I’m an outspoken, determined and ambitious woman. When I first met my ex-husband in 2001, he said he was attracted to me because of these qualities. We met through work, and our relationship began in part because of our mutual desires in world domination, which translated to making money.
Back then, he made more money than I did. But shortly thereafter, I surpassed him. For the next 10 years, my earnings were substantially higher than his. This became a problem in our marriage. Although he enjoyed the money I brought in, what were once his favorite things about me — my confidence and my success — weren’t so attractive when I rose higher than he did. I began to hide my achievements so as to not offend my husband. This is only one part showing why our marriage dissolved, but it became a big part.
I have been single and dating for three years now, and I continue to interest men with my ambition, intelligence and success. But here’s the rub: Many men find it difficult to step to the side and let the woman on their arm lead the way. Once, I had a wonderful date with a guy who stocked luggage on airplanes. For the entire evening, he gushed over me. I’d taken an Uber to the restaurant, but then he drove me home. When he realized that I lived in a nice house in a better part of town than he did, he clammed up, and it was an awkward goodbye. Later, he said he was intimidated by me and would be embarrassed if I ever saw his apartment. I never heard from him again.
Our society likes women to be smart and beautiful but also quiet and appeasing. When a woman is opinionated or more traditionally “successful,” it can be threatening to her male partner. Stedman Graham and George Clooney being two well-known exceptions to this, of course.
I keep running up against this power dynamic in the dating world, and I blame our culture’s preoccupation with wealth. For many decades, men had greater access to high-paying careers. They still have more access than women do, but the gender pay gap is narrowing. Yet men are still expected to be protectors and providers. I’ll admit that I benefit from this dynamic. I love that men want to defend the ones they love with strength and fierce determination. I go weak in the knees when a man I’m seeing comes to rescue me from a broken pipe or possessed electronic appliance.
But somehow, wealth has become synonymous with strength, dominance and protection. I do not feel safe and protected by your bank account. I have my own, thanks.
Six years ago, I left my cushy corporate job. I realized that money gave me only options, not happiness, and I wanted to be happy. I left my marriage built on wealth and committed myself to the pursuit of true joy. This commitment includes being outspoken about issues I care about and having a public persona. It’s a life filled with much less wealth and a lot more words.
Since then, I have dated men from a range of economic backgrounds: wealthy trust-fund guys to a man living with his parents. Money is of no real consequence to me when choosing a partner. I am more interested in integrity, depth, heart and kindness. And I can say that I’ve run into more of these qualities in men who wear hard hats than those who occupy corner offices.
Regardless, money is still a huge concern for men — and I still have more than most, saved from my previous career. The only man I have loved since my divorce ended up leaving me because he said he couldn’t offer me any financial support, and my providing anything for him made him feel ashamed. I was incredibly disappointed. I would rather be dirt-poor and loved fiercely than feel the kind of loneliness that I felt in my marriage full of material things.
Regardless of how large my paycheck is, I will always be an ambitious woman. I could not erase this part of me if I tried. It is who I am. I have concrete goals for my new career and a plan to reach them. But this conundrum remains: I want the protection and love of a man while maintaining my own alpha qualities. And I will never again hide or play down my success to appease anyone, especially not my partner. But it seems difficult to find a man who can accept my being a dominant woman while not letting that diminish his masculinity.
I have redefined my idea of success to remove wealth as a factor. But this means that I’m looking for a man who can redefine his notion of providing and protecting without money being part of that. When I daydream about what this kind of partnership looks like, it includes a man who is strong enough to let me be who I am while protecting me against a world that expects me to be anything but.