September 28th, 2007 | 8:42 am

The H-Bomb

filed under Breaking the Glass Ceiling

When I was in law school, my girlfriends and I had a favorite non-scientific experiment. We would go out to bars in Boston, meet a group of friendly guys, and tell them one of two things.

1) We were yoga instructors, dental hygienists or kindergarten teachers.
2) We were in our last year at Harvard Law School, headed off to work at big corporate law firms in New York.

When we told them that we worked in the first set of very worthy yet non-threatening professions, the men smiled, flirted, and offered to buy us drinks.
“That’s why you have such a nice smile!”
“If I was naughty, would you make me stay after class?”
“Wow, you must be really flexible.”
Requests for our phone numbers were common. Results were uniformly positive.

Category 2 was called “dropping the H-Bomb.” The formerly friendly conversation turned stone-cold serious. “Whoah!” the men would say, and put both palms up in a defensive gesture, as if warding off the attack of a psychotic Doberman.
“You must be really smart and stuff.”
You should be buying me drinks.”
“ Um, I have to go to the bathroom.”
Requests for our phone numbers were less frequent. In fact, results were so reliably negative that sometimes we would go straight to the H-Bomb to disburse unwanted advances from annoying guys. Worked like a charm.

When we started practicing law in New York, this experiment proved only too easy to replicate in the real world.

So why are so many men threatened by smart successful women, particularly those who might earn more money than they do? The H-Bomb phenomenon of letting a guy know that you have a high-powered and high-paying job can perversely cause strain in your dating life. In a recent New York Times article entitled Putting Money on the Table, author Alex Williams interviewed a sampling of young professional women in New York who said that dating men who earned less money than they did and had a complex about it eventually led them to part ways. One woman interviewed said that she felt tired of trying to hide her success from her mate, who admitted that he felt uncomfortable about earning less money than her.

According to a recent analysis of census data in New York, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis by Queens College professor Andrew Beveridge, working women in their 20s are more likely to have college degrees than their male counterparts (53% of women vs. 38% of men), and also more likely to have graduate degrees. This finding may help explain why women earn more than men in big cities.

Whether its ordering take-out and bypassing that expensive new restaurant on an early date or clipping price tags off of designer clothes and hiding shopping bags, lots of young professional women feel self-conscious about flaunting their spending power around men who don’t exactly bring home the bacon. Meanwhile, high-earning men don’t hesitate to drop huge hints (and if that doesn’t work, their Amex Black card) to telegraph their status. Remember the Sex and the City episode where Miranda pretended to be a flight attendant and hooked up with the hot shoe salesman posing as a doctor? Yep, it’s a double standard all right.

So, two options present themselves immediately. Date a guy who is as successful, driven and financially stable as you are. Or date a guy who is self-confident enough not to care that you outearn him. You’re worth it though, don’t you think?

11 comments

  1. didi

    So what is wrong with buying them a drink then? If you are more succesful, why should it still be the guy?

    Just a knee-jerk reaction from a guy who wonders why only we should be open minded and willing to change our ways…

  2. Nicki Gilmour

    I agree. there is nothing wrong with the girls buying boys a drink. its better, it creates equality. throw away those stupid book on the “rules”. Why do women and men stand in opposite corners of the room at social gatherings in the US? is it a throw back from the days of southern european forefathers?

  3. SR

    When men drop the H-Bomb, it is not always a bowl of cherries. As a matter of fact, dropping the H-Bomb can be a sure fire game-killer.

    For instance, if you (attractive female) meet a “Guy” and within 3 minutes of meeting Guy you learn that Guy went to HBS, would you think that Guy was either: A) smart and successful B) arrogrant C) has no game or people skills or D) all of the above? My past experiences and reports from friends lead me to vote “D”, but I would be interested hearing other opinions.

  4. Are Men Threatened by Your Success? Come to Washington, D.C. » The Glass Hammer

    [...] piece is in response to “The H-Bomb,” an article by Erin Abrams which was published on The Glass Hammer a few months ago. The basic [...]

  5. amc

    “This finding may help explain why women earn more than men in big cities.”

    Note that this fact only holds true for the early twenties demographic. Thirties and up face the same ole pay disparity issue we’ve always faced.

  6. ROBIN BARONE

    I found the conclusion of your article to be very interesting..I found that equally successful to have the same complex as their less financially successful peers. What I came to realize that you need to find someone who is happy with their place in the world regardless of education and income.

  7. Another HLS grad

    Ah, “the H-bomb.” Too bad it’s an urban legend.

    I spent my years at HLS going out several times a week with my girlfriends. Sometimes we lied about our names or occupations, so our hookups couldn’t trace us. But most of the time, we told the truth, and we still got phone numbers and free drinks. The truth is that lots of people – whether male or female, and whether you meet them in a bar, in a park, or in an office – make dumb jokes or awkward comments once they find out you went to Harvard. That’s just the power of the Harvard name. It has nothing to do with sexual attractiveness.

    The H-bomb story has been told and retold countless times, but that does not make it true. In my experience (and the experience of every female HLS graduate I personally know), it is a myth. If you meet a guy in a bar and tell him you’re a law student, and ask him what he does, and express any interest in him at all, he is not going to run away. But if you actually say “I’m about to graduate from Harvard Law School and head off to a big corporate law firm in New York City,” of course that guy will run away. Who wants to waste time with a self-important whiner with a giant chip on her shoulder? Heck, if I met you at a bridal shower and you introduced yourself like that, I would back away from you too.

  8. Erin Abrams

    it is certainly possible that I’m not nearly as attractive or as charming as you, Another HLS Grad.

  9. notaHLSgradyet

    Ok…As a “Southern Gentleman” and a “real man” in general, it seems very odd to me that a real man who happens to be secure in his manhood and have just a bit of intelligence would be ran off by a woman’s college degree or career. In this age of change and history being made on every hand, it would appear that traditional gender bias or bigotry for that matter would be nil or at least waining. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. I actually have the opposite problem of not being able to find smart, intelligent, spiritually and physically attractive women to date. Instead, I meet immature, intellectually deft women with a strong lack of spirit. Furthermore, I think that the places where these encounters are made have a little, if not a lot, to do with the quality of males, nay prospective mates, as well. Seriously, is there more expected out of meeting someone in a club or bar? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met crazy women at church and in libraries too, however, my point is that surely there are better places and better means to meeting people than just clubs and bars. Maybe I’m just an anomaly in that successful, driven and financially stable women actually turn me on…

  10. Edward Jones

    Well, maybe you´re just meeting the “wrong” guys (i.e. those who are looking for kindergarden-teachers) in the “wrong” places. If I was to find a lady I would like to marry, I wouldn´t go to a Gogo-Dancing-Bar! On the other hand, if I was searching for a ons, I wouldn´t ask the girls in sunday-school;-).

  11. Jay Andrews

    The author seems to complain that ‘good men’ (read: tall, georgeous and wealthy) are more interested in women who want to raise children (read: homemakers) than neurotic, bossy, antisocial women who aspire to work 80 hours a week and walk around with their sense of entitlement like hip hop musicians wear their gold jewelry. Just stick to vibrators and cats. Leave guys alone, please. Thank you.