Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why Women Should Settle

In an article more likely to appear here, rather than here, Lori Gottlieb makes the case for choosing Mr. Good Enough instead of waiting for Mr. Right.

Working against the presumption that women should wait for true love no matter how long, Gottlieb claims that most women tend to want to get married and are forced to settle as they get older. Someone they would have rejected out of hand in their 20s becomes eminently more appealing in their late-30s. As they age, women realize their prospects become more and more limited and they begin to worry about the possibility that they will never find anyone. You think older women don't worry? To the women who argue that they aren't worried Gottlieb responds:

And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.
Gottlieb even believes that marriages that aren't based on true love and passion are more likely to last:

Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)
Gottlieb's conception of marriage is pragmatic. Marriage isn't about romance and passion; it is, as she puts it, "a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business." When running any business, it's better to have a partner, even if he isn't perfect, than not have any partner at all.

Look at the list of guys her friends settled for by the time they got older:

[A] recovering alcoholic who doesn’t always go to his meetings; a trying-to-make-it-in-his-40s actor; a widower who has three nightmarish kids and who’s still actively grieving for his dead wife; and a socially awkward engineer (so socially awkward that he declined to attend his wife’s book party).
When it comes down to it, maybe conventional wisdom (and by that I mean the shidduch dating guides we all laugh at) isn't as wrong as we suppose. They tell us to focus on the important things and not look for romance on the first date; Gottlieb counsels not looking for romance at all. The guides tell us that family is what is important and we need to look for a good parent in our dating partner rather than a supermodel; Gottlieb argues that once kids come into the picture, marriage will have a very different structure and what we originally looked for in a spouse (as opposed to a parent) won't matter anymore. Gottlieb's argument returns us to the earlier days of dating and marriage where marriage was about building a family, and they were perhaps the more realistic days.

One phrase in particular stuck out: Gottlieb talks about her married friends who constantly rail on against her husbands but will always admit they would never leave him. As she puts it,

They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection....
Seem familar?That comment sounds awfully like the Talmudic dictum "tav lemeitav tan du mi-lemeitav armalu," which basically means a woman would rather be in a bad marriage than be alone. Who would have ever thought The Atlantic Monthly would be the one to confirm an old Talmudic saying?

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