Struggling To Meet A Progressive Iranian Man

Hello Dr. G.,

I am 36 years old attorney in the Bay area who has now had three failed long-term relationships because of my career. To clarify, the issue is not due to long work-hours so much as it is to gender role issues that slowly arise as the relationships progress.

The aforementioned three relationships were with Iranian-American men. The first one was an artist who had little money; the second was a trust-fund baby who was very wealthy; and the third was a lawyer making a salary commensurate with my own.

Initially, all three men admired my drive and ambition, but at some point in each relationship, and specifically when more serious talks of children arose, they expected me to stay at home and raise the children. I personally found this attitude to be chauvinistic and really insulting.

Any tips for how to effectively handle such conversations? Clearly I am doing something wrong because things seem to really go downhill when this topic emerges and remains unresolved. I am open to being a stay-at-home mother, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around the expectation that I sacrifice my career when my partner is not willing to do the same. If I am not asking him to be a stay-at-home dad, why would he expect me to assume this responsibility? (I asked all three if they were open to the idea of staying home and the answer was a resolute ‘no’).

I’m over-simplifying things when saying that all three relationships ended because of my refusal to be a stay-at-home mother, but that’s been the core issue resulting in my break-ups. They were all great guys but I desperately want to break this cycle–and yes, I do want kids so the clock is ticking!

Thank you.


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Dear Lilly,

Thank you so much for writing in with an issue that is probably quite a universal one. I’ll share a few of my thoughts with you and perhaps leave you with a few questions to explore on your own.

First, I would like to congratulate you on your great accomplishment! Nothing makes me prouder than to hear of a fellow female (regardless of cultural background) who has achieved the highest level of education (doctoral). I believe that education before money, is true power. Of course this is also based on the way I define “power.” I won’t digress about that right now, but suffice it to say, education brings with it a type of power that stems from knowledge, and greater perspective and exposure to other ways of thinking, and the ability to think outside the box. Perhaps it also confers a power of confidence and assertiveness.

Let’s also establish something important before we go any further. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with you. There is also NOTHING wrong with the three men with whom you have had relationships. They seem interesting, and I chuckled at the way you presented the information because it almost sounded as though you had set out to conduct a dating/relationship experiment in your own life! Hypothesis: I’ll try a relationship with a poor man, a rich man, and an exact equal to me. Love it. So, what’s the problem? Well, the issue is not with you, and I’m sure each of these men must have been able to hold their own (at least for awhile) in order for you to even consider a relationship with them…the real issue is a simple one: Blueprint. I would like to be able to explain your dilemma away by saying that it’s a cultural thing, and if you insist on dating men with any Iranian or Middle Eastern in them, you’ll end up in the same place. However, I cannot generalize simply because I have met so many American men, and men of many other backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, etc., who feel exactly the same way. There are certainly many geographic areas in North America where the gender roles are pronounced (i.e., old-fashioned, wide gap in terms of gender expectations). Now, the truth is that if you date men from countries or areas that do have more gender equality (often observable by the egalitarian way of viewing sexuality in both genders, e.g., some European countries), you may find men whose values, morals, and ethics align better with yours.

So, having said that, I wonder if the more important issue for you to consider is about YOU, not them. Explore your own desires, needs, and priorities. Is having an egalitarian and progressive partner more important to you? Or is having a partner who has the same heritage more important to you? I am not saying that you cannot find a truly progressive Iranian man, but that characteristics often cluster together. I think sometimes we stick with what we are familiar with, but perhaps you would benefit from dating some non-Iranian men? Widen your dating pool a bit, and you may be pleasantly surprised. In general, human beings tend to be so focused on our differences, but in fact, cross-cultural research has demonstrated over and over again that people (from different countries, etc.) have far more similarities than differences. Maybe focusing less on the superficial demographic similarities, and more on the internal philosophical similarities, will lead you towards a better match?

It seems clear to me in your email that you value your career, have pride in your profession, but also would like to have a family. Guess what? You CAN have it all! There is nothing at all wrong with you, only something wrong (if we are going to use a judging word) with the men you are choosing because they do not share the same blueprint, schema, or template of what married and family life should resemble. You are not wrong. They are not wrong. You are simply different, and ultimately these particular differences are deal breakers. So, I wouldn’t overthink it. It does take awhile to get to know a person, so you did, and they were not the best matches for you, so time to move on! No need to beat yourself up. Have self-compassion. That’s why we date, and keeping dating low stakes is wise (i.e., don’t put all your eggs in one basket), at least until you feel confident that a man you are dating truly shares your philosophy of life. And this brings me to another critical point: Don’t ever compromise what you believe it to “fit in” to another person’s blueprint. It may work for a little while, but inevitably you (or him) will become bitter, resentful, and angry about sacrificing a part of your “being,” and this may lead to the destruction of your family – ironic because it could sabotage the very reason you initially sacrificed!

There are many many men out there. There are men who will find you exotic, beautiful, and intelligent, and who will also value your achievements equivalently, and will ALSO be willing to sacrifice for family life equivalently. I know this is true because I am surrounded by successful professional women, and a few of them have husbands who have stayed home to take care of children for as long as was needed, or who have equally sacrificed time and career for the sake of starting a family. It exists, I promise you.

My belief is that the truer you are to yourself (i.e., this is the idea of being the most authentic you), the clearer it will be when you meet a match (or not). You do not ever need to apologize for who you are, your past experiences, your beliefs, or your future desires. Be confident. Honor and love yourself and start by valuing yourself in the way you expect the men in your life to value and honor you. The rest is easy. The “wrong” matches will simply fall away and self-sabotage (I always think of this like apoptosis). The “right” match will stick around in awe of you because he “gets” it and wants to be a part of your life plan (because his is the same). Lilly Jan, please stop questioning and doubting yourself simply because these 3 (or 10!) men have not been well-matched. Your match is out there! Be positive and authentic, and focus on your life, growth, and success. Spotlight back on YOU!!! He’ll be right around the corner, drawn to how bright your light shines.

Sending you lots of woman power!
-Dr. G. 🙂

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