When success clashes with love
More and more black women are making strides in business and at work, becoming powerful in the process. Their success is admirable, but one wonders if they enjoy the same prosperity when it comes to love. Unmarried powerful men are praised as eligible bachelors, while single women are reduced to spinsters. Singer and actress JLo is always labelled a cougar, while media mogul Oprah Winfrey is constantly questioned about her relationship with Stedman Graham. Similarly, superstar Beyoncè – who brings as much money into her marriage as her husband, rapper Jay Z – often defends herself against rumours that their union is doomed to fail because she is too powerful. The narrative seems to be that since alpha women are intimidating, they remain single. Surely this can’t be true. Here at home, we have the likes of Basetsana Kumalo and Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, who are powerful and married to influential, wealthy businessmen.
Psychologist Claire Newton says a powerful woman needs to be in a relationship with a man who’s psychologically and emotionally strong, who can accept her as she is without feeling threatened.
“What a woman should be looking for is a man who has high self-esteem and emotional intelligence. Such a man will know that no matter how powerful his partner is, it does not take anything away from him, nor reflect any weakness on his part,” she says
Relationship coach Dudu Nhlabathi has a different view. She believes an alpha human (man or woman) puts themself first and has to lead. “Take powerful women, for example: they tend to be alphas, and often it’s their desire to take the lead and control the outcome of things that have enabled them to achieve career success. This is where the misalignment occurs: most men have been socialised into believing a man determines the outcome of the relationship. From the day he meets you, the male decides whether he’ll give you the girlfriend title or not.
“An alpha woman struggles to place her fate in the hands of another, and this often results in a huge power struggle in
the relationship. It takes maturity and self-awareness for this relationship to work. Alpha males respect alpha women in business, but these women often fail to arouse loving feelings in these men. Their competitive nature eventually turns men off,” says Nhlabathi.
So does that mean that a powerful woman should date a man less successful than her? Yes, says Nhlabathi. “Alpha females fare well with a beta male, or a combination of the two. A beta male is not weaker or less ambitious, but he’s comfortable with the woman taking the lead and is attracted to a strong, ambitious woman. The conflict comes in the way the African man has been socialised. A man is measured by his ability to provide for his loved ones, and should a woman take care of the financial wellbeing of the family, most African males feel emasculated.”
The challenge with dating a man who doesn’t wield the same influence is that the woman may not respect him. “A powerful woman may be embarrassed when she and her man are out socialising with her successful colleagues,” says Nhlabathi. “It’s not really the success that intimidates men; successful women can come across as aggressive, and this scares men. Aggressive women scare other women too. Men are not all the same; weak men tend to be intimidated by strong people. It has nothing to do with the women. On the other hand, a secure man won’t be intimidated by a successful, feminine woman. Each gender possesses a special quality which the other cannot replace. The notion that men are intimidated by strong women is often an excuse used by women who want to justify their bad dating habits.”
Newton says the important thing to recognise is that not all powerful women struggle to find love. Hillary Clinton has enjoyed a long union with former US President Bill Clinton, and the couple appears to be stronger now that Hillary is the one running for the presidency. Business moguls Ipeleng and Given Mkhari are also proof that an influential woman can find love.
The trick, says Newtown, is that women can put too much effort into their careers and men may perceive them to be out of their league. “Men fall in love by doing, by being active, not by receiving. Men want to lead, protect and provide for. Most successful women fail dismally at not allowing the man to show affection in a manly way. They don’t know how to accept help, gifts and acts of kindness from a man,” she says. Lilitha, 39, met her husband while at university. When they graduated,
she moved up the corporate ladder quicker than he did, becoming project manager at one of South Africa’s digital corporations. “He was supportive and never complained,” she says. “But I felt I had to dim my light by not talking about my successes and be more submissive so he could feel more like a man. I felt I had to overcompensate just to make him feel manly.”
Tebogo’s husband lost his job and has been a stay-at-home father for two years. “It was a big blow at first because the power shifted considerably. But my husband doesn’t mind staying at home and looking after our two daughters. He respects me, and I don’t gloat about how well I’m doing at work,” says Tebogo, 42. Her friends, on the other hand, say she should leave him and find a successful man. She admits her relationship would be better if he was working as being the only breadwinner is stressful.
Rianette Leibowitz, author of Not For Sale – Relationships of
Influence, says: “We need to make certain sacrifices and compromises to maintain our partner’s respect and keep our relationships safe. But a woman should not have to dim her light for the sake of a relationship. She may, though, have to put certain aspirations on hold if her priorities call for it – for instance, when she has a baby her priority is motherhood; the promotion at work can wait.”
So what’s the secret to finding love when you’re the boss at work? Nhlabathi says like attracts like, and the same passion women possess about work can be easily emulated in a relationship. “Confidence is the most attractive trait a human being can have, and powerful people exude it. We are attracted to people who are more like us, or like that which we want to be. That’s why powerful women are attractive. They need no validation from a man and they know their worth.
“The biggest turn-off is a clingy person who needs constant reassurance. Being around a confident person makes you feel good about yourself; their good vibe rubs off, and who can resist such a person?”
OPRAH WINFREY WITH STEDMAN GRAHAM. ROMEO AND BASETSANA KUMALO; DR PRECIOUS AND PATRICE MOTSEPE.