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. 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.  

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 27

    Men are the gatekeepers to commitment.

  8. 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.  

  9. 29

    That’s why there is 50% divorce rate.

  10. 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.  

    1. 30.1

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. What do unattractive women do to get a date?
      Let’s say that men aren’t approaching her.   Based on my experience, she isn’t going to be approaching men. Even without the cultural bias, the rejection rate would be pretty high because of lack of attraction physically.
      Here’s where I don’t get it. There’s an old expression, “Ugly women have to work”. Obviously, this applies on many levels. Still, I see so few unattractive women out doing sports, hobbies, or other interests that would increase their value among men. If they can’t compete sexually, why aren’t they trying to compete on the other levels? It seems like they don’t. Example, I’ve been asked out by one woman, back in high school. None other in the last 25 years. Where have the unattractive women been? I don’t see them (so few) on my bike, shooting, in sports bars, wherever.
      They gotta make some value.  

  11. 31
    Saint Stephen

    On a scale of 1-10, I believe most men won’t know where they fit in on the attractive scale (except for the 9 and 10s).
    Men don’t place real stock on their looks. So a man whom a lady thinks is a 5 will probably be a 7 if he spends much time as women do, grooming he’s looks and fashion sense.
    In real life I don’t really see men who are 7 dating 9 and 10s – unless he’s an artist or maybe financially successful.

    A lot of men don’t need to be sexually attracted to a woman in other to have sex with her. hence a guy who’s a 9 in looks may wind up having sex with a lady who’s a 7, and that makes the lady naturally presume she’s also a 9.   Thus this creates a lot of confusion.  
    Whenever a man who’s a 7 in the looks department chases after a woman who seems to be his fellow 7 and becomes unsuccessful, he automatically assumes that he’s a 6 and immediately starts going after the 6s and when he eventually finds one – he’s happily contented without any feeling of settling. But a 7 woman who thinks she’s 8 and consequentially is unable to attract an 8 man will likely hold out for him or settle and becomes unhappy.   

    1. 31.1

      YES. Many men groom terribly and take horrible photos for their online dating profiles. A lot of men overrate their attractiveness because of this, but also don’t realize they could increase their attractiveness if they groomed better and worked on their personality.

      However, NO  to women rating themselves. Most women simply don’t work like that. We don’t view things in terms  of  numbers nor view attraction as objective. We see evidence of this by the fact that we can hardly agree on who is attractive with our girlfriends (a few celebrities aside, and who most of us recognize are out of our league). So women go by how someone males her feel. She doesn’t analyze him, assign a number and decide he is within her grasp. She RESPONDS to his appearance, which is unlikely to be compartmentalized or analyzed, meaning it will include grooming, posture, and “vibe”.

  12. 32


    You are being ironic. Raiden is correct when he states that women see average men as less than average. We have studies that prove it.

    If you are an average looking female, you are far more likely to be a 4 than a 7. You don’t seem to think that women less than a 5 exist. Nearly half of all women are you know.

    The big question that comes out of this, and which never gets aired on this blog is what do people who are a 4 do. Should they settle for someone who they are not attracted to.

  13. 33

    #29, agreed and why the other 50% aren’t necessarily happy marriages, they just endure.   Or why so many men are in marriages where there is no or very, very little sex or affection  (I thought that was detrimental to men and their emotional and physical wellbeing?)

    What I found about men is that when they are ready, they are ready.   Typically it’s one of the first women that comes along…if she is attractive enough and would be a good mother (assuming this is what he’s looking for), then he’ll move forward.      I do believe men are more likely to give up one or the other to  get  what they want–for example, if they have had off the charts sex in the past with someone, they are willing to not require that in their permanent partner.

    In my mind, all three legs of the stool must be there for a successful, long term relationship–physical/sexual attraction (doesn’t have to be off the charts sex, but he must be strongly motivated to want to have sex with her from the beginning), friendship ability and commitment ability (similar beliefs and values).   If one of those is missing or weak, over the long haul, that puts the relationship in jeopardy.

    1. 33.1

      “What I found about men is that when they are ready, they are ready.   Typically it’s one of the first women that comes along.”

      That’s a bit like Miranda’s theory in SATC: “Men are like cabs, when they’re available their light goes on. They awake one day and decide they’re ready to settle down, have babies, whatever, and they turn their light on. Next woman they pick up, boom, that’s the one they’ll want to marry.”

  14. 34
    Karl R

    Helen said: (#26)
    “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.”

    If Lori Gottlieb was the ultimate arbitrator of whether I (or any other person) settled, then you would be correct.

    Howver, she does not decide whether I settled. I decide whether I settled.

    If I’m marrying someone who is 16 years older than me, less intelligent than me and  less physically fit, am I settling? I would say that I’m marrying a woman who is cute, bright, funny, thoughtful, who shares my disinterest in having kids and who loves  and  accepts me exactly as I am. I’m getting everything I need, and a lot of extras too.

    Or to put it more broadly, if I originally  set my goal at something that I’m capable of achieving, I don’t have to settle. If I originally set an unattainable goal, then I settling or failing become my only options.

  15. 35

    38 year old man here who married the girl he wanted and subsequently got divorced.   There was great chemistry in the beginning and the sex eventually suffered towards the end (for a variety of reasons).   Prior to my marriage I had relationships with girls that I did not have a heavy attraction to.   Therfore, I have nver really had the the type of passionate sex I have been looking for, at least not for a sustainable amount of time.  

    I am considering making the most adult decision of my life and pursuing a relationship with someone that may not be  what really turns me on but  that I still find attractive enough.

    Going from a divorce to serial dating will tell you a lot about yourself if you have the courage to be introspective enough.   Or you can choose to keep scrolling through for years in the hope that you just haven’t found the one yet.   There’s nothing wrong with that, everybody has freewill.

    I am trying very hard to think of myself as objectively as possible.   While I have a lot going for me, i.e., great career, I look 7 or 8 years younger than I am, very physically fit/athletic, height (which everyone seems to think of as important).   I also try and see what I don’t have, i.e., a full head of hair, can’t grow a masculine beard or goatee, among other things.  

    I’m constantly told I’m handsome which I agree with but I’m trying to admit that I am probably not a 9 or 10.   I have gone out on tons of dates; 4 or 5 have been with 9’s and 10’s.   Not one of them has given me a second date.   All the girls I have dated that I have considered a 6 or 7 have wanted to keep seeing me which I guess puts me at a 6 or 7 too.   Attractive enough to maybe get a date with a 9 or 10 but maybe not attractive enough to keep seeing a 9 or 10.   It’s harsh and maybe not reality because there may just be a 9 or 10 out there that is way into me but in the cut-throat business of serial dating where decisions are made in a split second, it’s a slim chance that I will find that “match.”

    Yes I guess I’m thinking of settling.   But is it “settling” or is is “realizing”?   Realizing where you stand and what type of people you can consistently attract.   It takes a lot of maturity to be that honest with yourself.

  16. 36

    I’m with Jane #12- settling seldom works. She made it work for 17 years, I made it work for 25!!! (I kinda settled for a man I thought I loved so as to have children- but it took me years to figure out ’cause I did it subconsciously I think).

    I remember years ago talking to a shrink about it- we had a good enough marriage I guess though he could never validate me, feed me emotionally much, though I certainly fed him!. I remember her saying “Ellen, some day those chickens will come home to roost”. Well, she was right. At about year 23 I had an affair as I was hungry for connection, romance again. My bad, but that’s what “settling” made me do in the end.

    And my divorce cost me probably at least $40K, my adult children had somewhat of a  hard time with it, I broke up a family,  so, yeah, settling, can be bad for all concerned.

    Many times your karma is such that you aren’t going to get married til your middle age anyway. Check out Carol Allen and Vedic astrology. I’ve ordered her Saturn report (for me. When my “lucky” times will be this life based on my chart) and two “right man reports”. Both were on target as all get out. There just is  a lot of truth in it (how your specific moon subsign reveals how you love, the emotional you for one thing).

  17. 37

    Question from someone who isn’t married.   I see people on here talking about their failed marriage after 17-25 years.   Unless those were miserable years, wouldn’t 25 years with someone be considered a fairly successful marriage?   Does it have to be forever and good that whole time to be considered successful?   A lot of people I know now are splitting up after 5-7 years and I can see how that feels like a failure.   Anyhow I know nothing about marriage, but all the comments made me curious.  

  18. 38

    I’m sure this has been discussed here before, but isn’t there a difference between settling and compromising? Don’t we make trade-offs all the time in life? We take the job that pays less because we love the work, or buy the smaller house because the neighborhood is great. We end up with the person who isn’t gorgeous because they’re so good to us and we get along so well. Or they are good-looking and kind, but don’t have the high-powered career, money, or ambition we thought we needed our partner to have.

    To me, settling is accepting a bad relationship or poor treatment, it’s not realizing that very few people get absolutely everything they’ve ever wanted, simply because no one out there is perfect.

  19. 39
    Christie Hartman

    I’m not terribly surprised by most of this research. The idea that men are these commitmentphobes who have a hard time falling in love is hooey. Other research has shown that men fall in love just as quickly as women do, if not quicker, and that they take breakups really hard. In my work, I’ve seen how hard divorce is on men and how long it can take them to recover. Most men marry with the intention of staying married, and take it hard when things don’t work out.
    The word “settling” makes me nervous. Like Ruby (38) said, settling should be more about accepting a bad relationship or poor treatment rather than deciding to stop trying to obtain a fantasy. What we seek when dating often differs from what we seek in marriage. Many people, especially those who’ve been around the block, know that you don’t marry someone because he/she is hot, great in bed, tall, or high income… you marry someone because they have traits that work for long-term commitment and family – responsible, wants kids, gets along well with you. Men know this too. I agree with Hespeler (35) – “settling” can just be “realizing” the truth about what we can attract, and what matters most – i.e. letting go of fantasy.

  20. 40

    hespeler #35

    It sounds as if you are defining a person’s value by their looks and their career. But there are other qualities that can make a more physically average person seem more attractive, like intelligence, a great sense of humor, or how well they treat you. Exactly what I’m referring to when I talk about trade-offs.

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