More And More Men Are Settling For Ms. Good Enough

This week, my friend Arielle Ford, author of The Soulmate Secret, sent me a link to a Daily Beast article. The author of the article interviewed anthropologist Helen Fisher, PhD, of Rutgers. (Fisher has written five books and conducted extensive research on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love. Her latest is Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love.) Fisher’s latest study is of singles in America.

Fisher explains it this way. “We have a stereotype in this culture that it’s men who are the ones who don’t want to commit, who don’t want to settle down, who are the scarce resources. But in fact, it’s the opposite.”

There’s an old adage: a woman who can’t find a man is a spinster; a man who doesn’t want a wife is the envy of all his friends. Fisher says “We have a stereotype in this culture that it’s men who are the ones who don’t want to commit, who don’t want to settle down, who are the scarce resources. But in fact, it’s the opposite.”

There’s an old adage: a woman who can’t find a man is a spinster; a man who doesn’t want a wife is the envy of all his friends.

Rather than living up to the stereotype of commitment-phobic bachelors, modern men reported that they fell in love just as often as women, and were just as likely to believe that marriage is “forever.”

The study found that 31 percent of adult men said they’d commit to a person they were not in love with –- as long as as she had all the other attributes they were looking for in a mate —- and 21 percent said they’d commit under those same circumstances to somebody they weren’t sexually attracted to. The equivalent numbers for women were far lower.

“There’s this transformation going on,” says Tom Matlack, co-founder of The Good Men Project, which aims to discuss and debunk modern male stereotypes. “It’s kind of like feminism on its head: for years, women were trying to earn the right to get out of the house, and here are all these men dying to get back into [it].”

Said one study participant, “We all marry our second or third or fourth best choice. It’s just life.”

This article echoes Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic article-turned-bestseller, Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. In it, Gottlieb counseled women to forget the search for a mythical soulmate and nab a good man who wants to be a husband and father (lest they end up, like Gottlieb herself, alone and regretful at 40).

Read the article here. As always, I’d like you know what you think.


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  1. 1

    I’m not terribly surprised.  Men aren’t really any less likely to want a loving, fulfilling relationship than women.  Perhaps they are just a bit more reasonable and willing to compromise because they also bear most of the burden of rejection.  There are, of course, those men that refuse to settle for anything less than June Cleaver in a Playboy bunny’s body, but I don’t think your average man is quite that blind.  However, I do think that because of greater freedom and less actually “need” to have a husband than generations past has made women pickier.  Picky isn’t even bad, as long as you’re being picky about the right things.  No alcoholic, drug-addicted, mean-tempered people?  Check.  But 6′ 2″, $100,000/yr, and emotionally available too?  Perhaps that’s just a tad unrealistic.  The only problem I have is that relaxing the criteria for tall, well paid, muscular, blonde, etc. is lumped in with excluding the mean alcoholics and drug addicts when the word “settle” comes up.  Why in the world would you lump that stuff together?
    Still, I was concerned about one of those statistics, and that was the 21% who would commit to a woman they are not sexually attracted to.  It could be because I’m not a guy, but the idea of having sex with someone I don’t find sexually attractive is pretty horrible to me.  Mostly because, if I don’t find him sexually attractive, I’m not going to enjoy having sex with him.  Doesn’t it work the same for men?  If so, this just seems like they are setting themselves up for failure, either with affairs later or sexual frustration for one or both partners.  That really disturbs me.  Any thoughts on that, Evan?

  2. 2

    Sorry, but I don’t believe any of this has to do with gender differences or gender issues. Men and women, who have a lot going for them in terms of looks, money, career, intellect etc do NOT settle because they don’t need to. The “settling” is almost always done by those who are lacking in these areas. The difference here is that women tend to expect more from marriage and would rather be alone than in a less than satisfactory union. Their ability to make friends and their emotional resilience ensure they are never lonely. The other point is that women with lower “market value” have gotten used to being alone, not having been asked out on dates or having been dropped for someone “better”. Men on the other hand, get the message a bit later. They initially refuse to believe (because their egos won’t let them) they have low market value as partners, and keep trying and trying and finally they realise they are not going to get what they want or think they deserve.

    1. 2.1

      Many men settle because they try to marry when they are too young, and are less marketable.  A man in his 40s has what a woman wants if he is industrious:  a position of relative power, income, stability, he is more mature emotionally, and when compared to his younger self……MUCH more desirable! 
      My advise to any man who is reading this and in his 20s, work on your career, set yourself up for success in 10 years, and DONT let a woman move in with you!
      You will amaze yourself at how many women will find you irresistible when you are older, stable, and in charge of something other than the TV remote.

  3. 3
    Shaswata P

    Pleasure is nothing positve in any intrinsic way….examine pleasant sensations and realize that objectively it doesnot bring any innate benefit…when men relaize this they will also not feel any need to chase after women …

    Men will then settle for No Miss and not just Ms. Good Enough…Hope this helps everybody Thank you 

  4. 4

    Sometimes i think that being single is not such a bad idea after all.

  5. 5

    Yes, sthrnphoenix, this is what I didn’t get from the study too – that men will settle for women they weren’t sexually attracted to ?!? Makes me think this study is flawed. Then again, maybe it is just in the wording. I think it is more likely that men and women settle for partners they find attractive enough to have sex with. There is absolutely no way any man or woman will have a partner they did not find attractive. For a man, sex becomes  impossible because there needs to be a physical reaction for that to happen. For women, sex is possible only in a technical sense. She will be loathing every minute of it and unless there is utterly no way out for her, she will be gone.

  6. 6

    My opinion is that this article is scary! I’m in my 20′s and I don’t really like to think that I will marry someone who thinks I’m his second best thing… Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching the Disney fairy-tales where love is instantaneous and forever. It’s hard for me think that I will be someone who doesn’t really feel anything for me, doesn’t think of me when I’m not around, doesn’t miss me, doesn’t dream about me… And that’s why maybe I won’t get married and neither will most of the females my generation! Since we don’t need men financially, we want to be with someone because of the true love that exists, so we refuse to ”settle”. We heard that men settle, it’s not surprising for us to know they marry their 2nd or 3rd choice, but nobody wants that! No girl is taught to be realistic when it comes to love and when they see men drooling over stupid supermodels like they are goddesses but being with us just because it’s life it’s enfuriating! Oh, if only men weren’t so shallow and average-looking girls actually had a chance…

  7. 7

    Average look girls probably have a much better chance than average looking males.  When a woman initiates contact on an online-dating site, they are 5-6 more times likely to get a positive response and eventual date than if a man does.
    I don’t know how much truth there is to the adage of men dreaming of many women and women dreaming of one man, but I think the opportunities for single women are significantly greater than single men. Women can afford to be picky.  And make jokes about men gawking at supermodels…

  8. 8

    @Patricia #6
    The problem with average men and women is this: to the average man, the average woman looks great.  To the average woman, the average man looks like crap.
    Truth is, in dating, average women still can come out on top by being pleasant and kind-hearted.  The average man, on the other hand, pretty much has to move Heaven and Earth to get a woman’s attention.  Even after that, he has to bring his A game because it’s one thing to get your foot in the door, but something totally different to stay in the door.
    Not being one of the “alphas” myself, I’ve had to develop such things as wit, humor, and charm, since I never had the luxury of female attention.  This isn’t me being negative, but just merely reflecting what I’ve seen over the years.
    It’s pretty much given that if you’re lacking in one arena, you bolster up the others.  (i.e.  if you’re an average looking guy, then you have to boost wit, charm, humor, and kindness through the roof)

    1. 8.1

      See my comment above too.  An average man who has really made something out of himself (ie a true career that he planned out, educated himself appropriately, and so forth) will have an “alpha” edge to hi relative to the younger version of himself.

  9. 9

    I’m a hopeless romantic and huge believer in manifesting the life you think you are going to have. So, I would firstly say, if people have the attitude that they will never meet their perfect partner and their time is running out, of course they are going to ‘panic marry’. But I think it is such a shame, because I do really think everyone is capable of great happiness with someone and when you marry someone who you don’t truly feel that 100% for, you are not only preventing yourself from meeting your Mr/Mrs Right, you are also stopping your partner from meeting theirs. I have felt so much heartache seeing people marry someone because they have just ‘given up on the seach for love’. It’s not good for either party to be together because they are ‘good enough’. I really hope more people learn to believe they can have true happiness, because I genuinely believe you can. I shall marry someone who I love 100%. After all, the saying goes, ‘What you believe you achieve!’

  10. 10

    Raiden, I’m not sure what you are talking about. I mean that part of average women still coming out on top. I was and still am Ms Average and has ALWAYS been left on the shelf. The only men who ever showed interest in me were invariably drunk, old (as in over 60) or had some physical deficit or another (very very bad acne, very bad teeth etc). The fat ones didn’t even bother since it would have taken too much energy and their testosterone didn’t really work either, with all that estrogen receptive fat. Being bereft of choice, I normally gave these blokes a chance to impress me with their personality, despite the handicap. I can truly say that my average looks far surpassed the way below average looks of these men.
    I think it is a truism that men always aim higher than what they think they can get, with the expectation that they just might score that big one occasionally, or even less than occasionally. Just one big score might be enough for their egos. I think men refuse to accept that they just might be below par in the mating stakes. Their egos won’t let them. So they keep trying and trying and trying until finally it dawns on them, perhaps when they are too old and tired to try any more, that they are never going to get what they want, or think they deserve.

  11. 11

    @Androgynous #10
    What I mean is that, from my experience and observations, an average woman with a nice personality that gives a guy no grief can net more mates on average as opposed to the average man with excellent qualities.
    As far as most men shooting for higher than they think they can get, I can’t speak for all men, but a lot of guys, as denoted from the study, know when to leave well enough alone.  A lot of guys may want to go for the Heidi Klums and Kim Kardashians, but they know they have a better chance of being struck by lightning than to land any of the above types of women.  In short, they go with the best option of woman that they can build a sensible life with.

  12. 12

    i am the voice of the woman who did marry the nice guy that everyone (family and friends) thought was so great. He was great, but for someone else. Everyone kept saying to me “marry him, marry him” and eventually I did. It was a disaster through and through, ending in divorce after 17 years of trying to make it work. My perspective? Hold out for love. I don’t mean the infatuated, intense chemistry type thing, but I do believe passion is something different. If you’re going to live with someone and have a family with them, passion will help you get through anything and make your life together much richer. Marrying your 2nd, 3rd or 4th option is an insult to the other person. They deserve better and so do you.

  13. 13

    I’m not  so sure I agree with this study, I mean it’s just an average no pun intended lol! I think women tend to be a bit more shallow than men ( I am a woman) I say men not boys after a guy ( a lot of them not all ) turns I’d say 28 or so he starts appreciating different things about women . I think too when a man looks at what i call avg girl he may see a beautiful woman but when we look we analyze everythin about her and say she is just average women are more detailed oriented men see ugly, pretty , or hot lols

  14. 14

    I am so confused by the comments. First of all, isn’t beauty in the eyes of the beholder, so what is average for some, good looking for others. In my opinion, we need to be looking for compatibility in core values (first), then physical compatibility and so on. Physical appearance fades, what’s underneath stays.

  15. 15

    I think the word “settle” has a negative connotation but what I am hearing is to figure out what qualities are most important to me and let the others slide.  The overall “score” may be a 7 but I have someone with the critical qualities.  For example, I am most attracted to engineers – I find them smart, pragmatic, and reassuring.  Other women are going to see BORING.  I’m sure the men who are “keen” on me have had to make their own “compromises.”  That is fine as long as we both get what is most important.

  16. 16

    I think one difference is perception of “settling.” I don’t put people on numerical charts, but did so here to make this easier to explain.   This is something I’ve seen from life through the years:

    A guy who is a “5″ is certain he deserves an “8″ … because “he’s not so superficial and can date regular girls.”  When he strikes out with 8′s and 7′s long enough, he “settles” for 6′s.  She may still have more going for him than he does, but he “settled” by not getting the women he wanted most.   As Raiden said: ” lot of guys may want to go for the Heidi Klums and Kim Kardashians, but they know they have a better chance of being struck by lightning than to land any of the above types of women. ”  So, instead, they go for the second best looking women in the room, instead of the first.  And call it “settling.”

  17. 17

    This one is tricky, Evan. Too many unmeasurable variables. I am an average, modest person inside (always have been) who once upon a time had above average looks outside. (now I am 50, I still look pretty good but I am realistic about my aging)

    10 years ago I was with an average guy who deemed me “out of his league” but instead of appreciating my wonderful, intangible qualities all he focussed on was my looks; and since I never would treat him badly (I would never treat anyone badly) he started to treat ME badly.

    I went on to experience some inexplicable behaviour from him – I think that he (men?) equate kindness and niceness with low self esteem, and he began to push buttons trying to elicit some kind of diva behaviour from me – maybe to justify his own low self esteem and deal with the fact that he always felt not good enough to be with me. It’s as though he would be pushing me away, expecting me to justify why I would chose to be with him, well, it worked – it became unbearable and I finally left…

    I have always looked for the good, decent man with quality character – height and looks, hair, occupation, etc. have never been factors for me, (although being grossly overweight and some unhealthy lifestyle choices are my dealbreakers)

    But for some reason, being open, approachable and warmly welcoming has had the opposite effect – it’s as though if a woman is not mysterious and hard to get she is not worth the effort. Do men think that a woman is settling if she is agreeable and easy to be with???
    Guys? What do you think?

  18. 18

    @ Androgynous #10
    I don’t know if you can appreciate the irony of what you wrote…

  19. 19

    There has to be something between the kind of settling that seems to be described here and the fairy tale stories that get so many of us in trouble. Marrying someone because basically they are “nice” and are willing to start a family seems pretty depressing if you ask me.
    I’m not convinced that the 31% of men claiming they’d commit to someone they aren’t in love with are telling the truth either. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m not at all convinced that the men interviewed in the study had similar views of what “in love” means. Some might have rejected the notion believing it meant the kind of passion people tend to feel in the early stages of a relationship, something that doesn’t last in the long term. 
    But I do agree that there are many men out there who want to commit. That part of the research is accurate.

  20. 20

    Tontae #17,
    This is a tough one.  While I want to say it shouldn’t matter, I just think it’s human nature for both men and women to become more intrigued by someone perceived as harder to obtain.
    I know that I’ve done better, that is, have had woman more attracted to me when my attention was divided.  Conversely, when I’ve acted even a bit more than casually interested, I have never got the girl.
    Once in a relationship, this should all go out the window as I think you are both equals at that point.

  21. 21

    Seems like there are some odd inconsistencies in the study: That men are more visual and more likely to fall in love at first sight doesn’t jibe with 31% of men saying they are willing to marry someone they don’t love or 21% of men being willing to marry someone they are not attracted to. I think men do have biological clocks also, so maybe that explains the willingness of some men to compromise on physical attraction and love in order to have a family. Also, according to the study, poorer men fare the worst, since they have fewer resources to contribute.

    The study also found that, the older one is, the pickier: “People over 60 are pickier than any other age group when choosing a mate—insisting on both sexual attraction and love.” Once that clock stops ticking, again, people become pickier, even if they are considered less marketable, and have less time. 

  22. 22
    Katherine Wakefield

    My ex boyfriend was a great man.  But not for me.  I tried to make it work and everyone said i was lucky to have such a kind man.  No matter what i tried it didnt work for me.  I figured if i had to try that hard to make it work, i was definitely with the wrong man for me.  Im not waiting for the fairytale romance, but settling isnt an option for me.

  23. 23

    I have no problem with the assertion that some men will marry a woman they are not in love with or not sexually attracted to.  Just like some women, some men will marry for practical reasons — money, social status, a mother for their children, family pressure, corporate pressure, a fear of growing old alone, etc.
    I would venture a guess that one’s willingness to compromise on certain issues/traits changes as one ages.   On one hand, we learn what is truly important, on the other hand, the desire/motivation to commit lessens (for some of us) as we get older and we realize how content we are living the single life.

  24. 24

    Desdenova, I disagree about irony in my comments. I have never hankered or gone after men “out of my league” in looks and otherwise. I have always given men a chance, and not ruled out any relationship with them based on their looks or any outward sign of desirability. However, I have turned down men who are obviously just looking for physical contact and nothing else. I do find it cheeky that men with little going for them would try it on with average women like me – not for meaningful relationships in which they could offer qualities apart from their looks, but for sex alone in which the physical side counts for more than anything else.
    My observations about men shooting above their weight is corroborated by many others. Pineapple is right. A man ranked 4 in desirability thinks he is settling when he gets a 7 instead of a 9. A woman ranked 6 thinks she is settling when she gets a 3 instead of a 6 like her.

  25. 25

    @ Tontae 17: I have had this very same experience over and over. I am from the south and am living in New England. It was such a culture shock living up here and I noticed after 4 or 5 relationships that went exactly as you described, that it was a pattern.

    I have met the most wonderful, handsome, loving, honest, faithful, supportive, sharing, sexy, communicative boyfriend in the whole wide world (finally) and we love each other dearly. His family adores me, my family adores him, it’s all mutual, and we are a perfect fit. Ahhh. Thought it would never happen until I moved back down south again. Surprise. It did happen.

    If your inner truth is that the perfect love is waiting and you know exactly what it is and what it feels like but you just haven’t found it yet, you feel like I felt. I kept at it and found my perfect mate for life.

  26. 26

    This is what Lori Gottlieb had to say about men and settling in her original Atlantic article: “Settling is mostly a women’s game. Men settle far less often and, when they do, they don’t seem the least bit bothered by the fact that they’re settling.” Fisher’s study seems to agree with the latter part of Gottlieb’s statement, anyway – settling doesn’t faze men.

    But I have to wonder about the first part of Gottlieb’s quote: “Men settle far less often.” Statistically, it can’t be the case that men settle far less, unless she believes that women as a whole are so superior to men that very few men “settle” by her standards.

    Also, I think it’s interesting that so many commenters here have zeroed in on appearance as the means by which men “settle.” In fact, the Fisher study defined settling as marrying someone with whom they’re not in love or for whom they don’t feel sexual attraction.  Her study indicated that men are far more likely to be fine with this than women.

  27. 27

    Men are the gatekeepers to commitment.

  28. 28

    EMK, you catch my attention when you start quoting Helen Fisher!  Her claims are backed by biological research and she almost always has new insight to share. I was surprised by her revelation that men are more ready to settle.
    Compared to the other readers, I’m less insulted by the realistic statements by settling men.  While I wouldn’t get “You’re My Favorite 4th!” inscribed on my wedding cake, I’m experienced enough to know that we are all capable of loving more than one person.  Indeed, I can also recognize that some of those that I’ve loved the most (my 1st and 2nd) were not capable of loving me back in a healthy, long-term way.  An intelligent person can and will realize that that sort of “ideal” really isn’t ideal and she will “settle” for that guy who maybe isn’t quite as thrilling (but not boring), but will be a better partner.
    I now realize that this is my primary draw in the mating world: that I’m a “nice person”, with a pleasant face and am easy to get along with.   Instead of feeling insulted when guys aren’t tripping over themselves to be with me, I’ve learned to accept that it takes a while for a man to get to know me and appreciate what I bring to a relationship.  If and when we fall in love, I’ll not feel bad about the fact that he loves and treasures me more because I listen to him and give great hugs than because I have shiny blond hair and long, skinny legs. 

  29. 29

    That’s why there is 50% divorce rate.

  30. 30

    Great advice, but nowadays a lot of writing focusses on convincing fussy, entitled women to give a guy a break.

    What do you say to a woman who is trying her best, but can’t even get a second date, because men don’t find her attractive enough. 

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