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. 41
    Katarina Phang

    Let’s face it people will date within their own league eventually.   You will attract equally attractive people so there is always a match for you if you seek mutual attraction (and you want people who find you attractive anyway, not the one who thinks you’re not all that).

    I won’t bother with overly good looking guys unless they come to me first.   At any rate, there is plenty of fish in the pond for everyone with the right attitude.   It’s not about being choosy or denying your need for chemistry.   Just put yourself out there, be a magnet and be fun and sooner or later the right match will find you.   

  2. 42


    But that’s the point. Unattractive people DO NOT find other unattractive people attractive. It may be true that “you are what you attract”, but many do not desire the ones they attract. It takes two to have mutual attraction, and that rarely happens.

  3. 43

    @Zaq, we don’t all find the same things attractive.   And plenty of people that I think are pretty unattractive have partners who clearly adore them, or are never without a mate when they are in the dating pool.   It is patently untrue that unattractive people all hold out for the unobtainable. It’s about as true as the statement that we all find the same people equally attractive.   All of these things are influenced by where we are from and who we are, and people kind of overlook that too.   So you might see someone that you think is too unattractive to ever pay attention to but that person probably will find love.

    At the end of the day, many people who make their livings with their faces and bodies don’t have the kind of long-term, enduring love that many Average Joes find.

    I think it’s ridiculous how many people act as though regular people never get married and find true love.   Online dating might make some people take a shot with the prom queen, but it doesn’t change what has always happened in real life, which is that regular people of all ages, shapes, sizes, races, and income levels find true and lasting love.

    Online dating does mean that people get the illusion of choice and some think that the filters mean that you can conjure up the perfect man or woman, but not everyone is that silly or shallow, in addition to the fact that we simply do not all have the same tastes.   

    People here get all worked up by the term settling but I see it as letting go of the extreme requirements and nice to haves, and really focusing on the things that will make you want to spend your life with someone.   It also means that your ideal match may not come in the wrapper that you were expecting.   I know a lot of people who found true love when they let go of certain requirements, but they certainly did not marry losers that no one else wanted.   It was just opening themselves up to people who they might have overlooked before.   

  4. 44
    Katarina Phang

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, Zaq.   I see average or below average people pair and marry all the time.   It’s not about looks.   Unless you are extremely ugly, which is a rarity, everyone has his/her own match.

  5. 45

    Excellent sentiment girls, but studies show that beauty is NOT in the sight of the beholder, it is pretty objective really.
    Ugly people think other ugly people are, well ugly.

    I know two individuals that married each other because they felt no one else would marry them. I suppose you call that a match Katarina ?
    Anyway their marriage didn’t last.

    Women are far pickier than men. Most women on this blog would not even consider a guy who only makes the average wage – and that’s half the male population right there, before even considering looks.

  6. 46

    Big difference between settling and compromising. Settling is admitting defeat and taking whatever comes your way. Settling is what I would’ve done had I stayed with my ex-gf. I desire a family and she could’ve given me that, but I would’ve been miserable. It’s not worth being with someone who crticizes every aspect of your life from the way live down to the way you worship. It’s not worth being someone who only sees their point if view and claims to see yours, but shoots it down instantly.

    Compromising is knowing when to leave well enough alone. Compromising is akin to winning $20,000 at roulette and walking away, rather than risk everything just to double your winnings. Compromising is knowing a person isn’t perfect and accepting some shortcomings knowing they only care for you and want to make you happy. What more could you ask for in a mate?

  7. 47

    Karl R 34: Lori Gottlieb is definitely not the global arbiter of whether you or anyone else has settled, so I agree. Yet it’s odd how often people on the outside judge whether others have “settled,” when in fact those who were deemed to have settled are probably very happy with their choices. They know their own mates better than anyone else, and people on the outside tend to focus primarily on looks. Relationships are far more than that.
    Zaq 45: I’ve heard that globally and across all ages, people deem faces more attractive if they are left-right symmetrical and if certain facial features conform to particular ratios (e.g., eye spacing relative to facial width, or chin length relative to facial length).   But I think Katarina 41 and 44 was talking about more than just looks when she mentioned attractiveness.   Attraction is also about intelligence, personality compatibility, etc.   And she is right in saying that everyone does have his or her match – it’s just a matter of finding that match.
    Finally: does anyone else feel like laughing when looking at that photo for this thread? The woman’s expression seems to indicate that SHE thinks she settled.

  8. 48
    Karl R

    Zaq said: (#45)
    “studies show that beauty is NOT in the sight of the beholder, it is pretty objective really.”

    Could you post a link to one of these studies?

    I’m not saying these studies don’t exist. I’ve seen  one rather credible one, but I’m unable to find it online. The only ones I can find online had rather questionable methodology.

    But from what I recall of the credible study, even objective standards are far from universal.

    For example, it is recognized that facial symmetry is a widely accepted objective standard of beauty. This particular study would take portraits of individuals, then use computers to modify each picture twice: once to make it more symmetrical, once to make it less symmetrical. The researchers then surveyed people by showing them these pairs of photos side-by-side and asking which “twin” was more attractive. 81% found that the more symmetrical  pictures were more attractive.

    What fascinated me, however, was that 19% found the less symmetrical pictures to be more attractive. For an accepted “universal” and  “objective” standard of beauty, having 1 in 5 people consistently  choose the other way is huge.

  9. 49

    Helen #47

    Funny you mentioned the photo, since it had been bugging me too! I read it differently, though. I see the bride as a somewhat average-looking woman who is the one being settled for, and her slightly sour expression indicated that she knows it.

    Zaq #45

    Plenty of men might reject a woman based on her average or below average looks.

  10. 50
    Saint Stephen

    Ruby #49
    That’s apples to orange. Plenty of women might also reject men for having an average or below average looks.
    And about the photo; My perception of it was same as yours. Evan has a way of digging out photos that goes in accordance with the blog post. A typical reflection of the title.

  11. 51

    Actually, @Zaq, beauty isn’t so universal, and a lot of markers of beauty are VERY culture specific.   Skin color, hair texture, eye color, body shape, all are ways that people from different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds might have different tastes.   

    But if you want to pretend that what a person in Nigeria finds attractive is the same as what someone in China finds attractive go right ahead.   

    A lot of our tastes are based upon what we look like.   Some of us decide what we see in the media is the best, some of us ignore it b/c it looks nothing like us (again, I’m talking mostly about race).   

    Plenty of people dismiss entire races of people as being universally unattractive and undateable, and no, not everyone who isn’t for example, white and blond is hopelessly ugly, yet many people more or less buy into that idea.   

    But I do know that if i show a series of pictures to men and women from different countries and different races, they won’t all find the same things to be beautiful.   

    So the person who you find to be ugly and who you think is entitled to only another ugly person could very well be very attractive to someone else for reasons that you will never be able to comprehend.

    However, we aren’t in high school, and there is way more to finding a lifetime of happiness than marrying the hottest guy or girl in the room.

  12. 52

    this is in response to K 37 who wrote: 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?

    Yes K I DO consider my last marriage a success even though it ended in divorce (my idea). Yes K, I wish more people had your mindset!!!

    And instead of endlessly fixated on the half of marriages that don’t work we should celebrate the approx. 50% that do.

    And finally K, I was fairly happy the entire time. It’s just that after 50, and studies/stats show this, a woman, if she has options or is just brave will weigh whether she wants to age with her mate (a mate she finds increasingly inadequate to her needs)  or maybe make an exit after raising children perhaps. Many wait til their parents die as divorce is so stigmatized in a way still. Anyway, I think something roughly like 60% of divorces are initiated by women after age 50.

  13. 53

    Those studies about attractiveness have to be taken in the right context. Yes, more symmetrical faces are generally found to be more attractive from a purely aesthetic standpoint (point to note: The other 19% didn’t necessarily think the less symmetrical face was more attractive–many were simply undecided between the two). This also applies to practically ALL objects (not just faces) and is related to how the brain generally processes visual information. Symmetrical objects along a single plane are generally easier for the brain to process in terms of pattern recognition. As it is easier, it “feels” better to look at such things, and therefore we interpret that as more aesthetically pleasing or “attractive.”  

    The big point here is that is simply  “attractive” on a basic aesthetic level. Sexual attraction,  emotional attraction, and so forth are not entirely or predominantly bound by this basic visual processing cue. LOTS of other things come into play as when it comes down to it your  overall attraction for another person has a GREAT deal to do with your psychology–not simple visual processing. Cultural comparisons and studies have shown that a LOT of what we deem attractive in  others is  LEARNED–by the society we are in, by the events  in our life, and so forth, and they are projected outwardly and onto others into evaluations of physical traits (or being blinded to them in the converse sense).

    Ever found someone to be “so-so” in your attraction to them and then after getting to know them they gradually become more attractive to you?   Ever had an extremely  “attractive” individual draw you in and then they talk, express ideas, and so forth and suddenly (although their appearance attractiveness hasn’t changed) they seem less attractive to you?   That’s your MIND at work.    

  14. 54

    Oh, almost forgot. What those rather famous (or infamous) studies about facial attractiveness failed to account for was memory processing. Yes, an initial view of a more plane-symmetrical face is generally perceived to be more aesthetically pleasing (as well as other objects) for the reasons I gave. HOWEVER, further studies show that unless a VERY high degree of asymmetry exists which creates constant confusion for the brain (very difficult to achieve in a face), people exposed to the same types of examples (symmetrical vs. slightly asymmetrical) repeatedly start to lose their initial preference. The reason for this is once the brain has been repeatedly exposed to the minor asymmetry and has commited it to memory (it no longer needs to use its “front-line” pattern recognition to recognize it) this cancels out the somewhat greater processing difficulty.

    In other words, even asymmetrical people’s faces become easier on the eyes the longer we are exposed to them.  

  15. 55

    From what I’ve read, most physically attractive attributes are non cultural.
    I  realize  that   fatter people may be deemed attractive in societies where most people do not get enough to eat.

    Babies pay more attention to people with beautiful faces, so this is hard wired and not learned. More to the point, ugliness is literally repulsive, and it is easy to see the evolutionary forces in play.
    What may occur is that the brain is attracted to faces that are “average”. That is with characteristics such as eye width etc less far away from the norm. Such faces will be  symmetrical, but that may be a bi-product.  

    There was another study that showed that men in an amazon tribe not influenced by western culture had exactly the same view of which females were the most attractive as we would have. They used the word “ripe” and the girls were about 15.
    It is just evolution telling us who is most fertile.

    I thought it interesting that the OK Cupid study on physical attractiveness showed that thousands of men exhibited a very high level of agreement on who they considered attractive, and produced a perfect normal distribution curve, with those rated as a 5 (think it was a 10 scale) right in the middle with the highest frequency.

    The other follow on from this I think is that the men could not have compared the women to a distorted “hollywood” norm, otherwise the graph would have been skewed.
    The results for women were highly skewed, with most men being scored less than a 5, which is ridiculous, but shows what powerful evolutionary forces are pushing women to accept only a minority of men.


  16. 56

    I’m actually not that surprised by the article.   I think it’s important to note that men are saying, according to the study, that they would be willing to marry a woman they were not in love with as long as she had all the other attributes they were looking for in a mate.   That’s an important qualification!  
    This, to me, is the way men (and women) have approached marriage for a very long time.   What I wonder is: has this study been performed before? I would be interested to see whether the responses have   changed all that much over time.
    Maybe the article should have been titled “Less and Less Women Are Settling For Mr. Good Enough”…I doubt if men have changed all that much, but I think women have.    
    It makes me think of this line from “Mad Men”:
    Don Draper: She won’t get married because she’s never been in love: I think I wrote that to sell nylons.Don Draper: By love you mean big lightning bolts to the heart, where you can’t eat and you can’t work, and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me…to sell nylons.
    The way I see it, men have always approached marriage with a sense of practicality.   Women once had little choice and were read fairy tales to make them forget about that fact…now women have plenty of choice but have held on to the fairy tales, forgetting they were never real.
    Plus…the study doesn’t seem to mention how many married men have also had affairs : )

  17. 57

    Lots of subjective observations here and a large number of them are no more than anecdotal.

    The simple question that seemed to be posed was: Do men settle and perhaps with more frequency than women for what might be described as a less than “perfect” mate?

    But what seems to be missing from many of the commentaries is the fact that the perceptions of what is a desirable mate is, subjectively, in the eyes of the beholder; and consequently cannot be quantified into a simplistic, purported logic of a “7 settling for a 5”.   The comments from Karl R help to reinforce my comment.

    Am I an objective observer of these dating/mating “patterns”?   I do not know because I am an old married (>27 years) man these days.   Did I settle or did my wife settle?   Neither in my opinion, I tend to think that I was fortunate enough to meet and marry her because she is the best life’s partner, and mother (3 grown children), that I could have found.   There are also some comments here about the “decline” of sexual activity in some marriages that endured for a “long time”, said decline attributed to, perhaps, “settling”.   If this is considered valid, then I definitely know that I did not settle because my wife and I literally exhausted each other sexually (multiple mutual orgasms) last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.   Which isn’t too bad of a performance for a 66 year old man!


  18. 58
    Christie Hartman

    Zaq (55): You are only focusing on part of what those OkCupid data show. Look again: yes, the men rated women in an arc-shaped pattern, but they ACTUALLY EMAILED the hot ones. And while more women did judge men’s photos as below average, they ACTUALLY EMAILED these “below average” men. Your comment that “powerful evolutionary forces are pushing women to accept only a minority of men” doesn’t really ring true. There could be many reasons these women are so tough on these men’s photos. I can think of two: 1) men’s online photos are often poor quality and don’t do the men justice, and 2) perhaps women don’t respond to photos the same way men do.

  19. 59

    ”  Marrying your 2nd, 3rd or 4th option is an insult to the other person. They deserve better and so do you.”

    I think most people are making too many assumptions. Just because you THINK someone is your number one does not necessarily mean you’re right. As we mature, our needs tend to change, and what constitutes a best at a certain time in life is probably so-so at other times. The trick to making a long term decision is to look for someone you have something for now, and who can adapt to inevitable changes in the future.  

  20. 60

    From Ellen #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).”

    When you’re married to a person for 25 years, you’re no longer settling. Are you kiddin’ me? You can’t be that good and he that bad that you did not equate your levels after 25 years of marriage. No matter what you thought you settled for 25 years earlier, you do not deserve anyone better when you “figured it out” 25 years later, unless abuse, unfaithfulness or other similar issues were involved. And, to top it up, you said you “thought” you loved him. What a bunch of BS.
    There was really nothing to figure out. This society has turned women into insatiable and entitled princesses who make decisions like kids in a candy store. Where is the maturity in all the crap written above?

    “The results for women were highly skewed, with most men being scored less than a 5, which is ridiculous, but shows what powerful evolutionary forces are pushing women to accept only a minority of men.”

    It’s not evolutionary forces; it’s the brainwashing by feminism that makes women think they are more evolved than men. The belief is so widespread in the west it is quite amazing. No wonder many women will remain single for a long time, because no partner wants to be considered inferior.

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