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. 151
    hunter

    to Collins,

    I have heard women say, “taking money away from men is easy.” Women that said this had a “sexy” figure.

  2. 152
    hunter

    to Angela,

    I have been told, “There is no one trustworthy.” People have to build trust with time.

  3. 153
    vino

    to cinnamon,

    Not to be a cynical bastard, but I’m going to be…

    ” . . . typically if a woman wishes to get solid education and some work experience before having a baby (for example in order to be economically independent, to name just one of the reasons) she is shrinking the time span where she actually can have this baby to just a few years.”

    Background assumption is settling for a guy to have a family.

    A bunch of questions: Why bother working? If you are going to take 3-5 years off, you are essentially unmarketable, and have to start over again. Some rare exceptions exist but they are very rare.

    “If she hasn’t found a loving and reliable partner who also wishes a family by that time, she suddenly gets under a lot of pressure which she needs to handle.”

    Begs the question – if she wants the family (children), why doesn’t she do it? Go do ‘turkey baster.’ Why should she settle indeed? She doesn’t need a man for that. My point and one other posters raised is that she wants a guy to help with the things of daily life, to help her fulfill her wishes. See Verbosity’s #47, quoting Lori Gottleib. The problem is, as Verbosity indicated, there’s no benefit to a guy, but there is tremendous benefit to the woman and kid(s).

    The big point there is that SHE needs to handle the pressure. It’s not some guy’s responsibility to handle it. Additionally, if she makes the CHOICE to work for x years, thereby cutting into her best child-rearing years, that is HER responsibility to accept.

    Sometimes you can’t have it all when you want it.

    “One of the ways to handle the baby pressure is to say that one of the best things you can offer your (unborn) children is parents who have a good relation to each other.”

    My point is that it is less likely for the parents to have a good relationship, particularly if she thinks she settled. She won’t respect him, won’t be affectionate to him, and is more likely to divorce him later. It’s also important to note the baby pressure is her creation, with only the rarest exceptions.

    Not to be too negative, but I don’t see where any of this thread’s premise benefits guys on the whole. Verbosity, though wordy, makes a good case. I’d avoid these women like the plague.

  4. 154
    cinnamon

    vino,
    I explained my view on the concept of settling in #148 (I hope clearly and unambiguously).
    Yes, I agree with you that if one of the couple thinks she/he settled, they are more likely to divorce later on. Same can happen later, if a couple do not take enough care about their relationship and make their children the only thing they have in common, I think they are more likely to experience crisis when the children are about to leave home.

    “The big point there is that SHE needs to handle the pressure. It’s not some guy’s responsibility to handle it. Additionally, if she makes the CHOICE to work for x years, thereby cutting into her best child-rearing years, that is HER responsibility to accept.

    Sometimes you can’t have it all when you want it. ”

    Yes, sometimes you just cannot predict what life has in there for you, you need to make choices based on quite high uncertainty and accept the consequences.

    Vino, I don’t think we are in disagreement on any of the points which you raised in comment to my post.

  5. 155
    vino

    Who’s disagreeing? ;-)

  6. 156
    cinnamon

    ufff… I thought you’re in the mood for some boxing today. I’m not :-)

  7. 157
    vino

    No. No boxing. Mud wrestling. ;-)

  8. 158
    vino

    Is that with our w/o bikini? ;-)
    LOL

  9. 159
    cinnamon

    this needs to wait for a thread about flirting ;-) LOL

  10. 160
    vino

    Why wait? We’re only on this rock once! :-)

  11. 161
    cinnamon

    so, you’re a flirt undercover ;-) Charming :-)

  12. 162
    vino

    Undercovers? Now who’s flirting? ;-)

  13. 163
    cinnamon

    :-) you made my day :-) but we’re a bit off topic

  14. 164
    vino

    Doh!

    Agreed. Uh, what was the topic? ;-)

  15. 165
    cinnamon

    I guess this one is exhausted:

    :-) but there is a wide selection of topics to choose among:
    – Why Would a Younger Woman Want to Date a Much Older Man? (this we know already)
    – Should Women Ask Men Out on First Dates?
    – and there is an old one: What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your Judgment in Relationships?. I missed it. Maybe it’s worth reading?

  16. 166
    vino

    Hmmmm.

    The first 2 bore me.

    I’ll take a look at the 3rd. Maybe I’ll post something good for ya! ;-)

  17. 167
    cinnamon

    Looking forward to it. The question sounds intriguing, but I haven’t read the content, yet…

  18. 168
    vino

    CinnamonApr 8th 2008 at 08:09 am 163

    ” :-)you made my day:-) ”

    Wait till tonight! ;-)

  19. 169
    A-L

    While I was working today two 14-year olds told me that I should find a guy and marry him now instead of waiting around because otherwise I won’t like any of my future choices and I’ll have to marry a really old guy (I just turned 28). Of course, they also think I’m younger than I am. But I still found it interesting that teenagers would be giving the same advice as some of the adults noted in this thread and had to share.

  20. 170
    Sayanta

    a-l-

    Maybe they’ve been reading this blog. ;-p

  21. 171
    larry

    Settling is simply the wrong word. It should be “Knowing what really matters vs pie in the sky dreams of perfection.” The irony here is that i think if both sexes did this there would be fewer bitter losers around in the later years. Why? Because in the past of so many bitter losers is a relationship that went south because the other person had unrealistic expectations. That’s what turns them into bitter losers.

  22. 172
    Courtney

    RSL said it best – I couldn’t agree more.

  23. 173
    MSL

    The funny thing is that most women I hear saying that they will never settle are not that smart, attractive or likable (not to mention that they may be financially unstable and come with a slew of emotional baggage). It makes me wonder if they ever realized that the guys they date just might be settling themselves.

  24. 174
    Tia

    as a woman i can cosign ( agree) with Ms. Gottlieb’s article. and it doesn’t even boil down to if you just wnt ch ildren you  might want to settle. If you want to get married to a decent quality guy period, you might want to revise your list of qualities in a man. at 31 i am noticing that dating isn’t what it was when i was younger. ok dating has never  been easy persay, but the men don’t get smarter and more mature , or more focused and likely to commit as they near 40.
    I know what Ms. Gottlieb meant when she says settle, she does not mean in it in the negative way that some may think, although that little innocious word settle does sound quite nasty doesn’t it.
     
    It means ok, he may not have the 6 pack and take vacations 2 times a  year, or be firmly entrenched at his career, but he is reliable,  loves you and seems to be a family man. I can imagine when im 40 it wont be any easier than it is now? why would it be.
     
    So don’t settle, but just be more realistic, maybe that sounds easier to swallow, no one person will embody all of the qualities we have dreamed about, but maybe they have other ones that are just as admirable, it doesn’t mean h e can go a week without calling you , or call you fat, or ignore you when youre angry. unacceptable!

    another thing, don’t approach love and dating as a chore, if you do it is exhausting, don’t screen every man as my potential husband/ or not.  go with the flow, enjoy yourself, yes keep track of the milestones and that time is indeed passing, ask yourself the big questions when the time is right, but please do not make it unbearable simply becuase you are past 30  35 or 40 and single
    but ladies, really.. time flies, and realistically, men will always have more choices than we do for mates, more quantity and quality.  I hope one day this one sided sexist paradigm will change where men might value a good woman and realize, yes time is ticking for him too.. but that ain’t happening soon. so in the meantime, love yourself, be happy, have fun and be realistic

    Evan, great post!

  25. 175
    starthrower68

    Tia,

    I saw a very funny quote by a woman once that read, “I’d love to be in a relationship if it weren’t for dating”.

  26. 176
    Karl R

    Tia said: (#174)
    “realistically, men will always have more choices than we do for mates, more quantity and quality.”

    quantity: Until you get about 55 years old, the difference in the ratio of men to women is rather even.
    http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p20-544.pdf
    Any man who chooses to date online is facing a far worse ratio than women do in the general population.

    quality: Do you have any support for your claim that women are higher quality than men? Are there specific traits that you are focusing on? All of my experience suggests that men and women are equal … as a general population. Specific individuals vary wildly from the median.

    Tia said: (#174)
    “I hope one day this one sided sexist paradigm will change where men might value a good woman and realize, yes time is ticking for him too.”

    How are you defining this “good woman” that men allegedly don’t want? To me, this sounds as unfounded as when some men claim that women don’t want “nice guys.”

    What is this one-sided, sexist paradigm that you’re referring to? That women go through menopause and men don’t? I could just as easily point out that women have a much easier time than men if they choose to become a single parent (like Lori Gottlieb). Women can go to a sperm bank and have their own child. If a man chooses to raise his own child as a single parent, he needs to find a surrogate mother.

    Time is ticking for men, even though they don’t have as hard of a deadline as women do. It’s true that a man can have kids when he’s in his 60s … but does he really want to be raising teenagers when he’s in his 80s?

  27. 177
    sayanta

    Karl’s comment, #176-

    I think a lot of women put career and education into their ‘quality’ basket. I don’t have time to look this up now, but from what I’ve read in news mags, the ratio of women to men in college, grad school, legal and med professions seems to be about 60 to 40, or maybe even 70 to 30. Of course, this is just America.

    Men- as a whole- encompass half the world’s population. To get ‘quality,’ some women might have to look outside American nationality.

  28. 178
    Elle

    I haven’t read all of the posts, but felt the need to backtrack to the “settling” debate. I was pretty horrified when I read Lori Gottlieb’s original article in the Atlantic and had no desire to read the book she then wrote. I eventually read the book and found it fascinating.
    I may be wrong, but I don’t think Lori has ever intended for anyone to marry someone they weren’t in love with. I think what people miss in her “argument” is this: instead of focusing on the “hot” men who aren’t suitable for long-term relationships, give some other men a chance, you may be surprised. I felt her original article did not explain this very well but the book does. She really isn’t advising anyone to marry someone for the sole reason of having children, she’s just saying “settle” meaning “look at the 6s and 7s instead of always looking at the 10s.”
    I will also add that her book made me really sad though. Sad for my own missed opportunities (I am now 56).

  29. 179
    NotSureAboutThis

    Evan, I understand your logic in encouraging women to “settle” but we live in an era where many women can achieve as much as men. Many women are CEOs, self-made millionaires, doctors, physicists, entrepreneurs, and more. Older women as well as younger women who believe they can achieve great success in life also apply that belief to their personal lives. A 40 year-old man with a 6-figure salary and great family values may be looking for a woman 30 and under, but as more 20-something women climb the career ladder and start earning 6-figures a year they ask themselves “why do I want to date this older man? For his money? No, I make just as much money as he does. His money doesn’t impress me. Instead I want to date the 26 year-old coworker who is on his way to making 6-figures a year.” When women become high achievers and high earners the money and status that a man has starts to diminish in importance. Instead, a man’s looks and his youth become more valuable in the eyes of women.

    Men want youth and beauty but in a society where women are increasingly wealthy, powerful and influential, youth and beauty has become a commodity desired by both sexes. A new coworker recently joined our company. He is handsome, a soccer player, successful for his age, and just turned 30. The 20 – 40 year old women in the office are slavering over him, including me. Do we notice the 45-50 year old executives earning 6-figures? Not one bit.

    It’s time that society starts to recognize that those hard-headed, obnoxiously successful, overbearing women also like a bit of warmth, thoughtfulness and caring in a man, as well as a heavy dose of handsome.

  30. 180
    Karl R

    NotSureAboutThis,
    You’re proving Evan’s point for him.

    NotSureAboutThis said: (#179)
    “A new coworker recently joined our company. He is handsome, a soccer player, successful for his age, and just turned 30. The 20 – 40 year old women in the office are slavering over him, including me.”

    Every woman who is 20-40 is chasing after this guy. How many of them will succeed? At most one.

    The women who are 35-40 have zero chance to marry him. (Maybe they can have a fling that’s just a temporary diversion for him, but nothing more.) He can get any 20-30 year old he wants. But these women are ignoring the available 40-50 year olds in order to pursue a fantasy.

    And if the 40-45 year old men want children of their own, they probably think the 40 year old women are “too old”. They’re holding out for the 35 year olds. If the women at 35 are holding out for the 30 year old hottie, they’ll lose their last chance at the 40-45 year olds.

    NotSureAboutThis said: (#179)
    “It’s time that society starts to recognize that those hard-headed, obnoxiously successful, overbearing women also like a bit of warmth, thoughtfulness and caring in a man, as well as a heavy dose of handsome.”

    I already recognize that they want all that. I just don’t care. If you’re hard-headed, obnoxious and overbearing, you just lost your chance with everyone but the desperate. I want kind and caring too, not hard-headed, obnoxious and overbearing … and I got I wanted without settling for someone like that.

    NotSureAboutThis said: (#179)
    “why do I want to date this older man? For his money? No, I make just as much money as he does. His money doesn’t impress me.”

    Except your idea of compromise is to pursue the upwardly-mobile 26 year old or “successful for his age” 30 year old instead of the 6-figure 40-50 year old. Assuming the men in both categories are family-oriented and ambitious, none of them find you appealing.

    Think it through. If they marry you, they’ll have to cancel important business meetings to pick the kids up from daycare when you’re out of town on business. If they marry a part-time teacher at the local community college, this will never happen. They don’t need your money; they have enough of their own. You hinder their career goals. (So the 20-30 year old women in your office are wasting their time on their gorgeous coworker too.)

    You’d be better served to pursue a part-time teacher at the local community college. He can be at home keeping an eye on the kids while he grades papers … and you can be at the important business meeting.

    Re-read your post. You want the men who can have anyone they want. What do you have to offer them? Hard-headedness, obnoxiosness, and the ability to have your career goals interfere with theirs.

    What man would be won over by that sales pitch?

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