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Should you settle?

January 8, 2010

Do you ever have a magazine subscription mysteriously begin without any knowledge of its origin? For some reason I magically started to get Marie Claire. Whatevs, I won’t complain.

Of the many pretty interesting articles was an interview with Lori Gottlieb, the woman who has a new book out called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

In this book, which started as an article she wrote for The Atlantic, Ms. Gottlieb explains why, as a single Mom over 40, she wishes she had been less picky in her twenties and thirties and had stopped holding out for Mr. Perfect, when there were plenty of Mr. Good Enoughs around all along. An excerpt from that article:

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.

She continues, after acknowledging that single women over 30 may read this with disdain and refuse its accuracy: “If you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying.”

So what is her advice? Settle.

When we’re holding out for deep romantic love, we have the fantasy that this level of passionate intensity will make us happier. But marrying Mr. Good Enough might be an equally viable option, especially if you’re looking for a stable, reliable life companion.

What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

So what do we think of this? Embracing this advice would require a huge paradigm shift for many women. In fairy tale after fairy tale we see knights and princes enter the scene at the last moment to rescue us from evil; whether that evil is a dark locked tower, a fire-breathing dragon, or a life of lonely singledom. But as we’re reminded on shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives and myriad other woman-power dramas, life isn’t always like that. And, even though Sex and the City wants you to think so, being a single woman in her thirties probably isn’t that glamorous. How many people would really trade a loving and caring boyfriend for a pair of Manolos and a cosmo? (Or, how many of us would really have traded Aidan for Mr. Big?)

I’m not saying I agree that you should let go of those hopes and aspirations we all have for ourselves that someone is going to walk into our lives and sweep us off our feet someday. That your future husband won’t actually also be Mr. Absolutely Perfect and that we won’t have that fairy tale ending we’ve been told we deserve.

However. I am realizing more and more that I have what are likely impossible standards. Maybe that boy who is only 5’7″ would be a better kisser and husband than the 6’1″ guy in the corner. Maybe the one in the graphic tee has a better sense of humor than Mr. Polo over by the bar. Maybe I should let go of my prejudgments and just talk to people who I wouldn’t normally “go for.”

There’s a difference between settling and being more open minded, and that’s where I am right now. I’m not going to lower my standards, but I’m going raise my willingness to step outside of my norms. MFB probably doesn’t have the green eyes and light brown hair I picture him with. He probably doesn’t have a southern accent, isn’t a die hard Eagles fan, and won’t be as freaky clean and obsessed with Christmas as I am. He probably doesn’t surf and also ski, and he probably doesn’t worship golden retrievers and he probably can’t play guitar or sing and he probably doesn’t also speak French or Spanish and own a summer villa and…

I don’t think I’m going to go as far as to turn my dream of finding Mr. Perfect into my dream to find a Mr. Good Enough. But I think at this point it’s perfectly acceptable to turn my dream of finding Mr. Perfect into finding Mr. Right.

No matter what kind of applique t-shirt he is wearing.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ash permalink
    January 12, 2010 12:52 pm

    I still don’t think you should ever settle for a guy in a graphic tee!

  2. June 24, 2010 11:22 am

    I’ve had the same thought as you,should I settle for Mr Right now, because he might turn into Mr Perfect one day. But then I think what if he doesn’t,then what? I’ve also thought why not try a guy I wouldn’t think of dating, but the attraction is never there. And maybe my standards are to high and I’m to picky. Why can’t a woman be picky if in the end it will give me happiness, guys do it all the time that’s why I’m single and others like me are single,because of picky men. I will keep my options open,but i won’t be as desperate as to go with any man just to be in a couple. I also won’t judge a book by its cover.

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