Pure Sex, Pure Love

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

Below is a sample of our readers’ reactions to our SWANS article.

I think Michelle hit on an important point in this discussion, regarding being a SWANS and finding hapiness in marriage, when she said, “look for the things that are really important in a relationship, like how you are compatible intellectually, mentally, emotionally, philosophically.” A SWANS that focuses first and foremost on finding another lawyer, VP or Ivy League grad to marry is missing the most important aspects of a life partner no matter what strata of achievement you occupy. Is marrying a man that is compatible with you on all those levels less valuable if he is a $40K a year high school teacher? Are we talking about respect here? Would a SWANS respect a man that makes significantly less money and only has an undergraduate degree from a state school? Isn’t it better to be compatible on the levels Michelle mentioned rather than equal with regards to your academic or professional achievements?

And to further Peter’s point, when are two VP’s working 80-hour weeks going to find time to date, never mind marry and have three children? And who’s taking care of these children if they do? Can ambitious equals really ever marry and have time to raise three kids without someone giving something up? Will a SWANS respect her husband if he stays home with the kids? If she does, then why does she need to marry a high achiever? Is marrying “down” such a terrible thing? If not, then why do SWANS feel slighted when men marry their secretaries faster than their bosses? The answer might be NOT trying to marry an equally ambitious man but someone equal on levels that are more conducive to a successful life partnership. –Mike

Mike, Great questions and suggestions. Respect and expectations?both personal and societal?are key issues in this debate. I only know one woman who says she’s looking for man who will stay home with the kids. Most of the SWANS I’ve spoken with look forward to switching to part-time work, or leaving their careers entirely for a few years while they focus on family. But perhaps that’s not the signal they are giving to the men they meet.

As one of the SWANS I spoke with recently said she thinks she could have had it all ? if all meant smaller goals. Are we asking too much from our partners? Should we all learn to compromise a bit more?and make sure our priorities are the really important things in a relationship? –Christine

I never knew I was a SWANS, as I had never heard the term before. However, it makes a LOT of sense. I have a number of successful young adult female friends who, like me, are still single. They are all professional women, some with advanced degrees, but all highly competent and hard-working. But finding a good man to appreciate them has not been easy. I couldn’t understand why these “good catches” haven’t been “caught!” So, this SWANS idea intrigued me. I asked a couple guy friends why they thought of this idea. I was shocked by their speedy affirmation of the theory. “When I come home from work, I want to relax, not debate some complex issue with my girlfriend,” said one. Another stated that he does “NOT want a wife that makes more money than I do! I am the man!” How old fashioned could these guys be? Ummm, really, how old fashioned could these guys be? And, when did SWANS become such ugly ducklings? Best wishes as you continue this research. I cannot wait to read the results! –CC

Dear CC, Yes, I’ve been amazed by the candor and responses from men as well. But I think it’s great that we are beginning to have open discussions about this topic?that’s the only way we’ll get to some answers.

Are these men really old-fashioned? or might they be expressing something else: frustration, fear or, perhaps even some practical realities about relationships? Keep the conversation going! –Christine

I read this article, not surprised because I have observed some of these behavior patterns firsthand, but also dismayed. I wanted to share two responses I had. While I have seen quite a few women in this situation, the problem described affects many professionals of both genders. I read the article and empathized with the SWANS’ frustration, because in some ways it mirrors my own. Where are all these successful, professional, hardworking women who want a relationship with a quality man hiding? I haven’t encountered many of late and yet, as a single, highly educated, successful, financially secure professional (albeit one who does not make 6 figures or work standard business hours!) when I date, I look for someone a lot like myself – intelligent, motivated, articulate, successful, and with strong relationships with family and close friends. I have been amazed at the amount of women I have met who seem to only work 40 hours a week or less, have no strong interests, hobbies, or passions, and have gobs and gobs of leisure time to spend watching reality TV and just hanging out. It is obvious to me that some men (who aren’t worth the SWAN’s time anyway) prefer, perhaps in part because of their own insecurities, to date someone who seems just a bit less successful, intelligent, or witty then they rather than someone who would be a true equal partner. However, the SWANS really are a part of a larger truth–simply put, once one leaves school, it is extremely difficult to meet a quality partner. This is all the more the case if you work long hours, have invested years of work in graduate or professional education, and perhaps have moved one or more times from where you were raised or went to college. Our society is very disconnected in so many ways today.

My second response to the article agrees to an extent with some of the other men’s responses–SWANS should reflect on what is most important to them. Is it important that the man be making tons of money or have a high-status job according to the world’s values, or is it enough that the person is well-educated, sucessful and respected in his field, making a solid living, and passionate about what they do? Does it matter that the man have a Men’s Health cover model’s body, or is it enough to be quite cute and have a wonderful heart and spirit? Do you talk to someone enough to get a sense of who they are, or make a snap judgement after 5 minutes? And so on and so forth. I have seen more than a few women dating men who have a huge amount of surface polish and exude the appearance of success but have little substance beneath, and, in some cases, are out and out jerks. Many of my female friends have noticed the inverse. So, I guess my point is – don’t give up, ladies! Keep looking and know that good people are out there. Don’t feel compelled to change a thing, but reexamine your priorities and see if the ones you give lip service to are the ones you actually seek when dating. –Frank

Frank, Thanks for your thoughtful message. It is important to look below the surface polish and get to know someone for who they really are. But that takes time?something that is at a premium for many busy professionals. Some have touted online dating as a solution: Online, you’ll find a few dozen people who, on the computer screen, look like they are well matched for you. But get the two people out on a date, and more often than not, there’s no click. It’s the whole package?attraction to that outer appearance, and connection and understanding about the inner life.
To all the SWANS, there are great men like Frank out there who are searching for you! We could start a matchmaking service here! :-) –Christine

This article really hit home for me. I am the exact definition of a SWANS–excellent undergrad, top notch MBA, a Director in a large multi-national company; and I’ve always been strong, independent, and single. But I am happy to report that a little over a year ago, at the age of 35, I met a fantastic guy and we are getting married this September.

What I finally realized was, I had been looking for the wrong type of guy. And your article proves my point. Look at what these men say…”my relationship, my children, my family”. Where’s the “us” or “our“? By definition SWANS cannot be with someone who is so self-centered. I had been looking for my peer in every PROFESSIONAL sense, because I thought that’s the type of person with whom I SHOULD be. But it finally occurred to me, what I wanted, and needed, was someone who was my intellectual peer, but maybe not necessarily my professional peer.

I’m perfectly capable of supporting myself financially, and I don’t need someone to make my life decisions for me. What I needed, and found, was a man who is not only my peer intellectually, but also emotionally and mentally. He senses things in me that I only thought were evident to my closest family members. He’s so incredibly supportive of me and everything I do in life, personally and professionally. In addition, everything is a partnership between us, it is not all about him, or me. We have both planned well financially and one or both of us could work part time if we wanted; and we are open to either one of us staying home with children, if and when we have them. The bottom-line is that while we both take pride in our careers, neither one of us puts that ahead of our relationship.

I feel that many men have been judging books by their covers in the sense that they assume someone who appears to be a SWANS on the outside, is a certain way on the inside. Being a SWANS does not mean that we are not soft, sexy, sweet. But some men are not interested in seeing that in us because they are so focused on themselves that they cannot look past the exterior. But that’s OK, because these are not the right type of men for us. We just need to stop convincing ourselves that they are the right type. But fellow SWANS, take heart! There are men out there who are right for us!

My advice to other SWANS is to put aside your notion of what you “should” have in a man (a certain career, income level, age, whatever) and be open to something that you may not have expected. For example, my fianc? is younger than I am (I had generally looked for older guys) and while he is very successful in his career, I earn slightly more than he does. But neither of these things matter to either one of us, because we are both very secure with who we are, and what our relationship is all about. Start to look for the things that are really important in a relationship, like how compatible you are intellectually, mentally, emotionally, philosophically. Setting myself free from the stereotype of the person I thought I should be with, lead me to someone really wonderful. I never dreamed a relationship could be this fulfilling. Granted, it took me a little longer to find, but it was so worth the wait.– Michelle

Michelle,You write that men misjudge SWANS ? being a SWANS does not mean that we are not soft, sexy and sweet, although many men don’t look past the exterior strength to see that. This is a common complaint I hear, and it raises an excellent point: Are SWANS giving off signals to men that match their long-term personal goals? Have overcoming the challenges of education and career goals created too thick of a protective shell? And for men and women alike, how can we better look beneath the superficial polish to see a person’s softer side? Best wishes for your upcoming wedding, and thanks for sharing your experiences. –Christine

I must say that this article was intended for me ( SWANS). I am a 26 year old Catholic women who is pursuing my fashion career as well as completing my MBA. I am a member of one of the oldest sororities and I am increasing my relationship with GOD.

Throughout my young adult life, I have only had one boyfriend (until Fall/2004). We were together for 10 years, however he felt that I put my career before him. I tried to explain to him that it was not true but he thought otherwise. I did not see what was wrong with me trying to fulfill my dream at an early age. I told him that I wanted to try to do this before we started a family.

I could not explain why he was not as supportive, but he felt that I was doing too much. Well, I am single now and I’ve never had peace of mind like this. I believe that my spirituality with GOD has helped me to overcome the difficult times. During my difficult times, there was one particular bible vs. that helped me to determine my situation (Ecc. 3:8). After reading this bible verse, I had a better understanding of the time period that I was in.

There is someone for everybody… I chose GOD to be that someone. I could not ask for anything more. Thank you for the wonderful article. –Rashima

This article really hit home for me. Thank
you for addressing a concern of many young Catholic women. I find myself in a situation just like you describe but it seems particularly unfair since I couldn’t really be much more traditional. I’d like a short career, if any, and then to care for my husband and children.

After graduating high school and college early, I decided to apply to law school. I knew I didn’t want a long career as a lawyer but that’s all I could see myself doing in the interim. I was really fortunate to be accepted to more than one Ivy League school. Why not? I thought. What can it hurt? Going someplace else might very well prevent me from an interesting opportunity down the road. Only now, I’m afraid my choice may have closed the door I most wanted to stay open. I’m well-educated and well-situated so, of course, men treat me with respect as a colleague. They rarely, however, ask me out.
As far as I can tell, I’m attractive and interesting to be around. I have great friends and an active social life. (That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make time to date!) but I have had only one relationship to speak of. Who’s going to rescue me from my Friday night dinner plans with the lapsed-Catholic, vegetarian, yoga practitioner? –Anonymous

I was a SWANS for many years until I met the right guy at 35 and married at 37. I fit 100% into the profile of the women you talked about, 1
class university and business school, VP at my last company?.etc. When I was working in corporate
America , I was dedicated, tough, ambitious, hard working, aggressive…etc. Men had all those fears you mentioned. But they missed the point that I value my family very highly. I would have dedicated myself to my family as I did for my company. However, I never ever thought I would not work after children are born.

Well, I have a 6.5 years old boy and a 3.5 years old girl. I worked part-time in my VP job after my son was born and now, I am not working outside the home, and have not done so since my daughter was born.

People have to understand that children change everything in your life. They change the way you think about life and time. This is especially true for someone like me who feels that they have proven themselves. I have earned the big bucks. I have lived the “glamorous” jet setter/road warrior life style. What is more important than your kids and your family? Sitting in some boring meetings while your kids are minded by some mindless maids? Kids are only with us for 18 years, if that. It is a very short time when you think you will live till 70 or 80.

When my children are all in school full-time in another year or so, I will probably go back and do some consulting, but not full-time, and not corporate America again. It is too family-unfriendly. Here is the moral of this story:

1.For SWANS, prove yourself in your career so there is no regret and prepare to get married later in life.

2.Prepare for change and some “growing
up” when you start a family.

3.Don’t get financially overstretched so that you HAVE to work after having a family. –Ella

Ella, Thanks for your uplifting note. It seems like you’ve had it all?though not at the same time. Can you offer any advice to SWANS who have achieved the first part of your story?success in education and career?but are seeking the second stage? –Christine

I’m a “SWAN” with a serious boyfriend that I’m going to marry soon. He has no problem with my intelligence or ambition. In fact, he’s thrilled that I’m a go-getter in my career. He’s supportive and wonderful. Maybe part of that is due to the fact that he’s a high-school teacher pulling in a mere $40k a year.

Instead of trying to hook up with equally fast-track corporate male counterparts, maybe more SWANS should go for men in professions that tend to be more relaxed, such as artists, writers, journalists and teachers. After all, most SWANS don’t need the money–they make enough themselves. Maybe opposites should attract even more than they do! –Betsy

Betsy, Your letter made me smile. I began studying this topic for my master’s thesis on changing dating and marriage patterns in the United States. I was 22 years old, and my research was the study of “other people’s” problems. But over tea one afternoon, my advisor joked that, given my educational and career aspirations, I should marry an artist ? someone of unquantifiable success, someone with whom I’d never really compete because we’d be so different.

You and my advisor might be on to something.

Many SWANS that I’ve spoken with, however, very much want to stay home and raise their own children. If a high-achieving woman marries a man who makes significantly less money that she does, it would seem logical for her to continue working?and for him to raise the children. This idea doesn’t appeal to many SWANS. Perhaps that needs to change? –Christine

I very much
enjoyed your article, which was recently forwarded to me by a very nice woman who could accurately be characterized as a SWANS. It is well written and particularly appropriate. As a 50 year old, career-successful, BS/MS/MBA educated man who has experienced this situation personally a number of times over the years, I’ve thought about it quite extensively. And while I definitely agree with some of your conclusions, I must tell you there are others with which I disagree.

Over the years I have often tried to explain my thinking about this issue to many SWANS, but unfortunately, usually they aren’t interested in hearing it. I’ve done this truly with the best intentions possible — because I care for them, I want them to be happy and meet the man of their dreams (even if it’s not me), and also because I’d like as many of my fellow men as possible to have the benefit of marrying such wonderful women.

Given my lack of success in getting this message across despite numerous attempts, I’m admittedly a bit reluctant to try again now. But, given your interest in and study of this issue, and letting my optimism overcome my realism for the moment, I’d like to continue if I may.

In fact, while I have met a number of SWANS in my lifetime, I also know a number of professional, well-educated men who are married to equally well educated, equally successful, and equally strong women. Each of these men respects his wife as a complete and total equal — as their wives do them, and no doubt this is a major reason why their marriages have been successful over the long term (12-32 years). What I have found is that each of these women, while every bit as educated and successful as the SWANS you describe, are not and have never been SWANS — because they instinctively, subconsiously know some things that unfortunately the SWANS don’t. And interestingly, most of these great women found, and married, great guys by the time they were 30, and all by the time they were 35 years old!

Why is this? I firmly believe that many (if not most) intelligent, well-educated, successful (or successful-to-be) men actually DO want to marry someone who is AS well educated, intelligent, and successful as they are. Why wouldn’t they — they’ve grown up, gone to school, and worked with these women for their entire lives. These are women who can have an intelligent, thoughtful conversation, are responsible, emotionally mature, and are a lot more interesting and fun to be with — they are truly peers on every level. And virtually all men under 55 (at least the educated, successful ones the SWANS are looking for) have grown up and lived their entire lives with the notion that women are their equals — remember that it was their WWII generation fathers who tended to look at their wives as homemakers rather than CEOs, not them. And frankly, the men that don’t want “equal” women simply aren’t worth the SWANS time and effort — because they truly deserve better!

But while these men would very much like to have a woman who is their peer in education, intelligence, education and career, they also want, and in most cases REQUIRE, a woman who is warm, down-to-earth, loving, and who can communicate well. And, when there is a choice between these two “types” (as their often is), the simple fact is that in almost every case the man will choose the latter over the former. (And I can tell you from personal experience that this becomes more the case as the man gets older — that’s why when the older CEO gets divorced, he often re-marries his administrative assistant, rather than the VP of Marketing. I know it’s not “fair”, but unfortunately it tends to be true.)

And, these men aren’t concerned about a woman being “independent”, they’re concerned that she might be so independent that she won’t need him for anything! And I believe most women as well would not want a man who is completely “independent” of her. It’s very hard to have a relationship where there isn’t some degree of “dependency” on the other person. While too much dependency clearly isn’t a healthy thing, the “right amount of dependency” is actually a good thing, because it’s a way for two people to share their lives, and to grow closer together.

The nature of certain careers (law and investment banking are good examples), is such that one has to be “tough” and “independent” to be successful. Unfortunately (and I’ll be the first to admit this is not fair, and it’s certainly not my personal belief) many men in business perceive women as weak — so they have to work extra hard to be taken seriously. These types of careers require intense work in this “mode”, and so it’s not surprising that this extends into one’s personal life — and while this works well to develop the SWANS’ “career” side, it works against their nurturing their warm, loving, caring side. But the fact is, most men (and particularly the true “gems”) simply won’t choose a woman who isn’t warm, loving, and down-to-earth — no matter how intelligent, educated, and successful she is. –Joe

Joe, Like William [see email below], you highlight that men want to be needed. But your focus is on the characteristics men look for in a partner ? a warm, down-to-earth, loving woman. And you note that as women climb in challenging job environments, many get hardened and lose these qualities that men crave. SWANS are tough chicks, one might say.

Of course, the same is true for men who achieve in competitive fields. But, for some reason, this doesn’t seem to hurt the men’s chances of finding a wife. Men are supposed to be tough. Women are supposed to be sensitive.

I’ve heard this warning from a number of men ? and, double standards aside, I think there might be some useful advice here.

From my experiences, SWANS are just as warm, loving and sensitive as any other women. If that’s the case, there are two possibilities: Either SWANS aren’t showing their softer side as well as other chicks ? or men are jumping to unfair conclusions about a woman’s personality at home based on her success at the office. –Christine

I read the Swans article and it hit home. I am 32 years old, have my masters degree and a great career. I’m outgoing, participate in many social clubs and activities and my friends say I’m nice and attractive, yet I’m still single and unmarried. I do want to get married and have a family. I have dated a number of men, but when things get serious they run. My friends say that because I have my “act together” that men are intimidated by me. My friends and people I meet are often surprised to find that I’m still single because to them I’m a good catch.
But I still wonder that if God has a plan for us to meet someone special, in the end won’t even the Swans be successful? Do we need to change how we act to find a guy? My faith has certainly been tested the last few years regarding this subject – and I hope this article is the beginning of finding answers to the questions I have about men – why the “good catches” are still out there searching for mr. right. –Kimberly

As an “ivy-league educated,” 24-year old single Catholic guy in New York who runs into a lot of SWANS-to-be in my social circles, I’d like to respond to the “SWAN survey.” I’m not intimidated by strong women, I’m not especially attracted to weak women, and I don’t think that’s really the issue at work here.

Usually large issues of prejudice emerge and are strengthened by smaller, more pressing issues of logistics and economics. I don’t believe, as a Catholic and a Christian, that people are essentially hateful – they get nudged into these things when they encounter inequalities that they can’t ignore or explain.

We all know the classic example, which Catholics themselves went through in this country not too long ago. An immigrant might be willing to work for less than somebody who already lives in the country, because he or she is poorer and hungrier, so that exerts downward wage pressure, somebody else loses his job or gets a pay cut, and that results in a racist backlash. It wasn’t the immigrant’s fault. He didn’t do anything wrong. But he gets blamed, and when he gets attacked, he fights back,
and eventually even he believes the fight is essentially ethnic or religious. There are usually solid, though troubling, economic explanations for prejudice. I don’t think the SWAN issue is any different.

You shouldn’t look at these women when they’re 27, 28 and 29 to see why they’re not married. You should look at them at 23, 24, 25 to see why they’re not developing relationships with men who would be likely to marry them down the road. It can take a long time to decide you want to marry somebody – years of dating that precede a long engagement are commonplace. If successful women are distressed that they are not marrying at 29, this problem needs to be addressed when they’re 22.

Here’s the way I see it: If you’re an ambitious woman in your mid-twenties climbing the corporate ladder or in medical or law school, you work a long week, and you don’t have a lot of time for dating. Oh, you get out there, you make the best of your opportunities, you go to the best clubs (where you know all the bouncers), you meet men, you party on the weekends, you’re not a hermit or a shut-in, but your time is scheduled very tightly. You make the most out of a fairly short period of liesure time. You work long hours (or study long hours), 6, often 7 days a week, you don’t get much sleep, and you probably aren’t free to have a dinner at 7 on a Tuesday night, let alone follow it with drinks.

Speaking as a guy with experience (and with a good job with reasonable hours), scheduling a date with early to mid-twenties SWANS-to-be is hard work! They’re always busy, their schedules rarely intersect with yours, and a lot of them just plain don’t have any time (even the ones that like you). A guy learns pretty quickly that if a 23-year-old woman is in finance, law or medicine, once you ask her out, it’ll probably be two weeks at least until the first date, and the likelihood of seeing her at any regular interval after that is going to be very small, even if you really hit it off. They just don’t have enough free time.

SWANS-to-be as a group disincentivize guys in their mid-twenties from dating them and are outcompeted by women with more spare time. Why should I wait three weeks to go out with one woman, when another woman, just as intelligent, just as attractive, just as well-educated, but maybe not in such a high-paying industry, will go out with me the day after tomorrow?

There are a lot of beautiful, strong, ambitious, intelligent, interesting, “ivy-leage educated” women who don’t work 80-hour weeks in their mid-twenties. It’s not morally wrong to want to date them. If, as a 24 year old man, I go out with the more available woman every time, I’ll go on more dates, I’ll meet more women, I’ll get to know them faster, I’ll be more likely to find one I really connect with, and I’ll generally have more fun and be more successful in dating. If I’m interested in marriage and am looking for that right woman, even if it’s for a few years down the road, dating the women who work reasonable work weeks is a dominant strategy, and one that selects itself by default if I don’t select it ahead of time.

The incentives are strong enough that, eventually, this becomes a prejudice; the guys forget why it is they started avoiding investment bankers, lawyers, or doctors in the first place, they start tossing around hateful language, the SWANS lash back, and then the hateful language, rather than the longer-term root cause, long work weeks, is what everybody jumps on when they’re looking for an explanation.

Sure, by the time SWANS are in in their late twenties, they’re done paying their dues, their work weeks often ease up a little bit, and they look to start dating more seriously, maybe get married, maybe even take a few years off to have children. But the other women had a five or six year head start on them by now, a lot of the guys in their pool are already married, and a lot of the ones who aren’t have been dating women for a long time whom they are likely to marry in the future. So there are a whole lot of single SWANS in their late twenties, and their value in the dating pool drops. By being outcompeted, the SWANS have become less desirable, even if they are just as attractive.

The SWANS then find that even if they make up for their comparative lack of dating experience instantly (which is a tall order), they suddenly face a bad reputation for being unreliable, uncompassionate, and unable to prioritize family. This reputation is unjustified; they just didn’t date as much in their mid twenties (even if they had “boyfriends for a while”), so they are single in their late twenties. It’s not that complicated, and it’s a shame that it has to get so hateful.

As a sidenote, I am especially surprised that so many women with economics degrees fail to recognize the market forces at work here! These women haven’t done anything wrong. This whole mess is definitely unfair, but if anybody should be able to understand how market forces make the world a place of great inequality, it should be people who work on Wall Street.

SWANS can’t solve this problem on their own – making demands or concessions as their own demographic class will only serve to deepen their isolation and worsen the effects of the market on their situation. They need to make the playing field more even, not less. For instance, there has been some talk in the press recently that an 80 hour work week for college professors is biased against women, because they need more time to raise families. But if women were to demand shorter work weeks just for themselves, instead of for everybody, and succeded, their value as workers would drop, and universities would be forced by the market to either stop hiring them or to pay them less. If laws were put up to prevent that from happening, the universities would find ways around the laws.

SWANS also aren’t going to do any good for themselves by putting on sundresses and cooking caseroles. The “strong vs. soft” debate is a red herring. The only thing that would really help them bridge this marriage gap as a demographic would be for them to join up on equal footing with their male colleagues, unionize, and together demand better working hours. That’s how economics works – you’ve got to undertake collective action, hit the bottom line, and change the payoffs and incentives – being proactive is better than being reactive, and the tail can’t wag the dog.

If they’re unwilling to do that, they’re just going to have to deal with a somewhat higher likelihood of being single for longer and work harder on their relationships to compensate. It’s not a tragedy, and certainly something not worth changing your fundamental sense of self-worth over.

Because if SWANS just change the way they dress, speak, or behave without doing anything to make themselves more competitive in the dating pool earlier in life, the same problems will persist and the stereotypes will just shift around whatever frilly drapery is put up to hold them back. –Peter (24)

Peter, Thanks for your thought-provoking email. I’m betting that your response will spark a lot of discussion amongst SWANS readers.

You argue that SWANS don’t prioritize dating at a young enough age?and that leaves them in a vulnerable position when they do want to settle down and get married. Several other authors, including Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (Why There Are No Good Men Left), make similar arguments. But what does it mean to prioritize dating at 22, 23 and 24? And if you are in a relationship in your mid 20s, what happens if it lasts for a few years and then ends ? just in time to make you a card-carrying member of the SWANS in your early 30s? The timing issue is crucial?but slippery.

I’m also fascinated by your heavy use of economics as you discuss the topic of dating and marriage. My degree is in economic and social history, so I’m quite familiar with using marketplace terminology in personal life, but I’ve spoken with many people who bristle at the commodification of such an emotional topic. As one woman I recently interviewed said, “You don’t go about finding a husband like you go about getting a job. It’s not an equation for success like it can be with a career.” There is an emotional?and spiritual?aspect to interpersonal relationships that may not be fully quantified with rational man theories.

Peter, you raise two of the hottest topics in this debate: The issue of timing and the issue of how to think about the search for a life partner. Just to stir things up further, here are a few more questions: Let’s take a 24- or 25-year-old entering a relationship. Should she fish-or-cut-bait fairly early on if it doesn’t look like he’s the “one”? How does timing come into play here? And when we discuss dating in terms of economics, does this suggest that finding a spouse is just another achievement?a notch on the belt of life’s accomplishments? Or is economics the most rational way to think about balancing the costs and benefits of the many choices we make?

Looking forward to many responses on these topics. –Christine

I just received your web link from a friend (we are both SWANS) and I must say it only reinforces what I suspected. I knew it couldn’t be just me. I am 34 with a master’s degree in music. I teach and perform in a small Midwest city. I am slightly shy at first, but confident in myself overall. I can carry on conversations on hundreds of topics. I am attractive, well-dressed, friendly, and a good listener. For all this, I seem to repel men. I have had only one serious relationship. Available men of my own age and social status are completely uninterested. Meanwhile, I am often the target of slightly older MARRIED men who are
thinking they can get a little action on the side. I have learned never to assume a man is single if he actually approaches me. I have lived in Europe and had plenty of male attention there, but again no one who was interested in getting to know me.

The ironic thing is: I am getting worried about actually finding someone with whom to have a family. That old clock is ticking and it is on my mind more and more. I would give up my career in a minute if I could find a stable mate with whom I could raise children. Am I the only one who thinks our society is perhaps heading in a dangerous direction? None of the smart women are producing the next generation! Thanks for bringing this topic to light. — Marla

I didn’t go after my degree and work to make myself unattractive to men. It doesn’t make me a hard woman. Getting turned down, however, has made me turn to God with one simple prayer Please be the centre of my heart or else I will turn it to stone with all this hurt. Getting rejected by guys viewing the intelligence God gave me to steward does turn parts of my heart rocky.

Just recently, I was turned down my a guy I met through a Catholic event. Actually it was a passion play out of all the ironies in this life. I wanted to get to know him, so when I screwed up enough courage to ask him for coffee I got silence and “I’ll take a rain check”. I mumbled something about my car being in the next street and beat a hasty retreat. Later on I saw him with a woman with all the soft qualities the men in this article mentioned. I grieve the death of an idea, the belief love brings people together. There are times I wish I could trade in all the books I ever read, all the classes I ever attended, even the scholarship I earned this year to just hear somebody ask me out or to hear somebody take a chance over coffee. Who knows we could be friends. I am a strong woman achiever with no spouse as I admit I write this with tears in eyes. It is Jesus who gives me strength in his crucifixion, telling me he will be with me always, telling me to get up and lean against him.

I will turn 35 embarking on a new phase in my life. I can’t change the way men think or feel. I can only change the way I think or feel. If a guy doesn’t like my intelligence or feels I spend too much time achieving, then he doesn’t get I have to keep plugging away in this life since Cinderella is a fairy tale and life doesn’t always end happily ever after. In fact marriage is hard work and I have seen enough divorces in my age group to hold out for that one person. If he doesn’t come along, my life will always be full with God at the center. — FD

Marla and FD, Your letters really struck a chord with me. Thank you for your honesty. Your words echo the emotions of many women with whom I’ve spoken. You both are SWANS who, at least on the lonely days, feel that you would trade your career successes and your degrees for a husband and a family.

As I interview young men and women on this topic, I’m asking questions in hopes of showing that it doesn’t have to be that stark of a choice.

Pursuing higher education and achieving in your careers isn’t just something to do “in the meantime” as you wait for Mr. Right. It gives you a sense of pride, self-worth, and accomplishment. It’s a fundamental part of who you are. What is frustrating for you, and many other SWANS, is why this part of you seems to be in conflict with your other personal goals of building a life with someone else.

Let’s keep looking for answers. — Christine

I can certainly sympathize with the women in your article. After striving for excellence, these women have become successful in their educational and professional lives. Now, they would like to continue that excellence by looking for LTR/marriage with a peer.

I can’t exactly explain my knuckle-headed male brethen. I can say that a man needs to feel needed. It may be when my fellow Neanderthals see a SWANS, they see someone who doesn’t need him…”Well, if she has it all, then she doesn’t need me.” Perhaps, it’s something visceral, and not consciously intended.

That may be a generalization, but generally speaking, I think it has the ring of truth.

Perhaps, the answer may be for a SWANS woman to expand her definition of who is an acceptable mate. If the pool of acceptable males is too small (or not interested), maybe she may want to consider sitting down, do some soul searching, and re-think that particular set of criteria. I’m not asking your readers or the SWANS to ‘settle.’ Just to expand thier options. My mother is fond of saying, “You can be right or you can be happy.” I’d also like to take a moment to apologize

for indulging in a typical male behavior. Offering to fix something, when probably all that was needed was to listen. That’s six hours of women’s studies, followed by the experience of a failed marriage talking. Thank you for your time. –Wm

Wm, As Gloria Steinem is often paraphrased as saying “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” High-flying SWANS don’t appear to need men. These women are strong, successful, independent and driven. They’ve got many friends, a busy social life and enough money to travel, go out for nice dinners and splurge on the occasional shopping spree. What would they need a man for?

The longing, and at times, the pain in the letters from Kimberly, Marla, Fatima and Jaime, however, tell a very different story. These SWANS report that they really do need men to be truly happy.

You’ve hit on something here: In interviews men tell me that it’s not that they want to dominate or be “in charge” all the time, but that they want to be respected and appreciated. This seems perfectly logical, and it’s not just a guy thing: People need to feel needed.

And SWANS?like all people?crave companionship, support, love, respect and mutual understanding. Yet somehow, the signals are getting crossed.

What do you advise? How might a strong, successful woman show that she needs a man in her life ? without seeming clingy, desperate to get married, obsessive or any of the dozens of other things women are warned against?