(The Root) —
"Is it wrong to seek out guys who are at my level, career- and salarywise, and have the same goals? I have tried dating guys who weren't, but their insecurities popped up, and it became frustrating telling them that those things don't matter. I'm wondering if I should save myself the hassle!" —Z.C.
No, it's not wrong to desire a partner whose accomplishments, income and goals are similar to your own (or bigger). Some might even say that on the surface, at least, that's an ideal partnership.
Although women outearn their husbands in almost one-fourth of U.S. households, according to the 2010 American Community Survey, researchers have found that marriage rates decline when a woman seems capable of outearning her husband. In a working paper, "Gender Identity and Relative Income Within Households" (pdf), the same researchers also found that a married woman who earns more than her husband increases the probability of unhappiness in her union and could increase the likelihood of divorce by 50 percent.
Still, I suggest that you be careful not to lump together all guys who are not at "your level" and assume that you'd have no chance at a healthy relationship. There is a type of guy who will make less than you and may be less educated than you, and he will be totally OK with that. He'll be happy to support you and be proud of your accomplishments and may be motivated by your success.
In addition, men who are as professionally accomplished as you are not automatically better and more secure. A guy "at your level" might not have the same insecurities about not measuring up to your successes, but unfortunately, professional success doesn't guarantee that a man won't be insecure. There's also the type of very accomplished guy who may feel threatened by your successes or salary or résumé, even if his are equal or better. He may began to treat you like a competitor, attempt to sabotage your success or begin to downplay your accomplishments.
I give you these alternatives to let you know that it's not the money, degrees or lack thereof that is the core problem with the guys you've dated recently — it's the insecurity. If career and salary and goals really "don't matter" to you as you say, then you can solve your dilemma pretty quickly by dating men who are more secure in who they are, what they do and what they earn. Unfortunately, it often takes a few months of dating to figure that out, but that's one of the points of dating anyway: to get to know people better and establish who is a good fit or not.
While we're on this subject, I have to address two glaring issues that are not often discussed when it comes to women dating partners who are at different "levels." I fully acknowledge that there are men who are insecure about dating women who make more money or have accomplished more professionally. I say that because I don't want it to seem as if what I say next is invalidating your experience or complaint.
Sometimes the problem with a woman earning more or being more educated has nothing to do with money or degrees and everything to do with her ego. Like NeNe Leakes from Real Housewives of Atlanta — who, after she got a show on NBC, wanted to remind everyone within earshot that she was newly "very rich" — some successful women brag incessantly about what they make, buy and have accomplished and, by proxy, highlight what others have not. Women should be proud of their accomplishments, but when that's all they talk about, they seem self-centered, and it becomes annoying. For clarity, I have the same opinion of men who do this.
I should also note that a woman's professional accomplishments aren't really the selling point when it comes to dating men. Despite women's professional gains, when it comes to choosing a partner, the thousands of men I've interviewed in my career consistently speak more about a woman's loyalty, sincerity and a pleasant disposition as the traits that inspire them to commit. A solid career is icing on the cake.
Women can also have their own insecurities about earning more than their male partners. Despite the growing numbers of women who do so, it goes against the societal tradition that says men are supposed to be providers, and women who outearn their partners are "sugar mamas" who are buying affection and attention. Both sexes have a lot of assessing to do when it comes to dating with the relatively new dynamic of high-earning women.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.