Dater X: Is Success A Turn-Off For Some Men?

Last Friday, I was hanging out with two of my girlfriends and our pals Jack and José (Daniels and Cuervo, that is), when I heard myself uttering the words, “He’s obviously intimidated by your success.” Though a cliche, I actually meant it. I was trying to console my friend Bree, who had just been ghosted by a guy she really liked. After listening to the series of events which had taken place with her and Bartender Dude over the course of a couple weeks— they met through mutual friends, went on a couple dates and really seemed to hit it off, but after she brought up her enviable career and future aspirations, he backed off and then faded completely. it seemed to me like the guy she was seeing really WAS intimidated by the fact that she, in simple terms, has her shit together. So what is it about a successful woman that some men see as a threat instead of a turn-on?

In my experience, being a successful woman is a double-edged sword. On one hand, being successful in your career — however you define it for your industry — is often see as a defining factor of your overall worth. The more degrees you have, the more prestigious your title and the higher your salary, the more “marketable” you are, both in that career and in attracting a mate. Right? Women, at least in career-obsessed cities like New York, often talk up their friends to potential suitors by including tidbits of information like “She’s the Vice President of Marketing at blah blah company” or “she’s been published in several national magazines” and things of that nature. We see our successes as selling points, evidence of commitment, hard work, intelligence and hopefully passion — you know, reasons men should WANT to date us. But what if those things that we work so hard to achieve are actually working against us? If the roles were reversed, I’d jump at the chance to date a dude who has all his ducks in a row. But many of the women I know who are doing well in their careers struggle with dating. What’s the deal with that?

Later that night, whiskey still running through my veins, I went home and called up my friend Mark*. I wanted to get to the bottom of this success shit, and I wanted him to give it to me straight. I asked him how he would feel, as a single dude looking to settle down, dating a woman who he considered to be more successful than him.

“Would that make you think twice about dating her?” I asked.

“It would if we’re in two different places in life,” he said.

“Um … okay. Explain.”

“If she’s got a great job, makes good money and just seems more-or-less ahead of me in life, I would feel like I have to play catch up to get on her level,” he explained. “Like if she owns her own place and makes mega bucks and I’m in a job that just pays the bills while I live with a roommate, I think it might hurt my ego a little bit. I’d worry that she’d always be a few steps ahead.”

“So you would pass up the opportunity to date someone amazing just because she has her shit together?”

“Maybe, yeah,” he confirmed. “But that’s just me.”

But I don’t think it is just Mark. That idea of “playing catch-up” is obviously a powerful fear for dudes if it’s actually preventing them from dating successful women. I’m sure a big part of it has to do with traditional societal pressure put on men to be the primary supporter or the alpha. But it’s 2014, and so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the concept that a man would feel inferior dating someone who has her own successes under her belt. Dating a really accomplished man wouldn’t bother me, especially because I think having someone like that around would inspire me to work even harder.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I like to think that I’m pretty accomplished for my age. Despite the fact that my dating life is kind of a mess right now, I can say with confidence that I’ve got a lot going for me in every other life department: a job that I love, a great salary and a clear idea of where I want my career to go, plus a thriving social life and a sturdy support system of friends and family. To my knowledge, no man has ever dumped me or lost interest because of my accomplishments, but I have definitely dated guys who made mention of the fact that they felt like I was “so put together”— and it really didn’t sound like they meant it in a good way. And I’m hardly alone here. I know quite a few women who have dated men that started to back off when they hear about all of the wonderful things a woman has going for her. [I can attest that this has happened to me multiple times. — Amelia] Of course, this isn’t true across the board, as I also know successful women who are also in great relationships — but some of them also said they noticed this trend in men when they were single too.

I guess when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t want to be with someone whose response to my successes was insecurity rather than support. And if someone is going to pass up the opportunity to date me or any of my friends because we have our shit together, those relationships wouldn’t have worked out anyway. But what do you think? Have you found that men are intimidated by or less interested in dating successful women?

* Not his real name.