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Unlikely in love: Why success-driven women fall for affable losers

In Katherine Heigl's new film, "Knocked Up," the "Grey's Anatomy" star and Botticelli beauty plays a successful career girl who has a one-night stand with an unemployed, slobbish slacker. When she becomes pregnant, the two reunite and eventually fall in love.

In pop culture, this isn't the first time the loser gets the girl. Think of John Cusack in "Say Anything," Jason Schwartzman in "Shop Girl" and almost every Adam Sandler comedy. For Type-A women at the top of their game, what's the allure?

"They're safe and fun," says Dana Ovadia of Walnut Creek, Calif. "You feel like you're still living in your youth when you're with a guy like that."

Ovadia, who heads to nursing school in the fall, says she has friends who justify dating losers, even if they're "terrible" boyfriends.

"I have friends who say, `I'm not going to marry him or anything, I'm just having fun,"" she says.

In "Knocked Up," Allison Scott (Heigl) is a newly promoted, on-air correspondent for E! Entertainment Television, and a fox. Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is a slovenly pothead who stays home watching movies with his fellow slacker roommates. Their goal in life is to launch a Web site listing when and where actresses appear nude in movies.

Ben is the first to admit that Allison is too good for him ("You're prettier than I am"), but he is also sweet, funny and honest. While their yin and yang makes for great comedic entertainment, experts say there is something to the pairing of underachieving men and overachieving women.

Part of it, says Lynda Phelps, a college and career adviser, stems from the fact that women are more successful and empowered than ever. They outnumber men in college, a statistical flip of the past 20 years, and they're raising children alone, buying homes and running businesses.

"Things have changed a lot," says Phelps. "Women have become extreme overachievers, and with that stress and pressure comes the need to relax. It can be totally relaxing to be with someone who is carefree, adventurous and doesn't take themselves that seriously."

In some cases, Phelps says, that side of them has never been touched, and these men help them tap into that.

"Sometimes we're so programmed that we forget to have any fun," she says. "It makes me so sad for women today because you don't want to be so overachieving that you forget to smell the roses."

Lafayette, Calif., psychologist Suzanne Dudeck says there are endless reasons why high-achieving women choose laid-back men.

"These loser types make wonderful dates," she says. "They are charming. They will call. They'll say, `I felt something.' They send the flowers. They ask your opinion. And the women love it."

Ditto from the guy's perspective.

"Successful women are sexy," says college student Reed Sutter, of Pleasant Hill, Calif. "They're in control and know what they want."

Women like it, too, says Dudeck, but it's a fairly new phenomenon.

"We girls of the 1960s didn't have strong role models," she says. "So we needed to prove that we could do it all. Go to college, become something like boys, be it lawyers or doctors, and cook and sew and garden and entertain and still be caretakers."

In proving that they can do a million tasks at once, Dudeck says, women get approval. She calls this a sociological and cultural shift, and a role reversal between men and women.

"We need what the men needed back then, approval and recognition," she says. "Instead of bragging about what their husbands do, which women still do, now they brag about us. They're impressed to be with us. The more there's acceptance for women in high-powered jobs, the more the men like to snag one of us."

Shannon Walpole doesn't feel right passing judgment on less-than-professional guys. After all, she says, you can't help who you fall in love with. Still, the Walnut Creek, Calif., lawyer does believe their unions with overachieving women are challenging.

"It's rare for those relationships to be successful, because your core values have to be the same," she says.

That was Leah Reeves' experience. Reeves, who works in medical sales, for five years dated a guy whom she defines as a loser.

"He was a bad boy, and all the girls wanted to date him," says Reeves, on business in Walnut Creek from Portland. "My family tried to be supportive, but they knew he was a loser."

Said bad boy dropped out of college, and, after a stint in the Army, settled into a graveyard shift job at an adult video store.

"It finally hit me then," Reeves says. "It wasn't going to work out for us."

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