Research has shown that when their female partners succeed, men feel threatened and insecure. When it's the other way around, women honestly don't care and feel pretty good about the relationship. Why is this? Well a lot of it has to do with deeply set, sexist beliefs on the roles of men and women.
When girls are young, they are taught that they are supposed to be the caregiver, and that they are supposed to look for a protector and a provider in a man. It's our job to stand behind our men, make sure that their home life is as relaxing as possible, and congratulate him on all his successes.
Boys are taught that they are supposed to be that provider and protector. They are to be the main breadwinners. They are supposed to be strong enough to defend their women when trouble comes a-knocking and be able to make at least as much money as she does.
This is a really crappy system we have going.
I am planning on being pretty successful in my life, and I honestly would hate to think that someone I want to spend my whole life with would be off-put by that. They problem is that we have socially built a system in which men feel threatened when women succeed. We have told them they are supposed to be top dog in the gender dynamic, and that they're doing something wrong when they aren't. How supremely outdated is our system when women can gain the education and skill to go everywhere men can, and somehow the woman is threatening purely by her presence in a board room or income bracket? Why should any woman have to curb her success to make her supposed life-partner feel better about himself? Would it be so terrible for a man to earn less, or be less "successful" than his girlfriend?
And this is not just about "attracting a man" because this system of thinking has a really big effect on a lot more than just your love life. Because of this provider/protector model of manhood, it's really hard for men to get paternity leave in this country. It means that on both sides of the coin, people have a reason to perpetuate the gender-based income gap in which men get paid more and women get paid less for the same work. After all, the guy's got to provide for his girlfriend or wife, and the woman probably has someone else helping to support her. I really hate what the insistence upon traditional gender roles has done to our society.
Why should a woman have to choose between success and her boyfriend's ego? This is stupid and it's another way women are being held back by these little voices saying that we should slow down for everyone else's benefit.
If you want to make choices about your life and career, they should be your choice-- not society's. I don't care if you want to live a June Cleaver lifestyle of being the most perfect housewife ever-- you can! But you shouldn't do it because someone else told you to. You should have the support of your partner in whatever you decide is right for you.
And that's what it comes down to: partnership.
Things should be mutual. There shouldn't be a fierce rigidity of roles or an insistence on one's superiority over the other. If you're with someone who feels threatened by your success, how are you supposed to build a mutually fulfilling life?
My mother always told me growing up that if you nickel and dime a relationship it crumbles. You can't try to quantify a relationship and split things right down the middle, because no two people are going to contribute in ways you can measure evenly. There will always be little things you don't notice or you take for granted. It's not about giving and taking exactly 50/50-- it's about trusting and supporting each other.
The problem is that guys are trained for so long to think that they need to be the provider, and when their women outperform them, they feel insecure because their thought is that their girlfriend or wife has moved up a league and now she can-- and maybe even should-- "trade-up." This is dumb, because most people are looking for a soulmate, not a car. They're kind of different. (I don't know if you noticed.)
So what can you do to combat the prevailing notion of the provider?
First, talk about this. The part of the reason why outdated cultural standards prevail is because no one questions them. And most people don't come to question them on their own, so you've got to start that conversation.
Second, really discuss this with your significant other, whether you're in a heterosexual relationship or not-- the expectations about the kind of dynamic you want to have should be discussed, and you should talk through, not rigid ideas of who is going to do what, or even mandate a way to split things down the middle, but the importance of really supporting the successes of each other. That's what it should be about, right? Support.
Whether or not you're the breadwinner, neither you nor your partner should ever feel like the success of one is a threat to either of your egos. What kind of a crappy relationship is that? Ditch the male-provider model and find yourself a partner in life.
Happy Valentine's Day :)