Home of Dr. Christine B. Whelan

Why Smart People Date Dumb

A friend recently sent me this terrific column from Dr. Alex Benzer, author of The Tao of Dating, on HuffingtonPost.com titled “Why The Smartest People Have the Toughest Time Dating.” He’s right on the money–and for all you SWANS out there, Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love will help you avoid those pitfalls. I’m looking forward to checking out his book, too…


March 30, 2009 Posted by | Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love, Relationship Tips | Leave a comment

Weekly Relationship Tip: What Men Want

Men Love SWANS Because They Are…

• Organized
• Energetic
• Passionate
• Put together
• Able to contribute financially
• Likely to impress the friends and family

In my new book, Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love, I interviewed thousands of men nationwide to find out the answer to that enduring question: What do men want?

Three big things stood out in my research:

INTELLIGENCE “I drive myself intellectually and I think intelli¬gent women are the sexiest women alive. It’s very important to me that I marry a smart woman, but there are different types of intel¬ligence. I like the idea of a woman who is independent and who challenges me,” said Trevor, a venture capitalist who splits his time between California and Connecticut. “Guys who think they are in¬telligent and are secure in their success want women who are the same way.”

“I’m looking for someone who is deeply engaged in what she does,” said Josh, a 29-year-old California entrepreneur. “I’m at¬tracted to different types and kinds of women, but that engage¬ment would have to come from sharpness and intelligence. I want to be kept on my toes.”

SELF-CONFIDENCE Out at the local bar, Joseph, a 26-year-old lawyer from Iowa, and his buddies met two women. After chatting them up for a bit, the guys invited the girls out on a group date the following weekend and gave them several options. Would they like to go out for dinner, go to the opera, or join them back at the same bar to watch a college football game and get drunk starting at 9 a.m.? The women, trying to be polite, kept smiling and said all the options sounded good. “They were afraid to express an opinion and it was a real turn-off. Those are very different options! Be your¬self and tell us who that is!” said Joseph.

Men are looking for women who make assertions when they have opinions and who have their own options and plans, so they aren’t dependent on guys, report dating experts.

And the women that Joseph met had blown it. Indeed, according to my new data, 97 percent of single high-achieving men said they would like to marry a woman who is as confident as they perceive themselves to be or more.

AMBITION Kevin, a 27-year-old business school student in southern California, said that it’s a “huge turn-on” for a woman to be ambitious and driven. “Ambition in a woman tells me and my guy friends that she’s not so much interested in our finances. She’s looking for a good person, not a placeholder. Plus, if I’m ambitious and she’s ambitious, she’ll understand where I’m coming from.”

Kevin said he’d been watching a dating reality TV show called Hooking Up, where women are interviewed about their dating tech¬niques. “On the show, one girl is a doctor, but she says she’s a hair¬dresser when she goes out to bars. That’s a mistake. Being an MD is her best trait—and she should hype that. Be modest, but don’t ever try to hide the fact that you have big career aspirations. That’s sexy.”

In my survey, sixty-eight percent of single high-achieving men report that they would like to marry a woman who is as committed to her ca¬reer as they are to theirs. So if a man senses that a woman doesn’t have ambitions for the future, it might send the wrong message about why she’s on a date with him.

Happy hunting, SWANS…

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love, Relationship Tips | Leave a comment

Can Ambition be a Catholic Virtue?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, ambition isn’t a mortal sin… but it gets pretty close. Ambition seems to be defined (among Catholics) as inordinate seeking of recognition or honor. But that’s a narrow definition. “Ambition is morally good when the recognition sought is not selfish and the means used are not evil. It becomes sinful when motivated by pride or pursued without concern for justice or charity,” according to the Catholic Dictionary.

Fine. I just think we hear too much about bad ambition and not enough about good ambitions. Ambition gets an unfairly bad rap — and today I’ve got a column up about the virtue of ambition. Thoughts?

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Ambition | Leave a comment

Ambition: It’s What We Need to Get Us Out of This Mess

According to a recent survey from the Pew Economic Mobility Project, 71 percent of respondents said personal ambition was a more important determinant of success than external conditions. The economy is in the tank–yet the average American remains ambitious and optimistic. That’s great news.

Every day, it seems, I get another email from a friend of family member who has gotten laid off. It’s devastating to families. And once the initial shock wears off, it’s interesting to see how people react.

My uncle, who was laid off from Merck in the fall, has been inspiring in this regard. He’s got a great sense of humor, he’s optimistic and he’s been working toward getting a new job with the kind of grit that should impress any employer. Plus, he’s devoted to his family–not just devoted to financially providing for them, but to being emotionally present.

As I begin to research a book on ambition — why some people have more of it than others, what kinds of societies and economies best foster ambition — I’m struck by how narrowly and negatively we view it. And to get us out of our financial hole, I believe this has to change.

Ambition is when you want it—bad. It’s going after your dreams. It’s single-mindedly pursuing a goal, the opposite of apathy. Right? Well, yes… but that’s not quite a complete definition.

Would you say someone who wanted to relax and get a lot of sleep was ambitious? Probably not, although that is a goal that you could single-mindedly pursue. Nor would you probably consider it ambitious to spend the summer going after your dream of a tan-line-free golden glow. Our modern definition of ambition is more complex than just going after a goal—it has to be a particular goal that we as a culture deem to be worthy of such efforts.

So working on your tan is an easy example to dismiss as not a “real ambition.” But then it gets a little more complicated: For a Buddhist monk meditating in an ashram, the goal might be to have an empty and calm mind. Is that an ambition? He will spend years trying to achieve it, but won’t have much to actually show at the end. What about the stay-at-home mother who wants to homeschool all her children? She’ll work really hard, but she won’t get paid or promoted. Or what about the guy who was laid off from his job–and has rethought his priorities to include not only getting a job, but making more time for family and friends?

As a society, we tend to define ambition as the quest for individual accomplishment and material prosperity, which means we have a pretty narrow definition of what goals “count” under the term ambitious.

There are dozens of ways that people express their desires to work hard for a particular goal – and not all of them mean earning lots of money or attaining worldly success. Ambition is terrific in many different kinds of forms: I salute the business executive who wants to triple revenues, and I’m in awe of the mother who wants to homeschool five kids. To me, both are ambitious. Ambition is a virtue when it’s used to create – and that creation can be more prosperity, more opportunities, more educated children, you name it.

Maybe it’s because of the narrow focus of our definition of ambition – or maybe it’s because we’ve begun to equate ambition with corrupt business executives and the financial crisis – but ambition has been getting a bad rap. Our cultural message is yes, we should have energy, yes, we should be successful, but ambitious? That sounds like you might be trying too hard or hustling too much.

Ambition gets conflated with aggressiveness – the type of person who has no use for social niceties — or greed and selfishness. In novels, it’s the ambitious character that gets taught a hard lesson. In movies, ambition is equated with greed and corruption. Ambition has become a dirty word, and yet it’s the cornerstone of so much of American progress.

And it’s by individual ambition — not billions more in government bailouts — that we will bail ourselves out of financial trouble. Ambition to find a new and better job than the one you’ve lost. Ambition to be more involved in your kid’s life while you’re job-searching from home. Ambition to make your marriage last despite the financial pressures.

According to the Pew survey, 72 percent of Americans said they believed they will personally be better off 10 years from now. Let’s keep this attitude up: Yes, reckless ambition and bad judgement may have gotten us into this mess — but it’s individual ambition and grit, broadly defined, that’s going to get us out of it.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Academic Musings, Ambition | Leave a comment

It’s not about the yummy mummies

Judith Warner had an excellent piece in the New York Times today. While the headlines carry stories of ladies of leisure who have to do their own childcare, or — gasp — look for some work to support their family after the man of the house loses his job, the real story of this economic downturn is how it affects working class families.

Warner quotes Stephanie Coontz, a friend and colleague of mine:

Increasing numbers of working class women now — in a downturn where 82 percent of the job losses have been among men – have become their family’s sole wage-earners, it’s true. But their husbands, very often, are holding their own at home just fine. For while the stereotype has long been that working class men won’t do “women’s work,” Coontz said, the truth is that in recent years they’ve had a better track record than the most high-income men in sharing domestic duties. Twenty percent of these men, in fact, actually do more housework and child care now than their wives. “These people have been doing it for some time and they’re much more ideologically committed to doing it,” she said. “I think your worst offenders” (dirty coffee mug-wise), “are in that top 5 percent.”

“I’ve been a little irritated by the slams on men,” she added.

It’s not just for the sake of being fair to the hubbies that we’ve got to keep our wits about us these days and avoid falling into the usual clichés about class and gender with which we tend to make sense of men and women’s changing lives. There’s a deeper reason, too: paying attention only to the – real or perceived – “choices” and travails of the top 5 percent hides the experiences of all the rest. And this means that the needs of all the rest never quite rise to the surface of our national debate or emerge at the top of our political priorities.

This happened very obviously in the 1990s, when the New Traditionalist story line hid the fact that many mothers at home were actually either poor (and unable to “afford to work” if they had kids, as Coontz puts it), or had had their nonworking “choice” made for them by an inflexible workplace or a high-earning husband’s nearly 24/7 work schedule. Years of public prosperity passed without any real action on creating family-friendly workplaces.

Our family demongraphics have been divering for decades. While headlines cry out about the “plight” of the successful single woman who worries about her odds of marriage (which are great, mind you), the real story is that less educated, less affluent families are struggling more than ever.

Let’s focus the attention on the families who need our concerns.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Academic Musings | Leave a comment

U.S. News & World Reports–who knew?

If it weren’t for this blog update today, I would have never known that Sally Law’s LiveScience coverage of my mate preferences research was featured in U.S. News & World Reports.

What I love most is the title of the U.S. News piece:

What do men want in a woman? Brains? Beauty? Vacuuming prowess?

You need brains to operate the new vacuums (it took me the better part of the afternoon to get the $500 clear turbo thing we were given as a wedding gift to even think about picking up any dust off the floor). What do men want in a woman? Everything.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Academic Musings | Leave a comment

Books that Make You Dumb

We are what we read… and if so, then Facebook can tell us a lot about the character of undergraduates at colleges nationwide. This hilarious (and potentially disturbing) website downloads the ten most frequent “favorite books” at every college, arguing that “these ten books are indicative of the overall intellectual milieu of that college” and then crosses it with the average SAT score at that college.

Find your college or university here and see how you fare.

Princeton’s top 10 books are:

1. Harry Potter 2. The Great Gatsby 3. Pride And Prejudice 4. 1984 5. Enders Game 6. Lolita 7. The Catcher In The Rye 8. To Kill A Mockingbird 9. Catch 22 10. Crime And Punishment  … with an average SAT score of 1430

University of Iowa’s top 10 books are:

1. Harry Potter 2. Angels And Demons 3. To Kill A Mockingbird 4. Pride And Prejudice 5. The Great Gatsby 6. Memoirs Of A Geisha 7. 1984 8. The Bible 9. The Da Vinci Code 10. The Catcher In The Rye … with an average SAT score of 1145


March 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on Gendered Sins

Do men and women sin differently?

I posted on this a while back, and then had time to write a more thoughtful piece this weekend. Here’s my take, from my biweekly column on BustedHalo.com, on the recent Vatican study that suggests women are more often guilty of the sin of pride:



March 9, 2009 Posted by | A Day in the Life, Academic Musings | Leave a comment

AOL Canada Interview

AOL Canada gives Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love some weblove this week. Check out the Q&A I did with reporter Sarah Treleaven here under the headline How to Be Happy: Marry Smart.

And in the comments section there are some great personal stories, including this one, from Jenn:

Absolutely! I’m happy to be a successful, female, lawyer paired with a thoughtful and successful, male, freelance writer. Not only is he supportive of my own intelligence and hard work, but he brings plenty to the table himself!! Remember, you have 50+ years (we hope!) of conversations to have with your future mate. If there isn’t anything to talk about, you’ll be very bored.

Amen to that! And now back to chatting with my own smart husband…

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love | Leave a comment

David Smith: Librarian to the Stars

Some New Yorkers are famous for being rich. Others are famous for being stupid. But David Smith, librarian to the stars at the  The New York Public Library, is famous for being helpful. And he’s getting more and more attention — including a lovely feature in Gothamist today.

David Smith at NYPL, with my book second from the left at the front of this photo...

David Smith at NYPL, with my book second from the left at the front of this photo...

I met David Smith nearly 10 years ago when I was a wee little graduate student. With his help, every research question seemed possible.

At the time, David had the beginnings of New York network going: Authors, poets and celebrities would come into the library asking for his help. He was quickly becoming a New York “connector,” and often as I toiled away on my research, David would come over to my desk and whisper excitedly about the latest big-name author he’d helped — and introduced to another big-name author he’d met the week before. He calls it “reference work through networking.”

So for 50th birthday (we won’t say when that was, but a few years back), I made him businsess cards that read: David Smith, Librarian to the Stars. And it caught on. And then he got famous himself. What’s even nicer is that each time he’s interviewed, he mentions my business card gift to him way back when. Ah, social networks.

In 2007 The New York Times profiled him and my guess is that the publicity will keep on coming. Perhaps Malcolm Gladwell might be interested in profiling him for a future book…

March 6, 2009 Posted by | A Day in the Life, Academic Musings | Leave a comment