Should you settle for Mr. Good Enough?

by singlemomseeking on March 9, 2008

mr-good-enough.jpgIn the past few weeks, so many women have forwarded this month’s Atlantic Monthly essay, “Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough” to me.

Have you read it? I’d love to know what you think.

When I first read this essay, I applauded the writer for putting herself out there. Although I don’t know Lori Gottlieb personally, we’ve chatted on the phone a couple of times. I’m grateful to her for contacting me out of the blue last year to give me my first assignment for MSN.com. We’d chatted about dating and men back then, and I later interviewed Lori for an article I wrote in Pregnancy about dating when you’re pregnant and single.

Lori had described herself as a woman who got “knocked up by half a cubic centimeter of defrosted sperm.” She gave birth to her son at age 38.

Lori Gottlieb says that her “advice is this: Settle!”

“That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”

I hear what Lori is saying when she urges us to let go of that “true love” Disney movie playing in our heads. But how far would I bend in order to gain the “practical benefits of having a husband”? Not too far.

In an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about “The Case for Mr. Quite-Not-Right,” Lori adds:

I was so focused on true love that I hadn’t appreciated the purely practical benefits of having a husband. Not only does he contribute financially, help with the dishes, and share in the child care, but as his wife, if you want some companionship or physical intimacy, you don’t have to shave your legs, blow-dry your hair, find a puke-free outfit, apply lipstick, drive to a restaurant and sit through a tedious two-hour meal for the mere possibility of some heavy petting while the babysitter meter is ticking away. You don’t have to follow up with flirtatious e-mails or engage in time-consuming courtship rituals. You don’t even have to make conversation if you don’t feel like it.”

Of course, guys, I’d love to hear what you have to say, too. How would you feel if a woman settled for you? Would you settle?

Maybe, ten years from now, when I’m the 45-year-old mother of an 18-year-old, I’ll agree with Lori. But right now, I can’t.

I did settle, in my late 20s when I was pregnant, and if I was still in that relationship, I’d be miserable. Being on my own has not been easy. I almost settled again, in 2006, with a man who didn’t pick up his dirty socks or turn off the TV to give me a little kiss good night. My daughter watched it all, and I knew this wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted her to model.

“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,” Lori writes.

Would I have been happier in the long run? I don’t think so.

My writer-friend, Diane Mapes, who is single but not a mother, said in her recent “Single Shot“column in the Seattle PI:

“Now, as much as I love men and kids and, heck, even the idea of a bigger place to live, what I long for most in life probably is another book deal. But Gottlieb won’t have any of that. She says what I want, what I need, what I yearn for every waking moment, is a man. Any man.”

“Forget love, forget self-fulfillment. Hell, forget honesty. Just grab the first thing you can find with a pulse and a penis and start decorating that nursery. Yuck.”
Oh, Di, I hear you about that pulse and a penis. Been there, did that.
Let’s hear from you.

Do you think that women in their thirties should settle, if they “don’t want to be alone for the rest of their lives and/or want the kind of traditional family in which there are male pubic hairs on the toilet seat in the master bathroom”?

Photo courtesy of Simmbarb

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Nathan March 9, 2008 at 5:09 am

Whoa! When you’re old you’ll agree? I’m 44 and wholeheartedly disagree. What’s different with time is what and who is right for you and what you want and need. What was settling at 36 might be perfect at 45 because of an increased maturity and a decade more real life experience.

I will never settle – but I must admit that a whole head of hair is no longer on my “must have” list! ;-)

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Andrea March 9, 2008 at 6:03 am

That’s an interesting question. I think it’s tricky because it’s one of those situations where the same words can mean radically different things to different people. And it all depends on what a person’s expectations for a relationship are.

I mean, if you are looking for basic compatibility, romantic love, similar goals and interests, then no, I don’t think anyone should “settle,” it’s a recipe for disappointment. On the other hand, I know people who have such extensive “must have” lists that practically speaking they are never going to find someone who measures up. In their case, settling might be good advice.

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Random Esquire March 9, 2008 at 7:33 am

I think this is somewhat a question of terminology. What if Ms. Gottlieb had written the article and instead of using the word “settle” she said, “Don’t sweat the small and stupid things”? What if she had said, “Don’t have an overly romantic view …consider your need-to-haves and your nice-to-haves…and don’t ditch a guy because he doesn’t have all of the nice-to-haves.”

Is that settling? It isn’t like she’s telling people to be okay with a guy who cheats or doesn’t contribute.

I do think small things do matter to the extent they are indicative of larger issues – but I really think half of the cringing some people may be doing from this article is because of her word choice. Almost like an article toward men that chooses to say, “Consider an ugly girl” instead of “Don’t be overly superficial.”

If someone told me they had “settled” for me, I’d feel like telling them to shove it up their balloon knot. If someone told me that they loved me despite some annoying habits (that were not indicative of larger issues), I’d feel damn good.

Having said all that, after reading the article, I do think it’s time to Man Up. Maybe men aren’t picking up their socks and maybe men think that touching a woman’s back during half time is a massage because …they get away with it. The thing I hate is that I wouldn’t want this article to give the message to guys that they just have to be “good enough.”

I’m stereotypically guy-ish in that I want a woman who thinks I killed dinner and dragged it home and thus, having put food on the table, I AM HER HERO. But I don’t expect to feel that way because I bring home a paycheck – I think more is expected and rightly so – like taking the time to plan a vacation that includes taking care of all of the small details and not just purchasing airline tickets.

I should try to wrap this up. Most men and women could probably stand to drop a few things from their list of things they are looking for because some of them may not be all that truly important. But I think raising the bar on expectations from men should continue (for instance, a man watching his kids is not ‘babysitting’ – they are his kids and he’s a father and should take some joy in their care).

Sorry for the 5 novels I’ve written in my disjointed comments. These single-mom blogs are new to me!

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Buterflymom March 9, 2008 at 7:38 am

Whoa!! settling just sounds like red flags flying everywhere. it should be about finding a friend who makes you happy, otherwise it is just a disaster. to me, settling is living an unsatisfying life. i have worked hard to get away from that and find some meaning on my own.

i agree with Amy, what you want changes as the years go by, but i don’t think being single and in your 40s changes anything except what you are looking for.

the idea of having a grown kid in a couple of years changes everything. i’m no longer looking for a father role model and my life will be different too.

i say, don’t settle, but be honest about what you are looking for…….and keep looking.

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Susan March 9, 2008 at 8:19 am

Wow, the other commenters above nailed this one! But I will add one anecdote that struck home with me recently. Someone my friend knows was waxing poetic about the man in her life and my friend asked her why she was so ga-ga. The woman answered “because he has health insurance and has a good job.” No mention of “love” or anything remotely romantic, by most people’s definition. She was very serious about this because her job did not provide health insurance and I’m guessing a meager income.

At first I thought this response seemed odd, but I have no right to think that. I’ve always worked a professional job, even while I was married, and have been able to support my family on my own — AND I have the help of an ex who, while I was “settling” with him (per my definition), he is still an involved father. I think it is how one defines it, and I agree with our eloquent dad above, it’s all in the word choice.

By the way, certain word choices also sell more magazines and articles, doesn’t it?!

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Susan March 9, 2008 at 8:21 am

“By the way, certain word choices also sell more magazines and articles, doesn’t it?!”

Oops, I meant “don’t they?”! I won’t settle for improper language (usually).

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singlemomseeking March 9, 2008 at 9:12 am

Amy: A whole head of hair? Ah, that’s classic. Thanks for cracking me up… I’m not attracted to receding hairlines, but I DO think that bald men are sexy.

Andrea: Yes, I do think this is what Lori is really talking about… letting go of our fantasy of love and looking at the reality of what really makes a relationship work.

Random Esquire: It’s great to hear your voice here. You also caught the gist of what Lori is saying (I think). The word “settle” can really make anyone cringe… As you say, it’s about letting go over our “overly romantic view.”

Here’s to Manning it Up! Love that one.

Butterfly: Here’s to finding a friend… and a partner.

Susan: Yes, that word “settle” made me hold my breath and stop to read on. Language has power. Thanks for the anecdote.

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barb March 9, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Hmmmm….. Settle so I can “appreciate the practical benefits of a having a husband” ; the financial contribution, the dish washer, the no need to shave life…. I don’t know, I may be 44 but I’m not willing to give up romantic companionship and settle for someone that “I don’t even have to make conversation with” so i can get my “infrastructure in place to have a family”. I agree it’s hard to do everything yourself and would love a break from being my kid’s short order cook and taxi driver every now and then but I would rather be alone then pick a man just to have someone cover the husband duties. I understand the reassessing one’s expectations and not clinging to the fairy tale of it all but I still want a best friend, a lover and someone I can grow with.

I agree with buterflly mom and say don’t settle!!!

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gail March 9, 2008 at 4:00 pm

I read this article and wile I don’t agree with all of it, I do think there is some off-the-cuff wisdom in it. I think settling depends on your definition of “settle.” And I DO think letting go of the most superficial qualities on your list which might include hair quality and clothing choices and whether you LOVE the same book is a MUST do.

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VJ March 9, 2008 at 10:03 pm

I thought the article made some decent points, but did so in a very annoying sort of way (that others have caught here), and so it’ll be more easily dismissed out of hand by many. I’ve got extensive thoughts on it & the topic, but I’m not certain if I can exhaust them here. But it’s good that you’re in touch with the author, Lori Gottlieb, (LG).

It was an annoying piece in that it was a personal one over one that might have been better researched. Sure she gets to push all the fear buttons with the parenting & fertility issues, but like elsewhere your audience here is not that easily scared. They’ve seen it all. So ‘settling’ (for the 1st, 2nd or 3rd time) holds slightly less appeal to them. Now that they Have kids, they have More particular requirements in guys, Not Less! Something that is pretty obvious if you think about it.

[Some of this commentary below was cross posted elsewhere too].

Here’s LG in an interview in the same issue of the Atlantic (online): [http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200802u/gottlieb-interview/2]

“Feeling as you do now, what would you have done differently?

” I would have considered dating guys I never gave a chance. Platonic guy-friends, or guys I met who asked me out but I turned them down, or guys I went on just one date with because I didn’t feel any chemistry or whatever I thought I was supposed to feel. I was looking for a spark when I should have been looking for a solid life partner.

And some of those guys would have been really excellent life partners. They’re all married now, of course, because the guys always get married. Maybe it would have been nice to wake up with one of those guys every day and raise a family together. One in particular was much closer to the kind of person I’d want to marry than anybody I’d likely end up meeting now.”

That’s probably fairly useful advice. Most of it will be ignored and neglected, just as any advice from parents or older folks might be too. But we want, need and desire different things at different ages and stages in our lives. If you truly want and desire a family, or a child of your own (which is in fact a declining proposition for many younger women today), it’s advice really worth considering. If you’re so inclined.

Strangely enough for most guys, when in similar positions, ‘close enough’ is just fine for them. Now there’s a rational explanation for why this may be so, but that gets into Evolutionary Biology, (something that Prof. Helen Fisher also covers well [http://www.helenfisher.com]), which of course is too long to include here. But suffice to say, for every age and for good reasons, women have always been more ‘choosy’ when choosing a mate. And despite some fine mathematics that can be applied here (don’t ask!), there are indeed several rational and perhaps completely acceptable ‘solutions’ to the mate& marriage question. There’s not just one ‘soul mate’ out there for everyone. There’s probably many who could & might very well fill the bill if given half a chance. That’s the bottom line. That it’s seen as heresy in this day and age shows how powerful the indoctrination of what was once called ‘the cult of romantic love’ has been since it’s inception starting in earnest some bare ~120 ya.

There are indeed many marriage types co-existing even in America today. Sadly, Ms. Gottlieb seems immune to any curiosity as to their effect or relative success. Or to the social statistics that may help her argument mightily. She might fail an essay class where she had to actually convince others of her POV. Which is the point, right? She gets paid for this work, in several venues.

So as a deeply personal essay, perhaps somewhat interesting & provocative. As a convincing argument that might actually be useful to much of anyone? Much less so. Where are the statistics? Where is there thoughts on what marriage has become and where it’s heading (with or w/o kids )? (See Prof Stephanie Coontz here please). So your colleague is certainly a prolific writer from her long list of citations. Where’s the missing heart of her argument? They don’t teach this stuff anymore, right? Worse still, they no longer want to see it in print, right?

Like I said, overall I thought the point was telling but the argument marshaled to support the central premise was weakened by a lack of supporting facts & stats. And it’s not like they’re real hard to find either. The Census regularly reports on them. Why will this be the Least married generation in over 100 years? Does this have anything to do with people’s reluctance to ‘settle’? We remain unconvinced & disappointed overall. And perhaps not just with alarming sounding pronouncements from The Atlantic.

So yeah. I don’t write for national outlets, but Ms. Gottlieb does. So I imagine someone could easily write me off fairly simply. But it’s one reason why some audiences are not swayed by purely personal stories.

Cheers & Good Luck! ‘VJ’

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Rhiannon March 10, 2008 at 6:14 am

If you absolutely HAVE to be with someone? Sure, why not. But if you’re happy alone, why settle?

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dadshouse March 10, 2008 at 9:06 am

Actually, a lot of women I know tell me they did settle on the man they married. He wasn’t perfect, but he fit most of her must-haves. And by the way, they’re all still married…

They also still practice some amount of courtship, even though they’re married and technically don’t have to. So I disagree with the interview comments the author made. They DO need to occasionally put on lipstick, shave their legs, blow-dry their hair, go for a romantic dinner, etc.. What’s wrong with trying to stay sexy and attractive for your partner? Randomesq says he wants to feel like the HERO when he comes home – which seems a very traditional husband role – will he feel that way if all attempts at courtship are dropped?

Works both ways, of course – the men need to keep off the beer belly, put the toilet seat up, plan spontaneous events and vacations, bring home flowers for no reason, … Nothing wrong with keeping the courting flame alive.

I agree with all the single parents who say they won’t settle for anyone if it means rocking the boat for the kids.

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Crazy Computer Dad March 10, 2008 at 2:02 pm

I met someone a few years ago that met my must haves, my nice to haves, and created all new entries in the above categories I didn’t know I had. I wouldn’t have “settled” on her, I knew she was someone I wanted to be with for the rest of my time in this realm. We are no longer dating and thankfully we never got married. Why? Because even though I considered her my perfect match in every way, there were major disturbances underneath the surface that even her friends didn’t know about (or at least she says).

I think the problem with settling is that you leave the door open to “what if” situations. The classic infidelity scenario is the one where you are not really “in love” with your partner and some alluring stranger comes along with all of your must haves. You really don’t have anything anchoring you down and you stray or want to stray. Either way the relationship can eventually become strained and suffocating. Ok, maybe, maybe not…I’ve not really done any research on it, just writing what I think. I know that I wouldn’t want anyone settling on me, and I don’t think I could settle on anyone anymore. A marriage and a divorce has taught me not to do it. It can be really bad in the end and it may waste 10 years or more of your life.

Be confident enough in who you are to find the person that is right for you. Be open enough recognize them when you find them. You cannot do either if you aren’t looking. You should know what you are looking for too. If you are looking for a marriage partner, then be honest about it and make sure the other person is looking for it also.

One thing I’m coming to realize is that the definition of marriage and family has changed and the stereotypes that society has planted in our minds are beginning to fade away.

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VJ March 10, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Further investigations on the premise confirm that many of the divorced/separated moms I know will claim that they did in fact ‘settle’ for Mr. ‘Good Enough’, and once (?) was enough for them, thank you very much. Again, I suspect that there’s a bit of ‘ex-post facto’ in that final realization. But strangely enough, those that deeply desired kids found ways to accomplish this with the ‘material’ they had on hand. Some of course regretted it years later. Sometimes there’s different degrees and shades of regret, not all of them ‘fatal’ to the relationship or all that tragic in circumstances.

So different degrees of ‘settling’, perhaps applicable for different times or periods in our lives. We might be willing to accept more given the prospect of ‘decent health care’ (particularly if you’re lacking in this), or for some comfort & ease & relaxation in your older age. But I imagine that everyone sees this as happening perhaps a decade or more from where they are now, sort of like a premature death.. Most will claim not to be ‘That desperate’ right now. But perhaps in a few years, check back with me. Ever the gamblers hope. It’s the persistent cognitive dissonance that produces the wavering heart, and all the hesitation at times.

Again as my small sample revealed, similar to the audience here, the moms at least are quite less enthralled with the prospect. The true ‘singeton’s might make different calculations based on their own needs & desires. Romance is often in the eye of the beholder.

Cheers & Good Luck! ‘VJ’

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Kelly March 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm

I didn’t read the article and can only go by the quotes I see here, but I resent the idea she seems to be putting across that women can’t live a full and happy life without a man by their side. It’s pretty outdated and kind of sexist to me.

I do understand being realistic and not waiting for a relationship straight out of the movies or romance novels, but I am very happy with my single parent life and have no intention of settling. I’m content with things the way they are, and the only way I’m going to let a man add to that is if he’s really special and can improve what I already have going on.

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ModernSingleMomma March 11, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Its so interesting to me to read that love could ever be “settled” upon. Its seems like an anomaly.
What I love most about love is the license it gives you to engage in magical thinking….if you can’t believe in a “disney-esque” fantasy when it comes to falling in love, when can you?
As a single mom, there is enough left-brain, logical and practical thinking that i must engage in to make it thru the day…I need to allow at least one side of me the indulgence of a dream…. I choose to believe romance, trust and amazing chemistry is possible to be found in one partner. No I haven’t found it yet, but I love imagining it. And I believe keeping the hope alive, and NOT settling, brings a little skip to my step when I step out of the house each day, open to the possibiilty that I might, just might, meet someone who I can become absolutely enchanted with, disney style. =)

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Ms Single Mama March 11, 2008 at 6:07 pm

I agree with Random Esq. She chose these words to tick us off.

However…what really struck me was her line of marrying someone for a paycheck. I was a broke single mom…fortunately I cracked out of that on my own – without the help of a man (unless you count the one who hired me). That just made my stomach roll.

Why the desperation to get married? What does that teach your kids?

But yes – I think that for any single mom – having had a child with a man – we have naturally become more realistic about the whole “happily ever after thing.” I know I am. But, to hell with settling. To hell with getting married. In my experience, men are high maintenance.

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liv March 11, 2008 at 7:15 pm

hi, i made the bounce from pass the zoloft… i am a 30 year old single mother of two with a 10 year marriage behind me. (i know, i fast-tracked it!) now, more than ever, i want the love and passion that wasn’t there for me the first time around. granted, what i want is completely different than it was when i was 21. the dating scene is scary, and annoying, and tiresome, BUT if playing the game is a way to find true love, i’m going to do it. i’m not looking for mr. perfect because LORD knows i am not, but i am looking for mr. right for me.

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Amy March 12, 2008 at 7:23 pm

I’m 43 and have been married and divorced & only NOW do I know what love is. I thought I loved my husband, but obviously did not. Pehaps before meeting my current boyfriend I would have said to settle… but now… It’s worth waiting for.

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MarriedMom March 14, 2008 at 5:27 am

I really agree with Andrea, I think what Lori is saying is “get real” more than settle. If you have this great idea in your head of what you’re looking for you miss out on a lot of what’s right in front of you, for silly reasons. Now I confess I’m married to a guy who is my best friend and genuinely the best person I’ve ever met, so this is easy for me to say, but my best single friend’s (age 35) list (and when I say list, I mean written down and carried in her purse) infuriates me: Must have a gym body. Must have been in at least one serious relationship, but *not* have been married. Must not be a younger man. Must have a professional job (read: advanced degree) but not be a workaholic. And there’s more. And I am not making this up. So I’m screaming SETTLE ALREADY. As in, get real. This man does not exist. Give some actual guy a shot. Isn’t there something to be said for that?

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C H March 14, 2008 at 6:53 am

Dear Rachel,

Got home last night after my usual 12-hour workday (I start at 5am)…cooked dinner, washed dishes, did some laundry, and made sure my kids were asleep. I couldn’t wait to jump in bed alone, light some candles, and masturbate some more while I thought about this whole “settling” business.

P.S. I’m still thinking. And I have a penis. 8-)P

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