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The Closet Wimp
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Why do so many women feel more capable of asserting themselves in the workplace than they do with their lovers? Who would ever imagine that the decisive, take-no-prisoners style of that top woman executive with the corner office could turn into the kick-me-style of a wishy-washy marshmallow? Just how great a distance do women travel from job to home, not on the bus or in the car, but in their behavior? To the world they may seem like Iron Women, but in their intimate dealings with men, they are chronically weak. These women are closet wimps.

Felicia* is an example of a closet wimp. An attractive and competent woman of 29, she runs her own catering business and makes an impressive income. She could have any man she wants yet she stays fixated on Simon. He's a successful high-powered investment banker she met last year on a Caribbean vacation. Felicia wants to become engaged, but fears Simon will refuse her. She wishes he'd call more often when they're not together, but worries that he'll consider her demanding and needy. Felicia negotiates contracts in her business, demands high fees from her clients and gets what she wants in the world of work. But at the end of the day she comes home and waits by the phone like a lovestruck teenager. She is a closet wimp.

Janet, in her early thirties, is a successful architect in a large, metropolitan area firm. She is engaged to Peter, a successful publisher of computer science books and describes their interaction as one full of quality, equality and excitement. Yet when she and Peter are at a business dinner he intimidates her into silence about her life and career, fearing that others will think she is dominating and controlling of him. Often they make a date to meet, and Peter arrives late, explaining he had a business call to the West Coast he couldn't avoid. She accepts his behavior and rationalizes her own as being patient and understanding. Janet tolerates behavior from Peter, which she would never tolerate in the workplace. She is a closet wimp.

Why are strong, successful, assertive women becoming closet wimps? Consider the great paradox of relationships in the 90's: while women have liberated themselves from traditional gender roles in the workplace, they still struggle with gender-role bondage in close relationships with men. These women fear being labeled as "demanding" if they deal with their lovers with the assertiveness reserved for business situations. They deny themselves acceptable human entitlement because they fear being seen as needy. They act out the roles they were taught as little girls and grant men accommodations and allowances they do not ask for or expect for themselves. As working women, they are unbendable and firm. But in romance, submissiveness has become their primary mode of expressing femininity. These women have become closet wimps.

Are you a closet wimp?

Click here for our self-assessment quiz.

Click here to find out how to put closet wimpiness behind you!

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.

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by Paulette Dale
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