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. 121

    Selena #112:  did you misread me, or  did I misread you? I never said you should say “I feel.”   I said just the opposite: that you shouldn’t force yourself to talk that way, if it doesn’t come naturally to you.   So when you ask what happens if you slip up and don’t couch something as a “feeling message,” well, I’m not the one to answer that.   I agree with you – rarely couch things as feeling messages. 🙂

    You and others have asked what to talk about then, either if the guy is “strong and silent” or if you seem to think conversations should all be about arguments.   Golly, you could talk about just about anything.   Pick a topic.   Shirley Sherrod.   Climate change.   Sports.   Affirmative action.   Your jobs.   Ancient history.   New technologies.   Traveling.   Astrophysics.   Art or music.   The things you love to do.   The sky’s the limit.

    Side note to Selena: The funny thing about strong and silent types: you may think the conversation is going nowhere, then you find out afterwards that he really enjoyed it and thought it was a great conversation.   But if YOU’RE bored, then yes, there’s no reason to stay.

  2. 122

    RE: Goldie‘s #120
    Very well said.

  3. 123

    A few thoughts:
    1) Why do alpha males always get characterized as emotional nitwits? I work in a place where the price of entry is a Harvard degree (some exceptions–I don’t have one\). Some of the guys are jerks, true enough. But I’d say that most are real sweethearts. True, they do not suffer fools gladly. And if you are a goofy thinker they won’t date you, and they won’t marry you. Perhaps the poster is very smart and well-educated and wants to hang out with same. Revenge of the nerds in reverse. If she’s all she says she is, she won’t have a problem. These guys are not idiots.

    2) The word “settle” is just an awful word, whatever it means to whoever decided this is a good word to use regarding long-term relationships and however brilliant Lori Gottlieb is supposed to be. Argue all you want about the meaning.  The word is  a TURN-OFF to the public at large. Please get it. “Compromise” gets second-place runner-up.

    3) I’m still watching Buffy on Netflix. Can’t move on to the new generation of vampires yet. What is the world coming to, though, when our overriding cultural obsession is with people sucking blood.

  4. 124

    I think (and feel)  “I feel…” messages can be useful for diffusing disagreements before they become arguments. But as a conversational style? Uh, no. I need a man I can share opinions with – that’s chemistry to me. So I agree with you (I think?), my other comments were in response to Stacy and her “shut up and smile” style. Very Stepford wife – blah. But if she/Sophie had problems with expressing their opinions to men in the past…? Well, maybe it’s all in the delivery. Shrug.

    The strong and silent types I’ve dated were quite handsome, but that wasn’t enough to carry a relationship. I would start to feel like an interviewer and  become a  little frustrated. Maybe I should have told them “I feel frustrated because I’m carrying on this conversation mostly by myself”? lol. Or I could have just shut up and smiled and spent the dates in near silence.

  5. 125

    Exactly Selena!   I’m not sure how having a great brain and using it equals being argumentative. I hear people that are dumb as rocks arguing all the time!
    I THINK and I FEEL that smart men like being with smart women, because you can have conversations! When I’m on a great wavelength with a guy we can talk for ages, usually sharing the SAME opinions, and if we don’t have the same opinion there are ways to share those without fighting. sheesh.
    re:the alpha debate. I think a guy can be an alpha at work and a beta at home, such as Helen’s husband, or like Jonesy describes the rich nerd with a heart of gold…basically they have great qualities in addition to or in spite of being alphas. That said, the whole message we are getting from Sophie and Stacy is that they are looking for the kinda of alpha that is either macho and muscular and “in charge” of their woman, or the kind that make a lot of money and won’t let their wives to work outside the home or have opinions…which seems like strange criteria to the rest of us, since that doesn’t sound all that great.

  6. 126

    Ha! 😀   All this talk about vampires (how did this enter the discussion, gals?) made me realize that  the Twilight series  perfectly fits the title Evan gave to this post. If Bella had gone for Jacob, she would have been settling (keeping her human nature, but choosing #2 on her love list); whereas  by choosing Edward, she had to compromise  (well, I won’t reveal the ending of the series).

    Not sure there’s a lesson to be learned by that.   Carry on.

  7. 127

    I am actually surprised nobody remembered “The Ugly Truth” chick flick. The OP seems right out of that movie 🙂

  8. 128

    Somehow I feel this discussion is not going anywhere if people are going by absolutes. Absolutely alpha or absolutely beta. Absolutely feeling or absolutely thinking. Absolutely argumentative or absolutely pushover.

    There are varying degrees of certain traits in a person. Sometimes  people show their traits according to  situations. There are tons of women who are smart and can think nowadays. Even lots with leadership qualities who are kind, caring, understanding at the same time.

    Desirable men  are desired by many. They do have a lot of choices. If a desirable man can have a smart women who is attractive,  understanding, feminine, caring all in  one package,  he would choose  her over those who  has less of those traits in a package.

    Nobody is perfect but everybody wants a catch. 😀

  9. 129

    @Stacy #128.
    Sounds interesting.   I netflixed it.

  10. 130

    Thank you, Helen and A_L. Yep, over 18 years of marriage, I pretty much mastered the art of negotiation. We started with screaming contests like everybody else, but things actually got pretty peaceful towards the end. Unfortunately by then, I was so tired of the whole thing that I decided to leave. Oh well, better luck next time 🙂

  11. 131

    ITA with C #126 – I, too, have met men that were, so to say, “alphas at work and betas at home”, my Dad being one of them. I have also met ones that were omegas at work, but tried to rule with an iron fist inside their own families… not a good thing!
    You cannot say much about a man’s character just based on his job title and salary. Even in leadership, there are different styles. Some people are more caring and attentive to their subordinates, others more authoritarian, even though they’re all leaders and all do a good job of it.

  12. 132
    Meet Me in Outer Space

    Top 10% as far as appearance is concerned… and whatever the other rating she gave herself regarding income in her late 20’s? Really?…. late 20’s? What profession might that be? Also, considering her recent “make over” of high heels and *eckhem* dresses, what exactly does she carry to keep guys from chasing after her in public? Late 20’s, top 10% in looks, ANNND a business woman AAAAAAANNNNNNDDDDDDD finding it hard to find a man, by her own definition. Kind of sounds to me like… BS. I think the only top 10% she’s in are the people that overrate themselves. Everyone has a flaw, whether it’s personality or appearance. You really have to let go of the love you have for yourself before you give it to anyone else Sophie. Best to do it before you get SUPER OLD and hit 30. *gasp* Why didn’t you just say in the beginning, you’re not dating anyone because you don’t think anyone is good enough for you, and save us some time? THEN she wants to give that crappy advice to older women that read this blog? ouch. Lady, why don’t you let another 20-30 years pass before you think you have the power of wisdom to dole out so freely? And please observe in that time you learn from your mistakes, so when you come back you have some useful “advice,” instead of a “multifaceted plan” that has YET to work.

  13. 133

    @132, yeah Goldie, my dad has always been in leadership roles at work, and a pretty high earner, but his kind and caring and somewhat passive nature (yes, some leaders are like this) always made him seem more like a beta to me. Plus he did all the cooking at home, so he is definitely not a product of traditional gender role beliefs.
    Just thought I’d share a funny joke I heard, since twilight entered the convo: How are the Twilight books/movies like soccer games? They go on for hours and nobody scores, but millions of fans will tell you that you just don’t understand! (but for the record I love soccer 😛 )

  14. 134

    To many of these messages here, we all wear many different hats. 🙂
    I have watched, “The Ugly Truth” and yes, come to think of it, Stacy [128], there are some similarities. I interpreted your earlier message from 116 to mean that rather than constantly comment on [some might say criticize] every minor thing that comes up in a normal day, thereby, making a mountain out of a molehill, you decided to let the truly lesser important things slide, rather than nit picking, etc. about everything.

  15. 135

    I enjoy reading these comments since they entertain me when I am bored at work. The truth instead of rating people why don’t you talk to everyone that talks to you and judge them later. Some of the best people that could be amazing for you are the most unexpected.

  16. 136

    @MMIOS #133
    I had the same question in my mind.     “How can someone in their 20s be in the top percentage of earners?”.       At that age doctors and lawyers are just getting started. She could be an incredible sales person, but that doesn’t seem likely.   Perhaps a programmer who stumbled into something good like a Mark Zuckerberg.

  17. 137

    Wow, my head is spinning.
    First of all, it’s (culturally) amazing to hear people speak of 60K a year as not being that much. Try living on an Italian salary which is… oh, about 15-20K a year….even for doctors. 😉 Anyway, if a person is able to support themselves independently then a liability does not exist.   If two people come together, they share a lot of expenses. I still don’t see any liability.   As long lines of communication are open and people are reasonable in what they expect to spend their money on and how much to put aside to save, etc…, who cares if a man makes more or less?   For me it’s the person’s attitude towards money that matters more than the actual income.   I also, as I’ve said, live where the typical salary is very low so maybe I just look at things this way out of necessity.
    My favorite Evan advice so far has been along the lines of wanting the one who wants you.   After flitting from good guy who ‘delivers” to bad guy with lots of chemistry and getting very hurt, I’m back in the game.
    I’ve been going on lots of dates lately (hooray!) and have decided to just watch and see how each fellow behaves towards me and to positively react and receive accordingly.   And now I find myself falling for a super guy who I may not have considered before.   The man makes me feel like a queen, and because in the beginning I decided to look beyond all the superficial stuff and go out with him and see what he’s all about, I found out that he and I have so many things in common!   For me he’s in the gazillionth (is that a word?) percentile.   We really like getting to know each other.   I am excited to watch this go somewhere.

  18. 138

    The woman in The Ugly Truth wasn’t looking for an alpha, she was looking for a prince on a white horse, so to speak. Her ideal wasn’t necessarily masculine or aggressive (or in any way a “master of the universe”), so no, I wouldn’t say that Sophie sounds exactly like her. She was looking for a sensitive poetic type. The man she eventually ended up with, though, was an alpha.
    Helen, #127, while I don’t want to start a Twilight debate here (I only mentioned Twilight initially because of how it portrays men – the author is a woman, so no wonder there), but it’s as if you didn’t understand what happened there at all. 😐   (C., #134, this is nothing to do with your joke. ;-))
    Jonesey, #124, LOL :D, I remember when Avatar first came out there was an article in the news how some fans got depressed over the fact that they would never be able to visit the planet Pandora, and all I could think then was, what kind of idiot people could even come up with something like that? Well, and what do you know – as I was reading the Twilight books recently, I found myself getting progressively more and more depressed over the fact that I cannot become a vampire! I have to say, the books really don’t make a good case for staying human. 🙂
    Gosh, if somebody told me six months ago that one day I’ll find myself saying this… 😉

  19. 139
    Meet Me in Outer Space

    @ Steve #137… yea it is a bit odd. Looking back I shouldn’t have been so mean, but I find her letter annoying. I mean, what makes her so perfect? A man that dates her is going to have to compromise as she will and everyone else in a relationship, because no two people are the same.

  20. 140

    Tina, it depends on where one lives. Here in NYC, for instance, 100k a year is a pretty basic salary. While earning that much would, in theory, make someone a “top earner”, by no stretch of imagination does it imply that they are actually affluent.

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