What are men on?
What is he on? At home he has a beautiful, elegant, intelligent and talented woman. And yet he can’t resist the young totty on the side. Actor Ralph Fiennes has been revealed as the latest in the line of men who risk their relationships for something that seems inferior to something they already have and downright stupid to the rest of us.
This is not a new phenomenon. Men have been running off with younger women since time began. As Francesca Annis ponders her next move (sleep with Ralph’s brother Joseph is my advice), Caroline, a friend of mine, also beautiful, intelligent and talented is wondering what her future holds. Her husband left her last month for his secretary. You’d think these men would show a little imagination, but no, the secretary, nurse or the air stewardess is always going to be a top choice. The awful truth is that men don’t want to be out-earned or to bask in the glory of a successful and intelligent woman; they want to be looked after. And preferably by someone they can feel superior to.
As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, the model for Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex in the City, says: “One man predicted I would never find a mate because if there’s one thing men fear, it’s a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood? Everything women are doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom.”
Some women can even pinpoint the exact moment when their relationship fell apart and link it to a high point in their careers.
“I can chart the decline of our relationship from that call, which makes our union the casualty of my success,” Anna Pasternak, whose partner left her shortly after she signed a big deal with an American network, revealed in a recent interview in the Daily Mail.
My friend Caroline works for an advertising agency. She is on the board directors and extremely successful. Her former husband also works in the media but has not made it as far as she has.
“At first he was with me, but at one point he started to turn against me,” she tells me. “Suddenly everything to do with my career was a pain; he didn’t want to hear about it. Then he started to tell me I was obsessed with work. At weekends if I was expecting an important email I would have to sneak a look at my Blackberry to see if it had arrived. I started to feel like I had a lover, it was ridiculous.”
It didn’t take her long to work out what was irritating him. Not only was she more successful than he was, but her work was taking away time that could be spent pampering him. “If I went on a business trip he would treat it like I was on holiday,” she says. “Every time I phoned I would get a stream of abuse about how beastly the children were being and then when I came home, jet-lagged and exhausted, I was expected to take over the running of everything as I was the one that had been jetting off as he put it. It didn’t seem to occur to him that I was working for all of us.”
Caroline thinks his relationship with his secretary started when she was away in New York pitching to one of the agency’s major clients. “For once when I got home he was quite attentive,” she says. “I was totally relieved and thought our bad patch was over.”
Three months later he left her, saying that he had found a woman who cared about him and not just her career. Caroline denies she was as career-minded as her former husband makes out. Her husband is typical of the kind of insecure and pathetic man who can’t handle an intelligent woman. His secretary obviously reaches the parts Caroline doesn’t and makes him feel like the top dog. His actions are ego-driven and deplorable.
But the fact is that while successful men attract women like bees to a honeypot, successful women are a turn-off. Men don’t often marry their bosses.
Another friend of mine was an extremely successful investment banker. She used to earn more in a year than most of us earn in ten. She was smart, sexy and good looking. None of us could understand why she wasn’t married by 35. Especially as that was her one stated aim in life, aside from world domination. She would show up at parties with a series of ridiculous suitors, mainly younger men who were only in it for the sex and the money. She was getting more and more frantic. Aged 37 she finally gave in, dumped her high-powered job and started another career in teaching. Two years later she is married and pregnant with twins. Is she happier?
“They say women can’t have it all,” she says. “And it’s true, but not for the reasons most of us think. We can’t have it all because men aren’t attracted to intelligent and successful women. It’s all down to biology. Men want someone who depends on them and who needs them. If a woman is smarter than them and can earn more than they do they can easily run off with someone else. I miss my career but I realised the only choice I had if I wanted to have a family was to give it up.”
What her husband wanted, and what so many men want, is a woman who is malleable, soft and above all impressed by them. What man wants a woman who is intelligent enough to see through him when he could have a sex kitten who spends any spare time she has planning what to cook him for dinner and how to please him in bed?
My husband and I recently went out for a meal with some friends. Among them was a male friend of ours and his new girlfriend. He decided to leave his wife of twenty years for a woman half his age whom he met at work. He was wearing his napkin around his neck and spilling food down it at regular intervals. I asked his young girlfriend if he always ate with such gusto.
“I’m just so grateful he’s not spilling on his shirt,” she replied, giggling and gazing at him with the kind of adoration and indulgence I normally reserve for my two-year old son. I almost threw up on the spot. My husband, though, was on the man’s side. “Why wouldn’t you want that?” he said as we left the restaurant. “Who wants a grumpy wife who is always nagging you when you could have a young pretty woman like that doing something else to you instead?”
That’s a fair point, and a lot of men, Ralph Fiennes included, find arm-candy a better option. But surely being gazed at lovingly 24 hours a day must get dull? What happens when you want to have a conversation? Do you phone a friend? Talk to the cat? What could be better than growing old and ugly together and still laughing at each other’s jokes?
My friend Caroline’s husband tells me his new girlfriend is really interesting. “I wish she didn’t have big tits and blonde hair,” he says. “It just makes people think I’m with her for her looks and nothing else. Really, she’s a fascinating woman.” Yeah, right.
Francesca and Ralph are old enough to look after themselves, but think about the effect this totty-chasing can have on children. One man I know left his wife and three children for one of the prettiest but possibly most inane women I have ever met. Six months later he has regretted the whole thing and is back in the family fold. But his eight year old daughter still hasn’t got over him abandoning them and has gone from being a well-adjusted and lovely girl to a nervous wreck. Surely no totty is worth that?
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019