It's a hard life on the uneven playing field

When women marry men below them on the scale of fame and fortune, the results tend to be heartbreaking, writes Joanne Laucius

BY JOANNE LAUCIUS, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN JUNE 9, 2010

 

There was a collective scratching of heads Monday after Alanis Morissette, 36, announced she had tied the knot with "my man Souleye," 30-year-old rapper Mario Treadway, who has nowhere near her level of fame and fortune.

Hollywood is a microcosm of society, though, and it has demonstrated a power shift in relationships: the growing number of partnerships between high-achieving women and lower-achieving men.

 

The success of any relationship depends on the couple, said Dr. Alison Lee, vice-president of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute.

"It depends on their bond, how they trust each other and each partners' self-esteem," she said.

"From the outside, it's hard to say what people bring to their marriages."

 

Take Julia Roberts, who has been in relationships with Liam Neeson, Dylan McDermott, Kiefer Sutherland, Lyle Lovett, Matthew Perry, and Benjamin Bratt. She broke off engagements to McDermott and Sutherland and a marriage to Lovett lasted less than two years. Roberts married cameraman Daniel Moder in 2002. The couple, apparently still happy, has three children.

 

High-achieving women find the pool of men with similar qualifications can be very small. Inequitable relationships are often quick to crumble. Meanwhile, the husbands of high-earning women often find themselves the target of ridicule.

 

Britney Spears reportedly paid for her own five-carat engagement ring when she married Kevin Federline or "K-Fed," a pizza delivery man and dancer. He was demoted to "Fed-Ex" when the couple filed for divorce a month after the birth of their second child.

 

Jennifer Lopez was in short-lived marriages with Cuban-born waiter Ojani Noa and back-up dancer Cris Judd before entering into equally short-lived relationships with Sean Combs and Ben Affleck.

 

Sandra Bullock dated high-profile stars Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Gosling before she met former bodyguard and Monster Garage host Jesse James in 2003. The marriage unravelled earlier this year on revelations of James' multiple indiscretions.

Being married to a superstar can put pressure on the male ego. The same is true of ordinary relationships in which the wife earns more than the husband, said relationship coach Terry Rattray.

 

"From a man's perspective, it's a real kick in the gonads."

Rattray sees a day 40 or 50 years from now when the powerful woman-less powerful man pairing will be accepted, but not yet. Meanwhile, Hollywood relationships show how these relationships are evolving. For an inequitable relationship to work, the couple has to ignore the expectations of friends, family and society that the husband be older, richer and more powerful than his wife, Rattray said. "It takes real courage to make their choices and live their lives free of other people's expectations. A couple who can break free of social norms is certainly a beautiful thing. We should be encouraging it in our society."

 

Ottawa dating coach Irene Yarkoni says there is often more value to an inequitable relationship to the couple than what other people see. In the Morissette-Treadway match, it may be that both the bride and the groom are comfortable with themselves and value more than fame and money.

 

"Just because he's not famous, he may still be a person of quality. It may work for her," Yarkoni said.

 

She points to the seven-year relationship between Demi Moore, 47, and Ashton Kutcher, 32. Moore was more famous than Kutcher when they met, and Moore's entertainment savvy probably helped Kutcher in the entertainment business. There are usually inherent insecurities in relationships where the woman is more rich and powerful. His ego is bruised and she suspects his motivations. If these matches are to survive, a successful woman has to play up her femininity, Yarkoni said.

 

Inequities matter less to people in their 20s and 30s than older couples, she finds. Older successful women are less willing to compromise their standard of living by marrying a lower-status man, even if that standard is not endangered by marrying a man who makes less money. "The issue is of femininity and masculinity," Yarkoni said. "A woman who is strong and wise does not let go of her femininity. If she's clever, she'll help him make himself successful to give the relationship stability."

 

Meanwhile, Rattray said power couples have their own problems. He points to perpetual predictions that the high-octane partnership of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will go up in flames.  "The real pressure is when you have two people who can't spend any quality time with each other. They can't sustain a relationship."

 

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