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The Balance Of Cower

I’d like to be in a relationship again, but I never even get asked out (unless you count frisky 85-year-olds and drunks at the corner bar). I’m a 32-year-old woman who’s happy, sociable, and attractive. (I paid for college by modeling and continue to take care of myself.) I’m second-in-command at a big company, financially secure, and own a beautiful home. I know you're going to tell me to look beyond my "checklist,” but since I have high standards for myself, shouldn’t a guy I’m with have something going for him, too? How can I meet men in general, and more specifically, men I'd actually want to date?

--Deluxe Chopped Liver

To scare away vampires, it takes garlic and crosses, which make ugly bulges in sleek, satin evening bags. Luckily, all you have to do to scare away men is pull out a business card that says “senior vice-president.”

“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” said Henry Kissinger. Sure it is -- unless you’re a woman, in which case, it’s about as man-magnetizing as mentioning “Well, yes, each of my late husbands did die under mysterious circumstances, but, heh, heh, the D.A. was never able to pin anything on me.” Research by Stephanie L. Brown and Brian P. Lewis, published in Evolution and Human Behavior (Nov. ‘04), seems to confirm what many lonely women at the top already know: When guys go for the woman in the boardroom, it isn’t the woman running the meeting but the secretary who wheeled in the coffee and croissants before it started.

Sure, plenty of men will scamper up the corporate ladder for a one-night stand. But, according to Brown and Lewis’ study, men looking for dates or relationships tend to prefer their subordinates to their colleagues or bosses. The researchers hypothesize that men evolved to want women they can control as a means of guarding against “parental uncertainty” -- unwittingly raising kids fathered by the Neanderthal next door as their own. Brown and Lewis think this may also explain why men are suckers for “behavioral expressions of vulnerability” -- women who act like they might not be able to make it across the street without male intervention.

Men’s magazines never have screaming cover lines like “How to Meet Really Average-Looking Women!” and “Top 10 Ways to Bag a 5.5!” But, for most men, beautiful women, like powerful women, are too much work. Too hard to approach, to talk to, and especially, to hang onto: “She’ll get to my place early…one look at the guy with the abs next door, and that’ll be that!” You’ve probably met men who think like this. Well, not met them, exactly. Just had them yell at you on their way out of the bar: “Find some other poor schlub to lick your boots, Beyoncé!”

Time to quit your job and catch up on your ugly sleep? No, time to locate a guy who’s comfortable enough with who he is and what he does to be comfortable dating you, then drop your CrackBerry and the steely corporate warrior act and flirt like a drunk receptionist. A guy who’s your equal will be accomplished, and a guy who’s accomplished will probably have money, and if you’re like a lot of women, you’ll end up resenting a guy who doesn’t. Sure, there might be a master carpenter or two out there who’s man enough to be with you. But, chances are, you’ll find more boyfriend candidates while big-game hunting (in the jungle or the black-tie benefit jungle) than by continuing your efforts to dig small potatoes out of the corner bar.

Posted by aalkon at October 30, 2005 1:19 AM

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Good column. You are right on with your advice. In my experience, I really admire and like women who are accomplished and do well. Ladies such as these also like to do things that are not easily affordable by the likes of me, even by splitting expenses. You guessed it, I'm a marine carpenter and have this career because I really like working outdoors and I LOVE boats. An evening at the ballet is also fun and I do enjoy it occasionally, but generally it is beyond my budget. Just finding the time to get to know a woman requires some effort and expense, so I'll just have to stay close to my circle and maybe I'll get lucky. Thanks again for your column, I enjoy reading your advice. Oh, by the way, the Pacific Sun here in Marin no longer carries your column. Bad paper!!!!!

Posted by: Rudy Salazar at November 3, 2005 9:13 PM

You're exactly right. Men don't want the hottest of the hot because it's too much work and pressure. It might be a discontent of character on our parts, but that's just how it is.

Posted by: Jason at November 5, 2005 6:46 PM

Yes, I'm figuring this thing about dating and being a top-notched manager. Why does it always have to be a control issue between men and women? We are no longer living in the hunter/gatherer age. Yes, it is hard to find a man close to my age that is capable to feel comfortable with a woman that is educated, self-assured, has a great career, a great communicator, and is a home owner. The men that I've met that fit into my category are married. I will never date someone that is married unless he is "my own husband." No worries, I will keep searching until I find my match. Hopefully, Mr. Right is not intimidated, but rather proud that he did not settle for less.

Posted by: Susan at November 7, 2005 6:00 AM

I'm an opera lover and someone who loves to go to "black tie" events and from what I've seen, it's mostly attached men who go to them because their wife or girlfriend are into impressing other women or men such as myself who have that taste but aren't A-listers. Good looking, ultra-successful men like to go fishing or watch football games.

The above woman has two attitude problems: 1) She thinks that her home and job are assets. This only works if the man of her dreams is living in an apartment. The myth for such women is that they are entitled to it all because they have it all. Few men are under such a laughable delusion. 2) She thinks she can just wait for the perfect man to ask her out. Such passive-aggressive sleeping beauty techniques work, as you said, with women who are vulnerable and non-threatening. Even then, such women accept compromises.

I'm reminded of the housing bubble: A lot of people think that they can flip the 2 BR condo they've bought for half a million in the spring for another 200K in profit. They're going to be enlightened to say the least. The time for such a woman above to have found that perfect man was maybe when she was in her early 20's in school. It's too late when she's in her 30's for good looking professionals to knock on her castle door. She can date shorter or balding professional men. Or she can maybe go after good looking carpenters and try to change them. Or she can go after good looking professional men who may have drug habits or just want to sleep around. Or she can play the lottery. She has about 7 years or so before she turns 40.

Posted by: PolishKnight at November 7, 2005 11:56 AM

Socially, as a man, the woman I'm with is my greatest achievement. I agree that looking for high achievers is the answer here. I know I'm not looking for someone to watch television with--I'm looking for a mountain to climb.

Posted by: Ken Shultz at November 7, 2005 6:35 PM

Smart women do not ask men out, they flirt and show interest and then let the man ask them out. Or not. This isn't about what's "equal" or "fair," it's about what works.

A man who's interested in a woman will make a move on her -- provided he has enough information that she's interested to do so. A man who is provided with this information, then does nothing, either isn't interested or isn't man enough to ask. Either way, it's not going to play out well in a relationship. And I say that as somebody who has very little fear of talking to anyone.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 8, 2005 8:32 PM

My opinion is that, the more you care about and love someone, the more you (may) get possessive and fearful of losing them, regardless of their financial status or looks. Especially if you know that person has an eye for buxom ladies. So I think, for peace of mind, it's better to be with someone who loves you much more than you love him.

Posted by: Pinchy at November 10, 2005 12:22 PM

It really is about lacking self-esteem, Pinchy, and being irrational. I love my boyfriend to pieces, but if he stops loving me, there's really nothing I can do about it. Luckily, I'm happy alone -- I'm just happier with him. I have piece of mind if I live every day as if it's my last, but with the notion in the back of my mind that I'll probably make it to tomorrow.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 10, 2005 4:48 PM

"Smart women do not ask men out, they flirt and show interest and then let the man ask them out. Or not. This isn't about what's "equal" or "fair," it's about what works."

Amen, Amy. Girls and guys don't want to admit this, but it's true. Sure, there are exceptions, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on the exception.

Posted by: Anne at November 11, 2005 12:07 PM

Thanks, Anne.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 11, 2005 1:44 PM

Funny you should mention master carpenters. I happen to be a lawyer dating a carpenter and I think it's a combination that can really work. He rakes in just as much money as I do (with the advantage for him that he actually likes what he does and didn't have to get up to his eyeballs in debt to do it), but the best part is he NEVER wants to talk business unlike, oh, every single other person I know. I think part of why it works for him is that he gets to be all macho and hit things with hammers all day so he doesn't have to prove his manliness at home by dating a flailing airhead. I highly recommend the carpenters.

Posted by: Carrie at November 17, 2005 11:00 AM

Life is short, Carrie. If you don't like what you do, why are you doing it?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 17, 2005 5:25 PM

I like your column and think you're right-on in encouraging the Ms. Intimidating to seek out gents who belong to the same country club... but I also think you may be undervaluing Chopped Liver. Some men really find successful women sexy. Check out the Psychology Today article "The New Trophy Wife":

This article actually helped my insecurity a bit- I'm not quite Trophy wife material in the success & PhD categories, either. Of course brainy guys give me weak knees...

Posted by: Kate at November 19, 2005 8:14 PM

Amy, I'd like to say first of all that I love your website. I discovered it, and you, due to a comment you wrote regarding the article about Aaron Sorkin interviewing Maureen Dowd (which I found out about from a link on, I believe, Slate.) My favorite piece so far: your bit on SUVs and the people who responded to your card. I was howling in laughter.

OK, now that my fifteen seconds of ass-kissing is out of the way...

In your initial response, I'm glad you mentioned that, according to that Brown and Lewis study, men tend to prefer their subordinates to their colleagues or bosses when looking for dates or relationships because while it is a tendency, it's not a rule. There are exceptions and I'm one (and certainly not the only one.) I'd have no problem dating or being in a relationship with a woman who was more accomplished professionally. Women like that do not intimidate me. But it works both ways. It's not just men who have a tendency when it comes to power; women do too. And the tendency for women is to prefer men who are more powerful, or at least their equals. If there are, as you say, "many lonely women at the top," it's at least partially (and perhaps primarily) due to the tendency they have for lack of interest, or even disdain, for men below them, thereby limiting their pool of available men.

The woman you responded to lamented, 'I know you're going to tell me to look beyond my "checklist,” but since I have high standards for myself, shouldn’t a guy I’m with have something going for him, too? and that's precisely what I'm talking about. She has to be with a man who has "something going for him" and you can be reasonably sure that "something" is not intellectual curiousity or creativity or thoughtfulness or writing ability or being a good lover, or all of those. Instead, it's likely success, meaning some kind of high status or financial success or both. She is entitled, of course, as all women and men are entitled, to cling tenaciously to those high standards and keep her dating pool small. But that comes with a price and the price is less potential partners.

Anyway, keep up the great work. I look forward to reading more of your wickedly-sharp writing.

Posted by: Jim at December 1, 2005 9:11 PM

Hey, thank you so much. PS I'm banned from the features section of the LA Times! But, I do run in the OC Register's features sec every Monday! And a bunch of other papers. According to the editor of my Rambler story that ran in the Magazine, some ladies at the LAT got upset that I made a joke about my boobs in that piece...in case you're wondering what horrible offense I committed!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 1, 2005 9:31 PM

I have been in several relationships. Actually, the worst thing for me is being in a bad relationship. Seriously I had this guy that woke me up in the morning to make him breakfast. I spent like 90% of my time in the kitchen cooking for him and cleaning when I went over to his place. Needless to say, I do not miss this guy. We were together for a month.

Posted by: Lacy at December 9, 2005 5:10 AM

Oh, boy – problems galore.
What we have here is a woman who believes that she has “it” and doesn’t understand why men don’t want “it” or aren’t impressed by “it”.
She considers her assets to be: [a] looks (age, modeling, exercise) and [b] money (job, house, salary). Oh, yeah – there’s “mature behavior” for ya!
Maybe she should ask herself what will happen 15 years from now (at age 47). She says that, at the present time, her age and looks make her a “good catch” – what will she say 15 years from now, when her body begins to age, and some man tells her that she’s too “old”? If she considers “looks” to be important, then what will she say in her 40’s when a man tells her that he prefers younger women who are “better looking” than her?
What happens if her company suffers financial setbacks? By her own standards, that would make her “less desirable”.
Maybe one day, she will grow up enough to understand what life really is about rather than all that nonsense that she is spewing.

Posted by: Rick at December 10, 2005 7:29 AM

On the contrary, a woman who has achieved a certain amount is best matched with a man who is her equal or better. It's amazing when people go on about "what's really important." No, money and position aren't everything, of course not. But, that's overly simplistic, and reminds me of when my parents would say, "Be glad you have two arms and two legs!" Well, yes, of course I am. But, can't we move on from there?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 10, 2005 7:51 AM

I know many professional women with advanced degrees married to blue collar men (like me!0. Step back and decide what you value and that can lead you to a partner who shares your values rather than superficial numbers on a paycheck or letters on a diploma.

Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and you will meet men who care about the same things.

Or volunteer at the JayCees, there are lots of young professionals there.

get out and do stuff and you'll meet lots of interesting people who like YOU and don't judge you by your title. And remember, every neat person you meet has a brother, cousin, uncle, neighbor, friend who can be fixed up with the great person you show yourself to be. Don't buy into the traditional value system that expects women to be cute, girlie, quiet, subsurvient, obedient, subordinate and buxom. Be powerful, strong, happy and proud and that positivity will attract great positive people!

Posted by: cosmicmojo at January 5, 2006 9:40 AM

"On the contrary, a woman who has achieved a certain amount is best matched with a man who is her equal or better."

This is, for me, the crux of this discussion. Are you really saying that equality between men and women is good, but male-superiority is better? Because the obvious corrolary to your statement is: "a man who has acheived a certain amount of success is best matched with a woman who is his equal, or worse."

If that's what you believe, screw you, I'm done listening to you. If I've put words in your mouth with a clever sophistry, spit them out and and tell me what you really think, 'cause if your telling me the best route to happiness is to find some ignorant chick who won't challenge me, then I'd just as soon stay single.

But if, on the other hand, there's a spin to this where your words stand as spoken, but you don't advocate seeking "inferior" women, please, enlighten me, because I'll be damned if I can figure out what to do with "equal or better" except discount you as a blantantly partisan and go look for a male advice columnist to read.

Posted by: BriaN at April 12, 2006 7:18 PM

Women are worth more on an evolutionary scale, because of the cost of carrying a child to term. That preference for a man who's her equal or better is hard-wired into us. Screwing me has nothing to do with it. Men look for men who are "providers" -- whether or not they want kids. This doesn't mean they'll necessarily want the man to pay for them - for example, I support myself, and always intend to - which is why I don't feel any need to marry. I have a boyfriend I love to pieces, not a wallet with legs. But, the "theory of structural powerlessness" -- that when women get powerful, they stop seeking powerful men -- has been disproved. And women have no more control over wanting men of status and power -- commensurate with their looks and position in society -- than men have control over wanting beautiful women. If that makes you dash off in a huff in search of an advice columnist with a dick, so be it, but I'm just the messenger here, darling. Read David Buss' Evolution Of Desire (on my books links page) for more information on this.

PS Power doesn't always have to mean money -- I advised somebody who called from In Touch once that Reese Witherspoon's husband should spearhead Doctors Without Borders or get a Broadway play made. But, it's very important that men are "big men on campus" in their relationships. Again, I don't make this stuff up -- I read the studies and the data.

Whether somebody has a penis or not is irrelevant, frankly. What matters is whether they're rational. As David Buss wrote in a 1998 study on sex differences, men and women are cognitively very similar. Men have better spatial ability and women tend to be better verbally.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 13, 2006 1:47 AM

BriaN - How did you manage to type the word "equal" twice while quoting (or hypothetically quoting) Amy, without actually comprehending it?

"Equal or better" can mean (duh) equal. It can also mean, "slightly better." If finding a woman who is equal to you or "worse" (lower status, less accomplished, whatever), necessarily translates to "ignorant," well, that's an unfortunate reflection on you, I'm afraid. Me, I'm a lawyer who does pretty good; currently dating a medical resident who's wicked smart but not making much money -- yet -- but she will likely outpace me within a few years. Who's the "superior" / "inferior" in this relationship? Not exactly easy to say, is it?

Here's the hard reality: Powerful women tend to be attracted to powerful men, and they tend to find men without their same level of ambition, drive, and success unattractive as serious mates (though they may dabble in them as playthings). Women generally want to "date up," and men are generally more willing to "date down." The unfortunate thing is that the tendency to want to "date up" remains in women who become successful, acomplished, and high-status, and at that point there are a lot fewer unattached good men, in their preferred age range, remaining in the "equal or better" category to pick from.

Posted by: Alex at April 23, 2006 4:17 PM

Bring on the Lawyer/Carpenter combos! I'm in the exact same situation, and it works out great. He also is for some reason very turned on by the suit...

Posted by: Jessi at March 30, 2007 1:44 PM

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