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April 7, 2010

What Do Alpha Women Really Want?

woman looking at her laptop

Photo Credit: Shane Kato/istock

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Of course, it's not just married women or higher wage earners who are less happy: it's all women. But in her alpha wife article, Min says this: "I'd guess that about 60 percent of those [alpha] women are perpetually annoyed about their breadwinner status." She's pulling that number out of the air, but her anecdotal observation is probably not far wrong.

"Making more makes me resent him and feel he's not pulling his weight and should figure out something else to pursue," says Elizabeth D., a computer executive in Silicon Valley, of her husband, who holds a lower-level job in the industry.

"When my husband stopped having sex with me, he said that my haranguing him about his lack of income killed his desire," notes Lisa R., a recently divorced publicist in Vail, Colorado.

Indeed, fury isn't pretty. I know one television executive who walked out of her 25th high school reunion "when one too many women said something like, 'Your husband does what? Oh, that must be ... creative.'"

Still, it's only money. If women are making more money than ever before and therefore are not as reliant on their husbands financially, why are they so much less happy?

"Well, more money can mean more choices," says Stevenson. And a less clear sense of what our role should be. "This is what I see happening in my practice," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., couples therapist and host of Doctor on Call at healthylife.net. "When a man makes a lot of money and a woman doesn't, there may be fighting over money — the actual dollars and cents of living and how she spends it. When a woman makes a lot of money and the man doesn't, the fight isn't exactly over money but over power: She expects to have more of it ... It's more about who gets to choose the vacations, the cars, the furnishings — and also, who takes up the slack at home."

While there's data to suggest that men really have picked up the slack in the households — they are doing more domestic work and more child care — they're still not doing enough. According to a 2007 study, women are working on average 12 hours less a week on domestic and child-care tasks than they did 40 years ago, while men are working four-and-a-half hours more than they did. Good. But what happened to those last seven-and-a-half hours? My hunch is that if women aren't actually doing that extra work, they are frantically trying to get to it — and feeling guilty.

Is there any peace for us alphas? If my husband started making more money than I did — or, indeed, any money at all (he's a lot older than me, and retired) — would I be considerably happier? That's where my self-righteousness falters. Because here's the unpleasant truth: Even if I don't have all the gratitude I seek, I still like being the boss. The thought of being Betty Draper terrifies me. I want to be Don. Out in the world in a cloud of smoke with my highball glass, brilliant ideas, and adoring throng. And the big(ish) paycheck that makes it all possible.

This is the advice I'd give to any man who likes his alpha wife: Step it up a little. Don't walk in the door and ask (as my husband does most nights), "What are you making the kids for dinner?" Don't let your wife be the social director as well as the bill payer; make that horrid trip to Toys R Us yourself and buy all those gewgaws for the birthday parties. Yes, it is true, in bed I want my husband to play, as the Proclaimers say, "the boy to the girl"; in every other way, he is welcome to my job. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is. But I'm asking it anyway.

Judith Newman is an alpha wife and the author of You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman.

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