Page 3 of 4
Of course, we all know at least one superwoman, if not more. They're the ones kicking ass in their careers, raking in honors at college, juggling activism, extracurricular activities, and jobs while in high school, or raising amazing children. They may be professors, doctors raising triplets, or single women taking care of their families. And contrary to today's romantic comedies, these women aren't all humorless scolds. Plenty of men in the real world will tell you they don't feel oppressed by their striver women.
Take Jeff, a self-described slacker (albeit a "reformed" one) who grew up in Berkeley and now lives in Santa Cruz with his overachieving wife. While Jeff, a techie who telecommutes from home, makes more than his schoolteacher spouse, she's clearly the more active one in the relationship: She runs marathons, and after she gets home from work is often the one who cooks dinner. She also usually takes care of the plumbing, paints the house, and does remodeling work. He tries to be her "helper," but his chosen methods of relaxation generally involve videogames and golfing.
Jeff has talked with his male buddies about their superwomen wives, and he says they've decided that they are pretty comfortable with the current state of affairs. "We kind of joke about how women are taking over, and how maybe that's okay," he says.
Still, he admits to being a bit concerned over the different reactions he and his wife had to the recent spate of striver-slacker movies. Take Knocked Up, for example. Jeff found it hilarious — especially the scene during an earthquake where the lead character grabbed his bong and scurried off to safety, leaving his pregnant girlfriend behind to fend for herself. She was less amused. "My wife's response to it was, 'I just don't understand why she would stick with him,'" he says.
Jeff's wife isn't alone in her opinion. Many women who have seen Knocked Up can't fathom what the hell Katherine Heigl's character is doing with Seth Rogen's. It just doesn't pass the believability test — in real life, no woman that awesome would slum it with such a loser.
Oh, if only life were so black and white. True, Hollywood is creating the false impression that accomplished women are happily dating down in vast numbers. Still, the fact is that nowadays some awesome striver women do stick with losers. Which raises the question: Why would any woman in her right mind want to date them?
It's a tricky question to answer. Many slackers have a certain bad-boy appeal — these may include aloof musicians, men who consider themselves too brilliant to be gainfully employed, or guys who say they were only incarcerated because of the unjust nature of "The Man."
In Amy's case, her slacker guy was no felon — he was simply a lot of fun. She met her snowboarder beau at a ski resort soon after she'd ended a serious relationship with another man, one with whom she'd been planning a cross-country move and marriage. At the time she wasn't looking for a long-term boyfriend, and she enjoyed spending time outdoors with the guy. "I'm a better mountain biker and a better snowboarder because of the time I spent with him," she says with genuine gratitude in her voice.
Nonetheless, Amy is protective of her younger sister and keeps an eye out for the guys she brings home to meet the parents. The raver boy with "loser" actually tattooed on his neck (after he lost a bet) who briefly dated her sister was more than a walking red flag, she says; he wore "neon billboard identifying his character and goals." Her sister is now dating a great guy who runs his own business and has "much cooler" tattoos.
Gabrielle Revere, an accomplished celebrity and fashion photographer who has traveled the world doing philanthropic work, says she has no idea why she dated a more-than-decade-long string of slacker boys. It all started when she was in her early twenties and moved to the Bay Area to be with a San Francisco–based punk-rock musician, only to arrive and learn he'd started dating another woman. "I was a young and naive girl and I set my heart on something," she says. "He was a stupid punk rock guy and I was a romantic, and that's never a good combination."
Meghan says she was sucked in by the seductive "he'll change for me" notion that seems to help slacker dudes rope in strivers. She and her ex had an "excruciatingly dramatic courtship" following his breakup with another woman. She likens the thrill of winning him to that of a dog chasing cars. "You know, being elated," she says. "Wow, I finally got the guy. I never get the guy. I got the guy ... I have the guy, now what do I do with him?"
A common theme among women who date slackers is that they have an almost-maternal desire to rescue and rehabilitate someone they see as less together, perhaps even less fortunate, than themselves. Call it the White Knight Syndrome.
The White Knight approach to relationships should be familiar to anybody who's heard a fairy tale or seen a Disney movie. These savior stories have traditionally involved a male hero — a prince, for instance — rescuing a damsel in distress.
But Bay Area–based relationship coach Francesca Gentille says that during her 10 years of working with couples, she's increasingly seen the woman in the relationship taking on the White Knight role. Gentille suggests that cities like San Francisco and New York are national centers of female White Knighthood because they're full of nontraditional families. In the past, the knighthood role was traditionally male because men held more power, Gentille says, but this has been changing — especially in large cities — where women are finding success through career opportunities. "More and more women have the power, finances, and clout to imagine that they can save men," she says.