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Honey, I wear the pants here
When Priyanka and Deepak were planning their yearly getaway, they chose Koh Samui in Thailand. Once they'd decided on a place, Priyanka's personal assistant at work (she's HR head at an MNC, he's a professor of economics) made the hotel reservations, booked the flight tickets and organised a car to pick them up. When the couple landed on the sunny island, a placard reading Mr & Mrs Priyanka Gupta greeted them at the airport. They both found it funny. At the hotel, the room was booked under Priyanka's name and the air tickets were - obviously - subsidised using her flyer miles. "I was laughing at being called Mr Priyanka till she accusingly told me that there was nothing romantic about the holiday because she organised it all. I wonder how I could have infused romance into a plan that was remotecontrolled by her, " he says. Deepak also admits that, left to him, they would have probably holidayed in the Kumaon hills. "She earns more than I do, so her plans are always more elaborate. "
Now Priyanka, like most women, may argue that romance has nothing to do with elaborate plans - and the simplest gestures can be romantic - but the fact remains that it's tougher for a man to surprise a fullyconnected, alpha woman today than it was to sweep a fair maiden off her feet in the past.
Last month, Anil Trivedi, a banker, surprised his wife Rita, also a banker, on her birthday with tickets for a weekend getaway. She flipped her lid. "I had an important conference the week after and needed to work overtime to prepare presentations for it over the weekend. I thought it was really stupid of Anil to make plans without even checking if I was free, " she fumes. "When we were dating, she would always complain I never surprised her. Now after marriage when I do, this is what I get to hear, " laments Anil. Of course things would have been different if Rita didn't work and had all the time in the world to be romanced by her well-meaning husband.
What's the problem here? Priyanka earns more than Deepak while Rita's job is as demanding as Anil's. And both situations are putting a strain on their respective marriages. According to a recent article in the New York Times, "Sexual attraction in the 21st century, it seems, still feeds on 20th-century stereotypes. Now, as more women match or overtake men in education and the labor market, they are also turning traditional gender roles on their head, with some profound consequences for relationship dynamics. "
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt believes the alpha-woman is always more desirable than the wallflower. "Romance is far more gratifying between equals. If one partner scales down her personality for the other, it's not an equal relationship. The idea is, like Khalil Gibran wrote, to stand apart but together. "
But how many times have we seen the stereotype play out? When the woman, as great a professional as she is, only falls for a man who is visibly more loaded than she is? In 2009's The Proposal (see picture on left), Ryan Reynolds reports to Sandra Bullock's editor in chief character. Bullock is portrayed as the mean bitch who only finds true love when she realises her humble assistant (Reynolds) is actually the heir to an empire. In one scene, the voiceover actually refers to Reynolds as an 'Alaskan Kennedy'. The movie went on to become one of the biggest box office successes in Bullock's career, and her first number one film in ten years.
"The turn of the century hasn't changed much and the exceptions are far from setting the rule, " says psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh, MD. "Most men are still threatened by successful women and do end up complaining that romance doesn't come easy when you know she's equally capable of picking up the tab, every time. "
While most would like to believe such philistine attitudes are not for 'people like us', advocate Chitra Phadke - who practises at the family court in Mumbai - sets that theory to rest. Phadke says often women who earn more or are in better positions professionally are seen as a threat to the male ego. Husbands tend to snub them or are rude to them in public. This leads to problems within the marriage and, sometimes, even a divorce. "Some wives, successful as they may be, make sacrifices for the sake of their children. They end up bearing with a man's slights to save the marriage, " says Phadke.
Does this 'management' of emotions and 'balancing' of testosterone and estrogen levels in a relationship leave any place for love? "To a large extent I think any romance feeds on the stereotype of the alpha-male who is capable of providing all, " says Mills and Boon author Milan Vohra. "Having said that, I like the idea of alpha women. I think it would be next to impossible for me to write a romance where the female protagonist is not working or has never worked. I'd always want my heroines to have spunk. It's cool if she's someone who's taking time off from her career, or working in a non-profit set-up. But I'd want her to be passionate about something beyond finding love. A totally non-driven woman character? I don't think I could write a romance around her, " says Vohra. Maybe there's still hope.
(Some names have been changed on request)
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