen as antithetical to religious and family-oriented values?

I asked some of my guy friends for their take. Is it that men consciously want to marry less intelligent, less achievement-oriented, less accomplished women? Or is there something about these successful SWANS that makes men question this type of woman’s commitment to having ?and prioritizing ?a family down the line?

Eric, a 40-year-old Catholic single doctor, says he wants a smart woman, but not one who wants to run for president. “Extreme ambition means there’s no room for a relationship with me or family.”

Jason, a 28-year-old management consultant, agrees: “Men want a Laura Bush not a Hillary Clinton. Hillary is viewed as calculating, not sweet. Laura is viewed as being intelligent, speaks well, she’s pretty, she’s got style and the emphasis is on family.” Personally, he says he’s looking for an intelligent woman ?but one who will work part-time and prioritize her family. “Look, I work in finance. I’ll bring home a good income so I want someone a little softer, a little sweeter to round out the family unit. I don’t want to come home and talk about stocks. And I don’t want my kids raised by a nanny.”

Mike, a recently married journalist, said high-achieving women need to understand that success can be defined in many ways. “The problem with women who are doctors is that they bristle when someone calls them Mrs. It’s not a lesser title—and I’d never want to marry a women who thinks of it that way.”

It seems to me that there’s a Goldilocks test in play: Men are looking for women who are smart, but not too smart … successful, but not too ambitious… and strong, but not too independent. As Eric says, “It’s a fine line, but it’s a really important balance. My advice to strong women would be to show a softer side occasionally.”

A few months ago, I unintentionally tested out that theory. I fractured my ankle and was given a huge boot cast and crutches. It was a pain, but there were parties to go to, so off I went, hopping along with a high-heeled shoe on the other foot.

I have never gotten so much male attention in my life.

According to Jason, a 28-year-old management consultant” Men want a Laura Bush not a Hillary Clinton. Hillary is viewed as calculating, not sweet. Laura is viewed as being intelligent, speaks well, she’s pretty, she’s got style and the emphasis is on family.”

Dozens of men stopped to offer condolences, to get me a drink, to find me a chair or to help me make up a good story about how I got injured. Guys shared their advice on how to navigate crowded parties with crutches (use one as a crutch, the other as a battering ram) and on how buff my upper arms were going to be in a few weeks (very). And, in droves, they asked for my number ?to bring me chicken soup, to ferry me to the movies, to help me to my next doctor’s visit.

My guy friends said it was logical: Men are just looking for a non-cheesy way to come up and talk to a girl, and being on crutches gave them the in. It made me more approachable. It brought out my softer side. And it apparently made men feel needed and good. One friend even recommended that I save the cast and bring it out whenever I was having a dry spell in the future.

So for us smart, successful SWANS, is it all about playing up our more vulnerable side?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

For you Strong Women Achievers… No Spouse (SWANS), what does all this mean to you? Do you feel like you’re at a disadvantage in the dating world? Do you think you should play down your STRONG side and play up the many other S’s of being a woman ?and try become SOFT, SWEET, SEXY Women Achievers ?in hopes of getting a man?

For you young, professional Catholic men, are the studies true? Would you be reluctant to marry a woman who could be your boss, or has a higher IQ? And if so, what in particular is the turn-off: Is it the career ambition, the intelligence, the personality, the fear that family might not be a priority?

See next page for reader feedback