What’s the Difference Between Settling and Compromising?


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. 101

    The appeal of Twilight is what is generally the appeal of the romance genre in the first place: a tall, muscular, handsome, POWERFUL, romantic man, desperately in love with YOU, wildly attracted to YOU, completely devoted to YOU, etc., etc. – that’s what every woman fantasizes about, but few women ever get. Things like fear of commitment sounds just laughable in the Twilight context. In fact, any type of of the “typical” jerky male behavior you can think of simply does not exist in the Twilight universe.
    And the descriptions of the men are rooted in fantasy, rather than reality, in more ways than just their physical beauty and strength. Look how amazingly perceptive Jake is for a 16-year-old boy. Grown men are incapable of that (and I mean men who actually care about you and want to be with you).
    Oh, and something like the concept of the “Rules”? Even Evan instructs women to just do nothing and “embrace your feminine energy”. Yet Bella can be as needy and insecure as she wants, and it won’t change a thing in how those [all-around gorgeous] men feel about her.
    That’s not to mention that Evan also constantly says “you can’t have it both ways”. A Marlboro man will not be the sensitive type, and the sensitive type will not be “masculine” (and so on, and so forth).
    Talk about fantasy! But it seems to me that’s precisely what the women limiting themselves exclusively to alpha males are hoping/ holding out for. Sophie is in her late 20’s – which is not actually that young, if you want your own children. She can waste her entire life searching for that impossible ideal.

  2. 102

    Btw, IceQueen, what exactly is the top 10% as it concerns “outlook on the world”? 😐
    Stacy, I did date at least one true alpha, so my knowledge of this is not purely academic (but I did also read some scientific works on this – it’s a fascinating subject). The way women threw themselves at him was… well, amusing, actually. 😉 I am an alpha myself, I held my own, I made him expend most of the effort (not “make” as in “force”, but simply by not making much effort myself) – which, I suppose, was part of the appeal, for him. But it was so obvious from the very beginning that it would never work! It can be a thrilling experience for a while, but choosing a life partner like that is in many ways a self-imposed prison.

  3. 103

    Well, I hate to generalize, but I don’t see how big and tough law enforcers equals “head of the household”. My aunt has been married to one and she was miserable the whole time, due to his reluctance to do anything around the house or with the kids.   I’m not saying there aren’t good ones out there, but thinking a guy is gonna make a make a great husband simply because he’s a cop, well, I find that a bit naive.
    And, EEEEEwww! I do not get the Twilight thing. Do those guys ever SMILE? Serious guys, no matter how virtuous they are, are just not alluring to me at all. The ultimate fantasy boyfriend to me looks more like Ed Helms.
    One more thing, there are a few people here that defend the op for wanting an alpha and not “settling”, but yet none of these posters are actually happily married to an alpha–they’re just dating them(or trying to). I’m more curious to hear from women who have been in a successful relationship with an alpha for 10+ years tell us that Sophie has the right mindset.

  4. 104

    C., the characters are much more emotional in the books. 😀
    It’s in the movies that they are these deeply morose individuals (I don’t know if that’s the acting or the script), and you can’t help but wonder how they even came out of it long enough to notice each other in the first place.

  5. 105

    C #104: I’ve been married to an alpha for 10 years. To me, he’s an alpha because he’s kind, caring, and patient; and shares equally in household and childrearing duties, doing more than his fair share in the latter. To the outside world (but unimportant to me), he might be considered alpha because he outearns me.
    Thus, to address your request since I match your profile 😉 – I don’t think Sophie has the right mindset. I’d be the last to say that there is just one right way to get a quality guy.   But Sophie seems to be focusing on changing shallow things rather than her deeper attitude toward men. My guess – though I’m not a dating coach like Evan – is that she would have better success if she did the following two things: 1) reverted back to the behaviors and preferences she feels most comfortable with, rather than deliberately trying to change herself to be more appealing; and 2) learned to appreciate all men for who they are and what they contribute.
    Take it from an intellectual show-off who ranks at best a 6 in looks and a 4 in femininity: men love appreciative women. You never have to hide your brains or say “I feel” instead of “I think.”   (In fact, I think men kind of love women who flaunt their brains joyously.)   You just have to appreciate them and let them know it.

  6. 106

    Twilight characters are not even that “morose”. Jacob is really warm and passionate.

    Juju, I just added “worldly” as one of the qualities since this is what many intelligent, well-off people seem to enjoy in their friends or partners. This would generally mean well travelled, well read, acquainted with different cultures and languages. I don’t personally think this should be a criteria for selecting a partner, I’ve just noticed that some people find this important.

    But again, I’m confused about this whole 90th percentile thing. It just sounds too subjective.

    And I don’t think we’re going to be able to grasp the definition of an “alpha male”. 🙂 My idea of what alpha is might be entirely different from Sophie’s. Women’s tastes are different. Just because a man has a lot of drive will not make him attractive in my eyes.

  7. 107

    Helen – kind, caring, patient, shares in household duties are typical “beta” qualities. Great qualities, btw. I would prefer a man with those qualities over a high earner.

  8. 108

    I think that some posters are making Sophie’s makeover far more extreme than it really is.   So now she wears skirts and dresses rather than pants.   She’s changing her look, not her character.
    And the “I feel” comments.   This is actually what a lot of counselors recommend, to both sexes.   Instead of saying “I think you’re a jackanape,” you can say “I feel hurt when you ____.”   The first is accusatory, and unlikely to get a positive response.   The second is more of a fact that can be discussed and is more likely to engender a change in behavior.   So again, this is not really a big deal.
    I’m with the majority who feel that her dream of popping out a kid and then continuing an active dating life are farfetched.
    And the alphas.   There’s a reason they’re called that. (Most) everyone wants them.   They’re passionate, ambitious, charismatic, and high earners who are usually pretty financially generous with others (since they’re the alpha they’re supposed to take care of their “pack”).   This can be a very attractive/intoxicating combination.   But they’re the ones in control of the household, they’re the ones who make the decisions (where to eat, vacation, buy a house…), they’re the ones who feel that helping out around the house (cooking, cleaning, kids) is not something they need to do (either because they’re bringing home the bacon or because they’re the “man” and it’s “women’s” work).   So long as Sophie is willing to accept this, then more power to her.   But she also needs to remember that though many alphas are high earners, not all are (i.e. her law enforcement example).   And how will she feel if she brings home 4 or 5 times the amount as he does, and then he expects her to do all the chores because she’s the woman?

  9. 109

    Helen #106

    I think men kind of love women who flaunt their brains joyously

    again, more generalizations. The only time in my life when I was dumped by a guy (who by all accounts was a true alpha – tall dark and handsome trader) – he told me I was too opinionated and argumentative. It may be that I just can’t voice my opinions in a manner that is not off putting, of course, but I find that the dynamic is always better when I  just shut up and smile, literally.  In my experience, men don’t really like being challenged by their women in that way. But that’s just my experience, your milage may vary.

  10. 110
    Ronnie Ann Ryan - The Dating Coach

    Evan – this is so well done, I’m nearly speechless. It must be rough to be at the top of the female dating chain. No doubt you set her straight – but if not, she might revisit these ideas in her late 30’s when her bio clock is ticking super loudly. Looking back, I know it’s easy to believe your own youthful philosophy, even if it’s completely inaccurate. What a great job explaiining equality in a new light.

  11. 111

    IceQueen #108

    ditto to that…

  12. 112

    @ Helen #106

    I can’t imagine conducting conversations  with mostly “I feel…” messages. Just sounds incredibly  tedious to me.   But then I’ve always been drawn to men I can converse  with for hours about anything and everything – and they to me.  Inevitably became  bored with the strong, silent types. Why would anyone want someone with whom they had to consistently monitor their communication style?   That’s gotta feel like work after awhile. And what happens when you slip up and offer an opinion NOT couched as a “feeling message”?  

  13. 113

    Stacy, are you Sophie by any chance? 😉   I’d noticed some striking similarities already. By the way, being opinionated and argumentative doesn’t equate with flaunting one’s brains. Neither are they opposites. They’re just completely different characteristics.   You can be brilliant without being argumentative.
    IceQueen #108: are these beta qualities? They come with a fellow who earns 50% more than me – and according to Karl R’s earlier statistics, if they’re to be believed, I’m already in the 95th %ile of earnings.   You’d be surprised how willing guys – even alpha males – are to do as you request if you ask nicely and thank them.
    I think the key to all of this is not to start with the idea that the opposite sex is the enemy, to be contended with; but the ally to work with in the best possible way.

  14. 114

    There’s a difference between having your own  opinions, and having opinions that you feel everyone else should have as well.

  15. 115

    To Stacy #110

    But how do you feel when you just shut up and smile, literally?

  16. 116

    Selena @115:

    It feels jut right, seriously. At some point I asked myself – what was more important to me – to voice my opinion every time it differed and argue, or be in a peaceful relationship with a guy I like? I thought having a guy was more important. While it is clearly important to be on the same page about serious stuff (but arguing it isn’t gonna change anything, you either agree or you look for a different partner), most everyday stuff just isn’t that important at all. It is just easier to have a guy have it his way. If you argue it you win the battle but ultimately lose the war.

  17. 117

    Money (or earning potential) as such has little to do with being an alpha. Bill Gates is very far from being one.

  18. 118


    I hear ya on the either agree, or look for a different partner rather than argue. It’s just the “Stepford wife-esq” smiling and never sharing a different opinion *I* would find mind-numbing in fairly short order. But, you know, I can’t say that was ever a problem in getting a man for me either.

  19. 119

    #116, this approach looks like a perfect recipe for disaster to me. Here’s my two cents.
    The opposite of arguing is not “shutting up and letting the guy have his way” – that’s just inviting him to walk all over you. The opposite of arguing, as I found out over the years, is clearly presenting your arguments in a way that would help him realize that you will both benefit from what you’re suggesting, and then both of you sitting down together and finding the middle ground.
    It is not about who wins the battle – sheesh. It’s about both of you having a good time together. Or, if there are children involved, then it’s about all of you having a good time together as a family. If one of you always acts like a steamroller and the other like a pushover, then guess what? Both of you are NOT having a good time. That’s right, he probably doesn’t enjoy it either, when every day, on every issue, he gets this message “yeah, yeah, whatever, have it your way”. And you cannot up and look for a different partner each time you disagree on something that’s essential to your life together. You’re going to disagree, like it or not. It’s how you both handle your disagreements that matters.
    That said, if one or both sides are uncapable of producing a convincing argument, or picking their battles wisely, or having an adult conversation without any of that aggressive or passive-aggressive stuff, then yeah, this couple isn’t probably a good fit for one another and it’s best to go your separate ways.

  20. 120

    Amen, Goldie!   You sound like a wise woman who’s lived it.

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