For high achieving women, it might seem on the outside like they have it all. Maybe she’s claimed a company ladder for more than 20 years and has the position she’s always worked so hard for. Everything can look perfect in her career, but it’s not uncommon for high achieving women to struggle with romantic relationships for a myriad of different reasons. In this Modern Intimacy podcast episode, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez discuss the relational challenges many high achieving women tend to face around integrating their career into relationships and why many successful women feel a pressure to do so that men oftentimes do not have to grapple with.
The Plight of the Ambitious Woman
In recent years, there has been much more solidarity and support for women to embark on whatever career path (or no career path) they want. Compared to past generations, many modern women feel progress has been made in making workplaces more inviting and equitable for women; though, by no means are working environments for women perfect and without issue.
Where some ambitious women are applauded for their dedication and hard work nurturing successful careers, others are put down, judged, and shamed when it comes to romantic relationships. For example, some high achieving women are told by partners that they need to slow down and focus more on starting a family, essentially giving up a career to become a mother. It’s oftentimes almost implied that a woman’s career is valid when she is single, but as soon as she settles down and wants to start a family, it’s a common societal expectation that she will end her career to attend to motherhood.
Of course, women can absolutely be mothers AND have a career, though there are still some people who do not think that should be the case. High achieving women are often called selfish and asked, “when are you going to stop working and find a partner?” as if a woman can’t do both and has to choose one over the other.
The messaging for ambitious women can be incredibly confusing as she has likely been told, as a woman, she can be anything she wants only to be told by society “just not like that.” This can lead to ambitious women developing imposter syndrome and learning to believe that her achievements are not deserved, or less important than those of high achieving men, due to men’s success often being socialized as inherently expected and respected.
High Achieving Women & Romantic Relationships
In relationships, it’s not uncommon for high achieving women to experience relational challenges, especially those in heteronormative relationships in which one partner values traditional or rigid gender roles.
A common relationship challenge within this paradigm is a male partner feeling emasculated that his female partner makes more money than he does. The most likely reason the male partner is unhappy is because he probably was socialized that males are providers and likely views his female partner’s monetary success as a failure on his part as a man. Of course, it’s not a failure for one partner to make more money and the only reason “breadwinning” is gendered is because it has been socialized as such.
It can be an incredible blow to a woman self-esteem and confidence to be told that her achievements mean nothing or are less meaningful than her male partner’s. This kind of hurtful situation in a relationship has the ability to impact trust, communication, intimacy, and many other areas in which the female partner might start to feel incompetent.
In dating, ambitious women might feel disheartened if they date multiple people who put down or seem threatened by her achievements and success. It can be frustrating as the woman might be made to feel she is doing something wrong, when it’s not her fault how others respond to her success.
If you relate to the plight of the high achieving woman, you are not alone. Take a listen at this week’s podcast episode and hopefully you can walk away feeling supported, validated, and know you are allowed to choose your career, and ultimately yourself.
Stefanie is an author and journalist covering the many ways Ambition touches women’s lives- from money to power to career.
Stefanie’s work and advice has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, USA Today, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and more. A go-to expert, Stefanie has appeared on ABC World News, CBSN, Fox Business, Bloomberg, The Dr Oz Show, The Doctors and local television stations across the country.
She is also the host of Real Simple Magazine’s podcast, Money Confidential. And look for ‘Too Ambitious’ a new series from Stefanie about work, money, and the price women pay for power.
Dr. Kate and Stefanie talk about why there is a difference for women in integrating ambition with life and all the things around that including resistance to ambitious, powerful women…