I always told a dear friend of mine that she was living the dream: a business woman who owned a beautiful home in downtown Toronto with her charming boyfriend. They shared one of those inexplicable connections; being in the same room as the two of them, others felt invisible.
Last month, out of nowhere, he ended it. Packed his bags and left. She was baffled, even after he openly admitted his reason: She was just promoted at her office, with a jaw-droppingly great salary, and he was "unable to cope" with her new position. He had tried, he said, but the "little voice in his head" was too much.
It sounded like a reason from a 90s sitcom. Surely, I told her, no man is that two-dimensional to actually run from a successful woman. But it turns out he's not alone.
A new study published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that straight men feel worse about themselves when their girlfriends succeed.
Lead researcher Dr. Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida said "men automatically interpret a partner's success as their own failure, even when they're not in direct competition."
The research, which identified the effect as the "self-evaluation maintenance model," studied 896 people in five experiments.
Men subconsciously felt worse about themselves when they thought about a time when their partner succeeded. (Their self-worth was measured by a computer that tracked how quickly they associated positive and negative words with their identity.)
Women weren't affected by their man's success, but felt better overall about their relationships when their partner did well.
I'm tsking as I type this – how would a partner, a great partner, actually resent me for doing well in life?
That's not a guy I want in my corner. But, on the other hand, aren't we all hardwired to compare ourselves to others? That impulse – whether it's your best friend who's lost weight or a sibling who just got engaged or, I admit, a friend who seemingly has it all – is human nature.
Still, I wouldn't want to be with someone who isn't happy when I'm happy. The study seems to affirm a man's desire to be the breadwinner of the family – understandable, but can't we both win some bread?
But even worse, does this mean women can't really have a great career and a great relationship simultaneously?
Is the power couple, gulp, a myth?