Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling

Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling
I got an email from my sister the other day. She was forwarding an article written by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic, called “Marry Him – The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”. Actually, that’s not quite right. In fact, she was forwarding me a link to a gossip site called Jezebel, which was ripping the author for even posing the notion that settling was a reasonable idea. So first I read the criticism, then I read the article, then I read a post-article interview with Gottlieb, and then I watched Gottlieb defend herself on The Today Show.

It was very clear that Gottlieb was onto a hot-button issue. But why was she getting attacked from all angles? Why the seething vitriol at a single mother who suggests that it might be wiser to compromise at age 34 than to continue searching through a thinning talent pool at age 40? It was clear to me that the messenger was being shot for carrying a controversial message. But it wasn’t fully clear why. So I started talking with the very people who were upset about this piece – single women, 35-45. My clients.

They told me that the piece was offensive.

They told me that it speaks more about the author than it does of them.

They told me they were very happy being single and would sooner die alone than settle.

They told me that it’s unfair to single out women for “settling”. What about men?

Now, to be clear, I am very sympathetic to the plight of women looking for love. No, I’m not a woman, which inherently limits my understanding, but I am a dating coach who listens to the fears and complaints of women every single day. You’d be hard pressed to find a man more attuned to the frustrations of single women than I am. Yet from a coldly logical standpoint, I found Gottlieb’s argument virtually unassailable.

She didn’t say settling was ideal. She wasn’t saying that you should “settle” to the point that you’re miserable. She wasn’t saying that you couldn’t possibly be happy alone. She even admits that “talking about settling in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable”. So what was she saying? To paraphrase:

If you DO want that traditional American dream of husband + house + kids who look like you, then your odds of achieving it are greater if you “settle” in your early 30’s.

If you want to have your own biological children with a quality man, your options are considerably greater when you’re 32 than when you’re 42. And if that’s the case, it might behoove you to settle for a “good” guy when you’re younger, rather than hold out for an ideal guy when there are fewer quality options available.

I’m not sure what there is to argue with. I mean, you can make the argument that you’re perfectly happy being single. Great. Stay single. You can make the argument that you’d be suicidal if you were to marry the “wrong” guy. Certainly, you shouldn’t marry under those circumstances. But if you DO want that traditional American dream of husband + house + kids who look like you, then your odds of achieving it are greater if you “settle” in your early 30’s.

Here’s why:…

1) If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values is on the hunt for a wife, he is most likely is going to be attracted to someone younger. Wait, don’t shoot! I’ve got an older girlfriend, and have long advocated for the wisdom and experience of thirtysomethings over twentysomethings. But youth and beauty have always been coveted by men, and wishing it away doesn’t change a thing.

2) If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values wants to be the biological father to his own children, he is mostly likely going to be searching for someone younger. It makes perfect sense. He doesn’t want to have to rush the relationship, much less get engaged, married, and pregnant in a year. Thus, all things remaining equal, most 40-year-old men with a choice will choose to date a woman younger than 35. It buys them time. Time that 35-40 year-old women don’t have IF they want their own biological children.

If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values wants to be the biological father to his own children, he is mostly likely going to be searching for someone younger.

And that’s the caveat that I need to emphasize more than Gottlieb did in her article. If you don’t want children, you’ve got no reason to settle. If you already have children, you’ve got no reason to settle. If you’re fine adopting children, you’ve got no reason to settle. But if you want to have your own kids, you have a far better pool of male applicants at age 30 than you do at age 40. It’s not that it’s impossible. Women in their late 30’s and early 40’s fall in love, get married, and get pregnant all the time. It’s just more difficult, that’s all.

Which is why this should not be taken as a judgment against women over 35. It’s merely an observation about the dating preferences of men. It’s not like women don’t know this. If they weren’t fully aware that men discriminated by age, they wouldn’t be lowering their ages to 29, 34, and 39 on dating sites across America. And what these women have surely realized – what they voice to me on the phone daily – is that the quality of their suitors is abysmal.

Are all the good ones taken? Not quite. But here’s a lot of what you’re going to get as a 40-year-old woman on Match.com: Commitmentphobes. Players. Financially unstable guys. Unattractive guys. Socially awkward guys. Much younger guys. Much older guys. Look in your in-box. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know….

So where are the tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old men with six-figure incomes and great family values? Searching for women 25-35, that’s where. And while some of those 25-35 women are getting married to these guys, many others are holding out for better men –younger, richer, cuter, smarter. Are they wrong for doing so? Hell, no. They’re following their hearts. They know what they’re worth. They WILL. NOT. SETTLE. In the meantime, they focus on their careers, their friends, their travel, and their homes, because that’s more rewarding than the tedious, maddening process that is dating. But occasionally, as these women near 40, things begin to shift. They find themselves lonely at holidays, or fed up with weddings, or feeling a biological pull that can’t be ignored. So, once again, they decide to gamely search for Mr. Right. But who’s left to choose from? Mostly (not exclusively), a parade of the “wrong” men on Match.com.

Given all that, I find it hard to disagree with Gottlieb’s assertion that, for women who want their own kids, it may be a better long-term decision to snap up Mr. Good Enough at 32 than to hope for Mr. Perfect at 42.

It sure ain’t romantic, but it is practical. People hate practical.

It sure ain’t romantic, but it is practical. People hate practical.

You may be reading this and getting upset. Maybe you’re upset at me for my take on this. Maybe you’re upset with Gottlieb for perpetuating the myth that women need men. Maybe you’re upset with men for wanting younger women. But mostly, I think what is most upsetting is that the article challenges our worldview that we can have it all without having to compromise. And the fact that a few people seem to have it all makes it all the more tantalizing. But when the high wears off – and, oh, it does – what do those people have left? Ask any older married couple. They’ll tell you about the virtues that have kept them together for forty years. Friendship. Loyalty. Patience. Values. Compromise.

So why do we single people so arrogantly insist that our elders have got it wrong? And if you’d rather be alone than compromise, why get so upset that other people like Lori Gottlieb have a different point of view?

 

 

 

Click here to read more:

Lori Gottlieb’s Article in the Atlantic: “Marry Him”

Jezebel’s criticism of Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb defending her article on The Today Show.

 

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Comments:

  1. 61
    Jeannie

    Thank you for this article Evan. You have raised a topic that I and my single girlfriends (30s, 40s and 50s) discuss just about every single time we get together. Are our standards unrealistic? Should we settle? What is good enough? At what age should we just give up?

    Frankly most of my single girlfriends opt to “settle” and play out the point that Hadley has raised. A number of my girlfriends date men who are 8+ years older than them and every single one of my girlfriends doing this do it for the money. Not one of them loves their guy and these men have no clue that all they are good for is their credit card. When us girlfriends get together, they complain about how they don’t love their older beaus, they don’t strike me as really being happy for having “settled.” My childless girlfriends are looking to settle for a sperm bank – again, the men involved have no clue – and I know how that will end as that was once me.

    Once upon a time, I settled for Mr. Good Enough so I could have babies – and joined the ranks of the 70% of women who divorce their husbands 11 years later. It devastated my husband and I realized that “settling” is just a more polite term for using another human being. and that is wrong. Men deserve to be loved fully for themselves and not because they are a sperm bank or a credit card. And if a woman is settling for a man, she is keeping him from the possibility of meeting someone who would truly love him. Very unfair to him.

    Underpinning this premise is also a bit of sexism against men. Sure I have friends with unrealistic expectations. But for the most part, my friends ask no more of a man than they ask of themselves. So the notion of “settling” suggests that men could not possibly be the equals of women in terms of looks, emotional health, romance, finances etc. It implies that a very attractive woman should not expect to have an attractive man cause there aren’t enough of them out there. And there is an implication that there are no quality single men in their 40s. This is a terrible way to view men and Evan, as you so wisely bonk us ladies on the head when we complain “there are no good men,” it really isn’t true.

    As a 40 something woman, yeah, dating can be a slog and I’ve kissed a lot of toads. But I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of men in a 2 year period and hearing their adventures in dating. And frankly men have it no easier than women. And men have a lot of unrealistic expectations too.

    I am learning that a lot of men just don’t understand women and what creates attraction in us and how to romance us and so everyone loses. I met a lot of nice guys who just couldn’t create that spark – they didn’t know how. Go to any bookstore to the relationship section and it is all targeted to women – there is nothing out there to help men navigate the world of women and thats unfortunate. If this information was available, this conversation would be a lot less necessary.

  2. 62
    verbosity

    Hey Eda,

    Please discuss the subject matter. You may not like how I put forth my points as they are particularly blunt. Too bad. Hadley Paige just asked the same thing I did (albeit with far more diplomacy). ;-)

    So please quit your whining about how I am supposedly anti-woman and do not respect women. You know nothing of me, halelujah. It’s not worth the time to respond to your little diatribe, especially as it is off-topic. I’m not going to take that bait, so please go whine somewhere else.

    Curiously, you still cannot or will not respond to Haldey’s or my concern that a woman who ‘settles’ for a guy is more likely to have a successful LTR. That is the topic. Please stay on it.

    Apologies to other readers who may not like the tone of this post. Just because someone doesn’t like the inference or point of my posts or others’ posts, that is no reason to sling unfounded accusations at me or other said posters. As Hadley said, “However, sometimes I encourage you not to fall for the logical fault of discounting or dismissing facts or suggested inferences which you may not like.”

  3. 63
    verbosity

    Typo – “my concern that a woman who settles for a guy is more likely to have a successful LTR.”

    Should be “my concern that a woman who settles for a guy is more likely to have an unsuccessful LTR.”

    Apologies

  4. 64
    Selena

    Well Hadley,
    Can’t speak for everyone, but who wouldn’t want a partner who was thrilled to have them? Knowing someone you loved “settled” for you seems like it would be rather unnerving. But how many people who do choose to “settle” tell those partners anyway? Might blow the whole deal. The whole idea of settling for someone you wouldn’t otherwise CHOOSE, or to be the person someone settles FOR just because…, seems terribly sad at it’s core.

    As far as how divorces rank in terms of “settling”? Has there yet been a study? Dunno, but many, many people find themselves single parents at some point in their lives regardless. Something to be aware of if you are considering “settling” for the reason you want children.

  5. 65
    Markus

    Verbosity,

    Your (main) post came of as mean spirited. Trust me. I was married for 10 years. She cheated on me with another married man. We have joint custody and I pay her between $800-$1000/month in CHILD SUPPORT aka the new alimony. Still, you were mean.

    That said I feel the need to reference the following website:
    http://womensinfidelity.com/

    Given the statistics, you are right, there really is no good reason for men to marry. I mean, if we have devolved (and it is devolution) to the point where we cannot stand each other for more than a few years than we should be honest about it and come up with a more equitable system. Hell, maybe we could just start marketing our genes (sorry short guys) and fix it services. I can see it now. For $500 I’ll mow your lawn, kill that spider and give you a vial. How vile.

    Peace, out.

  6. 66
    Selena

    Jeannie,

    Thanks for your post as someone who’s “been there, done that”.

    “I realized that settling is just a more polite term for using another human being.” Pretty powerful.

  7. 67
    hunter

    to jeannie,

    Bravo!..Bravo!….you get a stand-up applause from me, and I am tossing roses at you…..for your admission…good speech…

  8. 68
    A-L

    In a different thread (the one about the guy who didn’t want to have premarital sex and couldn’t find a girl to date him http://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/sex-is-wrong-outside-marriage/) the majority of responders told him that he was looking in the wrong places for the type of women who would suit him best. May I suggest that some of the men mentioned on this forum have done the same thing?

    Where are you meeting these money-hungry women? What are your screening criteria? And how do you advertise yourself? Men who woo their woman by constantly buying her gifts, taking her out to expensive restaurants, paying for vacations together (or acting as though they can do those things) are going to attract the gold-diggers, no questions asked. At the same time, these are probably women who rate a 9 or 10 on both the beauty and fitness scales. Perhaps you should take Evan’s advice of being more open to different types of people than who you’ve originally envisioned yourself and you might find the right one who’s interested in you and not what you can do for her. Even if you’re capable of spending the big bucks, do so only occasionally. If the girl’s only after your money, she won’t last.

    And for those who are worrying about the specter of divorce, ever thought about finding a more religiously minded woman? Most of those believe in ” till death do us part” unless there are some major issues, like abuse. And should a divorce happen, I’d venture to guess that most would find it immoral to get a financial advantage from it.

  9. 69
    m

    “Curiously, you still cannot or will not respond to Haldey’s or my concern that a woman who settles for a guy is more likely to have a successful LTR. That is the topic. Please stay on it. ‘

    YOU wouldn’t.

    So don’t chide her. It’s exhibiting your usual rude lack of manners — as well as your disrespect for women. You don’t speak/write to men on the site that way.

    Not to mention the fact that she’s absolutely right.

  10. 70
    hunter

    to A-L,

    The kind of woman that fits the description in every paragraph you wrote, does exist,… however,…. I don’t think she gets out much, most stay in their own little circles,…they may venture out, only to get hurt/runover/used, so, they stay away from relationships….

    ……there is an analogy that goes something like this, the moon is feminine, the sun is masculine, the moon is feminine because it gives off a very pretty soft light. Dads must protect their daughters from the suns powerful rays, because they burn….

  11. 71
    hunter

    to Jeannie,

    ..you wrote it so well, that, I am copying it again for male lurkers,…”I am learning,,,that a lot of men just don’t understand women and what creates attraction in us,,,and,,,how to romance us”…

  12. 72
    kisarita

    settle? depends on what you are settling on.
    I agree (at least intellectually instead of emotionally) with the thrust of the article that one need not expect to be head over heels in love, since this type of love doesn’t last.
    but basic physical chemistry? got to be there, if you plan to sleep with this person for the rest of your life.
    as for me, i took the opposite route: in my 20s believed that if you find a nice guy, decent looking, responsible, with similar lifestyle and values who you get along with, you should marry him. somehow i never did find him. (or find one that wanted me). Now in my 30’s i fell in love for the first time at age 32, it didn’t work out because the guy was a scuzz, but basically now i’m willing to settle for a lot of that bit about responsibility, commonality shit for some sex and romance.

  13. 73
    kisarita

    before i knew what love and great sex was, it wasn’t so important to me… but now it trumps all

  14. 74
    Steve

    It seems like with every blog entry Evan makes, what he had to write seems reasonable. It seems like the arguments in the comments come from taking the same words and using them to references something else.

  15. 75
    Markus

    A-L,

    I’m sorry but I’m not sure your post is relevant. I did not accuse my ex of being money hungry. If you follow the link I left to womensinfidelity earlier you can read about the myriad of reasons for it’s rise and occurence at all. And by the way, I’m not saying that men don’t cheat or that we’re never at fault in bad relationships. What I said was that, after our divorce, I have to pay my ex around $800/month and more in the summer for “camp”. I know my ex isn’t rich and she doesn’t live like it. The fact remains that now I have my kids less than 50% of the time and am out that money every month. Guess what? I also need to exist. You know, just survive. Do you have any idea what it’s like to try and have a house, a working vehicle and pay that every month? It’s almost unworkable AND our arrangement is actually not NEARLY as bad as it could be. If we had followed “the formula” for my state and county I would be paying much more. Why should anyone sign up for that kind of situation?

    Now, addressing your other point. First, I’m not that religious. I’m not a Christian Fundamentalist or even a hardcore Catholic. I’m more spiritual than anything. Still, my ex swore an oath to me in a Church full of our friends and family and she came from a family that was involved in her (Lutheran) church and had no divorces. It was not as if I made an iffy gamble. Maybe it’s my upbringing, or being a man, or a Taurus, Lord knows but I think there’s a special place in hell for oath breakers. At least I remember Dante indicating such. So, it would be unfair and difficult of me to try and date people who went to church frequently and read the Bible a lot, etc. I will accept some blame in that, as kind of a granola, ski-bum sort, I tend to be attracted to to artsy, free-spirit types. That said, I’m not complaining about anyone I’ve dated since the divorce, just the myriad of women who cheat and divorce because we cannot provide that wedding day buzz for the rest of our lives. God bless.

  16. 76
    verbosity

    Apologies to all for what may appear to be some ‘antagonistc’ posts by me. That is not the intent. In the effort to be clear and provide sufficient fact and background for my points, I am admittedly blunt and sometimes too wordy. I will endeavor to alter this in the future.

    That said, Jeannie’s post was powerful, as it alluded (answered?) to what I said and Hadley’s concerns also. Would any other ladies like to weigh in on this?

  17. 77
    A-L

    Markus,

    When I was making my comments about the money-grubbing wives I guess I was feeling the influence of Verbosity’s posts and Jeannie’s friends and responding to that more than anything else. But in terms of child support (and I’m asking other men here as well) can it be just a matter of the fact that children are EXPENSIVE? Day care/after-school care can easily eat up $800-1000 per month, plus you’ve got food, a larger place to have the kids stay, other incidentals like clothing, medications, toys, (and private school, if you’re so inclined). Later on there will be buying a car and getting car insurance, gas, etc once they get their drivers’ license. And are you expected to contribute toward the kids’ college education in addition to this amount, or is your ex supposed to be putting some of that money into savings. So yes, $1000/month is still a lot of money, but is it money that would (or should) have been spent on the kids anyway even if you were still married? Perhaps the scary thing for men is not getting married and then getting divorced, but rather just having kids. Divorce when there are no kids involved is probably significantly less expensive unless you’ve been married for 50 years or something. Just my $0.02.

  18. 78
    A-L

    On Markus’ second point:

    Though religious extremists catch the majority of the headlines nowadays, there are plenty of moderate and liberal religious people out there. Not the bible-beaters trying to convert people on every block, but open-minded people who follow a religious doctrine because they believe in its moral guidelines. Many marry people who are not as religious as they are.

    At the same time, however, I believe that most American weddings occur in a church (or other house of worship). And nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Obviousy there’s a disconnect. I’d ascribe it to people who choose to marry in a church because of tradition or family pressures, but who are not themselves very religious. At this point I’m probably definitely going to get accused of being off topic, but just wanted to respond Markus’ second point. And reiterate my suggestion that people (male & female) from this pool would be far more likely to stay with a marriage long after the thrill of the wedding has died.

  19. 79
    Markus

    A-L,

    Thanks for your response. To make a long story short. Yes, day care is expensive. No, kids are not that expensive. Part of my child support goes to provide the the roof over their head…which, about 40% of the time is here…which I pay for anyway. I think you see my point. Kids are expensive but to argue that I would be paying that much anyway is disingenuous. Divorce after children kills the father. I plan on looking into what political movements there are out there to make child support tax deductible, eliminate no-fault divorce, or at the very least, take child support into account when determining things like govt support (like for heat in the north).

  20. 80
    JuJu

    This is all nice and good, but what if the very desire to have children for me hinges upon finding someone I’d want them with? And I really am not looking for anything in a man that I myself am unable to offer.

    Now, what ever makes people think men have no biological clock?? I’ve read and heard from different sources that it is more dangerous to have children with men over 35, than it is with women over that age. As with women, it is primarily their ability to conceive that declines over time, while with men, the risk of genetic defects is greater. Here is one short article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1171134.ece

    As an aside, I don’t think a girlfriend who is all of three years older quite qualifies as “an older girlfriend.” I dunno, I’d be mightily surprised if someone only a few years younger labeled me “an older woman.” :-$

  21. 81
    Selena

    JuJu,
    I also got a kick out of Evan’s description of his gf as “older”. 3 yrs.? Sheesh–that’s nothing.

  22. 82
    Jeannie

    Once upon a time, I was premed – genetics and reproductive biology. What I learned – half of all infertility cases are due to men and more than half of all birth defects are due to men. And the number one cause in men for both these? Age. Nature was wise to cut women off from conceiving at a certain age and tragic in not doing the same for men:-).

    Thank you Hunter and Selena.

    Really – I date 40 somethings and i am struck by how much all of them want to remarry. I’ve met not a single player in this age range. They just do not know how to get there with a woman.

  23. 83
    Markus

    JuJu,

    My biological clock is that I simply wpouldn’t want to deal with infancy anymore. I love my boys at their ages, 6 and 9, but definitely don’t want to go through the baby thing again.

  24. 84
    M

    What’s missing from the argument is the return on nurturing your mate grow into his/her full potential. Culturally we’ve developed impatience with everything, we want it all right now and we don’t want to work hard for it. We’ve forgotten the value of investment and shared histories.

    Bottom line: A shared life with an imperfect person isn’t settling, it’s maturity.

  25. 85
    MBF

    At first, I was really angry and disillusioned after reading Lori Gottlieb’s article. She had every right to make her point. However, I think she left a lot of holes in her argument, which is the worst part. She didn’t seem to represent all sides, except for the friends who had alcoholic husbands, etc. and apparently it was okay to “settle” in that relationship.

    She didn’t seem to offer any solutions, advice from experts, any ray of hope. Supposedly, she was indicating that marriage shouldn’t be one-stop shopping. I agree. How can we make it less one-stop shopping? Hire prostitutes if our spouse repulses us in bed? We can afford it, he’ll be such a good provider anyway. Have designated friends to laugh and have fun with, if we don’t enjoy our spouses company? Also, I’m in my thirties and don’t feel ready to have kids, what do I do? What’s so bad about Mr. 85%? I’d love Mr. 85%. Where is he? Should I settle for Mr. 50% or 40%. That’s not made clear.Maybe, my expectations are too high both journalistically and relationship-wise.

    At the same time, as Evan says, why should we let this (sub-par, IMHO) writer’s opinion influence us? We can just as easily rebel by having a more open mind and exploring our options.

  26. 86
    hunter

    ….”she” talk, how interesting, as a young man it would irritate me, now, it fascinates me, to hear how women use the word settle, short for, settle for less….

  27. 87
    Eda

    I think one concept — potentially an even more depressing one – is what if the type of man or woman that you want, just doesn’t want you? The article and some of the posts, suggest that perhaps the man that women want just doesn’t exist. If he doesn’t exist, then in some ways, it might be easier to not feel so so bad that you can’t find him. But, what if he does exist — maybe lots of them do — and you are just not his cup of tea. What do you do then? Also, what happens to your ego when the guy that you “settled for” doesn’t want you either. Then what do you do? Do you go with someone you don’t really like just to have a man or just to be in a relationship?

  28. 88
    Michael Ejercito

    Do you go with someone you don’t really like just to have a man or just to be in a relationship?

    Just be practical about it.

  29. 89
    Eda

    Michael,

    What does just being practical look like?

  30. 90
    Jeannie

    Dear M,

    Oy!!!!!

    I can not begin to tell you how many women have had that philosophy towards relationships. It isn’t maturity, it is masochism. Every woman I know has nurtured ad nauseum – and its not reciprocated. And I am not talking a couple of months, but years.

    It takes two to tango. It takes two who are mature and ready to work at it.

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