Black Men: Afraid of Successful Women?

Ask Demetria: Plenty of guys seek a strong partner. It isn't always your job that keeps them away.

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The "men are intimidated by successful women" story is always touted as a reason many women are single. I didn't believe it at all until it sort of happened to me recently. I'm in my early 20s, not discouraged but shocked. What's your experience and take on this? --T.D.

The truth about partnering is that the more educated you are, which increases your likelihood of success, the more likely you also are to have a spouse. Don't believe the hype. There are many men in the dating marketplace who see themselves as a will-be Barack Obama, and they are looking for a could-be Michelle Obama type who can alternately support and even lead as they go through this thing called life.

But women aren't often told this, and as such, there's a big fear that our professional accomplishments will come at the expense of having a partner. Last week I spoke to a ladies-only room in Washington, D.C., at the National Black Law Students Association. My fellow panelists and I addressed issues ranging from getting ahead in a career and maintaining a healthy work-life balance to, of course, finding a mate.

The students breezed through the first two topics, passively scribbling notes on their BlackBerrys and iPads, but it was the subject of dating and mating that got the high-powered room's full attention and took up most of the program. You could practically see the thought bubbles above every young woman's head, wondering about the myth you and too many other women have heard, and even bought into, about men being intimidated by a successful woman.

Smart men -- the only kind you want as a partner -- know the advantage of having a power player by their side. After the panel, I struck up a conversation with a man in the lobby, also a lawyer, who was newly married and happily bragging about his wife's professional successes. He told me he had been the breadwinner in their relationship until she opened up a catering company that was currently making more money than he was earning. Thinking back to the panel I'd just finished, I asked, "Are you bothered by that?"

He didn't let me down. After he looked at me blankly, trying to determine if I was serious, he exclaimed in a thick Southern accent, "Hell, no! When she's winning, I'm winning!" Lucky for you, I've encountered many, many men who think like he does.

Their core problem isn't with a woman's success or anyone else's; it's with them. Don't bother trying to change him, accommodate him and play small to make him feel big. As soon as you identify this type of man properly, call it a wrap and don't look back.

I find that some successful women assume that any man who isn't interested in them must be the type of man I just described. "He's intimidated by my success!" has become a go-to scapegoat to make women feel better about themselves while they lick the wounds of rejection. It's also a way for women to avoid taking stock of how they played a role in the untimely demise of a relationship. Sometimes he's just not, or is no longer, interested, and it has nothing to do with your success and everything to do with you being clueless about how to make a relationship work. 

Sometimes a guy stops calling or offers up a "you're too busy" as an excuse to stop dating or end a relationship because the successful woman he was seeking acted as if her salary or degrees were stand-ins for things that actually matter to him, such as attentiveness, spending time together and support.

The complaints I've heard from secure men about successful women are rarely about a woman's actual job but about her inability to spend quality time; to turn off the critical, demanding "work mode" persona; and to know how to make a man feel that he's needed or appreciated. Some guys might bail because they're intimidated by your success, but more lose interest because they don't like coming in second to a woman's job and being treated less like her man and more like the help.

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