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The Madonna Syndrome: The Other Side on Success & Coupling


Does it matter if a woman is more successful than her mate? Depends on his mother…

I’m worried about Madonna. Specifically, I’m worried about her social life. Despite her fame, money and success—actually, because of them—I suspect she doesn’t have the dating network that everyone assumes that a glamorous multimillionaire would boast.

Given her fame, it’s not like she can easily hit the bars looking for a prospective long-term partner or that she can take out a classified ad “Sexy celebrity seeks same for committed relationship.”  Friends, in fact, “fixed her up” with her latest ex-husband, Guy Ritchie.

Had she asked me, I would have warned her that it was a risky match, and that a marriage with him probably wouldn’t make it to the “til death do us part” clause. The reason I felt so strongly was I’d been noticing a social malady that I call “The Madonna Syndrome” in the singer’s honor.

In 2000, when Madonna and Ritchie became an item, she walked into the relationship a powerful woman with a hefty income, not to mention a star with a fan base in the hundreds of millions. He walked in with noble blood in his lineage and his identity firmly ensconced in the title “director”–in his case, director of several B movies.

It didn’t matter if their chemistry clicked, if Guy loved Madonna madly and adored her kids. The guy had an ego (what creative sort doesn´t?) and, significantly, he did not have a mother with her own career identity. Unless he scored a major hit early on in their partnership, it would be difficult, I predicted, for him to deal with the fact that she was Madonna and he was effectively “Mr. Madonna.” Ritchie directed several of his better half’s videos, but when his next few films flopped (including one in which she starred), I figured it would soon be over, and in 2008, the gossip magazines noted that the Madonna-Mr. Madonna marriage was kaput.

Along with countless other powerful women who have forged their own paths and made their own names, Madonna has stumbled into a social quagmire unique to this era. On the one hand, more than ever before, females are encouraged to go for their dreams, to build careers, make their own names, earn their own money, and to live their lives to the fullest. On the other hand, modern romantic relationships often don’t encompass those same values.

The traditional “man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker” model is no longer the norm, but that was the framework that most men who are now older than 30 grew up with. Even if their mother worked, wages were typically far less than for the father, whose career was almost always the one that was paramount.

I believe that whether consciously or not, most modern men are trying to recreate that same relationship with its same dynamics—and that most live in fear of friends thinking, “You can see who wears the pants in this family.” As far as I can tell, most men over 30 can’t easily couple with a woman who is more successful than they are because it challenges the unwritten Donna Reed rules that still dictate many modern relationships.

The dichotomy between the endeavors that females are urged to attempt and the limited success that relationships usually allow them isn’t a Catch-22 only for Madonna; I’m seeing the Madonna Syndrome mirrored in the relationships of successful women all over the world. Happily, this social problem may be temporary. As more males–who were raised by accomplished mothers–come of age they will probably be able to deal with their partners’ successes without feeling lost in their shadow and letting the accomplishments of “their better half” hamper their own self-esteem. In the meantime, while a go-getting woman may find herself a social victim of her own career success, there’s a case to made that it’s easier for a woman to live her life to the fullest when she’s on her own. Besides, she only has to wait until a more successful or a younger man comes along. And Madonna has apparently gone that route, last week being seen in Paris, sightseeing with a 25-year-old dancer. Whether he’s another “boy toy” or a keeper remains to be seen.

–Grace Keyes


© 2012 The Other Side | Nourish your mind, body and spirit.
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