Despite the popularity of books about men loving and marrying "bitches", it's really powerful and strong women that men love. We get turned on and not only want to bed powerful women, we want to spend the rest of our lives with them. It's not that we wouldn't take a roll in the hay with a woman we perceive as weak, but unless a man feels weak himself, he's going to look for a strong woman as a life partner.

When I talk about powerful women, I'm not talking only about women who hold their own financially. A woman can stay home and take care of children or get involved with charitable work or as Stephen Sondheim said it and Elaine Stritch sang it, be one of "The Ladies Who Lunch" and still feel and be powerful. As long as a man can't walk all over her and she is secure and doesn't need a man to give her an identity, a man will feel like he's won the prize. 

In my experience (personal as well as professional) it’s only weak men and women who perceive strong, skilled, competent and self-respecting women as devaluing and malevolent. The women I've known who allow men to treat them like a doormat, I don't find attractive, and a quarter century ago when I was single, women who allowed me to walk all over them led me to feel chronically guilty and I'd quickly get rid of them. I think that's the central reason why men don't end up falling in love with women who are compliant, passive, and meek.

Guys who feel weak may enjoy a woman's submissiveness, but are not happy when he feels guilty about his behavior and the woman responds by being whiny, complaining, nagging and a shrew. When a woman becomes castrating and devaluing, she's actively being a witch and when she becomes whiny, complaining, and self-pitying she's passively being aggressive and evil. Whether a woman takes away a guy's manhood and self respect or she manipulates with helplessness or resorting to tears, a nagging and ill-tempered woman is definitely not sexy to a guy unless he is hiding the very same fear: that he is in fact weak and helpless and hides it with bravado or what we now refer to as narcissism. 

Weak women tend to fall for narcissistic guys who give the illusion of being strong. These are guys who need to be admired and worshipped to feel secure, and many women feel safe with a guy who demands adoration. This dysfunctional pattern became the title of my wife's dissertation in postgraduate training: "The Narcissistic Idealization and Devaluation Formulation." She explains that this is a modus operandi that dictates that if you don't treat me like garbage, I'll make rubbish out of you. The outcome is that the man then ends up feeling like he's sleeping with dribble and debris, and the woman feels and acts like she's diddly-squat. If she doesn't allow herself to be mistreated and devalued, a guy with pathological narcissism will run in the other direction and she becomes sexy and desirable to men looking for a life partner as opposed to a supplicant.

This formulation, by the way, is gender interchangeable; men who feel weak and allow themselves to be devalued by women will turn it around on the woman and act like a macho jerk or by being passively aggressive. Like the narcissistic men who treat women abusively, the narcissistic woman ends up disappointed and acts mean because she feels like she's sleeping with human refuse. She thinks that if she is degrading to the man it'll make her feel less badly about herself. What she really wants from the man, however, is true strength: kind but firm, gentle not wimpy, loving while not being needy. In reality we all want strong partners who feel good about themselves and both women and men with weak partners secretly and often unconsciously hope and pray that their partner will show strength and self-respect, because that's ultimately a pre-condition for good sex and love.

About the Author

Mark Sichel

Mark Sichel is a psychotherapist in New York City and the author of Healing from Family Rifts.

You are reading

The Therapist Is In

10 Steps to Letting Go of Resentment

Replaying the past over and over has psychic and physical costs.

Tiger Moms and Tiaras for Tots: Depriving Children of the Joys of Childhood

Tiger Moms, Beauty Pageant Moms, Deprive Children Joys of Childhood

Thanksgiving: The Empty Chair of Family Estrangement

Family estrangement can make holidays feel empty and painful.