Female college students are doing better than ever.
Women earn about 60% of bachelor's degrees, get better grades than their male peers and have even regained all the jobs they lost during the Great Recession, while men continue to struggle to bounce back — 2.1 million jobs short of their pre-recession numbers.
But while ambitious young women are "leaning in," some are feeling a strain on their relationships with less-motivated boyfriends.
For Kelly Leprohon, a junior psychology major at Fordham University, a difference in professional goals was an impetus for a recent breakup.
Leprohon says her ex, who is three years older, lacked ambition.
"He was going to school because that's what people do. That was definitely a strain on the relationship."
An August study by the American Psychology Association found that a man's self-esteem is lower when he sees his female partner succeed than when he sees her fail.
According to Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida, one of the study's authors, men understand their partner's success to mean their own failure.
Leprohon said that rang true for her relationship.
"He was supportive of me … but there was that feeling of resentment," she says.
According to Thomas DiPrete, a sociology professor at Columbia University and co-author of The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools, the motivation problem with male students stems from a lack of understanding of a labor market that relies on college-educated workers.
He adds that the result of that misunderstanding is an upheaval of traditional gender roles — and possible bruised egos.
"If they're brought up to think that it's the man's job to be the primary breadwinner — but they're dating or marrying women who are as successful or more successful than themselves — at least for some men, I think that creates problems in terms of a disconnect with a masculine identity they have."
Personally, DiPrete says that he celebrates the success of women, but he can see other men's perspective.
"At some level, I can understand that for men who are not being successful in their own labor market experience, emotionally that difficulty is compounded when their partners are doing well," he says.
Beatty Cohan, a New York City and Sarasota-based psychotherapist, attributes the strain to ambitious students putting relationships on the backburner.
"In the 50s, women would go to college to get their 'MRS' degree," she says. "What I'm seeing [today] is that careers have really become the No. 1 priority. Although relationship are important, they're taking a bit of a second place. We need to 'lean in' more when it comes to learning about healthy relationships."
Cohan adds that communication of needs is key in maintaining romantic connections.
"People have to be able to talk about this and be honest, and if things change, be able to negotiate the contract."
For Kassie Porcaro, a junior visual media arts major at Emerson College, ambition and romance are closely linked.
Porcaro, who ended a relationship under the pressure of differing ambition levels, says she believes a person's approach to professional goals directly correlates to relationships.
"Are they a go-getter? Good, because that means they'll go after what they want and won't play games. Are they dedicated and don't get discouraged easily? Good, that means he'll stick around and work to fix problems within a relationship. Is he a good communicator and do people like him? Good, that means he's fun to work with and is a give-and-take kind of person."
Porcaro says she hopes women's success becomes a non-issue in relationships.
"Imagine if men were on our level and working as hard. We'd have such a more balanced and understanding society, and people would feel so much more respected."
Christina Jedra is a junior at Emerson College.