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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Competitive Streak in Men and Women

Perhaps the common thread between Paula Broadwell and Lisa Nowak was the "competitive streak." Obviously both women are highly competitive -- in Nowak's case, becoming an astronaut; in Broadwell's, just about everything she has accomplished manifests a competitive streak -- the running, the pushups, high school valedictorian, West Point, Harvard,  etc.

So perhaps the streak reflects a continuous "need" to be number one -- to outcompete everyone in sight.  Perhaps for these sad women, love is seen as a "competition" as well.  With Paula, one could say she outcompeted the rest of the female world in this aspect -- she managed to win the most alpha of alpha males -- the one U.S. leader who truly had a spotless reputation, and who was universally acclaimed as one of the best of all time.

But the competition never ends.  She "competed" for the Petraeus prize and she won it, but then she had to keep it, against all rivals, both real, and (perhaps) imaginary.

The facts aren't out yet as to exactly what was going on in the Petraeus-Broadwell relationship at the time she sent those emails, so I'm not going to speculate too much.  But my guess is that her highly competitive nature took control of her better judgment and that's what got her into trouble.

With Nowak, something similar clearly went on as well.  I know even less about her object of affection than I know about Broadwell's, but I'd be willing to bet that on some level she viewed having an affair with him as some sort of triumph.  Her hare-brained plan to kidnap her rival was a bit extreme, but that's the competitive streak at work -- win at all costs.  

Are competitive men the same way?  Do they "compete" for trophy wives?  Perhaps they do.  But with men, if they are truly successful and accomplished, they'll always be able to find a ready substitute -- another pretty face.

With competitive women, there are far fewer "trophy" men to compete for, and perhaps that's what makes them so pathologically possessive when they think they have landed one.

As I read what I've written above -- especially the paragraph immediately above --  I see that I am probably being unfair to a lot of women.  The only way to get into the good schools and get the good jobs today is to be competitive.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing -- it means that you (whether a man or a woman) will put in the work that it takes to get a job done.  And there are clearly millions of women out there whose "competitive streaks" have enabled them to survive and even outcompete men in schools and in the workplace.  And yet I am projecting the pathologies of Nowak and Broadwell onto all competitive women.

So let's just be clear -- Nowak and Broadwell are probably examples of pathological competitiveness. There's no reason to think that a "normally" competitive woman would engage in this sort of behavior.  And hopefully, if it crosses her mind, she will now think twice about it, and just LET GO..

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