Today is Flash Friday – when we answer a question from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s question digs into the topic of settling based on the book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (2010) by Lori Gottelib.
The 20-Something Perspective
By Molly Ford
It’s a word that no one wants to hear, whether it’s regarding career moves, fashion choices, and, most especially, relationships.
Lori Gottelib’s Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (2010) is a popular non-fiction book that talks about the notion that men that women would pass over in their 20s, are men that women in their 40s regret passing up. Basically, the idea that you would pass up an ‘8’ when you’re 27 hoping for a 10, but when a 10 never comes along and you grow older each year, you regret passing up the 8.
Nicolle, a 20-something Nonprofit Communications Specialist, shares her thoughts on the book’s concept. “What I most appreciated about Lori’s viewpoint was the realism…she points out the flaws in our romantic-comedy-influenced ideas about what a relationship should look like, how we should feel and what kinds of expectations we should have. I agree with her perspective: We shouldn’t be looking for the most thrilling, the most romantic, the most exciting, the most intense, the most perfect. Instead, we need to be willing to settle.”
But settle? Is that a word anyone, including romantically inclined 20-somethings, want to hear?
Nicolle continues, “Settle’ sounds like a pretty scary word when we’re talking about the rest of our lives. To settle brings with it the connotation that we didn’t choose the best, that we could do better, that we’re willing to sacrifice lifelong happiness just because we want a relationship.” I like that Lori is trying to change the definition of “settle”, which could be confused with “compromising”, and give us a perspective outside of the standard fairy-tale ending.
So if the definition of settle is slowly changing to be synonymous with compromising, that means that the checklist a lot of women have when looking for a perfect partner must change to be more realistic in what you might find in another person. A lot of Gottelib’s book focuses on the idea that 20-somethings have a longer, more specific checklist of what they want their romantic partner to be like than 30 and 40-somethings.
Ava, a 20-something journalist, agrees, saying, “I think as you get older, things that you might have previously had on your list as deal breakers become less important. Maybe not because you are less desperate, but because you realize what is and isn’t important with age.”
But what does older mean? Is 30 still the scary age of when idealism gives way to worried realism about never finding a mate?
Samantha, a young 20’s teacher, thinks that women’s standards change even earlier than some girls realize, saying as young as 24 girls start to ‘lower’ their standards. She writes, “I think girls start their 20’s thinking that they are going to find the perfect 10. They say, ‘oh I’m sure he’s out there somewhere.’ But as soon as 24, 25, 26 comes along, college is over, work has begun, and girls start to freak out and think I’m going to be alone forever, and that’s when the standards lowering begins.”
The 40-Something Perspective
By Christina Vuleta
When I first started asking friends and emailing my panel of 40-something women about the book I was surprised at the response:
“I have not read it. I’m sure it would infuriate me if I did!!” – 40-something, single, NYC
“Oh my gosh, I started laughing, seriously, when I saw the title of this book! Wow, I have not heard of it, nor read it, but I will because from the title alone, I am intrigued 🙂 – 40-something, divorced, Los Angeles
I started expanding my circle to Twitter and various 40-something bloggers …and still no.
“I didn’t read it – but I guess that’s the answer. If I were to have settled, I would have done so a long time ago. Whomever I end up with deserves to be loved. As I deserve to love.” – 40-something, NYC
“I saw the author on a few talk and news shows so I feel like I know all I need to know. I do think there were a few pieces of wisdom. I think women do sometimes pass on good-enough guys because they want more. I’m certainly guilty of that, but I didn’t want to be married. I was looking for fun and excitement; “good-enough is good enough for marriage but not for dating! (If that makes any sense).
I will also admit that I would give some of the guys I’ve passed on another look now that I’m older and the dating pool is sparser…but I’m not convinced it would add up to anything more.
I can’t ever imagine telling someone to “settle”; I do think I would advise re-considering those qualities we think are important in order to be sure they really are.” – 40-something, NYC
Some reacted viscerally just to the idea of settling.
“NEVER SETTLE! You have to wake up next to this man the rest of your life. If you don’t think he is awesome in a myriad of ways despite his flaws, you will be in for a very unhappy future.” – 40-something, Washington, DC
“Don’t do it. Wanting marriage and kids can blind you from the fact that you would not be happy. Everyone wanted me to marry “B”. He was perfect on paper. Our parents had the grandchildren named. 35 neared and my expectations for the life I would have by then became a possibility with this man. But inside I knew he was not the right man. I wasn’t myself with him. I was giving up something of myself to be with him. If I had stuck with that I would be a pill popping, miserable wife. I do enjoy my life now but I also struggle because I want a partner. But I know that doesn’t mean I can settle. – 40-something, NYC, single
Settling is not part of the 40-something vernacular. It implies the value of marriage and kids is higher than self-worth But I realized the title is meant to provoke. It’s a matter of interpretation. In all likelihood the author means that as you mature, what you want changes. If you want marriage and kids, stop over-analyzing the guys and start looking at what you want and revise your list. Few women I spoke with related to the idea that they passed up Mr. Right. They’ve learned it’s easy to idealize past relationships and remember only the good. There was probably something deeper behind the girlfriend chatter (the bad kisser, the fill-in-the blank what was wrong with him), that wasn’t right. But they do relate to changing their priorities.
Recently in response to a 20-something question on whether “your criteria for what makes a good partner changes over time?” most 40-something women said yes. As you get to know yourself and get more secure in your own skin you shift to seeking more external than internal qualities in a partner.
“As we grow, we change our priorities. Staying out until 4am became less important…a guy who didn’t stay out until 4am when meeting my parents the next day became more so. The fundamental criteria I look for is responsibility and a fantastic sense of humor. This comes from honesty, integrity, independence, self confidence.” – 40-something, married, Brooklyn, NY
“In my twenties I met a 40-something, just married woman who changed me. She said make two lists: nice-to-haves, and non-negotiables. So for me, hot looks became a nice-to-have. A nice person in love with me was non-negotiable.” – 40-something, married, NY
“Your priorities change. You re more open and you give men a second chance vs. a snap judgment, – 40-something, divorced, NYC
So I thought. Okay done. The book probably makes sense. You get older and wiser and realize that what is important in a marriage (trust, respect, attraction), is not the same as what you want when dating (fun, drama and “hotness”). And yes, for those who know they want children, get more attuned to what is important starting in your late 20s. That doesn’t mean marrying the guy that meets your timeline, it means spending time looking at what you have learned about yourself from your relationships. Asking what values, beyond the superficial, are important to you and being open to opportunities.
So. You could stop reading here if you want. That’s the easy answer. And it would be a nice blog post coming in a little long but still under 1500 words.
Or you could keep reading. As I did. I started reading the book more in-depth and I got worried that so many 20-somethings were reading it.
First I will share the points that I agree with…because there were some.
- Prince Charming doesn’t exist.
- Marriage is no fantasyland.
- Women should talk more honestly about the realities of marriage so younger women know what to expect.
- You can’t expect every single one of your needs met by a marriage / husband.
- You can’t change a guy.
- We have an infantile view of marriage because of the romanticized version of love we see at the movies, on TV and in magazines.
- Women should give guys more of a chance in their twenties.
Then there are the points I disagree with. My issues are less about settling and more about the messages about being a women and being free to make your own choices, free from expectations.
- All unmarried older women are unhappy.
- Feminism has tricked us into thinking we can be 40 and happy (ergo you can’t be 40 and happy).
- Feminism pressures women to be single.
- Feminism led women to believe having it all means accepting nothing less than perfection.
- Learning to be happy with yourself is overrated.
- Single life is uninteresting.
- Get married in your twenties.
All Unmarried Older Women are Unhappy
The author paints a picture that all women will be miserable, bored and lonely if they are single and 40-something…that another brunch with your friends is the last thing that you want to do.
“The job won’t seem as exciting anymore, drinks with the girls will get old and on holidays they will be hanging out with their married friends and their kids, or their nieces and nephews, which will only make them depressed that they don’t have a family themselves.” – Marry Him.
Nonsense. Your life is what you make of it. I have spoken to so many women who are fulfilled by their jobs and their friends and their family ..and even their nieces and nephews. It’s about focusing on what you do have vs. what you don’t have. It’s about growing up. It is about learning to be happy yourself. And I can tell you many a 40-something women both married and not who still cherish brunch with their friends.
Feminism Has Tricked Us Into Thinking We Can Be Single And Happy
One of the books premises is that feminism makes women believe they don’t need a man, they need a career…only to wake up at 40..to be miserable and lonely.
“Feminism tells you that don’t need the White Knight.” – Marry Him
Yes. Feminism does say that you don’t need a man to save you or protect you or to make you happy. You can do that for yourself and it will only make you a better partner if that’s what you choose. To me, feminism doesn’t say you should or shouldn’t get married, it says you have choices. You can decide to get married or you can choose not to. You can wait or not. Just like a man. Does anyone look at an 80-year old bachelor and think, He’s a total loser”? Not really. I suspect that will be George Clooney’s case and I don’t foresee anyone feeling sorry for him. Feminism was so an 80-year old unmarried woman is not an old maid. In fact, shock, they can be happy.
This 40-something woman (who had just broken off an engagement) shared a story about an older woman who inspired her:
“I have a patient. She was 75 years old and had never been married. No kids. She is a very attractive woman. She came to me because she injured herself rollerblading. She is very delicate…a beautiful figure, beautiful face and dyed red hair. She said, ‘I never saw myself as married. I love people. I love being by myself. I love myself. I love the time with myself and that’s my biggest gift. I’m not one of those people. I’ve dated and I’ve had fun but I just like being by myself. I like reading. I like exploring’. Like right now she does dog rescue. She was truly happy. She said to me, Love yourself and find what makes you happy.”
Feminism was so a woman who is single by choice at 40 is not a pariah.
“Honestly, I love living alone. I absolutely love it! I love my solitude. I love solace. In the movies and magazines they say it’s fine to be a woman that loves being single. But in real life people judge you. Could we just have the confidence to say it’s all right? Let’s not judge each other or feel that it has to be one way or another. We should be more accepting and open-minded.” – 40-something, Los Angeles
Similarly, don’t judge the women who do want to get married and have a traditional family! That is just the same judgment that works against us all and makes us make bad decisions.
Feminism Pressures Women To Be Single
According to Marry Him, women are afraid to admit that they want to get married. They fear they would sound weak, needy or not independent. They feel pressure to live the single girls life at the exclusion of enjoying a relationship.
I would say being independent does not have to come at the exclusion of a relationship. It gives you the privilege of not being dependent on anyone else for your happiness. Then you will save yourself from constantly finding reasons why that other person makes you unhappy. That can be very draining.
The women I’ve interviewed who are the happiest in relationships say that you “have your own life and then a life together”. You have your own interests and some shared interests. That keeps it interesting.
Being so focused on finding a man at the exclusion of finding richness in your own solitude and things that you truly love doing only will lead you down a path of being unfulfilled and that can be unattractive. The natural energy that comes from fulfillment and being independent attracts others, it doesn’t repel them.
Feminism Led Women To Believe “Having It All” Means Accepting Nothing Less Than Perfection
According to the book, another problem with feminism is that it created the belief that women shouldn’t compromise in any area of life. “Having it all” means you have to have higher standards when it comes to choosing a man. Instead of being your equal, he had to be better. We have created a generation of women that are beyond pleasing. The slightest slight…and out he goes and back to the search for the perfect man (but only after you have the perfect career).
To me, “having it all” means having the same opportunities as a man. It means not being paid less or considered less promotable because you may have a baby. It means not being treated badly by a man but staying in the marriage because you don’t feel you have any options.
Call it feminism or call it freedom to be true-to-yourself, it’s being free from the expectations of society and the fears that hold women back and voices that tell us that we are not good enough. It’s being confident enough to care less about what other people think and more about what is right for us. It means taking responsibility for yourself.
It means not making huge decisions about your life because you’re embarrassed about what your friends think. It means that if you do want to date, don’t succumb to the hook-up culture just because it’s what everyone else is doing. If you want a relationship and he doesn’t, then move on. It’s up to you to choose. There are men out there who do want to date… if you stop looking in the wrong places, give a guy a more than one chance, get into your life and become confident in yourself.
I can’t tell you how many 20-something women I meet at a bar or restaurant whose first question is “How do I meet hot guy?” They scan the crowd and are ready to go to the next bar. My answer always is to stop looking. Talk to the guy next to you and you might just find him interesting. Or he might have interesting friends. Have unbridled fun with your friends…you’d be surprised who you might meet in the process. Attraction can be based on something other than looks. Once you get to know a guy…his sense of humor, his intellect, his beliefs… you may suddenly find him sexy. And for the numerous women in the book for whom hairline was a deal-breaker, have you not heard, bald is beautiful.
It means not just moving in with someone because you don’t want to talk about the future. It’s being brave enough to talk about the future and what you want. If you spend time getting to know what you want, you don’t do things because you don’t know…and you know what to say when you have to have a difficult conversation. It’s the freedom to say what you want. So yes it’s harder work than just following the status quo. Now it is up to you to figure out what makes you happy. Do it. It’s also called growing up.
Leaning To Be Happy With Yourself Is Overrated
The author does not subscribe to the theory that you have to find happiness yourself to be happy with someone else.
“I didn’t want to figure out how to be happy alone. No matter how full my life was (career and good friend, and later a child), I wanted to go through life with a partner. The fact that I said that I wanted a conventional family with a good enough guy put me in the category of the type of woman who wanted it too badly.” – Marry Him
Well, you might not be so miserable being single if you did know what makes you happy. I think the difference in my interpretation is that figuring out how to be happy with yourself is different than figuring out how to be happy alone.
Not wanting to be alone is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it takes longer to find a partner if you don’t know what makes you happy. Or you end up getting married, having kids and realizing after the kids go off to school and you have time again…that you have no idea what makes you happy. Women often feel lost and lonely at this point and start digging into what they want. It’s never too late but it’s harder to figure it out once you do have a family and responsibilities.
“To thine own self be true. That is life’s hardest work. Actually knowing what you want instead of waiting for someone else to determine what you want… or doing what someone else wants or just going with the flow of what everyone else wants. You have to plug into what you really want and go for it. Be really honest with yourself rather than looking to others for cues.” – 40-something, therapist, Miami, FL
Unfortunately, the fear of being alone is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. It just puts tension in the air. Men often say they can smell desperation a mile away. Does she want me or does she just want to be married?
I often hear stories that confirm the adage that it happens when you stop looking for it. These women actually stopped being scared of their biological clock or being alone and started focusing on themselves in their late 30s and early 40s (some deciding to have a child on their own as the author did) and lo and behold, they end up finding their mate. These women don’t recommend getting married earlier per se but they do recommend getting to know yourself earlier so you are more open to opportunities rather than spending your 30s scared or coasting through life.
Single Life is Uninteresting
She talks about the typical “single woman’s schedule:
“Week day: wake up, commute, work, gym, or all female book club, microwave dinner, watch TV, reply to emails. Go to bed. Weekend: run errands, pay bills, open mail, work out, go to a trendy bar hoping to lock eyes with a handsome stranger.” – Marry Him
Uggh. What do you like to do? Get an interest! And that doesn’t mean taking golf lessons because that is where men are. It means doing something because you think you may enjoy it. Maybe it’s not golf. Maybe it’s paddle boarding or surfing or running or going to plays or hiking or cooking. That would make you more interested and interesting to yourself and to others. Don’t make 90% of your conversations with your friends about dating, men and relationships. Change the conversation.
Our Mothers Were Happier
Another point that the book makes is that women in our mother’s generation were happier in their marriages. They didn’t expect so much. They had family, companionship, stability and security. They didn’t need wild passion and a long checklist. These older women complain that women today expect marriage to be perfect.
So where were they when their daughters were watching romantic comedies and filling their heads with the fairytales? The book cites data that shows that women were happier in previous generations when they married earlier and had children sooner.
But a lot of these women reported they were happy because they had no other choice. As my mom often says when I ask her about her “happiness”, “We didn’t question these things. You just got married and had babies.” That was supposed to make you happy and if you weren’t then there was something wrong with you. Look at Revolutionary Road if you want a movie example. Women had no choice but to be happy with their lot in life or at least to “report” that they were. I’m not saying many of those women weren’t happy…companionship, safety and security are good things. Yet I also think some women felt stifled, married men they didn’t want to because they had to (expectations, timeline, pregnancy, financial support) and felt they didn’t have another route.
Thanks to the previous generations who fought for more choices, we do have options. But now the pressure is on us to decide. It’s easy when you only have one choice that is supposed to make you happy. Now you have to actually do the hard work of figuring out who you are, what you want and making the choices that are right for you, popular or not.
Get Married in your Twenties
There is the issue of options. The author points out, quite realistically, that if you wait until 40 you are going to end up with less of a selection. The men that are left are either damaged goods or if they do want a family, they seek a woman in her early thirties preferably. I do see that…but also have seen the outliers. Sometimes men fall in love too.
But the author and experts suggest that you go with the abundance strategy. Get married in your 20s when the picking is ripe. Problem is, what 20-something guy today wants to get married? There is this thing called “delayed adulthood’ that you may have heard about in the news. 20-somethings don’t want to get married in their 20s.
Most men and women agree that men don’t grow up until their 30s. And as many of you who read my blog know, most 40-something women I’ve interviewed (close to 200) recommend not getting married in your 20s. How can you know what you want when you don’t know who you are? It’s the time to get to know yourself, explore and learn what you do want. No decision is final in your 20s except marriage (or it should be), that is why that is the one decision you shouldn’t make. These are some of their thoughts. I admit, I’ve interviewed plenty of happy women who married in their twenties who still would tell their daughter not to get married so young. Then there are many women who married in their twenties only to divorce later. This one shares her story of how just going with it, ended up unsettling her in the end.
“I can say wholeheartedly that I disagree. I felt that I settled with my first husband. He seemed like a great guy: an entrepreneur, good-looking, charming, warm-hearted. But I had these doubts in the back of my head: he wasn’t as much of an intellectual as I was. He wasn’t close to his family even though they were really kind people. He didn’t have many close friends. I dismissed these concerns and married him anyway. Over the years, some of my worries disappeared: he made dear friends with the people in my circle, and grew close to my family. We spent some lovely holidays with his families.
But the intellectualism always came between us. Beyond that, the scratchy voice in my head saying, “This isn’t quite right” turned out to be completely right. My ex was hiding all kinds of things from me about who he was, and after discovering more and more things that upset me and made me feel betrayed over the 9 years we were together, I finally left him. I realized that the voice in my head had been my gut instinct, and I hadn’t listened. So I think women should listen to this intuition, and if they feel the guy isn’t right, then don’t marry him. Or at least wait until the feeling settles out one way or another. – 40-something, divorced, in a relationship
Thinking something that concerns you will go away after you get married is a recipe for disaster. You do have to accept that he’s not perfect, and that you aren’t either. Accept his flaws and appreciate that which is good. But don’t think that a serious character flaw or fundamental value that conflicts will go away or change because you are married.
I like the idea of waiting until the feeling settles one way or another. Even if you don’t have doubts, it’s not a bad idea to wait. You don’t have to get married right away. Date your love. No one wishes that you pass up love that feels right and is based on more subjective than objective traits…but there is nothing wrong with long courtships in your 20s.
Another thing that struck me as off in this topic area was the notion that “women have an inflated view of themselves because in high school and in their 20s they had all the power.” And that guys spend all their time and money courting women. If only 20-something women knew their power. Most of them I talk to don’t.
A somewhat related topic to age was the proposed idea that dating was different in the past when there were more differences among class and property and religion. In Romeo and Juliet days, women got thrill and excitement through forbidden love. Today we have to create it elsewhere. Do I need to mention that Romeo and Juliet were 16?
As for the last quarter of the book it got exhausting going through reason after reason why still after all these advisors tell her not to be so picky the author continues to be so picky. So I must stop now. I think it may be better to not read the book and get the take-away that I originally got.
In closing, my alternate titles for the book would be:
1. Grow up, get to know yourself.
2. Get over yourself and get into life.
3. Get over him. You just weren’t that in to him.
For those of you who endured the long version, I hope you got something out of it. I do not judge the author her for her choices and her beliefs. I recognize that her focus on dating to the extreme was for the purpose of research for the book. But I do fear the overall message creates more fear than opportunity for 20-something women. I know that being judgmental and having a POV sells book, but I go back to the idea that perspective will win anytime.