This post is part of the "Modern Male Brains & the Young, Powerful Women Who Love Them" series compiled by Dr. Louann Brizendine, neuroscientist and author of the recent book, The Male Brain. The series explores how the next generation of women relates to love while balancing complex, stressful lives.
I know plenty of men who love a strong woman -- to a point. Perhaps the vice president of a company, a ball-busting prosecutor, the founder of a non-profit, the work-from-home mother of three with her own business. Our society celebrates that, and even Cosmo acknowledges such "fun, fearless females." Not to diminish the successes of any woman, but it does appear that, as always, a ceiling still applies no matter how many millions of cracks allegedly penetrated it during the 2008 election.
Consider: Hillary Clinton. Barbara Walters. Katie Couric. Oprah. Arianna Huffington. Condoleeza Rice. Janet Reno. Sarah Palin. Or, most recently, Supreme Court Justice Nominee, Elena Kagan. Public fascination with the romantic lives of our country's most powerful (mostly single) women is fairly predictable, train-wreck coverage that ranges from whispers of lesbianism to reports of so-called bitchy behavior to completely de-humanizing or hyper-sexualized commentary involving pantsuits. While they lead us to new heights, we obsess over them, deconstruct them and contort their identities into brands that don't remotely reflect a reality to which a young girl with big dreams could actionably aspire with a hint of sincerity.
This is the last frontier of feminist identity politics: building up the relevant, nationally and globally influential woman. We don't have enough of them, and the trickle-down effect of their visibility would have a remarkable effect on what all women can accomplish in life and love.
Inspired by such women, many of us start out aggressively until we realize the unsustainable nature. As is, women are encouraged to be the best in their chosen vocations until they reach the ages of 28 to 35. Hit that child-bearing range and suddenly one's priorities are called into question.
It's more than whether your socially conscious boss will keep your corner office for you while you're on maternity leave. It's a strategic arc you can't escape, and men can smell it when you show up for a seemingly harmless date. (My agent explained to me the other day what men are now calling "bobcats," or girls in the age range of 22 to 27 who are brazen and flippant toward men, until they have to be nice to them when they become "pumas" at 28 to 35. God help the cougars.)
Since I was a little girl I've been compelled by an inner desire to do big things that will make the world more free, more equal, more truthful and innovative. The aforementioned women were my heroes. Now, after busting my ass and taking many risks from leaving the mainstream media to blog, and starting my own businesses, I've had the great privilege of meeting and working with many of them. The level of dedication, sheer hours of labor, complex lifestyle logistics, intestinal fortitude and savvy required to achieve what they have done is something that few people will ever take on their shoulders, gender aside. This, obviously, shrinks the dating pool at any life stage.
I have concluded that in order to be this type of woman, one must be part visionary, part masochist. Whether someone winds up sharing my journey or not, I'd wear such a moniker as a badge of honor if my hard work advocating on behalf of my generation as an activist and political commentator eventually resonates deeply on a scalable level someday.
A therapist once asked me why I refuse to accept convention in politics or media, but am exasperated by love. The best answer I've come up with is that the aggressive attributes I've adopted to succeed in my professional sphere often exhaust me or backfire in the dating sphere. The thing is, though, if you compete with the boys by mimicking their style, it diminishes your uniquely female attributes. If I become a workaholic and behave like a de facto man, I will not be providing the visionary leadership I expect of myself, that I'd like my former volleyball players or interns to emulate.
It can be hard to see how the stars will align for the type of cosmic love little girls dream about to materialize in these conditions. It's easy to put too much pressure on it, to care so much that it collapses before you can develop the consistency required to trust it and feel comfortable.
When the men in my life and I part ways, I always have to fight the urge to oversimplify. I catch myself thinking cynically, "They're afraid of you." The truth is that I'm afraid of them. Male brains are more mature than ever. I'm afraid of compromising my personal mission to build something together.
It really is about timing and growing to the point where one clearly understands her priorities, or achieves enough to prove to herself that she can truly "settle down."
Funny, it's taken so long to see that term -- "settle down" -- as a light at the end of a tunnel as opposed to a concession to something boring and inevitable that will take place in a beige house in a suburb somewhere. With the right person, I can imagine that it would feel like the ultimate freedom, a homing mechanism in the vast sea of possibility that life offers to those with the gumption to dream.