Three hidden reasons smart, professional women inadvertently stay single

Francesca and Grace are two of my friends here in San Francisco who also happen to run Spark, a philanthropic network founded by women to help the lives of women worldwide. At a recent Spark cocktail party, even amongst the crowd of educated, stylish, philanthropically inclined professional women, Francesca and Grace stood out. Not only are they super-smart, ultra-stylish, crazy sweet and supremely capable thirtysomethings, but they are also serious babes. So it surprised me when both of them, at different parts of the evening, basically said, “Hey buddy. You’re supposed to have the answers. So tell me: Why am I still single?”

Well, by all the laws of physics, trigonometry and common sense, these fabulous ladies should have equally fabulous companions. Realizing this, I did what any wise man would do: I mumbled that I’d get back to them later and excused myself to get a drink before having a chance to say anything silly.

Well, it’s later now, and I’ve had a few days to think about this. Actually, I’ve thought about this topic for years and have written pieces and whole books on it. But these cases got me thinking differently, since women like Francesca and Grace aren’t doing anything obviously wrong.

This raised the question: are there insidious behaviors out there that appear perfectly innocuous while creating barriers to love over time? Like the way just a daily can of Coke over a year can add up to gaining 14 pounds?

From dozens of friends observed at close range, hundreds of conversations with professional women, and thousands of letters received from my readers, I’ve extracted three overarching reasons for self-imposed involuntary singlehood (SIS). Now, mind you, not all three will apply to everyone (for example, Grace is good with #2 but less so with #1). But read them through and see if they fit:

1)You haven’t made love a priority yet.

Francesca, Grace and ladies like them have aced standardized tests, gotten into top colleges and grad schools, nailed job interviews, published scientific papers, started nonprofits from scratch, played knuckle-breaking Chopin ballades, made rocks bleed cash and planetary orbits bend to their will. How? They made it a priority. They set the goal, planned for it, and hit the goal – repeatedly.

And yet, when it comes to love, it seems as if most of us Westerners (male or female) are content to leave it to chance: “Oh, it’ll just happen someday.” Perhaps it’s that kind of thinking that has left us with the 50% divorce rate in the US – which is actually closer to 67% if we count all the couples separated or stuck in chronically unhappy marriages, as Ty Tashiro points out in his recently released The Science of Happily Ever After.

Study after study shows that the prime determinant of our long-term happiness and health is the strength of our intimate relationships. People – this is not some luxury you attend to after you take care of all the important things in life, like making VP or adopting a labradoodle. This is the centerpiece of your existence on earth. So give it the attention it deserves.

How? The same way you hit all your other goals in life: set aside time for it, think up a strategy, and execute. Some simple ideas: resolve to accept more invitations to social events, focus more on your hobbies (where you may find like-minded men, unless your hobby is needlepoint), throw more dinner parties, or ask your friends to introduce you to solid guys.

Also, remember that dating is a skill you can learn and master just like that Chopin ballade. Finding, meeting, attracting and keeping a guy involves four separate skill sets requiring practice but far easier than writing a doctoral dissertation. Consulting a good booka good coach or a savvy friend can shorten the learning curve.

2) You have unwittingly given away some of your power.

Part of what I love about women like Francesca and Grace is that they radiate power. People listen when they speak, and they get stuff done. So I find it perplexing when they tell me that they can dig a well and install a water pump in Uganda 9000 miles away, but somehow they can’t ask out that cute guy across the room for coffee. Because… well, it’s just not done or something.

I’ve noticed women giving away their power in two big ways. First, they underestimate their own power. Ladies – you have won the franchise, gone to outer space, ruled Germany and made Carrie Bradshaw a household name. You can make your own rules now. You want to talk to a guy? Talk to him. Want to ask him out? Want a fling? Ask him to marry you? It’s your century.

Second, in a world crazed with masculine power, some women underutilize their native feminine power. Tibetan Buddhism says that the feminine is the source of all power. In life as in sexuality, feminine energy is engulfing and inextinguishable (the vagina always triumphs over the penis). In the Taoist metaphor, the feminine is the resilient generativity of water, versus the consuming transience of fire. It is the soft power of cooperation and persuasion, which after 5000 years is slowly replacing the hard power of direction and coercion.

What I’m trying to say is this: in nature, feminine and masculine energy balance each other out perfectly. However, there are many cases (e.g. courtship) where feminine power trumps masculine power. Water can extinguish fire and turn rock into sand. If you are a woman with feminine power built-in, this is good news.

There is real power in the sway of the hip, the arch of the brow, the sympathetic touch on the shoulder, and the compliment to send someone soaring. You would do well to harness these instead of trying to be the facsimile of some dude who himself is trying to be the facsimile of some TV dude. Let the boys bang their helmets together while you’re busy taking over and making stuff work.

3) Your habitual decisions have moved you away from love instead of towards it.

Whether conscious of them or not, we all have default settings for lots of decisions: More work versus less work. More travel versus less travel. Exclusion versus inclusion. Perfectionism versus pragmatism. Hoarding versus sharing. Possessions versus experiences. Guardedness versus vulnerability (or, as Francesca put it, “I like him enough to have fun with him, but not enough to be hurt by him.”) So you have to ask yourself: are your default settings bringing you more love and joy, or less?

There are choices to be made here. But vulnerability, for one, is not a choice – it’s a requirement. In making time and space for love, you’re exposing yourself to disappointment and even heartbreak. In expressing your true power, you may scare some people off. But holding back means settling for companions drawn to the held back version of you – an unacceptable option. By developing new habits of re-prioritizing connection, and allowing your heart to remain open while expressing your deepest power, you clear the path for love to visit, nest, and perhaps stay a little longer.

7 Comments on “Three hidden reasons smart, professional women inadvertently stay single”

  1. Jeff

    The last paragraph sums things up – intimacy requires vulnerability. That means being vs. doing, go with the flow rather than treating relationship like a goal-oriented business transaction or something to control.
    I think the biggest obstacle in U.S. culture is the idolatry / cult hood of Carrie Bradshaw; Eat, Love, Pray, etc., and the loss of femininity by U.S. women. The feminist movement taught women to be masculine, aggressive and to be like men – cut your hair short, wear hideous man-type suits, be a cougar (controlling aggressor), etc…
    Women have been dis-empowered for so long in so many ways, it seems in claiming their power the pendulum may have swung too far to the other extreme. Being vulnerable and intimate = letting go of control.
    I also believe there is a definite and unspoken fear of intimacy in the entire culture.
    I personally prefer a woman from a culture that values femininity and being a woman over the current state of affairs in the U.S.

    1. Christine

      I have been vulnerable, intimate and let go of control time and again. I ended up first in a disastrous marriage, then in a string of dating situations in which I realized I was being used for sex, social status, or both. I think single guys in my age group (mid-forties) just don’t want genuine relationships, or are too damaged to try. I’ve tried everything – church, a meetup group, online dating, bars, friends, even a professional matchmaker.

      Part of it is just being a working mom with a house to maintain. I’m so busy just keeping my head above water, I don’t have the time to invest that I did when I was younger. Ironically, this is when I would appreciate a guy the most. Someone to help with little things like changing light bulbs, fixing doorknobs, or making spaghetti. Just meeting for a drink after work is a big treat. It would take so little to make me happy.

  2. nae

    As a woman who has had a very successful professional career (and put love on hold while doing so) I can personally attest to these truths. Last year I prioritized love and now have a fantastic relationship with a man I previously wouldn’t have thought even existed.

    A few months ago I put so much stress on our relationship with my habitual masculine approach to solutions. I’ve since had to go back to the drawing board and remember the basics of the masculine / feminine dynamic. He wants to marry me, but I felt that some things ought to be handled first; debt, what to do with his home, how to participate with his adult children. My MO is to HANDLE things and I’ve always done it with masculine energy. This had our relationship skidding sideways. This last few months has helped me realize that my relationship flourishes when I take my foot off the gas (typically I want things done, NOW!) and take my steel grip hands off the wheel (what makes me the better driver anyway?) In fact, me getting in the passenger seat and letting my man drive the details of our relationship is much better that seeing which one of us really wears the pants. Dialing back into the feminine means that I’m learning to navigate instead of drive. He’s both encouraging and respectful of my in-put and appreciates the solutions I present. He acknowledges that I am better at problem solving than he is but feels a lot of heat when it comes to my expectations. We’ve agreed that our partnership does better when he’s in the “driver’s seat” = masculine, (and it’s what I wanted in the big picture, as I was tired of a lifetime of being the Top Dog with all of the responsibility of making the money, making things happen, and creating the results that were impressive but still exhausting.) Now I’m both willing and happy to adopt the more feminine energy of still being able to navigate, while riding beside him!

  3. Lastango

    Here’s what you tell women they’re like:

    — They “radiate power”.
    — “Let the boys bang their helmets together while you’re busy taking over.”
    — “planetary orbits bend to their will.”
    — “It’s your century.”

    Why would any woman ego-tripping on that drug think she needs to actually change anything about herself?

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      Great point! I suppose I should specify that these are powers a woman has once she has worked towards being her best self. That said, for a long time now boys have been doing funny things for girls without girls having to do anything but sit there and be pretty, so maybe it’s time for the men to take stock and stop doing that.

    2. Nathan

      In my humble opinion these are the reasons they are still single. The vagina always triumphs over the penis??!