Mr good enough book

Expanding on a provocative article she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in 2008, and interviewing, among many others, therapists, members of the clergy, and both single and married people, Gottlieb makes a case that many women today end up alone because they hold men to insanely high standards. The feminist ideal of having it all, on our own terms, she argues, “is exactly how many of us empowered ourselves out of a good mate.”

Image Lori GottliebCredit…Leigh Manacher

The author treads good-naturedly over taboos, asking whether the “Go, girl!” ethos has run amok and our hard-won professional identities have become lonely traps. While she believes the workplace can be a fertile hunting ground, she also notes that men are often less impressed than we expect by our brilliant careers.

Gottlieb’s triumph of experience over hope is not as depressing as it sounds. She skewers herself and her post-­feminist peers so accurately and disarmingly that we wish we knew an unattached man to fix her up with. She convinces us that we women are simply too fussy, entitled and downright delusional about our own worth in the mating marketplace. We overanalyze and seek undiluted sexual and intellectual fulfillment, thus setting men up for failure.

Gottlieb’s female subjects complain: He “brought me flowers, but cheesy ones.” “He was too optimistic.” He “loved me too much.” One whines about a boyfriend’s onerous demands for sex, even while reporting that it was the best sex she’d ever had. Another confides that “boring guys aren’t funny, but they think you’re funny.” Gottlieb’s own checklist, now discarded, included the following specs: “talented but humble,” “creative but not an artist,” “over 5-10 but under 6 feet.” But her male subjects add jarring perspective. Women may hold the cards when they’re in their 20s, one 35-year-old man says, but by the time they’re in their 30s, “it’s the opposite.”

A psychologist tells Gottlieb he is seeing in women “a heightened sense of entitlement that previous generations didn’t have,” adding that our mothers didn’t expect to be thrilled and charmed at all times by their husbands. Today’s woman, by contrast, often “sees herself as too good for an ordinary relationship.”

Reading Group Guide


You have a fulfilling job, a great group of friends, the perfect apartment, and no shortage of dates. So what if you haven’t found The One just yet. Surely he’ll come along, right?

But what if he doesn’t? Or even worse, what if he already has, but you just didn’t realize it?

Suddenly finding herself forty and single, Lori Gottlieb said the unthinkable in her March 2008 article in The Atlantic: Maybe she and single women everywhere, needed to stop chasing the elusive Prince Charming and instead go for Mr. Good Enough.

Looking at her friends’ happy marriages to good enough guys who happen to be excellent husbands and fathers, Gottlieb declared it time to reevaluate what we really need in a partner. Her ideas created a firestorm of controversy from outlets like the Today show to The Washington Post, which wrote, “Given the perennial shortage of perfect men, Gottlieb’s probably got a point,” to Newsweek and NPR, which declared, “Lori Gottlieb didn’t want to take her mother’s advice to be less picky, but now that she’s turned forty, she wonders if her mother is right.” Women all over the world were talking. But while many people agreed that they should have more realistic expectations, what did that actually mean out in the real world, where Gottlieb and women like her were inexorably drawn to their “type”?

That’s where Marry Him comes in.

By looking at everything from culture to biology, in Marry Him Gottlieb frankly explores the dilemma that so many women today seem to face—how to reconcile the strong desire for a husband and family with a list of must-haves so long and complicated that many great guys get rejected out of the gate. Here Gottlieb shares her own journey in the quest for romantic fulfillment, and in the process gets wise guidance and surprising insights from marital researchers, matchmakers, dating coaches, behavioral economists, neuropsychologists, sociologists, couples therapists, divorce lawyers, and clergy—as well as single and married men and women, ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties.

Marry Him is an eye-opening, often funny, sometimes painful, and always truthful in-depth examination of the modern dating landscape, and ultimately, a provocative wake-up call about getting real about Mr. Right.


Lori Gottlieb is the author of the national bestseller Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self and a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, People, Slate, Self, Glamour, Elle, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times. She is also a frequent commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.


  1. In the prologue, Lori Gottlieb realizes that while she’d never made an actual list of qualities she was looking for in a guy, she did have a very specific unconscious checklist in her head. Do you have a list—a physical one or a mental one—of your ideal mate? What would be on your list?
  2. Has your “list” from question 1 changed over your lifetime? Are all of the current qualities realistic—or statistically likely—in one person?
  3. Do you have a “type”? Is your type consistent with the qualities you consciously look for? Do you run into the same relationship-ending problems repeatedly?
  4. What does “husband material” mean to you? Do you think “tall, dark, and handsome” or “long-term compatible”? How have any of your previous dates measured up to your ideal?
  5. What does “settling” mean to you? Would you settle for nice life with a nice guy? Why or why not? Do you settle or compromise in other areas of your life? Where’s the line for you between making a realistic compromise and settling for something that’s beneath you?
  6. What does “true love” mean to you? Do you believe in a soul mate? Have you ever thought you’d met your soul mate before but later changed your mind? What do you think of Rabbi David Wolpe’s interpretation of “soul mate” in chapter 23?
  7. In chapter 3, Lori Gottlieb describes how feminist ideals led her to mix up her priorities when it came to dating, and how the idea of “empowerment” led her away from what she truly wanted. Do you agree that feminist ideals – when applied to dating – have had an e impact on women’s overall relationship happiness? Do you think women often confuse what they actually want with what a modern woman is supposed to want? What does “having it all” mean to you?
  8. Of the qualities you desire from question 1, why are these important to you? Can you separate these qualities into “needs” and “wants,” as Lori does in the book?
  9. One man in the book says that women expect “one-stop shopping” – a mate who fulfills them across the board – but that he thinks one-stop shopping is overrated because he can get some needs met by his wife, some by his colleagues, and some by friends and family. Do you think women have more expectations in relationships than men? If yes, how? Do you think women, more often than men, focus on the negative in their dates/significant others rather than the positive? If so, why?
  10. In chapter 10, Gottlieb recounts social scientist Barry Schwartz’s description of maximizers and satisficers. Are you a maximizer in dating? In other areas of your life?
  11. Have you ever dismissed a guy after a first date that was fine, but had no sparks? Do you think you worry too much about instant chemistry or common interests instead of about common goals and values?
  12. Why do you think it is so difficult to let go of the ideal guy and be less picky in practice?
  13. In one of Lori’s sessions with Evan, the dating coach, he asks her to write down all the ways someone would have to compromise to be with her and she lists her less-than-appealing qualities for which some guy would have to compromise. What not-so-appealing aspects would a guy have to put up with to spend his life with you? (Be honest!) Would you make these kinds of compromises to be with a guy, or would you rule him out and go for someone “better”?
  14. Chapter 19 discusses the Westerner-idea of “falling in love” vs. love developed over time in arranged marriages. Do you believe you can “fall in love” with someone after, instead of before, marriage? What “practical” factors should women take into account when looking for a spouse? Is it okay if he’s a sexy artist but makes no money? If he’s stable and loyal but short and bald?
  15. Do you think expectations for marriage have changed from generation to generation? If so, discuss how and what causes these differences. In an era when women no longer need a man for financial support or even to have a child, what do you think a husband is for nowadays and why do you want one?
  16. In the book, Lori makes a lot of assumptions about potential dates based on their profiles, but later ends up dating a guy she was initially reluctant to e-mail. If you’ve tried online dating, have your experiences been similar to Lori’s? What assumptions do you make about men based on their online profile essays or photos? How accurate do you think those assumptions are?
  17. How did it make you feel to read about the realities of dating as women age and the “reverse power curve” for men and women? Lori says she was in denial – that she knew dating got harder, but was still convinced that she wouldn’t fall through the marital cracks. Do you think you take into account these realities, or do you think that no matter how old you are, you’ll still be desirable to the men who interest you?
  18. Have you ever fallen for an “alpha male”? What’s attractive about men like this? Have you ever dated someone who was less ambitious or successful than you are? How did you feel about that?
  19. What is your own personal “chemistry-to-compatibility ratio” – as described in chapter 20? What did you think of the studies by scientists Martie Haselton and Helen Fisher on the biological factors involved in feeling “chemistry”? Have you ever noticed a pattern in which you’ve mistaken “chemistry” for a dysfunctional attraction?
  20. Were you surprised by the studies that researcher Paul Amato discusses in “The Good Enough Marriage” (chapter 22)? Would you be satisfied in a “good enough” marriage or, like some of the women he mentions, would you get divorced and look for something better? How likely do you think it would be for you to find something better than “good enough”?
  21. Of the women who tell their stories at the end of the book, to whom do you most relate and why? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation and, if so, how did you handle it?
  22. After reading Marry Him, are there any changes you might make in your approach to dating or relationships? Have you realized anything about what you want and what might make you happy in the long-term that you weren’t aware of before? If so, what? Has your idea of “Mr. Right” changed at all?

Author makes the case for marrying Mr. Good Enough

Provocative writer Lori Gottlieb, author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” is sure to spark a lively Q&A session when she appears at the JCC of San Francisco on Monday, Oct. 25.

Lori Gottlieb photo/leigh manacher

The 43-year-old Jewish single mother isn’t shy when it comes to sharing her controversial perspective on dating, marriage and achieving romantic happiness.

Gottlieb’s byline has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic and Time, among other well-known publications. She also is a frequent contributor on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Gottlieb spoke to j. by phone from her Los Angeles home.

Q: What did you learn from the process of writing “Marry Him”?

A: I learned what makes for a happy marriage and that our cultural notions of what’s going to make us happy are so misguided. I’m not asking people to marry just anybody. But for those who are single and would like to be with a partner, but are having trouble finding one, maybe they’re looking for the wrong things. And that’s why you get into these patterns of dating people who you don’t want to spend your life with.

Q: It seems many Jewish women have an added pressure to find not just the perfect mate, but also someone who shares their religious beliefs. What’s your advice for them?

A: If finding someone who is Jewish is a deal breaker, then you have to flexible with other things. Most Jewish guys are not that tall, but if you require a Jewish guy who is over 6 feet, then maybe you’re not being realistic. We have to look at ourselves honestly. Am I perfect? No way. When you’re in a marriage, no one is perfect. You have to find what’s going to make you happy romantically in the long term.

Q: You consult Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles in “Marry Him.” Were you surprised by how open he was about his marital life, and why consult a rabbi?

A: I was definitely surprised. He was really honest in using examples from his own life, which resonated with me. Spirituality is a big part of a relationship. Even if you don’t consider yourself spiritual, there’s a lot of wisdom you can seek out from your community. Mine happens to be the Jewish community.

Q: In the beginning of your book, the women you chat with come off as frenetic about what they want in a partner. How do you suggest single women start their hunt for Mr. Good Enough?

A: First, I hope those women are mirrors to help others look at their own deal breakers, and what they want and need in a relationship. Yes, these women are extreme. But if we’re honest, we realize that we all have preconceived ideas of what we require. The first step is to be aware of this. I found that men initially look at the overall vibe of a woman, while women were nitpicking specific aspects of the guy.

Q: Is there anything women should do to make themselves more appealing to the opposite sex?

A: What’s making women unappealing is the judgmental attitude they bring on dates. The issue isn’t that women aren’t appealing. It’s more that women are not letting themselves find the person they are allowed to fall in love with. It’s not about changing anything fundamental — it’s about looking for a partner with a different perspective.

Q: Would your younger self take your book’s advice?

A: One of the reasons I wrote this book was because I never had anything like this. You read so many different advice books that tell you to do this or that — it’s so confusing! I decided I was going to present the data I collected, put it in one place and let people draw their own conclusions. I would have loved to have that in a book when I was younger.

Q: How would you convince someone who is skeptical of settling for Mr. Good Enough?

A: You are looking for your soul mate, but there isn’t just one. Our definition of “soul mate” is very skewed. People need to broaden their concept of what this person really is. This book is trying to help people find that soul mate. He might not look like Brad Pitt, but he’s out there.

‘Marry Him’ author answers outrage about ‘settling’

Lori Gottlieb is the best-selling author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Book title, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” sends shockwaves
  • Author Lori Gottlieb, a 43-year-old single mother by choice, feels misunderstood
  • She asks: “Is getting less than everything we want truly settling?” She says it isn’t
  • “Nobody is perfect,” she says. “Nobody said having it all was finding perfection”

Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” which first appeared a couple years ago as an essay in the Atlantic, has touched a nerve. A big one, it seems. It’s fired up bloggers and set off a barrage of e-mail exchanges shared by women.

But the 43-year-old author, a single mother by choice, feels a bit misunderstood by those who say they are outraged.

“The firestorm is with women who literally say on their blogs, ‘I haven’t read the book and have no desire to, but here’s what I think about it,’ ” Gottlieb said. “You’re reviewing a book you’ve never seen, but you hate it?”

CNN reached out to Gottlieb to talk about the hubbub surrounding her best-selling new book, why the word “settling” shouldn’t give women hives and when impersonating Austin Powers on a date becomes a problem. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

CNN: What is it, in your mind, about the book and its message that got some women so worked up?

Video: Waiting for Mr. Right?Video: Online matchmaking warning RELATED TOPICS

  • Relationships
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  • Dating

Gottlieb: I think it comes from the title. The title is used to really get women to think about what settling means. There’s a survey in the book where men and women are asked, “If you got 80 percent of everything you wanted — of your ideal traits in a mate or partner — would you be happy?” The majority of women said, “No, that’s settling,” and the majority of men said, “Eighty percent? I’d be thrilled; that’s a catch.” So the question is: Is getting less than everything we want truly settling? And more important, semantics aside: Is getting anything less than everything we want going to make us less happy? The answer is no, and it probably will make you more happy.

CNN: What about the term “Mr. Good Enough”?

Gottlieb: We’re all Mr. or Ms. Good Enough, until you fall in love with the person who sees you and recognizes you as the right person for them. In our culture, good enough is not good enough. They think that it means lowering your expectations and lowering your standards. There’s a difference between lowering your expectations and lowering your standards. Lowering your expectations is saying, “be realistic.” If you just put us all in a dating lineup, we’re not going to get perfect ratings from the world at large. We should lower our expectations in the sense of, we have to realize nobody is perfect. If you have unrealistic expectations, it’s going to be hard to find a real human being who can meet them. But lowering our standards? No.

CNN: What is it about women, based on the survey you mentioned, that makes us think getting only 80 percent of what we want is settling?

Gottlieb: It has to do with this idea that we should have it all. We misinterpret what that means. Nobody said having it all was finding perfection. Nobody really has it all, but I think having what will make you happy is probably a much better way to approach life — not just dating, but life. In fact, in the research it shows that people who have this have-it-all attitude are depressed.

CNN: What can women learn from men when it comes to how they approach dating?

I’ve been kind of … intellectualizing myself out of meeting people. I’ve made it so much harder for myself than it ever has to be.
–Lori Gottlieb, author

Gottlieb: There are a lot of picky men out there, so this isn’t about all men and all women, but I did talk to hundreds of men and women, single and married, for this book, in addition to the researchers and scientists. Talking to men was eye-opening. Men and women were asked, if they any deal-breakers for going on a second date, what would those be? And men named three. If she’s cute enough … warm and kind … and interesting enough to talk to, she gets a second date. Men are not going, “Am I going to marry her?” Men are like, “Do I want to spend another two hours with her?”

CNN: How did women respond?

Gottlieb: Women named 300 things that would be deal-breakers for a second date. We’re talking a second date, another two hours with the person. And they were things like, “You know, we were having a really good time, but then he did this Austin Powers impression, and it just so turned me off. I can’t get that out of my head.” Well, if she goes on a second date with him, and he starts doing Austin Powers impressions, then dump Mr. Austin Powers guy. Don’t go on that third date. Absolutely not. Who wants that? That’s annoying. But the thing is, there’s no correlation between the guy who’s the nervous first dater … and the guy who’s going to be the great life partner that you’re going to fall in love with. The smooth, charming guy who sweeps you off your feet on that first date, there’s not saying he’s going to be a better life partner than the other guy.

CNN: Why do women do this?

Gottlieb: Women are really good story-tellers, and they want to know how the story’s going to end. And so they want to know pretty early on, on that first date, is this going to lead anywhere? Is this a guy who I could see myself in a relationship with? And if Austin Powers isn’t on their mental checklist of what their guy is supposed to be like, they’re out of there.

CNN: What have you been guilty of doing?

Gottlieb: Well, I’ll tell you , the guy that I ended up dating in the book is a guy who I wouldn’t have even e-mailed on because he was 5-foot-6. Now, I’m 5-foot-1 and change, but I always liked guys who were like 5-foot-9 or 6 feet, and I just thought, “I’m not going to be attracted to a guy who’s 5-foot-6. Why waste our time?” And then he said his profession was real estate, and I thought, “I’m a writer. I need someone creative.” And then he was wearing a bow tie in the picture, and I was like, “What kind of dork wears a bow tie?” But I really liked what he wrote. I liked his overall vibe. So I ended up e-mailing him, which I never would have done pre-book, by the way. I finally realized that clearly, what I was doing wasn’t working.

CNN: And, how was he?

Gottlieb: That’s the guy who became my boyfriend . And the bow tie thing ended up being an adorable story about him and his grandfather that made me like him even more. And the first time I saw him, I thought he was so cute. And the real estate thing, it turns out that he had gone to architecture school, and he designed and renovated buildings and was extremely creative, way more creative than I am. We make these assumptions about people, these snap assumptions, and they’re often wrong. So we’re preventing ourselves from actually seeing who we might fall in love with.

CNN: What did you learn to help yourself in writing this book?

Look for the Mr. Right who’s actually going to make you happy versus the guy who fits some fantasy that you have.
–Lori Gottlieb, author

Gottlieb: I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but it allowed me to realize that there are lots of different kinds of people I could fall in love with. … I’ve been kind of sabotaging myself, intellectualizing myself out of meeting people. I’ve made it so much harder for myself than it ever has to be. There are qualities about all of us that make us less than appealing. … A lot of us have trouble differentiating between the overall appeal versus the specific things that may not be so appealing. Don’t stop looking for Mr. Right, but look for the right Mr. Right. Look for the Mr. Right who’s actually going to make you happy versus the guy who fits some fantasy that you have in your head.

CNN: How can we avoid being frustrated by the men our age who only seem interested in women who are younger?

Gottlieb: The men who want to date a 38-year-old are going to be very different from the men who want to date a 31-year-old. And that doesn’t mean that I’m horrible and anti-feminist because I said that. I didn’t make up the rules of how the world works. I think suck, actually, but the fact is, this is how it works, and here’s why. When you talk to men, they’re saying, “I don’t want to date the 31-year-old because I’m looking for the Victoria Secret model.” There are some like that, but most men say, “Look, I want to have a family, and I want to get married, and if I have a choice of going on a blind date — I don’t know anything about these women yet — with a woman who’s cute, smart, funny, interesting, has all those qualities and is fertile or somebody who is maybe not going to be fertile … I’m going to go on the blind date with the woman who is 31.” That doesn’t make these guys horrible people. If the situation was reversed, I would pick the fertile person, too.

CNN: Do you feel optimistic that Mr. Right is out there for you?

Gottlieb: I think I’m a lot closer to finding him now than I was doing what I was doing before. The whole point of my showing warts and all, and grimness and all, of what it’s like the older you get is not to depress people but to say be aware. … It gets harder. So if you figure out what’s important when you’re 30 versus it not sinking in until you’re 40, you’re going to have a much easier time finding someone much closer to your ideal. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with these guys , but it means that it’s going to look different.

Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (Hardcover)

Praise For…

“Marry Him is a frank and funny read, weaving real people’s stories with Gottlieb’s own experiences, and containing sharp examinations of how society and culture-everything from When Harry Met Sally to The Bachelor-come into play when modern women look for love.”
-The New York Observer
“A provocative pop culture treatise… she encourages us to think through our own beliefs and unexamined assumptions.”
-The Chicago Tribune
“A funny cautionary tale of one woman’s journey through the modern landscape of dating.”
-Library Journal
“A well-conceived and convincing argument on how to find a more realistic Mr. Right. If you’ve ever sought your own Prince Charming, your love life will never be the same again. And that’s a good thing.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“A sensible plea to discard the toxic fantasy of romantic comedies and think realistically about what makes a solid partnership.”
“This impeccably researched tome is mandatory reading.”
-The Huffington Post
“Funny and relatable… anything but antiromance.”
-People magazine
“This is the smartest relationship book I’ve read in years.”
“The buzz surrounding Lori Gottlieb’s newest book, Marry Him, is well- deserved… She writes with honesty and hope, and there are many people who will benefit from reading this book.”
-The Examiner
“An unexpected delight. Honest and darkly comic… the truth can be liberating.”
-The New York Times
“Marry Him is surprisingly, unnervingly convincing.”
-O, The Oprah Magazine
“In business, ‘good enough’ is often ‘very good’. So why should we expect-and demand-perfection in dating and marriage?”
-Forbes Woman
“The buzz surrounding Lori Gottlieb’s newest book, Marry Him, is well- deserved…She writes with honesty and hope, and there are many people who will benefit from reading this book.”
-The Examiner
“I wish I could round up every single woman I know and assign this book for discussion. Gottlieb helps women see how our cultural or private fantasies build up so many expectations that they destroy the possibility of real love and, eventually, marriage. Marry Him is a big fat lesson in how not to get in your own way. Any woman who wants to find true love and hasn’t been able to should read this book.”
-Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., relationship expert at
“What Gottlieb is saying isn’t subversive–it’s smart. A thoroughly entertaining reality check, it will make single women laugh and squirm, and married people appreciate their spouses even more.”
-Diablo Cody, Academy Award-winning Screenwriter of Juno
“Finally, here’s a cautionary tale for anyone wondering why she hasn’t found Mr. Right–with a hopeful message about the Mr. Right Nows, the Mr. Close Enoughs, and even the Mr. What the F*#%s.”
-Jill Soloway, writer and executive producer for Six Feet Under
“Engaging, hilarious, brutally honest and eye-opening! Marry Him is an encouraging story about finding love by getting real.”
-Rachel Greenwald, New York Times bestselling author of Find a HUsband After 35
“This is a daring and wise book. Gottlieb tells it like it is: In our modern world of excuses, too many of us have unrealistic expectations about men and love, and even more unrealistic views of ourselves. Women (and men) should take Gottlieb’s message to heart: ‘Look for reasons to say yes.’ It could change your life.”
-Helen Fisher, Ph.D., Rutgers University and author of Why Him? Why Her?
“I have been very happily married for many years, and if my daughters ever ask me for advice about potential spouses, I plan to pass off a lot of what’s in this book as my own sage wisdom.”
-Kurt Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Heyday and host of public radio’s Studio 360
“Marry Him shows women how to find true happiness when seeking love–by giving them a new way to look at the world. Gottlieb manages to be hilarious yet thought-provoking, light-hearted yet profound on the questions of: Why do we fall in love? What qualities really matter in a marriage? For what reasons do we make the decisions that affect our whole lives? Like provocative realationship classics such as The Rules and He’s Just Not That Into You, Marry Him will set people talking for years.”
-Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
“Lori Gottlieb’s smart, insightful, witty observations gleaned on her own unusual romantic path signal and important new voice in single-girl lit. The Rules turned single women needy, He’s Just Not That Into You made them depresed, and Marry Him finally sets them free, preaching that in the long run, ‘good enough’ might be better than great.”
-Amy Sohn, author of Prospect Park West
“Marry Him is a treasure. A must-read on getting the male and female brain together in almost perfect harmony.’
-Louann Brizendine, New York Times bestselling author of The Female Brain and the upcoming The Male Brain
“By telling you to read Lori Gottlieb’s incisive and insightful book, I hope I can make up for all the unrealistic romantic propaganda I had a hand in spreading as a former editor at a glossy women’s magazine. For anyone who is single but looking, the surprising truths in Marry Him go against just about everything we’ve been brought up to believe about dating and marriage.”
-Megan McCafferty, New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series

Single women, duck and cover, it’s Valentine’s Day – the season of mysterious chocolates, big-eyed teddy bears, and red books with titles designed to make you feel like crap. In the latter category, this year already has a clear winner, the much discussed book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough. In it, author Lori Gottlieb argues that single women, particularly those who have hit the big 3-0, need to have more realistic expectations when it comes to men. They cannot rule out potential suitors simply because they have red hair, or no hair, or find chores disagreeable. It they do, they risk spending the rest of their lives alone and lonely, their only backscratcher a blunt pencil, their only spider killer a tattered Sex and the City DVD case.

The book’s jacket claims this is all new – the author, it states, has said “the unthinkable” – but of course nothing could be farther from the truth. American culture has long been bothered by the image of single women, the idea that women could live happily without men or a family. In 1869, a Farmer’s Almanac called them “diminished goods”. A few decades later, a 1920s-era critic described singletons as “waste products of our female population … vicious and destructive creatures”. More recently, Cosmopolitan warned women that “in the United States, the 20s are the picture-perfect decade for saying I do. The farther you stray from that magic era, the more freakish you start to feel.”

I wish I could say Marry Him turns a corner on this subject, but it actually follows this old paradigm to a tee. The women in it are mostly caricatures, ditzy and overly “picky” women who seem not to have a thought beyond that of their partner’s physical appearance, while men escape pretty much scot-free, almost always portrayed as emotionally balanced and sensible, as if there could not be parallel books out there for them called Commit You Idiot! and Eyes Off the Boobs!

This is frustrating for many reasons, but especially because Gottlieb’s subject – the question of compromise in modern relationships – actually deserves attention, just not of the sort she gives it. I’d venture that, oh, 80% of the book implies women turn down potential mates solely because of their hand size or their penchant for light-green bow ties, but even when she attempts to engage with the difficult choices facing contemporary women – women who have grown up with feminism, and who rightly expect respect in both personal and public settings – Gottlieb takes the cheap and well-travelled path of dismissing these choices as extravagant, burdensome, or even petty. At one point, she empathises with a woman who wished she had accepted, at 23, her college boyfriend’s marriage proposal. She had refused because she felt she was supposed to pursue her dreams first. “The goal was to go out and become ‘self-actualized’ before marriage,” writes Gottlieb about herself. “I didn’t imagine that one day I’d be self-actualised but regretful.”

She goes onto blame the women’s movement for making women feel this way, but how not to lose oneself in a relationship is hardly a silly concern. Whether you’re married or not, the question of compromise is and should be constantly on the minds of women. How much can you give up in a relationship? What does an equal, mutually fulfilling relationship look like? These are definitely more difficult questions to answer now than 40 years ago, when women did not have the economic and social standing they often have today. But they shouldn’t be dismissed for this reason, only treated with the appropriate amount of care and scrutiny.

And yet time and again, this fact is ignored. For instance, as an example of women’s fussiness and perfectionism, Gottlieb sympathetically quotes one man who complains, “Our wives want us to do half the childcare and half the laundry, but they don’t want us to earn half the income.” On the surface, this may seem reasonable, but it becomes a much more problematic statement when you factor in how much earning potential mothers give up by staying home with children and the fact that part-time workers, who are overwhelmingly female, earn 20% less (and by some reports, up to a dizzying 40% less) per hour for doing the same work as their full-time counterparts.

Lori Gottlieb knows this, which is perhaps the most frustrating thing about the book and one that gets to the heart of a much larger problem – the tremendous amount of false naivety in culture today regarding women’s status and choices. I’m not one for blanket statements, but if you’re a female writer today your best bet at making it is to write this sort of book – one that forgoes nuance and thoughtfulness for “controversy” and “counter-intuitiveness,” a book, that is, that claims to be about empowering women, but is actually aimed mostly at pissing off feminists, that supposedly dying breed whom publishers nevertheless need to get things going.

In the end, a huge disservice is done to women. Instead of focusing on the real issues they face in modern relationships – and, no, that’s not likely to be whether their suitor wears a bow tie or not, but whether he will still be interested if they make more money than him, or still respect them once the kids come along – culture gives us fake debates, an endless stream of pathetic-looking singles, or in other cases haggard looking mothers, with the words “picky”, “petty”, and “pathetic” scrolling underneath them. I just hope that, along with the bears and the chocolates, women don’t actually buy it.

Should You Settle?

How did a 42-year-old single woman become the new marriage guru? Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough
By Lori Gottlieb
336 pages; Dutton
A year ago, writer Lori Gottlieb set off a firestorm—that’s what Meredith Vieira called it on the Today show—with an essay in The Atlantic titled “Marry Him!” Her argument: If you’re a woman on the cusp of 30, you should suck it up and settle down with Mr. Good Enough, as waiting for Mr. Right probably means missing out, resigning yourself to a purgatory of depressing dates and meaningless flings until, finally, no one bothers to call anymore because you’re, gulp, too old.
In a generation of women coming off the bacchanal of Sex and the City, Gottlieb’s article hit like a horrible hangover. It entered the pantheon of incendiary articles about women and marriage that pop up in every era—like the outrageous (and later debunked) claim, in Newsweek in 1986, that a 40-year-old woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than marry.
Gottlieb’s piece polarized readers. Some said her argument was common sense, that women must confront the biological realities that suggest they’re most marriageable when they’re young and fertile. Other readers said she was telling women to sell out their dreams and shut down their hearts.
In time for Valentine’s Day, Gottlieb is back, with an entire book devoted to her theory. Part The Rules and part Malcolm Gladwellian sociopop, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough is surprisingly, unnervingly convincing. Gottlieb interviewed an array of experts—sociologists, behavioral economists, social psychologists, and statisticians—who presented evidence about why online dating doesn’t work, what women can really expect when they’re in their 40s (there are only 72 single men for every 100 women in the 45-to-65-year-old demographic, according to a U.S. Census figure she cites), and why women are fundamentally the choosier sex. “There are so many really wonderful men out there, men who want commitment, who want to be married, who are attractive and smart and interesting,” Gottlieb says. “They may not be movie-star attractive, they may be awkward at first, they may not fit our cultural image of who Mr. Right or who Prince Charming is. But we shouldn’t pass them up. Look what happened to me.”
What happened to Gottlieb? Educated and independent, she is gorgeous, vivacious, and sharply witty. She went to Stanford Medical School; she has written several books, two of which have been optioned by Hollywood. In other words, she is such a fantastic catch that she assumed she would never have to settle, that a Superhusband—romantic, brilliant, baggage-free—would emerge from the ether and sweep her into an eternally fulfilling marriage. But, she says, she missed the boat—several times—by focusing on potential mates’ flaws and expecting too much. Now 42, she has a 4-year-old son, courtesy of a sperm donor. “We are taught as young women in this culture that compromise is a bad word,” she says. “We tell each other: ‘You go, girl. You get the best. You deserve the best.’ It’s not so much narcissism as a false cultural perception of our worth. We want the ten, because we think we’re a ten. But we’re missing the fact that we’re not. Nobody is. Men have flaws, but we have flaws, too.”
Surely, some women will find Marry Him more than a little off-putting. Its subtitle makes the prospect of marriage sound like a life sentence. And sometimes Gottlieb’s call to arms sounds so pragmatic as to be loveless.
Readers may also ask, what is an unhappily single woman doing, telling us how and why to get married? But maybe the question is, who better? For a woman who once wouldn’t have thought of dating a short man in a bow tie, she has come a long way. (In the book, Gottlieb described dating just such a guy, and you root for the pair, until he moves to Chicago.) She is currently “accepting invitations from men everywhere,” she says with a laugh. Or as she puts it in the book’s dedication: “For my husband, whoever you are.”

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Is There Such a Thing as ‘Mr. Good Enough’?

Is it lowering your standards or being realistic when you decide to settle for ‘Mr. Good Enough’?

Mr. Good Enough is looking pretty great when you watch your best friend get married, and you’re not even dating anyone …

or when you go out with a “very nice” person who doesn’t exactly make your heart flutter and your adrenaline surge …

or when you’re sitting at home, alone, on a Friday night watching another ridiculous romantic comedy.

When you experience these and other reminders that you are still unattached, it’s easy and natural to have thoughts like: “Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I should adjust my expectations. Maybe my standards are too high.”

In other words, should your criteria be sacrosanct and set in stone—or should you use a sliding-scale method of mate selection?

Not long ago, a book was published with the title, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”1 The cover copy says the author “explores the dilemma that so many women today seem to face—how to reconcile the strong desire for a husband and family with a list of must-haves so long and complicated that many great guys get rejected out of the gate.” With chapter titles like “Don’t be Picky, Be Happy” and “Dump the List, Not the Guy,” the book argues that women, especially as they get older, should have “more realistic expectations” (i.e., lower expectations).

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion—and our opinion is this: When it comes to finding the love of your life, settling for Mr. (or Miss) Good Enough is a recipe for dissatisfaction, if not disaster. Singles should determine precisely the kind of person they need to be happy.

To find a partner who is a great match for you―you should be extremely precise about what it is you want and don’t want in a partner. This doesn’t mean you have an impossibly long and complex checklist. The key is to compile lists of top ten positive qualities (must-haves) and top ten negative qualities (can’t-stands). Becoming clear about these characteristics prepares you to be a wise dater, someone who knows with confidence and clarity whether a potential partner is worth pursuing.

If you’re one of those singles wondering if you should lower your expectations, keep these thoughts in mind:

Maintaining high standards doesn’t mean holding out for Mr. or Miss Perfect. The issue here is not about trying to find someone perfect—and a good thing, too, since there’s no such person on the face of the earth. The issue is about you being clear about what kind of person you can love, enjoy, and grow with over many years. It’s about determining which qualities in a partner you can live with and which you can’t.

Conceding an item of your must-have or can’t-stand list is an invitation for trouble. Your criteria are highly personal—and the twenty items that comprise both lists should be carefully guarded. What is vital to you may not be important at all to another person. Some people can be happy with partners who have little ambition. For someone else, this same low level of ambition would be a significant turnoff. Compromising on a quality that relates directly to your predetermined must-haves or can’t-stands could very well be a relationship killer.

Wise daters are uncompromising about the big issues and compromising about the small ones. Once you’ve determined not to negotiate on your ten must-haves and ten can’t-stands, you can allow yourself more flexibility on everything else. Part of the adventure of love and romance is discovering qualities in another person you find attractive that you didn’t think you’d find attractive. You might be surprised to learn that a person has traits and tastes different from your own that you enjoy. Without sacrificing the most crucial characteristics of a potential partner, remain open-minded and flexible about all the nuances the person brings.

The bottom line is this: Does your partner have all your must-haves? Is he or she free of all your can’t-stands? If you can honestly say this is the case, your relationship is off to a promising beginning. Once your most vital criteria are met, you are free to enjoy the wide range of possibilities your uniquely created love has to offer.

1. Lori Gottlieb, Marry Him (New York: Dutton, 2010).

In the run-up to our wedding, Andy said, Well, we can always get divorced. And I nodded, like we were talking about ordering a risky entrée at lunch—we can always send it back. The marriage proposal, the result of an ultimatum, was the grimmest one in the history of the institution. The wife after Anne Boleyn was more psyched for her marriage than I was.

Don’t get me wrong—Andy was a great guy. Here’s how great he was:

When my mother was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, Andy, a nervous driver, rented a car and piloted it through the Holland Tunnel, across 78 and down 81 to West Virginia. He drove to the pharmacy and picked up prescriptions, he ferried us to chemo and bought chicken dinners at the Food Lion. My parents, at that point, were living in a post office (perhaps the subject for another story); he accepted this without comment, perching on a stack of Company Store catalogs behind the wall of mailboxes, forking yams into his mouth. Occasionally a postal customer, retrieving their mail, would peer through the box at Andy on the other side; he’d wave his fork at them.

When my mother had finished the worst of her treatment, Andy and I drove to West Virginia in a rented RV, because there was no room for us to stay in the post office. Some friends came along for a Memorial Day pig roast, at which Andy did not have a particularly good time: He’s a New Yorker, an insomniac; he wants to eat Thai food and see movies at the Film Forum. Pig roasts in West Virginia, camping, even camping in an RV—no.

© flickr/Dougtone

When the two of us tried to return the RV to the rental place, late at night on Memorial Day, I carefully examined the rental contract and noted that the valves to the sewage tanks had to be left open. No problem, because a nice trucker at the Flying J on 81 had helped us empty the tanks earlier that day.

Andy twisted the valves and gave a strangled scream. I peered through the window. There was a sound of … something … hitting the pavement. Something—you know what it is, but you can’t—you just can’t—that’s not what I think it is—I mean, we emptied the tanks, right? That trucker helped us?

But no. The trucker was in rush, and because we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t know he didn’t complete the job. And now there was a pile—a pile that had originated from nine people over a three-day weekend of pork and beer.

“The tanks are not empty,” Andy ground out, as I peered through the window. I wondered what the schedule of fees had to say about leaving a mountain of raw sewage in the parking lot.

“Well,” Andy said. “Okay.” He retrieved a piece of cardboard from the trunk of our car, maybe three feet by three feet, and tried to lift and fling the mess from the parking lot into a copse of trees.

But a piece of cardboard doesn’t make a good scooper; it’s really more of an icer, like, Andy was using the cardboard to ice the pile across the parking lot like you’d ice a cake. He abandoned that, after a while. He got four plastic bags from the trunk of our car and put the double bags on his hands like gloves. He scooped up handfuls and flung it into the trees.

When another RV and a car pulled into the parking lot, Andy stuck up his hands-in-plastic-bags like a guilty criminal as the headlights swept over us, but either they didn’t notice or didn’t care; they parked their RV near the office, dropped their keys in the drop box and drove away.

Andy never once complained, about the pig roast he hadn’t wanted to go to, the eight-hour drive he hated, the camping, the river of shit.

“Let’s try washing the pavement?” I suggested, and found a hose. It didn’t stretch—we had parked in the furthest possible spot. I found a bucket. We ferried dozens of buckets of water to sluice the blacktop, realizing too late that the lot was on a grade, and the grade sloped gently downhill to the front door of the office.

We wondered what the fee would be for creating a river of filth that ran from the furthest corner of their lot to their front door.

We gave up. We put the keys in the drop box and drove back to our apartment in Brooklyn, where Andy bagged up our clothes and shoes and washed them the next day. He never once complained, about the pig roast he hadn’t wanted to go to, the eight-hour drive he hated, the camping, the river of shit.

This was about the time that Lori Gottlieb wrote “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (which later became a book) in The Atlantic, exhorting young women to lower their standards for a mate, lest they end up sad and alone. While I wasn’t influenced by that essay specifically, the anxiety of being 33 and unmarried was getting to me. And so I doubled down on what was a fine relationship—we loved each other, he was intelligent and kind, he would clean up sewage without complaining—but not a terrific relationship: He did not want marriage and kids, and didn’t want to give up a precarious artistic life to support them. Still, a fine relationship is better than no relationship. I demanded a proposal.

Our wedding was less fun than the RV thing

It took us five months to set a date, a date to walk to City Hall to stand in front of the—I don’t even know who it was—the clerk? I felt a strange combination of embarrassment and rage, like I’d won a tug of war because the other person let go of the rope and let me fall on my ass in the mud and then stood there with his hands on his hips saying okay, you win.

© flickr/joebeone

We got married in May and drove upstate for a two-night honeymoon, an event that had all the romantic thrill of phoning your insurance company after a car accident. We walked around a lake and looked at birds. I remember the details with such brilliant clarity and depressed weight, the slow-motion of going through a trauma, like you might remember with great detail the coffee kiosk in the hospital as you wait for a loved one to die.

It wasn’t great for him either! He hadn’t even wanted to get married and now he had a depressed wife in the car, picking at lint on her coat, head in her hands, feigning great interest in public radio. It was a relief to go back to Brooklyn.

Every generation gets the fear statistics they deserve

Slate recently covered the dearth of eligible (read: employed) bachelors in the United States: 91 men for every 100 women. The comments after the article went along the lines of the comments after the Atlantic article:

“Sorry ladies but it is sexist to expect men to be a provider… Buy it yourself. We can still hang out and bang, at least till your 35 or 40, but I am not picking up the tab.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution linked to the story on their Facebook page. First comment: “Sad. Women looking for a meal ticket rather than a good match and future father. Money isn’t everything.”

An article that is essentially about a lousy economy and a continued job crisis—and how finding a mate who both wants kids and is prepared to support them is somewhat more challenging than it was in 1963—immediately becomes a story about how women suck, amirite?

“Marry Him!” urged women to settle for a lackluster marriage rather than no marriage at all, a directive so depressing that even the author couldn’t do it. Any discussion of settling—any discussion of how women should run their personal lives at all—seems finely calibrated to both freak out and excoriate women ages 33 to 40. (This is, perhaps coincidentally, the moment women enter their peak career years.)

Susan Faludi’s canonical Backlash, published in 1991, noted a constant media “bulletin of despair”: “Single women are grieving from a man shortage. The New York Times reports: Childless women are ‘depressed and confused’ and their ranks are swelling.”

An ultimatum is not the answer

You might win. But it’s like winning the “never-tardy” award at school: For a brief moment you’re proud, until you realize that the other kids were late because they were busy starting very successful Internet companies.

The very existence of the ultimatum meant we were doomed. We should have gotten up one morning, and made our toast, and one of us should have said calmly, you know, we just don’t want the same things, and you should move out. But the thing is, in two thousand mornings of toast, it’s hard to make that toast the day you say goodbye. It’s easier to brush your teeth and go to work.

As much as I would have liked to try a strategy for finding a mate, or followed someone’s instructions, too much of it was just bumbling around and hoping for the best.

The car situation—head in my hands—expanded to include our home life. We sat in silence, not companionable, behind our respective screens. I went down to our car, parked on our deserted warehouse street, and chain-smoked, listening to the Big Band station on the radio. Occasionally I would say to someone, when we went somewhere, “We’re newlyweds!” just to examine the amount of space between their cheerful congratulations and the well of despair and dread I felt.

Two months after our wedding we had the conversation we should have had over toast years earlier. Of course, it was awful: I sobbed and even wailed, furious at my own foolishness, furious at him for not having the nerve to end things before they got to this point, furious at myself for the same. He moved back into his own apartment, which he had not given up in six years, in the space of a day.

Within a couple of weeks, it was like it had never happened. We filed for an annulment. My spirits lifted in a way they hadn’t in years. I contemplated dating, a prospect that filled me, actually, with excitement. I bought new clothes and makeup. My only worry—of course! I was 33!—was that I wouldn’t meet someone “in time” to have a child.

© flickr/JD Hancock
What do the men think about this?

There are a couple of ways that men think about women “settling.” The ugliest is that a woman tricks a “nice guy” into thinking she loves him and lets him support her and her greedy baby dreams. The six years of comments on Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic article raise this specter: deceitful trickster women, who see men only as paychecks. The (primarily male) commenters disapprove. The comments on the Slate article concur: The problem is gold-digging women, who won’t marry nice-but-poor guys.

However! The other, not logically consistent, view of settling is that women aren’t worth anything anyway, and they should know it, too. These discussions always rate women on a scale of 1 to 10: the Tens that a man would dream of getting with; the Eights who he thinks are, with a little effort, rightfully his. But it’s the rejection from the Sixes that really make him confused and angry. These Sixes are not the “hot little blondes” they were 25 years ago; they need to be making “more compromises, not less.” These men approve of Gottlieb’s advice of don’t be so picky—because they don’t value women, so why should women value themselves?

In October of that year I met a man at a party whom I really liked the looks of—dark Irish, a musician, a teacher. He chatted with me for a moment and then moved away, and I shrugged. But he refilled his plate and circled back to talk some more. On our fifth date I pointed out that he’d run out of soap, perhaps mildly complaining that I couldn’t wash my hands. On our sixth date there were 90 bars of soap in the bathroom. Within a month he brought up his desire to get married and have children, as soon as possible. So we did just that: married at 35, first kid at 36, second at 39. He makes me laugh every day. We have more fun standing in traffic court than I would in Paris with anyone else.

Having small kids is much harder than I thought it would be, especially without family nearby. Imagine you are Sisyphus, only along with the rock is a toddler who keeps asking why? Giving a bottle to a struggling one-year-old, my husband said, “It’s like you’re in a bar fight, and suddenly the other guy asks you to feed him.” Imagine if your second in this fight, or your cut man in the boxing ring—imagine if you really didn’t like or trust that guy, and you weren’t sure, as you were rolling up your sleeves, that he’d even stick around to tend your wounds. That’s what settling is. You wouldn’t settle for your cut man.

© flickr/beth scupham

I don’t know why I married Andy. I suppose I was settling, but it was a sincere kind of settling—like a frog settles into boiling water. And it was only luck that led me to my current husband. As much as I would have liked to try a strategy for finding a mate, or followed someone’s instructions, too much of it was just bumbling around and hoping for the best.

Directives to women are usually framed as two not-so-hot choices: settle, or be alone forever? (Or, are you an unhappy career woman or a bored housewife? Grim breastfeeder, chained to a pump for a year, or negligent formula-feeder?) Exhortations about marriage are also frequently linked to “biology” and fertility statistics. It ignores that a woman’s reproductive years are actually quite long, that men don’t have much more time than we do, and that women don’t need a male partner to have a family. As the excellent blogger Glosswich writes, the issue isn’t nature, biology, or the female body, it’s a culture that writes off and excludes women.

Will there be women who wanted male partners and biological children and didn’t get them? Of course. There are no guarantees, for anyone. But the cultural trope of the lonely spinster has been used as a boogeyman for too long: There are plenty of ways to have a family besides partnering with a man. Millennials are increasingly uninterested in marriage; perhaps the hard social line between “married” and “single” will blur. And single people have more friends than married people. Perhaps this is the dawn of a new, more flexible era that embraces that life is long, monogamy is difficult, children are inevitable, and human relationships are unpredictable.

The women are all right. It’s the world that’s imperfect. It’s interesting that in all the infinite possibilities that make up “imperfect,” women are apparently singlehandedly responsible for ensuring perfection in the domestic sphere, and bitterly criticized when things go awry: Alone? You should have settled. Your marriage broke up? You settled, you should have known better. Have a baby on your own? Selfish, plus greedy, because you didn’t want to marry someone you’d have to support. Baby too young? Slutty, irresponsible. Baby too old? I feel sorry for your kid, you’ll be dead by the time he’s 25.

It’s no wonder that a woman might feel a little squashed by all the potential wrong turns. I married Andy in a clutch of fear—but once it was done, the permanent barring of real happiness was so much worse than the risk of never marrying. And my current, unexpected, un-strategized-for marriage has brought me a tremendous amount of happiness.

So at the risk of exhorting women to do anything, let me say: It’s not the dearth of men, it’s not biology, it’s not feminism, it’s not the economy. It’s the constraints that will make you miserable. Don’t deliberately shut off possibilities for happiness. Don’t settle.

Photo: flickr/beleaveme

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Single, over-thirty females, repeat after me:

There is absolutely, positively no reason to get married except irresistible love. There is absolutely, positively no reason to get married except…

Scratch that. Don’t repeat after me. Don’t pay attention to anything I say. When it comes to something as important as marriage, please don’t insult yourself by seeking guidance from columnists, lifestyle gurus, or the plots of romantic comedies. Apparently, these same sources got under the skin of Lori Gottlieb, commingled with her own exhausting life experience as a single mother and prompted the mixed-up manifesto that is her book, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” The Atlantic essay-turned-new-book-soon-to-turn-movie exhorts you to make the biggest and most preventable mistake of your life by ditching your dreams of lifelong love and hitching yourself to the least offensive Tom, Dick or Irwin who comes your way.

God, I hate lecturing this way. A Martian, newly arrived on Earth — or at least in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble — might get the impression that women care truly, madly and deeply — but mostly madly — about the life choices that other women make. Not me. Yet, every once in a while, I read something like Marry Him, and I don’t just disagree. I combust. I want to stick a flashing red light on my head and rush down the street, parting traffic while screaming, “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!

For starters, there is the book’s merry penchant for mixing statements of the stunningly obvious and the wildly dubious, and treating the result as revelatory. Obvious: no man is perfect; loneliness sucks. Dubious: endless anecdotes about women who wish they had married young; zero mention of all the women out there who wish they hadn’t. Allegedly revelatory: young women who rule out romance with anyone who wears bow ties, stands less than six feet tall or fails to swear that he could never love any other woman as much as he loves her, even if she happens to die, run a high risk of becoming old women on the speed-dating circuit.

This brings us to the seemingly willful confusion of defining love down with growing up. Gottlieb appears to equate recognition that life is not a fairy tale with resignation to the idea that marriage need not be a love story, unless “love” is defined in its most dishwater, fireworks-free form. Granted, long before she gets anywhere near a marriage license, a half-wise woman will either have discarded her girlish romantic checklist, or reworked it so that points of style (abdominal six-pack, flashy job title, speaks Italian) are subordinated to those of substance (kindness, loyalty, mental stability). Men will have done the same. But that is not “settling.” That is graduating from high school.

More flawed than the terms of the argument, though, is the tone of it. Although the book is pitched as a reality check, Gottlieb has merely swapped the fantasy of a knight in shining armor who will sweep a damsel off her feet for the fantasy of a mensch in baggy cardigan who will fold the stroller for her. She discards the myth that marriage is a long, hot love affair – and embraces the myth that marriage is a bottomless cup of hot cocoa; a dual-pedal paddle through waters of financial and emotional calm.

Excuse me?

Whether the dream figure is Prince Charming or Steady Teddy, the salient appeal is the same: the presence of the male instantly, greatly and permanently eases the burden of the female. But what if instead he becomes the burden, as any man or woman may do at any time? As long as his biggest problem is a receding hairline, Mr. Good Enough may well remain good enough. But what about when he has an illness or an accident? What if the child she’s drafted him to sire turns out to have a major problem? Assuming he’s no crazier about her than she is about him, what happens when he – oops! — meets someone who does feel like fate?

Those are just the great big nightmares, which Mrs. Settle may be spared. But how about when Mother Of Hairline decides she’d like to move in? Or his brother needs another loan? Or his career is sure to flourish in a new place where hers is sure to fade?

For the love of one’s life, one will work through all this and more. For one’s conjugal consolation prize? Not so much.

Ultimately, though, Gottlieb’s real wrong is done to those whom she is trying to set right. For reasons that defy all logic and deny the 20th-century triumph that is female empowerment, our culture insists upon making good, productive — and often downright fabulous — women feel like garbage if they are not paired off and procreating. But for crying out loud, the answer is not for such women to find themselves a Mr. Not-So-Bad. The answer — or at least part of it — is for other women to help drown out that dimwit cultural chorus, not join it.

Settling For Mr. Good Enough

I usually make a morning stop by Dad’s House blog as I begin my day. There’s always an entertaining read–the perspective of a single dad who talks about parenting and sex, cocktails and sex, Internet dating and sex…well, you get the picture. But this single dad is also keenly aware (and opinionated) when it comes to the world around him. This morning, his comments concern the soon-to-be released book by Lori Gottlieb, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

I saw. I read. I paused. I flinched.

Settling for Less Than What You Want

It is the word used for agreeing to negotiations yielding an unsatisfactory result, and in a relationship, “settling” is ripe with negative connotations–in marriage or dating. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “settling” in a relational context has everything to do with giving in, giving up and sometimes shutting up when it comes to the foibles of another human being–or aspects of our lives that leave us less than content.

Thus, the clearly intentional use of the word “settling” in (perfect) proximity to “good enough”. Frankly, all aspects of this (successfully crafted) title rankle–excellent for book sales (I imagine), and irritating for those who, like me, realize that “settling for good enough” touches on much of what is wrong in our society.

Yes, I Will Read the Book

This is one I’ll drop the dollars for (with annoyance), hoping for the promised humor, and to see if the content has anything to do with reason; apparently, there are distinctions made between what constitutes “good enough” for single women versus married women, and more. And while flabbergasted at the implication that this is purely a female phenomenon (Gottlieb has, after all, targeted women so they may “marry”), I’ll need to peruse more than a summary or review to see what I make of this particular book.

I’ll be crystal clear. My dating experience these past years (post-divorce), and that of many of my friends, offers anecdotal evidence that men in the 40+ age bracket, in this country, are anything but reasonable when it comes to their expectations as they search out Ms. Right by checklist. And generally, they get her. I’ll qualify further: They get her, if their wallet is fat enough.

Do I have the feminine side of the house bristling at that? Yes, I’m generalizing. Another yes, I believe it to be true. Let’s go for a third: There are terrific men on the planet who have not found a Ms. Right or a Ms. Good Enough. And as for those monikers, I tolerate the former and, ugh, I shudder at the latter, as applied to either gender.

Marketing: One. The Rest of Us: Zero

Once again–words twist and spin; words influence sales and self-esteem. Words shape culture (and psychology) even as culture restructures our language.

The dilemma? We take these pop culture terms and their underlying concepts as absolutes. As truths. We don’t think them through. Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong, and the cute quips about Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now. (Shudder again.)

This may make for amusing banter, great marketing, strong book sales, quickie reads, (and more commodity-style dating), but the end result is score one for the commercial transactions involved (good for the economy), and score nothing for the rest of us.

“Good Enough” in Business Vs. Our Personal Lives

What if “Settling for Good Enough” were instead “Content with Good” as a title? Doesn’t that change the game? Doesn’t that change the way we who are deemed second-class citizens of the realms of “good enough” perceive ourselves? Isn’t that really where we all belong–imperfect but luminous in our very-goodness, in the game of getting to know potential friends, lovers and life partners?

Call me crazy, but since when is perfection, comparison and competition the norm (and entitlement?) in every aspect of life? Perhaps that’s Gottlieb’s very point (or not), but her terminology makes me cringe!

Not her fault, you say? The way we speak, you say? Exactly.

Rocket Science, Precision Engineering, Medical Breakthroughs, Car Shopping

I may hope for exceptional quality (perfectionism?) when it comes to life-and-death scenarios. I’ll take high doses, thank you, when it comes to rocket science, precision engineering and meticulous standards in our buildings, airplanes, heating and air systems, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. But a perfect match vs. one who is (woefully) “good enough?”

How did we end up comparison shopping for romantic partners the way we wander from one auto dealership to the next, looking for the best trade-offs of features and price? This year’s BMW vs. last year’s Audi?

What if we thought of “good enough” as “good for me?”

Book Sales, Car Sales, Superlatives and Sense of Self

I concede. Marry Him: Content with Good makes a lousy book title, whereas Settling for Good Enough is a catchy one, even as it represents all that undermines our self-esteem and mars our expectations of what is reasonable and of value. We have become a nation of saucy superlatives, the superficial once-over, the readily bruised sense of self and the pop psychology quick fix.

We could, at the very least, pause. Process. Successful corporations understand that “good enough” is good. Often, very good. And “settling” implies reluctant acceptance of the begrudgingly accepted unacceptable.

What if we were more mindful of language that subtly transforms the way we see our world and each other? What if we rejected the concept of a man or woman as “good enough?”

Yes, I’ll read the book. And I haven’t even addressed the implication that we are all looking to marry (another topic entirely). But more than that, I’ll continue to insist that we choose our words with greater care, take time to think before we speak, and most definitely, look beyond the superficial, the 10 tips for the love-go-round or any other pop culture confection that promises an easy way to find treasure in each other. That, to my mind, can only be about maximizing opportunities to meet a variety of people, then opening our eyes, taking our time, and following a route as individual as each and every one of us.

D. A. Wolf is a freelance writer and blogger at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy, where this post originally appeared. Follow her on Twitter @BigLittleWolf.

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Marry Him

Looking for Mr. Right? You’re probably doing it all wrong.

At least, this is Lori Gottlieb’s message in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. If the title sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you heard it back in February 2008, when Gottlieb’s identically titled article appeared in The Atlantic.

The controversial article documented Gottlieb’s loneliness and regret at entering her 40s a single mom with no inkling of romantic prospects. She addressed a message to single women everywhere: Stop looking for Mr. Perfect and settle for less while you still can.

Gottlieb’s message struck a nerve and prompted a firestorm of response. From The Today Show to CBS News to The Economist, it seemed everyone was writing in with an opinion. While some related to Gottlieb’s unsettling message, many found fault with her undeveloped argument. It didn’t help that the article’s caustic and sarcastic tone distanced the women it was meant to reach. People wondered: Was Gottlieb just desperate? Man-crazy? Completely off her rocker?
With a second chance (and 300+ pages) to plead her case, Gottlieb redeems herself.

Where Gottlieb’s article was harsh and incomplete, her book is friendly and persuasive. Where the former seemed bitter, the latter is endearing. (Even her wistful dedication is charming: “For my husband, whoever you are.”) As a book, “Marry Him” delves more deeply into Gottlieb’s search for love and clarifies her message: Women need to be more open-minded and realistic when it comes to love.

It seems that even after Gottlieb’s Atlantic article, she needed her own dose of realism. Her book starts with a list of the 61 characteristics she used to look for in a mate. (“Warm but not clingy,” “Over 5’10” but under 6’0”,” and “Not moody” all made the list.) For the most part, nothing on her list seems entirely unreasonable, but the number and inflexibility of her requirements worried Gottlieb. Wondering whether she’d been so insistent on “an instant spark and a checklist” that she forgotten what really mattered in a mate, Gottlieb set out to find the answer in “Marry Him.”

In her search, Gottlieb seems to cover everything, from her own issues (“I had a classic Cinderella complex”) to how feminism helped create unrealistic expectations (“Which is exactly how many of us empowered ourselves out of a good mate”) to where economics and business fit in to your love story (read: everywhere).

Gottlieb easily weaves these topics into her own experiences: from speed dating to online dating to dating coaches, she becomes our “dating guinea pig.”
Throughout “Marry Him,” she acts as the reader’s stand in – a devil’s advocate for her own argument. She shows that she understands settling for “Mr. Good Enough” in real life is not only a lot harder than it sounds on paper, but that it goes against the beliefs and attitudes most of us have been practicing throughout our lives.

In fact, Gottlieb cleverly structures “Marry Him” so that the reader gets on board the Good Enough train several chapters before she realizes that she has. Even though you may creep through the beginning of “Marry Him” with indignation, you’ll soon be wondering why Gottlieb is holding you up at the station. When she finally decides to (literally) let go of her 61-requirement list, we cheer her decision and smile as she contemplates sending it to a sorority “as a cautionary tale.”
It is not just Gottlieb’s tone and guinea pig status that make her so convincing. It is the seemingly endless list of studies, stats, and experts that she quotes.

Gottlieb’s Atlantic essay might have been hard to swallow when she seemed like the only dissenting voice at our raging girl-power party, but “Marry Him” makes room for many voices that support her claims. From matchmakers to psychiatrists to sociologists to economists to friends, family, and strangers, it’s this chorus that finally sways us.

That’s not to say that “Marry Him” doesn’t have its faults. As Gottlieb fights to answer the question, “How much compromise is too much compromise?” she repeats herself. And the many different ways that “Marry Him” manages to say, “Be more realistic!” might have you screaming “Okay! I get it!” Also, by the end of the book, it seems as if Gottlieb has written a few too many lists – although fortunately they are all far under the 61-characteristic limit. In addition, while almost all of “Marry Him” feels like a well-conceived and convincing argument on how to find a more realistic Mr. Right, its end is too preachy.

Yet despite its faults, “Marry Him” is worth your time. You might be skeptical, but if you’ve ever sought your own Prince Charming, nixed a guy because you didn’t feel an immediate spark, been attracted to the “bad boy,” or found yourself expecting perfection, this book is for you. After you read this honest and admittedly unsettling book, your love life will never be the same again. And that’s a good thing.

Kate Vander Wiede is a freelance writer in Boston.