Translation of: 60,000 Career Women are Hunting,
Men’s Health, 1999, 2(6)
They earn money like water and have everything to their heart’s desire, except a man. More and more well-educated women between 35 and 54 are starting to panic because a potential father for their child has not yet turned up. They are sometimes cynical, often hard and always demanding.
Destroying men, they call it. Going out, dancing, drinking, flirting with only one aim: to humiliate the male ego. ‘They’ are Karin (37) and her three friends. Great, well-dressed girls they are, with the gift of the gab and they have really made it. Designer clothes, roof garden, snazzy set of wheels under their cellulite-free trained buttocks, make-up from Clarins en Roc, fridge full with salmon and champagne and, of course, that job with challenging prospects ....they are all in their own way equally successful and …… equally single. Well, the girls aren’t missing out, you know. Dorien, 34 – top job at a bank, has had a relationship with a married bloke for some years. Jose, 36 manager of a hotel in Utrecht, has an impossible relationship with some vague painter with an alcohol problem. Suzanne, 42, art director with an expensive flat on one of the canals, seeks her pleasure in adventures with young men (‘nothing older than 25, after that they are past their sell-by date’). She doesn’t want to consider men of her own age. Since her great love (cliche, cliche) swopped her two years ago for a young thing, she seems to want to take revenge on every man of 35 plus. When the girls go out, she is the one who shouts ‘Come, tonight we’re going to destroy men!’, which has become a battle cry in their little group. Provoking, flirting, bit of snogging, and just when he thinks he has got it in the bag; drop him. Much more than that they don’t get around to. A real relationship? No, these women don’t believe in that anymore. Al least, that is what they say.
Cold shivers were running down my spine when Karin, a friend of mine, told me a while ago about these escapades with her group of friends. Was this the start of a new kind of woman? Or was this just the bawdy behaviour of a few friends who in this way settle the account of a series of frustrated relationships? I recognised this ‘cockteasing’, and who doesn’t? What man has not spent evenings with women investing a small fortune in attentiveness, humour, and dinners and with zero point zero (sexual) gain? Nice game for a 19-year-old girl trying to discover the rules of sexual conduct, but do you still do that when you are 35 plus? Destroying men.... it sounded so hopelessly frustrated, so desperate, so calculated as well. During the research for this article I discovered that Karin and her friends were not the only women who were keeping themselves occupied with this ‘sport’. In Nijmegen, I spoke with Sybille Labrijn, a 35-year old psychologist who has carried out exhaustive research into relationship problems of the successful woman. In the past four years, she conducted hundreds of therapeutic conversations with well-educated women who have problems finding a partner. She published her insights in Love is the only thing I need now - a newly published book which unveils an honest portrait of this generation of women.
Even though she never heard of the term ‘destroying men’, Sybille Labrijn does recognise the behaviour which the terms describe. ‘Some women, especially when they have been on their own for a while or have had several failed relationships, want to armour themselves against new disappointments and being hurt again. They rather hurt others than that they have to suffer more pain in love themselves. Some hide behind an attitude of superiority and treat men with a certain air of contempt: ‘We have more social skills, have a higher E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) and are in fact more dazzling than men’. During therapy, I challenge them with questions such as ‘What makes you think that? Does it help you to think like that?’ Do you realise that by this kind of attitude you form a barrier to the possibility of having an equal relationship and is that what you want? And where does that idea come from?’’
Yes, indeed. Where does that idea come from? To answer those questions we need to go back to the summer of 1986. In the States that year a statistical report was published (the Bennett-Bloom-Craig study) stating that well-educated women of 35 years and older find it harder and harder to find a suitable partner. ‘A woman over 40 has a higher statistical chance of dying through a terrorist attack than to marry any partner of equal standing,’ Newsweek summarised the findings of the study in an oft-quoted sentence which caused an uncomfortable feeling. In the Netherlands filmmaker Marijke Jongbloed (43, well-educated, living with a partner) was intrigued by this phenomenon. Armoured with her camera she went to New York, the city where it is said that for every man there are 5 single women. In her documentary Fatal Reaction New York, which came out in 1996, the desperately seeking successful woman became personified in the form of Laura Slutsky. With aching precision, the 45 year old casting director was followed closely on her odyssey along bookshelves full of self-help books with titles such as ‘If I’m so wonderful, why am I still single?’, courses in how to get a man, auctions where the highest bidder can win an evening out with a man and countless visits to psychiatrist and fitness-clubs. ‘This situation is God’s cruel joke,’ Slutsky says at a certain moment. ‘When I was twenty I had enough egg-cells, but then I didn’t know myself enough to find the right man with whom to have children. And now that I am over forty and have worked hard on my mental and physical aerobics and know who I am, my biological clock has almost finished ticking - I have got only 6 egg-cells left! But the men I meet now are damaged, B-choice. That is the price I’ve paid. I am angry! I would warn my daughter.
And when she unexpectedly gets a boyfriend, she confronts him in conversations with such an aggressive tone that he recoils. She then uses the shoulder of a psychiatrist to cry on. He confronts her with herself: ‘Laura, you are successful. You have developed certain strategies to become successful. Confrontational behaviour and responding critically are part of that; you don’t let go easily. This way a pattern of attack and defends has developed in your relationship. You attack, he defends and the other way round. You become ensnared in a constant battle. That doesn’t work in friendly relationships. Your game is power. You might win the battle, but you l’ll lose the war.'
Apart from the toe-curling pleasure the film affords, Marijke Jongbloed’s most important achievement is that she showed us that the single career woman is a universal phenomenon. The woman from Amsterdam also filmed well-off single women in Bombay and Singapore and a programme on Moscow is being planned. Jongbloed would have liked to direct her camera with the same surgical precision on to the arena of Dutch single women, but she didn’t find a suitable woman. Even though you would imagine there is no shortage of candidates: according to the CBS our country has 60,000 women between 35 and 54 without a partner (see inset page 48).
The Career-Woman: Instructions For Use
What do you do when you get trapped in a relationship with a career woman seasoned in the top of the business world? Let’s look at the way in which psychologist Sybille Labrijn analyses these women. The first thing she looks at is family history. Labrijn: ‘Of course your childhood experiences do not determine everything, but through your upbringing you get a blueprint for the way you handle relationships in years to come. During the 60ies and 70ies, the era in which this generation of women has grown up, the role of the father was still quite traditional. That means: dad was often not home or had little time. Being neglected by dad invites rebellion; she ends up mistrusting and rejecting her father. And to compensate for his absence you frequently see that women will identify themselves with masculinity. Dad did not give them what was needed? Well, they’ll take care of it themselves. That way they build up a strong, male ego-identity by focusing on achievements. But the male identity is nothing more than a thin protective layer, an armour against the pain caused by the rejection of their father which resulted in their feelings of self-worth being undermined’
This ‘armed Amazon’, a term that Labrijn borrowed from psychologist Linda Leonard, possesses the toughness to succeed but her protective layer cuts her off from her soft side, her creativity, her ability to take on relationships on equal terms, Labrijn says in her book.
When Labrijn focuses on the way these women conduct social relationships, it appears they have an inability to show their dependent side. ‘Being able to be dependent is the current taboo of the successful single woman,’ Labrijn states. ‘These women have told themselves not to be as dependent as their mothers. But what should they do? If they received little recognition from their fathers, they can react like: ‘I don’t need any recognition, I can do everything myself, I won’t ask anyone for advice. I rather learn from my own mistakes then that I do something which someone else told me to do.’ Look, in a good relationship you can be flexible in your attitude; sometimes you are the weaker one, sometimes the stronger one. But these what I call ‘counter-dependent’ women, are stuck in their attitude of ‘I need to be in control, and I don’t want to lean on any one’. To be contra-dependent is to be dependent on being independent. And they cannot give up that attitude of independence, not even temporarily.'
In her therapy sessions, well-educated clients are trained in alternative behaviour. Labrijn: I check with my clients what kind of behaviour they like to change. Frequently these are forms of behaviour they don’t feel comfortable with. As far as the area of counter-dependency is concerned this can mean: not debating exclusively the last political developments with men; not always being quick of the mark and trying to win one over their partner. In itself that might be O.K., but not when this has become an automatic pattern of behaviour, then it’s not a choice anymore and forms a barrier to intimacy. And conversely, when women are too dependent we can practise behavioural patterns such as not to worry about questions like ‘what does he really think of me?’, but instead to sit back and ask ‘What do I actually think of him?’’.
It might be clear: ‘an armed Amazon’ is a woman who needs instructions for use. Men who fall in love with her will have to learn to ‘read’ her. Apart from that men need to be crystal clear themselves. Labrijn gives a few practical tips: ‘Be as direct as you can about what you don’t like and even more importantly: be also clear about what you do want. Women are still too much the architects of the relationship. And men are inclined to withdraw if they feel a woman wants too much. Sort out together what feels right and what doesn’t in the relationship, even if you haven’t got ready-made answers. And stick to your own convictions. If you notice a woman is turning a conversation into a competition of who is wittiest, don’t go along with it. If you initiate a more personal topic she is forced to respond to that. And when a woman is too dependent you should be true to yourself too. Don’t take on any responsibilities, but pass them back to her. Be aware of your own limits and make these explicit to her. Besides, men can also be counter-dependent, too romantic, not critical enough or perhaps too critical. That influences relationships. So men get the same advice: look at yourself ’.
The results of her therapeutic sessions fall occasionally on the doormat in the shape of birth or marriage announcements. ‘That’s really nice’, Labrijn smiles. In the late 80ies she became interested in this topic because she - and a lot of her friends and colleagues - didn’t seem to be able to develop lasting relationships. Two months ago she herself sent out a huge number of birth announcements to celebrate the arrival of her first son Tijmen. ‘He is a real example of Men’s Health,’ she beams. ‘My relationship has been going really well for the past five years, that is really lovely. But we had to learn, especially women of my generation. We, women of 30 years and older, belong to the ‘awareness’ generation. This phase had to be experienced, but there was a sense of rebelling against men and there was some contempt. During the second feminist wave men were held individually responsible for all kinds of social injustice, for inequalities. That encouraged the attitude of contempt for men, and our generation does have that problem. I think now the time is right for a different attitude.
This is how to recognise a desperada
There are places where you have to be careful to put an arm over the shoulder of a woman. Because when you take your arm away after 10 minutes or so, there’s a good chance you’re wearing a wedding ring. A little exaggerated of course, but the army of well-educated women looking for a Perfect Partner, contains many desperate women of 30+. And some of these will go a whole lot further than a joke with a wedding ring. You won’t be the first one who has been ‘accidently’ chosen to be a father. Watch out for these desperadas. How do you recognise them? Count the points and read the result below.
0-60 This woman has a positive attitude to life
60-120 Operate with caution!
120-180 You do like ‘beschuit met muisjes’ don’t you?
Translation by Gerdi Quist