Love At The Top (1)
The Evening Standard 15-09-1986
STARTING TODAY London has a whole new generation of young, attractive, prosperous and independent single women. High-earning, with homes, cars and total financial independence, they probably represent the most desirable and eligible group of women in Britain. Yet many of those at, or heading for, the top, willingly admit they find it hard to end up with the right sort of man to share their good fortune. Do such men even exist? If so, have they already been snapped up by other less ambitious women? Are most of London's eligible bachelors just too boring to appeal to their new female counterparts? Or do these women have unreasonably high expectations? Perhaps men find them too tough, too aggressive and too difficult to handle preferring someone softer from the typing-pool or is it just a plain old-fashioned case of the sexes misunderstanding each other? Whatever the truth it's clear that love is tough at the top an issue uppermost in many women's minds as they reveal in this intriguing four-part series. Their views range widely from those who put the blame four-square on aggressive, militant feminism to those who blame men for being too weak, too tough, too insensitive or too independent. By CHRISTOPHER LONG.
Love At The Top Day 2 (16-09-86)
Love At The Top Day 3 (17-09-86)
Love At The Top Day 4 (18-09-86)
"I think we've become our own worst enemies," says TV actress Imi Bickford-Smith.
"We've become so self-sufficient nobody can do anything for us even though we want them to."
"My mother said a woman needs a man to look after her but she was a single parent and she looked after herself. So I always assumed I would be professionally independent, even as a working class girl."
And Carol Allen has been just that all her working life as a journalist, broadcaster and in her current best-known role as regular film critic for LBC.
Although she was married for a relatively short period she is proud to admit that her large Fulham house and freedom from all financial worries has come from single-minded determination to succeed.
She owes all her comforts to her own achievements but admits she has paid the price by having no husband or children to share her rewards now.
"Some men have been proud of my success and then resented it particularly when I was more successful than them."
"My husband once said, after we'd split up, that he wished I had shown I was proud to be his wife. I said I wished I'd known he needed to know that."
"The dilemma is that the general expectation of what's a good wife/lover conflicts with being a woman with a career. A career seems incompatible with the idea of having children, which is probably why I've copped out of that."
"Equally I've been saved from economic dependence."
"I don't have to kow-tow to anybody except that in a relationship you have to adapt to each other."
And in Carol Allen's case there has been no shortage of pleasant relationships over the years merely a lack of the one permanent man she could happily live with ever after.
"I'm puzzled about what men expect from me. If I'm caring they seem to react with: 'She's trying too hard' or 'She's trying to trap me'."
"If I do the opposite it's: 'She's all right, she doesn't care, she doesn't need me or anybody'."
"It sometimes seems like I can't win."
And Carol is afflicted by the false image dilemma described by nearly all the women I spoke to:
"One of my attractions for men is that I'm strong and independent. But that can be taken too literally. If I show vulnerability it scares them off."
"They're frightened they can't control me and want to boss the game. If a man was strong enough to control me and boss the game, but then chose not to, then I'd respect him."
And she makes a point that crops up everywhere:
"I don't think men have a clue what's going on in women's minds."
"Equally women often misjudge men's motives because they misread men's actions. For example a man might seem to care a lot more or a lot less than women think is truly the case."
"Most of my life I've related to men who are younger than me. Now even they are getting older and the signals can be even more deceptive the older they get!"
But for Carol, who works most of the unsocial hours available, opportunities to meet men away from work are very limited a factor which affects many career women.
"Nowadays most of my relationships are with guys directly or indirectly related to work but I don't think men in the media are particularly tricky."
"So, yes, I had affairs with colleagues at work and I've coped with them with varying degrees of success."
"As you get older it's an easy thing to do. You find you have a relationship without having to go through the dating process."
"More of your social therefore sexual contacts are made through work as your success and responsibilities make work-life more and more all-absorbing."
"And I've always been able to find unsuitable men who aren't married!"
"The advantage of unsuitable men is that you won't get trapped. And I don't want to get trapped because I want space and an alive relationship not games and role-playing."
But if Carol has found that colleagues can become good friends and lovers she thinks many women may be denying themselves such opportunities because of the current obsession with sexual harassment at work:
"Younger women than me get very worked up about sexual harassment. I don't. What they complain about I learnt to deal with at a very young age passing it off with a joke."
"If someone finds me attractive I'm not insulted. I can handle it. I certainly don't wish to be an asexual object in the office!"
"For many women the sexual harassment bit is really a fear of not being taken seriously as a colleague. I never fear that I won't be taken seriously."
So if busy women don't have time to meet men socially and do take opportunities through their work, why is there still a problem?
"The trouble is that we try to mould people to fit our ideal of a man or a woman. 'I wish you were more this... less that... something else... '"
"And no I don't envy anybody 'soft and sweet' from the typing-pool. I'm not like that. I don't believe these soft little bunny-girls are necessarily going to get what they want, or if they do, they'll necessarily enjoy it."
"If I could change something in myself it would be to get rid of the fears and distrust that prevent me from making the relationships I want."
"Yet probably my career has benefited because I've compensated there for what I haven't always found with a man."
"I would like men to lose their fear of their feelings and expressing them. Also the desire they have always to be in control."
"I think men are generally scared by us," says Fiona Gatt. "That's why they choose nice girls who decorate their flats in Laura Ashley. They make a lot of noise and keep clear of women like me!"
Fiona is in her mid-twenties and is a senior 'swaps' dealer with a major international bank.
Her rapid career success has been almost a classic progression. She was educated privately, gained a good degree from Somerville College, Oxford, and was immediately snapped up by a major bank as a graduate trainee.
Today she lives in her own very attractive flat in Kensington, has total financial independence and enough earning power to travel extensively and pursue a hectic and exciting social life.
But the very qualities that have worked so well for her in the City present other problems when it comes to finding a suitable mate.
"What's wrong with most London men is the same as what's wrong with most London women they're just not honest. They're terrified that if they reveal themselves the perfect image will be broken and their secrets will be talked about."
"Younger men don't have much clue about what goes on in women's heads in their fantasies. And you can't get much out of them either."
"Older men aren't that stupid. They know women are completely different in their fantasies from the images they project. But then older men are often scared off by the age difference."
"I work in the City so most of the men I meet there are fairly traditional. They want to live in the country and work in the City. But they don't want the sort of excitement I do."
"That sort of man is looking for the traditional sort of Sloane girls who snap them up pretty fast."
So what is Fiona really looking for?
"A man who's as ambitious as I am but wants to move around and experience as much as possible. I like men who need new interests and excitement just as I do."
But although Fiona says she meets most of her male friends through balls, parties and friends ("never at clubs or anywhere like that") she agrees the City still provides the most likely candidates because that's where there are most men with drive and successful careers.
"The combined salaries of a successful career man and a successful career woman can make for a superb quality of life," she points out.
"But perhaps it's more difficult for us now because we're living through a relative boom particularly in the City."
"Perhaps if there was a recession more men and women would be more practical about their intentions about marriage. Now they're probably too idealistic."
And this is where successful women can pay a high price, she thinks.
"A lot of career women probably expect a lot or too much because they're naturally ambitious and so will never be easily satisfied. They're always wanting more, better, etc.. The men are the same. So both sexes are playing a game for increasingly higher stakes."
It is this false image or false perception that confuses her and her partners so badly:
"I know a lot of men don't find me relaxing because I challenge them too much professionally and emotionally. When I meet them I either try to impress them, charm them or challenge them if they're attractive."
"I suppose I think men want to be entertained. I think they usually look for women who are easier to be with."
"At dinner parties I think I feel I have to sing for my supper be as entertaining as possible rather than demure and sweet."
"If I met a man who gave me a battle and was dominant enough to make me feel demure and sweet, I'd love it even though I've just said I can't stand women like that!"
And she echoes the thoughts of nearly all our interviewees when she says that the 'image' of career success should never be taken too literally by men:
"I think women would be much happier if they just assumed that all men are likely to share the same hopes, fears, anxieties, fantasies and desires as they do. The same goes for the men."
"Men will never gain our respect if they believe the images we create. We respect men who know us well enough as a sex to see through the charade and we feel happier, safer and more desired by men who do. But at the same time we want them to appreciate the performance we put on and to love us for that as well."
"A successful career woman is nine-tenths a fragile jelly"
"I think sex is more important to women than it is to men"
"Can you have a relationship with a man whose job you want?"
© (1986) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.