Sunday, May 26, 2024

Great Expectations: Women & Relationships

BY Dr. Angela Mailis, 20 Nov, 2019

    What high-achieving young women want from a relationship.

    Few things have changed as much in recent decades as post-secondary education for women. When I graduated from medical school in the 1970s, I was an outlier. Women were a minority in university, and rare in the professions. Yet 33 per cent more women than men graduated from American colleges in 2012, and that figure is expected to increase to 47 per cent by 2023. The trends in Canada are comparable.

    The implications of this shift are profound, and affect women not only in their professional lives but, inevitably, in the personal sphere, as well. I was curious to learn what attitudes, beliefs and expectations today’s well-educated, high-achieving young women took into their relationships and family lives. Presumably they wanted to feel wanted and loved, like everyone else, but where did they go looking to find prospective partners and what did they value in those prospects? I didn’t know, so I asked.

    My informal survey of 10 women found that nine considered family gatherings to be the preferred opportunity for seeking partners, followed at some distance by work and internet dating sites. Dates arranged by parents and blind dates were at the bottom of the list. That these young women trust family and work environments suggests that they are looking for partners with similar experiences and values to their own without their being too familiar (arranged matches) or too random (blind dates).

    As for the attributes young women seek in a mate, the following words came up again and again: empathetic, kind, compassionate, respectful and loyal. These were followed by secondary attributes such as ambition, work ethic, and motivation. A good job and good looks and fitness were in the ‘nice to have’ rather than the ‘must have’ columns.

    At the same time, there were clear attributes that high-achieving young women did not want in a mate. Controlling and aggressive behaviours were huge turn offs, followed by narcissism, self-absorption, and arrogance.

    When these women spoke of their expectations of a partner, they thought he should be true to himself, respectful of himself, his family and his ethnic roots. The women want to be treated as equals in their relationships, with an equal distribution of domestic tasks. They spoke of an expectation that their mates be available both emotionally and physically, and that they make the effort to be open and communicative. It wasn’t all seriousness. The women also expected that their partners have a sense of humour and a sense of adventure.

    Those do not seem like impossible expectations but they are more difficult than they might appear. Men have expectations of relationships, too. As more women have been succeeding in university, men have been struggling and losing their dominance in the workplace. This can lead to their need to feel dominant at home, which might engender the controlling and aggressive behaviours women consider a huge turn off. A New York Times report showed that millennial men were more likely than the previous generation to want a stay-at-home wife.

    Also, a number of surveys have shown that the relative earning-power and career success of high-achieving women can lead to unhappiness at home. A University of Chicago report found that in marriages where a wife earned more than her husband, divorce rates increased. Another study found that a man who was financially dependent on his partner was more likely to cheat.

    I take it as a positive that the young women I interviewed are searching for mates in family settings. Cross-cultural marriages are increasingly common today, and many of them work, but they can also lead to clashes. In fact, culture and ethnic upbringing seem to be one of the factors that confer vulnerability for domestic abuse. The women I spoke with seem to appreciate the need for shared values and experiences.

    There is no turning back the clock on women advancing in education, job status, and financial achievements, and their expectations of relationships are entirely legitimate. We hope that they find happiness but, at the same time, all of us have both an opportunity and a responsibility to make young women aware of how to navigate the minefields of their new social realities.


    Dr. Angela Mailis is a world-renowned medical researcher and the author of Smart, Successful & Abused: The Unspoken Problem of Domestic Violence and High-Achieving Women.

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