What’s the Difference Between Settling and Compromising?

a man and a woman arm-wrestling

Hi Evan,
I’ve been reading your blog for the last few months and enjoying it a lot. Unlike some other dating blogs, it’s very balanced and offers a guy’s perspective, which is in itself unique. I received your newsletter
today (“What you should be looking for in a partner,”) and I guess it does hit close to home since it inspired me to write back. Being one of those 90th percentile women, I do know firsthand how hard it is to find a quality man. What you say about a partner being a complement and not a clone does make sense technically, but therein lies the problem: a woman who is in the 90th percentile in looks, intelligence and income will have absolutely no problem finding a guy who is in the 60th percentile. These guys are neither hard to get or difficult to come by. The problem is not that we’re not looking for such guys, the problem is that most of us (even though there’re exceptions) are not attracted to them and we don’t want them, period. If I wanted to marry a guy who “brings 40% of income, charisma,” and so on, I would’ve had a harem by now. The question is: why would I want such a guy? On the emotional level, I’ve never felt attracted to guys who are “less man” than I, so to speak. I connect best with men who are leaders, like to be in charge, and I would very much like to relinquish control to such a guy rather than be a man in a relationship.

From the practical standpoint, a man who makes less than I do becomes a financial liability. After all, we women can have our own children, and push comes to shove, it would be much easier for me to just have my own kids and date whomever I want on the side without being financially responsible for them. So no matter how you look at it, I am better off alone than with a 60% guy. Personally, after struggling for some time with this issue and realizing that I need to start doing something differently if I am to succeed in my love quest, I have developed a new “multi-faceted strategy.”

I have undergone a rather dramatic makeover. I grew long hair and dyed it blond which gave me a softer, more feminine look. I gave all my trousers to charity and started wearing bright colored dresses and skirts and high heels. I began applying makeup routinely. I re-thought the way I speak and made an effort to not express any strong opinions. I stopped saying “I think” and started saying “I feel.” You get the idea. With respect to the type of men I am looking for — I still want those 95th percentile guys. Except they don’t have to be in that percentile in all aspects. I’d gladly date a 5’4’’ tall master of the universe who may lack external attributes of manliness but can make me feel special in so many different ways. Or, I’d date a law enforcement professional who may not make as much as a financial whiz, but is big, strong and can handle difficult situations and protect his family like no one else. Or, I could date a guy who is in a sense my “clone” but is substantially older than me (we’re talking 20+ years, considering I am in my late 20’s I have ample headroom there) and would therefore never feel competitive, but could rather be a mentor.

I am not in a steady relationship yet, but the quality of my dating life has improved dramatically, and I feel that I am a lot closer to finding that special guy than I was a year ago. So I guess the point I wanted to get across is that there’s compromise and there’s settling. And what you wrote about sounded awful lot like settling to me. I’d encourage other successful women to compromise instead, and on top of that to get in touch with their feminine sides and may be try to get a little less edgy. Hope this makes sense.

Dear Sophie,

I rarely run such long comments, especially ones that don’t have a question, but I’m guessing that your sentiments are held by enough readers that this post will resonate.

Let’s first start on the areas where we agree…and then allow me to dissect the rest of your letter like the relationship neurosurgeon that I am.

We can both agree that:

A woman in the 90th percentile has absolutely no problem finding a man in the 60th percentile.

A woman in the 90th percentile certainly doesn’t want a man who brings only 40% of the charisma.

Your dramatic makeover to embrace your feminine side is a smart strategy, which seems to have had a positive effect.

Your willingness to date different kinds of alpha males can be considered positive.

Smart woman. Smart approach. But here’s where you’ve either misquoted me, misunderstood me, or are simply misguided in your thinking.

Mainly, you’re misrepresenting my use of numbers and percentages, which skews your entire argument. If I actually said that you should compromise on a man in the 60th percentile of everything, then, yes, you’re right: I would be suggesting that you “settle.”

But that’s not what I said.

While most women look for a relationship that is 50/50 in all areas, it’s actually okay to find partnerships that have a 60/40 blend.

I said that while most women are looking for a relationship that is 50/50 in all areas, it’s actually okay to find partnerships that have a 60/40 blend. That does NOT mean he’s in the 60th percentile of all men. It means that if you’re a 10 in looks, he can be an 8. If he’s the more emotionally stable person, you can act a little crazier, etc.

This changes things considerably. Because while you’re talking about being with a man whom you don’t respect, I’m talking about a balanced relationship with equals who are stronger in some areas and weaker in others.

If this was your main misconception, that would be the end of the blog post. But it’s not. It’s clear that you have a few blind spots that are worth discussing. In no particular order:

You say you’re not attracted to guys who are “less man” than you. That’s fine. But it doesn’t seem you’ve considered a couple of factors:

1) The men who are “more men than you” might not want to date you. You may be stubborn or arrogant or difficult or selfish or critical, which are qualities that often come with people who think they’re in the 90th percentile of everything.

2) A man who is in the 95% percentile of everything (the only man who is “better” than you) may not be a great bet as a husband. George Clooney? James Bond? Charming guys — not great husbands. Most women spend their whole lives overestimating men based on their credentials rather than their character.

3) A man who can handle you — and wants to commit to you – despite your flaws, is the ideal man for you. It may come in the form of a nice, easygoing guy who doesn’t meet your strict criteria, not the “master of the universe”.

But that’s not all, smart Sophie. Next, you trot out this gem of a line:

“From the practical standpoint, a man who makes less than I do becomes a financial liability. After all, we women can have our own children, and push comes to shove, it would be much easier for me to just have my own kids and date whomever I want on the side without being financially responsible for them.”

A few questions, before we proceed:

A) Are men and women truly equal?

B) If the answer is yes, then we can conclude that if we make the same money, we should be treated the same exact way. Right?

C) If the answer is yes, why is your husband who makes $60,000 a year a financial liability while my wife who makes $60,000 a year is my best friend, lover, and partner in crime?

If I make $300,000 a year and my wife makes $60,000, I would be expected to support her, pay for every meal and vacation, and allow her to save her money for clothes, trips, and maybe the kids’ college education.

Yet if you make $300,000 a year and your boyfriend makes $60,000, he’s a financial liability? Come again?

Are you saying that men can date women who have no money, but successful women with their own money can’t do the same? What does that say about equality?

One of the big points of having your own money — at least as a man — is that you don’t have to be with someone else who has money. This keeps our dating options extremely wide, because it allows us to look for women who are attractive, cool and nurturing — without having to restrict ourselves to the top 5% of earners like so many women appear to, in spite of the fact that they’re already in the top 5% themselves.

Most women spend their whole lives overestimating men based on their credentials rather than their character.

As a well-off woman who is equal to a man, you really need to start seeing yourself as equal. Which means recalibrating the kind of guy who fits for you, the same way that most men do. From your letter, you talk about your propensity for alpha males, who are often the worst candidates for long-term relationships because they tend to be egocentric hunters.

And until you start to appreciate the virtues of the nice, cute guy with a stable job, a ton of integrity, and the desire to be a great dad, you may find that dating is a rough road for you. This fictional guy, by the way, IS in the 90th percentile — not based on his paycheck or his washboard abs, but based on his ability to be your husband.

Overall, Sophie, you seem like you know yourself very well. The only thing I’m questioning here is whether you truly know what’s good for you.

Compromise is good. Settling is not.

And a sane, funny, loyal, attractive man who makes $60K and forgives all your faults should be in any woman’s 90th percentile.

Thanks for your thoughtful email. Good luck.


P.S. By the way, in regards to this line, “it would be much easier to just have your own kids and date whomever I want on the side.” Go read Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him: the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” for a glimpse into the dating life of a single mother. No time. No financial, emotional or physical support from a father. Not to mention that most thirtysomething guys want to date women unencumbered by responsibility. Hate to say it, but being a single mom is about the worst thing you can do for your love life. Sorry.


For a deeper understanding of what qualities you should be looking for in a man, I invite you to check out “Why He Disappeared — the Smart, Strong, Successful Woman’s Guide to Understanding Men and Keeping the Right One Hooked Forever”.

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  1. 1

    Cannot emphasize enough the importance of girling up the look a bit. No, it shouldn’t matter so much, blah blah blah, whatever, get the first date. If you’re not already quite pretty, see a dermatologist, pay more than you ever have for really good haircuts, wear makeup for most dates (pass if it’s kayaking or similar!), consider contacts, wear cute heels, stop wearing so much black and tweed. You have to get a foot in the door, and if you’re an alpha female you have to do that by playing up your feminine side.

  2. 2

    Thanks, Evan. Sophie’s letter absolutely made me cringe, but your response about equality was right on the mark.
    As I mentioned in your previous post: we women are the ones who are sabotaging ourselves in the battle to gain equal pay for equal work.   Sophie’s line about wanting to give up control to her man was just… just… well, I don’t want to say anything too negative.   I’m older than she is, and I’ve seen too much of the world to know what can happen if a woman just wants to give up all her control that way.   The result ain’t pretty.
    C’mon, women.   Being strong in ourselves doesn’t make us less women; it makes us MORE women.   There is nothing sweet or charming about deliberate weakness.   You might as well have a bullseye target on your forehead.

  3. 3

    The problem with finding a guy in the top 80% plus is that every women is chasing after them. The higher they are the more  unavailable  they are to you. If you keep on chasing after these certain guys your most viable assets which is your youth will  disappear  rapidly.

    I hate to say this men who are in the top 90% want looks first than personality because they can get it easily. Looks is not just cloths makeup and etc – it is youth. Youth for a women is the  equivalent  of success for a man. If you want a super successful man (90+ percent) the most likely you were able to achieve this was when you were under 30 or significant  difference  in beauty.

    I would also say women who are in the top 90% also have horrible personalities. Successful men 90% plus in our society is defined by having a family with a trophy wife that is able to produce four beauitiful kids. Realistically that 90% guy does not want you because you can not give him what he wants is that family. Very successful men are attracted to nurturing women who can take care of his kids.
    There are realtionships where 90% top women are with 95% of men. In those relationships women are doing the majority of the courting and etc. If you want one of these guys you have to go seek them out and do the majority of the courting. At the end of the day they don’t want someone as successful as them they want someone who is nurturing who can become a amazing mother for his kids.

    1. 3.1


      You are spot on! I spent some years chasing the 90% men, out of insecurities in myself. I am a very strong, successful female. At nearly 50, I am pursuing the career I have always wanted. Unfortunately since it is taking a return to school, many men feel I am “too busy” to date or become VERY interested in how I am paying for school. It really is none of their business when asked before a committed relationship has been established..let alone before a first meeting. Yes I have been asked putright on the first call. For the record, my schooling is paid for and I will end up with no debt at the end.  
            Most men do not stay long enough to get to know me…and realize my nurturing side. It is frustrating. The guys who do, in my opinion, are usually not ones I am interested in because they are “divorcing”..present tense not past. If you are not finished with your past relationship, why do you want to start a new one? I have no interest in an ex’s drama..or the man not having worked through his losing of that relationship. I have dated men shorter than me and it has been a great experience 9/10 times. I am looking for a 70 or 80 percentile man..but have yet to find him..,why? Because those men are chasing the 90 and 95 percentile women…and have not realized compromise…or they truly believe they can get that type of woman. Becoming tired of the dating games…


  4. 4

    I sooooo want a sane, funny, loyal, attractive man who makes $60K and forgives all my faults. Now where the heck is he? 🙂

  5. 5
    Karl R

    Sophie said: (original post)
    “From the practical standpoint, a man who makes less than I do becomes a financial liability.”

    I don’t see how this happens. Let’s say you earn $90k per year (95th percentile for women, or a little higher). Let’s say I earn $40k per year (about 60th percentile for men).

    When I earned $40k (or less), I easily supported myself. I paid for my rent, my utilities, my food, my entertainment, my bad habits…. I did this without assistance from anyone.

    If we start living together (which probably means that I move in with you, since your place is nicer), your rent/mortgage stays the same, your utilities increase slightly, and your food bill goes up substantially.

    The increase in your food bill is due to the food I’m eating … which I’m accustomed to paying for, so I’ll continue to do so.

    The increase in utilities is less than the amount I was paying for utilities at my place. I can cover that expense and go somewhat beyond it (up to the amount I was paying for utilities).

    While your rent/mortgage is unchanged, I can pay towards it an amount equal to my rent.

    I can pay all of the above expenses without cutting into my disposable income at all. Your cost of living, however, drops by the amount I pay towards your rent/mortgage … giving you an increase in your disposable income.

    How does a financially independent person become a drain on your fincances? As long as that person is financially responsible (and doesn’t quit  his/her job or  start spending more money just because there’s a joint income), that person contributes more than they use.

  6. 6

    @ C. #4,

    I know, right?   I’m with you.

    Evidently, Sophie has no clue what it’s like to be a single parent.   If she thinks its really that easy, she should try it some time.   I’ve been doing it for 7 years and and on an income below $50K.   She must be getting her impression of single parenthood from the tabloids where celebs collect kids like jewelry or something.

    If Sophie has the looks, I will recommend sugardaddie.com….

  7. 7

    Bill #3
    “I would also say women who are in the top 90% also have horrible personalities”
    You mean 10%, I assume? I’m not sure how you happen to know this as a statement of fact. But you would say that is not true for the top 10% of male earners?
    This picks up on the previous post regarding male/female incomes, but I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet. It’s interesting to me that we assume that a wealthy man is necessarily a great partner just because he’s wealthy. I would think that the wealthiest men are not around very much, because they’re super type-A personalities, off working very long hours (“egocentric hunters”). Although women have been traditionally encouraged to seek providers, maybe that is less important than a man’s ability to be loving and present.

  8. 8

    I admit that a relationship between a mid-income guy and a high-income woman has a lot of complications, but a guy who makes $60 a year isn’t going to be a financial drag unless you want to have a very luxurious lifestyle.   If you don’t need to sleep in a chic hotel, if you don’t need to live in the town/neighborhood that has everything, if you don’t care if you don’t drive a BMW, the guy with $60k a year is going to be a net asset for you even if he pays less than half the rent or mortgage.   (assume you pay $1500 a month.   A guy with $60k can easily pay half of that.   Even if he only pays $500 you are still saving $6000 a year!)  

    Finally, being a single mom is very hard and very expensive.   The salary of a nanny is going to be much higher than the  upkeep of a stay at home dad, not to mention much, much higher than the upkeep of a beta man  who still makes a real salary.   Plus  a father is probably going to do a better job raising your kids than a nanny would.  

    Even if you can easily afford a nanny as a single mom, your kid is going to lose out on having a paternal family.   Sperm donor kids have a variety of issues.  


  9. 9

    “One of the big points of having your own money — at least as a man — is that you don’t have to be with someone else who has money. This keeps our dating options extremely wide, because it allows us to look for women who are attractive, cool and nurturing — without having to restrict ourselves to the top 5% of earners like so many women appear to, in spite of the fact that they’re already in the top 5% themselves.”

    I hate to say it, but there are a lot of men who obviously do not feel this way at all.
    If they have money and you don’t….they seem to be afraid that you are with them just for that reason…..or that once a woman “has” them, they can quit their jobs and live off of him for the rest of their lives.

    My last relationship was a perfect example. We were together for 3 years and lived together for 2 of them.
    After we moved in together I lost my job and was not able to find another position. He obviously resented the fact that I wasn’t pulling my own weight financially. Even though he said he enjoyed all the benefits of having a full time “housewife”, and it made life less stressful for him…..one of the lovely things he said to me before he walked out was “I can’t be with someone who can’t stand on their own two feet.”

    Now I could understand if money was a problem and I was demanding expensive jewelry, designer clothes and monthly spa treatments, but that was not the case at all. He makes 100,000 a year  and I never spent any of his money on myself.

    I don’t think that men think of themselves in the role of provider anymore.

    1. 9.1

      Agreed Lea. I am a full time student paying my own way. When men find this oyt, they usually run. They believe I am going to be a financial drain. Despite my schooling being paid for, with no debt when I finish. I have stopped dating because I am tired of men asking me very detailed questions about this before a committed relationship is established, let a lone a first meeting. It is none of their business honestly.

  10. 10

    @ C. #4,
    Yeah… me too… 😀
    And i dont understand what part of being a single mother is easy!!! The responsibilities of a mother are not easy even when you’re not single!!! I guess people should try to understand how their parents raised them!!

  11. 11

    Chris, also on Slate was this article: http://www.slate.com/id/2261249/
    I agree, lower income men are more likely to cook, do housework and take care of the kids, I’ve seen it with my friends who are SAHDs. Personally, I prefer the office, so I’d be happy with one of these guys. What to avoid are the guys that grew up rich, because they are least likely to do domestic duties, even when they are unemployed (like the nymag article you’ve posted before). So, I guess if a woman really wants to take care of the home and not just lounge in luxury all day, maybe they would make a good match for the alpha male…that is if they ever land one.

  12. 12

    A fascinating topic.   Only the two attorney friends I have make 60K or more.   The rest of us are way, way below that; welcome to Montana!   Money is not a topic for mate selection, as far as I know.   If they can hold a job, good enough!

  13. 13

    @ Moon #12

    “If they can hold a job, good enough!”   Yep. True for most folks. These rich women are a small, niche group – one must be kind to them.

  14. 14

    Find a bloke you like and see what happens. Who cares what you earn? Who cares what he earns? I think the emphasis on money is worrying. Be a nice decent caring person and stop thinking too much.

  15. 15

    Lea, that exact same thing happened to a friend of mine. Her boyfriend who she lives with is in tv production and makes 6 figures. She is not a gold digger but became unemployed last year for 6 months and relied on him to pay their rent. He told her that he will not marry her until she gets a job, because he doesn’t want a wife to burden him like his mother did his dad. So yeah, just because a guy makes more doesn’t mean he wants you depending on him.

    1. 15.1

      Exactly, I can’t tell you how many men’s profiles I see online that say they want an ambitious woman (both alphas and betas say this).   Or how many times I’ve seen men’s eyes light up when I tell them what I do…I can immediately hear them thinking, “Whew!   Not a liability.”

  16. 16

    To get to Ruby’s point about high-earning men not necessarily being good partners, I’d like to highlight a quote from the article C. mentioned:
    “Since 2007, sociologists Carla Shows and Naomi Gerstel have been studying two groups of fathers: high-earning, highly-educated physicians; and low-income, less-educated emergency medical technicians. They find that the EMTs are much more active participants in their children’s daily routines. They pick the kids up from daycare, feed them dinner, and schedule their hours or trade shifts with other EMTs to stay home when a child is ill. The physicians, by contrast, put very little time into and show little understanding of the daily routines of family life. Instead, they see themselves as “good fathers” because they attend their children’s special events, such as sports activities and performances that occur on weekends or in the evening. The researchers conclude that the professionals are performing the public aspects of fatherhood, while neglecting the private ones, whereas the EMTs perform both.”
    Obviously, not all high-earning dads are neglectful of family. But there’s enough to make a statistically significant study as demonstrated above.
    When you get to be like me, married with kids, you realize that far more important than a hubby’s high salary is his willingness to pitch in to household duties, which include childcare and bills and home maintenance.   Believe me, when you have kids, even if you had lots of disposable income, you won’t have TIME to spend it on luxuries and trips anyway!
    The overemphasis on moolah is such a detriment to women looking for partners. It won’t be what makes them happy and fulfilled in the long run. Look for stability and kindness instead.

  17. 17

    @ Helen #16 — Amen to that.   And to many of the comments regarding Sophie’s idea of just having some babies  on her own and still having a dating life “on the side.”     Reality check, please?  

    I know the use of percentages is only meant as a guide and is not scientific, but it still makes me cringe.   How do you put a rating on sincerity, humanitarian-ism, outrageous sense of humor, or killer cook?   The only objective category is income, and my experience with people with lotsa money is that they tend to not want to share.    So, for me, the question is not “How much money does he make?” but rather:  How generous is he? Does he consider it a privilege to be able to share what he has with  someone who loves him, nurtures him, and would stand by him in tough times?     That’s what I’m looking for  when it comes to “assets.”   Unless a woman is really hoping to find a man to fully support her and provide her with status, then his income should not be an issue.   I make a good salary, certainly not anywhere near the top 90%, but I can support myself.    If a man does not drain my resources, or maybe even enhances them in any way (household workload sharing, for example, or excellent popcorn maker), then I don’t care what he makes.

    And I realize I will have to get in line here, but…that  funny, loyal, attractive man who makes $60 a year?   Send him over!    

  18. 18

    Hi Sophie;
    I don’t mean this as an insult,   I just don’t know how to say it clearly without it sounding like a cliche or an insult.     Your email to Evan seems to reflect an author who is quite full of herself.
    I have to apologize, but I don’t think I can articulate precisely what contributes to that impression.
    Not finding someone attractive is fair enough.     It happens every day.
    You might want to think about learning how not to evaluate people by money and not thinking that you are “better” than many people.
    Those kinds of attitudes tend to seep out in between the lines no matter what or how smoothly people say other things.
    I respect your willingness to alter your behavior.     Many people complain, few try something different.
    Good Luck

  19. 19

    Is it just me or does it seem like that these “alpha women” who write in only seem to encounter men at one or the other extreme?     Super duper high earner at the one extreme or the lazy slacker at the other?     Either the man is daddy warbucks or a “financial liability”.   What happened to all of the men in between who work hard, have great careers, are good looking are who about something, but who are not the absolute top earners?

  20. 20
    Karl R

    Steve said: (#18)
    “You might want to think about learning how not to evaluate people by money and not thinking that you are ‘better’ than many people.”

    I agree with that statement, particularly the second half.

    People aren’t linear. There is no absolute measure of quality. Most people will be better than me in some areas and worse in others. If you say “I’m better than that person,” what you really mean is that you’re better than them in X, Y and Z traits … and you consider those traits to be more important than  L, M and N  traits where that person is better than you.

    And you can tell a lot about a person by which traits they value … and which traits they don’t.

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