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. 181

    My husband was brilliant, competitive, ambitious, successful. Does that equal Alpha? He helped tremendously with our 5 children, did enormous amounts around the house and half the cooking…Beta?   (He got killed, by the way)
    We were/are both difficult people – but crazy about each other. To the person who called love a warm fuzzy feeling that fades in 2 years – BULLSHIT – we had a great sex life and romance right up till he was killed.
    What on earth is wrong with being gorgeous, sexy, etc? I’m very old but want a fellow so I wear a push-up bra, 2″ heels (high enough to be sexy but I can walk, for God’s sake) and tight skirts. My hair’s below my butt. Men love it even though it’s pathetically thin. Why the hell not? When I run I wear shorts (hot pink, lime green) and a sports bra, but I doll up whenever I go out anywhere.
    I don’t get why women object to looking feminine.   I saw a really fat woman yesterday in a black pleated skirt, white embroidered blouse & black ruffly scarf with her hair nicely done.   I told her how great she looked.   A man her age who wasn’t slender himself would have been ecstatic to go out with her.

  2. 182


    As much as I love your articles and advice and believe in almost 100% of what you write….this is the one area where I disagree with you. (Full disclosure: I am a woman and I dont make or have a ton of money, I do okay, I can pay my bills and have some spending money but I definitely dont even make 6 figures not by a long shot)….

    (I actually replied to a similar article on this subject on your site.)

    You wrote above:   “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.”

    However, those men who make lots of money dont keep their options wide open…they tend to restrict themselves to the top 5% of beautiful women. That is their needs exchange.   Beauty and femininity are very linked for men.

    Most women dont value looks to the degree that most men do.   Money/successful/provider-abiliity and masculinity are very linked for  women even affluent women. A man’s financial strenght/social proof/power in the world  is attractive to us. A man who needs us financially or is financially inferior to us (by a lot …not talking a $10k difference in salaries) is kind of a mojo-killer for women.

    Luckily, I dont really have this problem as I am uber successful, but if that were to change, I doubt I would suddenly feel any differently from how I do now (i.e., I want a man who makes more than me). But I give a lot of latitiude in looks / appearance that men don’t give women.

    ….For the record, men and women are not equal. They are and should be treated with equal justice under the law but they are not equal.

  3. 183

    PS….it’s almost as if successful women are punished for their  success.  

    ..oops, you’ve made too much  money, you now have to settle for men who make a lot less than you.

    What you’re a woman who only make $40k a year and you’re dating a partner in a top 20 law firm, you must be a gold-digger.

    But men of all financial levels  still expect to date women who are knock-outs.

  4. 184
    Karl R

    JS said: (#184)
    “it’s almost as if successful women are punished for their  success.
    ..oops, you’ve made too much  money, you now have to settle for men who make a lot less than you.”

    Last month  I was out dancing, and I ended up being the best dancer (of either sex). That evening, none of my partners were as good as I was.

    Was I being “punished” for my success as a dancer by having to dance with women who weren’t my equals? Or was I being “rewarded” for my success … since I could get a dance with any woman there, and even the best dancers there  were looking forward to dancing with me.

    I’ve dated women who were more/less intelligent than me, more/less attractive than me, younger/older than me, earned more/less than me, better/worse shape than me, more/less skilled dancers than me.

    Fortunately, I’ve never dated anyone who felt they were being “punished” for being successful/skilled/gifted. I suspect most people would find that attitude to be unattractive.

  5. 185

    @ JS

    “Most women dont value looks to the degree that most men do.  ”

    This faulty premise has been soundly refuted by me and other posters countless of times.  

  6. 186

    Your postcript: “being a single mom is about the worst thing you can do for your love life”. Well done on probably putting off thousands of potential clients, Evan. In a world where divorce and single parents are everywhere, what an utterly clumsy and disrepectful thing to say.  

    Think you’re losing your touch.   

    1. 186.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      As I already explained to you on Twitter, it is not clumsy nor disrespectful to report truth – any more than it’s clumsy and disrespectful to point out that if a man is short or poor, he may struggle in attracting women. If you choose to take personal umbrage when I report what everyone else can see, that’s your prerogative, but I will continue to do exactly what I’ve been doing for over ten years – offer my opinion to those who are open to hearing it. I think that your comment here is only indicative of the fact that this truth hurts – not that it’s untrue. And thus, I don’t take it personal that you choose to shoot the messenger. I sincerely hope that you find love soon, in spite of the tricky obstacles of being a single mom.

  7. 187

    Interesting discussion. I am a women who was married for 23 years, raised 5 kids and was the primary breadwinner – $330k/$70k split. i never regret marrying him or the family we built together.   However, I divorced him because he had no drive or ambition to work harder and because he was 8 years older than me – he was thinking how he would retire while I pull down the big bucks for the next 20 years. I did it all – earning, investing, managing, caring, housework – and he sat on the couch with remote and a glass(or 3) of wine every night – asking me what I was making for dinner that night.   I did marry a nice, kind and handsome man but I didn’t know what I was signing up for.   My resentment and the pressure on me to do it all was exhausting. Now the alimony stinks but I’m looking forward to meeting a man that can take care of himself#1 and contribute something to me so that I don’t have to “do it all”.   I would imagine Evan’s wife carries a much bigger load in the relationship than $60k but unlike a women – most guys don’t see it as their job to own any of the “wifely” duties. Marriage is like a business partnership – you don’t have to partner with a rich person but you should consider if they have a similar work ethic, sense of direction and ambition before you sign the contract.   This isn’t exactly a disgreement but a warning to the young women.   One last point is that “does anyone else think it’s troublesome that less men than women are now graduating from college?”  

    1. 187.1

      There is a huge difference between the way boys are raised to view their education and income vs the way girls are raised.

      Boys are taught from an early age that if they want to get married – if they want families and intimacy from a woman – they need to get a good job.   Their jobs, their education, their income, will be their conduit to sex and family.   And the fruits of their labor will go to those others.

      To contrast, girls are raised to view their education and income as an insurance policy.   Sure you may want a husband to support you so you can focus on raising kids, but you may not find a husband, or your husband may leave you.   Your money is for yourself and your future kids.   But NOT for your husband.   not as a conduit to male intimacy, sex, or family.

      Is it any wonder that men are willing to date women who make less than themselves while women are not?   Men don’t focus on the income disparity between themselves and their wives, or berate their wives for lack of ambition to make more.   They don’t worry about the ratio of males to females in college.   They look for complimentarity rather than similarity.   And they don’t advise younger men to look for women with similar drive.

      I’m sorry your ex didn’t help you more, and that you got stuck doing both the traditionally masculine and feminine duties in your marriage.   That truly sucks, and I hear similar complaints from many women.   But statistics are funny, in that averages tend to group in a bell curve around the mean.   This means that for every marriage where the woman does more work, there’s one where the man does more.   Funny that we don’t hear men complaining, even though the same number of men experience unequal workloads as women.   Throughout history more men attended university than women and earned more money.   Strangely, they never worried about it.

      It comes back to a question that has been asked many times on this blog – do we want equality or complimentarity?   Can’t have both.

  8. 188

    Wow ….everyone has lots to say about Sophie who says she is in her early 20’s. While she’s s smart optimistic very young lady..she still clearly has a lot to learn called life experiences..I’d give her a break though.. As far as Evan..I’m glad you clarified things for her because some of your younger readers may take what your saying as they should settle. I read most of your material so I realize settling is not what your getting at but this is was not clear to me for a while. I Learned the hard way now at 34 I know wayyy better than to settle.. I so resonate with Sophie’s thoughts as my own when I was her age😌

  9. 189

    I’m a single mum, not by choice but I was left 11 years ago holding the babies for him to have an affair. He’s now married to that woman, settled with 2 kids and has virtually nothing to do with his!! He had the time to date etc. Meanwhile, I find it really difficult to meet men, I work hard, look after my kids and home and there’s not  a lot of time left!! I’m not angry with him anymore but angry with myself for not picking a better partner/father who would always be there for his children even after a split!! As for me now, I’m happy and got a lovely life but God I would live to share it with someone!! I don’t have a long list of expectations, just want someone to care and make me feel safe and love me for who I am!! Remember life is short and the older you get the more difficult it is. Lose the list and just enjoy the life you have because you never know how limited that time is x

  10. 190

    Darn, I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the headline topic – the difference between settling and compromising.

    My definition would be, to settle means to get less than one wanted between what was wanted could not be obtained. To compromise, means to make a choice between multiple options which are individually but not simultaneously available.

    For example, I can buy a cheaper, slower computer or a more expensive, faster computer. To settle, one of those would have to be ‘not available’, ie not sold or manufactured. To compromise, I would be purchasing the computer which best fit my personal criteria. If I buy the first, I’m compromising on speed; if I buy the second, I’m compromising on price. Either way, I am still making a choice from among two available choices,  about which factor is most important to me.

    However – I would not use either term for my dating life. I choose which factors are most important to me – confidence, character and willingness to chase – then choose from among those who fall into that category. I consider this a reframe of what I consider most important, rather than compromise, since no matter who I choose from that category has what I want.   (Lest you think I’m arrogant…I admit it’s a pretty small category). But it is a category from which I am most likely to obtain my heart’s desire.

    I consider it a woman’s job (or at least, greatly in her interest) to consistently open the door to opportunity  to that which is most likely to contain the men that meet those criteria. Once she has made herself approachable, all she has to do is accept the men that meet the criteria, and turn away those that do not. It’s actually harder to turn these men away politely than one might think.

    I truly believe many women’s greatest difficulty is that they don’t know what they want (and is often nowhere near what they say they want). It would benefit people consider what they have been accepting and realize what they are trying to get from that.

  11. 191

    Sorry, typo – to settle means to get less than one wanted because what was wanted could not be obtained.

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