Do Overachievers Lack the "Skill Set" for Relationships?

Are obsessively goal-oriented people at a loss when it comes to Relationships 101?

couple not talking
(Image credit: Joselito Briones/istock)

The other night, at a wine-tasting evening hosted by a friend of mine, I got into a conversation with a very nice, smart guy I'd never met before. He happened to mention that he'd recently broken up with someone he'd been dating, an ambitious young woman who worked in advertising. At that point I informed him that I was a dating blogger — which meant he had to tell me everything, especially why things hadn't worked out.

"She was a very achievement-oriented person, without much relationship experience," he said. "And eventually, I started to think that she — and other people like that whom I've dated less seriously — didn't really understand how to work to improve a situation where there wasn't a clear short-term goal. Although she seemed to really want to be in the relationship, the more I tried to get her to open up, and to work on communicating and developing the bond between us, the more she seemed to close down."

I thought his insight was very interesting. I feel like I've met the kind of excessively goal-oriented people of which he speaks ... and maybe I've even been one in the past. Perhaps this is what happens with folks like that: These over-achievers are interested in finding a "catch," but once they get him, they don't know how to handle it. Many people who become obsessed with external achievements do so because they don't have great self-esteem, and they hope the guy will make them feel better about themselves. But after they "achieve" a romantic commitment from someone — after the initial excitement wears off — they find the old bad self-esteem remains, albeit slightly mitigated by the comfort of the relationship. Not wanting to reveal a core that they feel is somehow inferior, they withdraw rather than feeling good enough about themselves to reveal more of their true selves.

Or maybe what's going on is more simple: Achievement-oriented people spend so much time thinking about their careers that they don't expend much effort on developing personal relationships … so that when a good romance comes their way, they lack the "skill set" and experience required to make it work. (To that point: The wine-party dude said his ex didn't seem to have many close friends.)

What do you all think about this? Am I onto something? Have you had unfulfilling romantic experiences with people who are obsessively achievement-oriented? Above and beyond blatant commitment-phobia, what do you think accounts for the inability of those strivers to successfully