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Why Do High-Powered Women Minimize Their Success When Dating?

CareerWoman_400Do you find that some men are too intimidated by your success, and career ambitions? Maybe these aren’t the kind of men you should be dating anyway. From The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.

Reporting in South Texas, I interviewed Magdalena Hinojosa, a senior associate vice president at the University of Texas–Pan American. I had set up the interview hoping to get her expert views about why Hispanic women are emerging as more successful students than men. Hinojosa was glad to talk; she said that part of the disparity does spring from the fact that young men see themselves as providers. They usually need to get jobs, which reduces the time they have to study. And even when they are supporting parents and extended families—as so many men in the region are—their income reduces the grant money they can qualify for.

But when I told her more about the scope of this book, she closed her office door so she could talk about her own past experiences dating. Like Brenda Tyler, Maggie Hinojosa is really beautiful, elegant and chiseled, groomed and accessorized, with a French manicure and an olive green suit that happened to match the pale green walls of her office. But she said that for many men her job made her seem unfeminine. One man called her on her work phone, got voicemail identifying her as “Dr.,” and told her that using the honorific made her sound like she had a “big ego.” She came to realize, just as Brenda Tyler did, that “you have to hide who you are, at the beginning, until that person is comfortable with you.”

So, like Brenda Tyler, she developed ways of making men comfortable. When men would ask her what she did, she would say, carefully, “I work at the university.” When they asked if she was a professor, she would say, “No, I work in the admissions office,” subtly encouraging the idea that she was a midlevel administrator. “I learned to not bring out that I had a doctorate,” added Hinojosa. And even when a date was going well, “all I had to do was walk out to my car and things could change.” Men would see that she drove a zippy little BMW and comment on how expensive her car must be, even though it isn’t any pricier than the enormous trucks and SUVs you see everywhere in the region. “I got to the point where I would be careful about even leaving at the same time and letting somebody walk me out to my car.”

“I Said I Was a Hair Stylist”: Women Will Lie

Other women will flat-out lie. Sami, a software engineer working in the Washington, D.C., area, finds that men in the nation’s capital—a city of political science majors and policy types—can be intimidated by her field of expertise. So she began saying she is a music teacher. Similarly, an attorney who practices in Texas recalled that she happened to be in San Antonio one summer after she graduated from law school. At night she and colleagues would go out to bars, and men would ask what they did, and inevitably telling the truth would result in boring, contentious exchanges. Men would be “a little bit intimidated,” she said. They would become confrontational. “They would ask: What are your views? Does this mean you never want to have children?” At one point she got so fed up that she told one guy: “It doesn’t matter what I do—I’m not here to take an exam with you.”

In response, she says, “They called us ‘complicated.’ ”

After several nights of being labeled complicated, she and her colleagues changed their occupations to something simpler. They became cosmetologists. “We went out and I said I was a hair stylist and my friend would do nails.” The change was palpable.

“It was so silly,” she said. “We had so much fun. They were no longer asking what did I do. That whole night we had so much fun.”

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