While on a blind date, Alexandra Arguelles found herself behaving as if she were interviewing a candidate for a job.
“I caught myself asking him question after question and trying to control everything.” Afterward, she said, she felt as if she had been at a business dinner.
“It’s not easy for me to be laid-back,” said Arguelles, a 42-year-old sales executive at a travel information-technology company in Miami. “But on my next date, I’m going to try.”
Women have made huge strides in business. We have climbed to the top of companies, built million-dollar businesses and forged into traditional male professions. We’ve positioned ourselves as some of the most powerful voices in politics and on the Internet. Yet, when it comes to romantic relationships, we still struggle to make it happen in love.
Ask the growing army of high-earning women and they will say men are intimidated by their professional and financial success, making it difficult to date and marry. But relationship experts say we have it wrong. It’s not them; it’s us.
“Today’s women just don’t seem to understand you have to leave the office at the office,” said Maya Ezratti, a relationship coach and owner of Rewarding Relationships. “You can’t treat your husband, boyfriend or date like an employee.”
Fewer Americans are married today than at any point in at least 50 years, according to a 2011 Pew Research study. The causes and consequences are the subject of much debate. But what is clear is that as more women have gained economic control over their lives, they need to switch modes when it comes to relationship dynamics.
John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” said keeping romance alive in the age of female empowerment takes getting in touch with your feminine attributes: “In the workplace, to be successful, women have to be independent, self-reliant, focused on solving problems and managing people. Outside the office, those attributes are romance killers.”
In dating, Gray said, a woman comes across as more attractive when she puts out a vibe she is happy and that a man can make her even happier. “Men want a job. They need to be needed,” he said. But a successful woman’s natural instinct may be that she can do it all herself.
“Be in touch with the part of yourself that is looking to have someone in your life that would lighten your load, and be open to receiving what he has to offer,” he said.
In Miami, Ezratti coaches businesswomen to change their approach: “A lot of women are pursing romance like business.”
First, she advises that women lose the pantsuit and show up in more trendy, flirty attire. Next, she suggests they let go of being competitive. “Some women have no problem ripping men to shreds to prove their intelligence. No guy wants to go out on a date and feel like a schmuck. You don’t have to prove anything; the quiet one wins.”
David Berry, a 28-year-old Miami writer and author of a dating blog, affirms that most of his single male friends are scared to approach women who are rich, successful, brilliant and beautiful. They assume the women won’t be interested. “We have fears approaching women anyway. Now add in that they out-earn us or drive a nicer car, and we start to doubt our ability to impress them.”
Berry said a few gestures by women can make a world of difference: Smile. Show passion for what you do. Indicate a willingness to break off chunks of time for a man. Most important, he said, men want a woman to show her soft side.
“I think a lot of women fight for equality in their professional lives and assume that it’s a negative to allow yourself to be vulnerable when it comes to an emotional relationship. It’s not,” he said.
Successful women say the challenge comes in finding a man they consider a truly equal partner, someone who contributes financially and emotionally. “In this recession, I’ve seen many men who see me just as a meal ticket,” a female senior level executive said. “I hide my career and income from men on my dating profiles. It just makes me a target.”
Arguelles, the IT sales executive, admits she feels the same way and has become pickier. “I need someone on equal footing, someone with a steady income who is ambitious and strives for goals. Because I’m self-sufficient, I don’t feel the need to settle.”
This could be an increasing challenge because men disproportionately have suffered an income drop during the recession.
But it is not just dating that represents a challenge for high-achieving women. Married women say they struggle with romance too.
“I have clients who are powerful and successful women. Everything they touch turns to gold except their relationship,” said Gladys Diaz, owner of Heart’s Desire International. “Their businesses are booming and their marriages are falling apart.”
Diaz said she coaches married women to stop trying to manage their spouse like employees. She also encourages them to put down the iPhone and give their spouse more attention.
Ezratti said with relationships now based on shared passion rather than specialized roles, women and men may need to reprioritize romance.
“Dating, marriage and romance are as much a job as being a good worker or boss. But it should be a fun job.”