A BEAUTIFUL young widow throws herself into work to conquer her grief.
The years pass. She is promoted; becomes successful but despite her turning heads everywhere she goes, she has no personal life.
One day a junior colleague enters her office to discuss a project. He's a homely looking fellow. She gets up from her desk – and kisses him.
She has chosen her new partner but the world doesn't approve. He is a beta male. Her friends are bewildered. They say she is throwing herself away; she could do better. He isn't good enough for her. But instead of ditching him, this alpha female rides to his defence.
It's the story of the film Delicacy which stars Audrey Tautou as the widow and it's a tale of our time. As women become ever more financially independent our relationships are changing. Once, male executives trawled the secretarial pool for a suitable wife. From now on high-flying women may choose to do something similar.
I am reminded of a statement feminist Gloria Steinem made in the 1970s. She said: "We are becoming the men we wanted to marry."
She was before her time but with more women than men at university – and with increasing numbers becoming the principal wage earner, roles are changing. More women are marrying "down" More men are becoming house husbands.
According to a new study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it's a shortage of marriageable men that's driving women to "prioritise money and material success".
That's according to Kristina Durante of the University of Texas, who led the research team. She said: "A scarcity of men leads women to seek out more lucrative careers."
The research concludes that the less attractive the woman, the more career-minded she is. In other words, women who can't find a man opt for a career.
It's the sort of conclusion that neatly undermines the progress women have made over the past 50 years. Just when they have inched their way up the career ladder to reach the executive floor, along comes a big fat slithery snake to take their self-esteem right to the bottom again.
It equates being a successful woman with being a sexual non-starter. It forges a correlation between a briefcase and embittered spinsterhood.
It suggests that marriage is the ultimate purpose of a woman's life: that every other life style choice is a consolation prize. What nonsense.
Women reach for a career when they choose their Highers or A levels. Few sail through exams without hours of dedicated studying. None does so while rating her career prospects secondary to mooning around over boys.
Women are graduating ahead of the men and outnumbering them in post-graduate courses. That also demonstrates a serious-minded approach. To claim that women can outstrip male contemporaries, whilst all the time focusing on their marriage prospects, flatters even their abilities.
The truth is that they are just like men: their worldly ambitions and their emotional lives aren't mutually exclusive. They run in parallel.
It isn't necessary to choose one above the other. Like men, women can manage both. You'll recognise names like Kirsty Wark, Bridget McConnell, Susan Rice, Elish Angiolini, Wendy Alexander, Helena Kennedy and JK Rowling. All are married. Or there's Louise Mensch MP, Miriam Clegg, Sam Cameron, Mariella Frostrup, Katherine Garrett-Cox (aka Katherine the Great) of Alliance Trust and Karren Brady of The Apprentice: wives all.
Trawl further again. From Aung San Suu Kyi to Hillary Clinton to China's only female politburo member Liu Yandong – all have or have had husbands.
It is not necessary to abandon an emotional life to reach the top as a woman. Nor is there evidence that those who do reach the top are romantic rejects.
The fact is that a social revolution is under way. Our understanding of marriage is changing, as is the way we structure ourselves. It isn't really that men are in short supply: the shortage is in men who are more affluent and better-educated than their female contemporaries.
Then there is something called the Guttentag Secord theory which was tested by sociologists in 1988. They showed that marriage rates rise, divorce drops and fewer women work when there are more men than women.When men are scarce however, they become promiscuous and refuse to commit to marriage.
That's what is happening in educated circles at the moment. Men play the field for longer. Meanwhile women are adapting. They're choosing partners who are younger than they are or who earn less than they do. They're crossing class, cultural and race boundaries. More are in same-sex relationships.
What they are not doing is turning to a career as a second-best solution. Nor are they sitting home alone with a bottle of wine watching re-runs of Bridget Jones.
We should remind ourselves that romantically based marriage doesn't date back much further than the 1950s. In previous generations people married for political reasons, for social advancement or for survival.
Plain Charlotte Lucas spells it out in Pride and Prejudice. As a single woman who is nearing 30 years old, she is a burden to her parents and has no prospect of independence. For her, marriage to the egregious cleric Mr Collins is a godsend.
Today's young women have careers and through them the financial independence she craved. In their personal lives they can choose to marry, to live with someone or to be alone. They can have children with or without a partner or spouse.
And if they are successful in their careers they may also make the fortune that so enhances every single person's charms. Far from being the rejects of the marriage market, if career women continue to outstrip men they will find their ability to pick and choose increasing.
When that happens they won't want the promiscuous "players". Bad boys make untrustworthy husbands. No, like Tautou, they'll probably seek someone companionable and amusing – someone who'll make a perfect house husband.
If that's not a fate young men anticipate with pleasure, they'd better get back in touch with their brains.
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