What’s the Difference Between Settling and Compromising?

one woman and one man 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. 141

    @Tina #139
    Italian salaries may be lower, but isn’t the Italian cost of living also lower?     In the U.S., most of the time higher salaries mean higher cost of living.

  2. 142

    Yay someone read my comment!
    Costs of living vary depending on where you are in Italy (for example Rome is so crazy expensive that you are guaranteed to run out of money by the second week of the month) while where I live, Lecce, is very reasonably priced in most aspects.
    My comment was more to express that since most salaries in this country are basically the same (a doctor will earn really not much more than a bus driver or book store clerk), people here just don’t really consider salary so much in the criteria for dating a guy.   Not that the wealthy do not exist – they do, and there are certainly the women who will com running in that direction.   But for the most part, at least from my observation, Italian women get most excited just knowing that a man lives on his own and not with his mother. 😉
    I enjoy sharing cultural comparisons – in fact it has been very interesting to apply things I read on this site to the dating culture in the country where I live. I either need to write a blog post about it or send Evan a nice e-mail with my observations. 🙂

  3. 143

    @ Tina – I should move to Italy. I bet the people are way happier than americans.

  4. 144

    Tina, the fact that the standard of living is a lot lower in Italy (and in many ther parts of Europe) than compared to that in the US is hardly a secret… I fail to see how this is a positive thing though. If we consider it a positive, than  North Korea  is the paradise on earth  🙂 🙂

  5. 145

    I have an Italian-born friend who lives in the US and earns a living by taking tours to Italy. She’s gorgeous, totally feminine, in her 30’s and too Americanized to put up with the Italian mamas that come part-and-parcel with Italian men.

    When you look at other countries, you have to examine more than just the standard of living. It’s culture, it’s family, it’s all the extras!

    Despite that, yes, I’m totally jealous of @Tina. Fabulous! Please send your observations. 🙂

  6. 146

    @Stacy – actually, having lived in the US, Argentina, Switzerland and Italy, I can say that in Italy I’m enjoying the highest standard of living I have ever experienced.   I have never enjoyed food so fresh and flavorful and clean (and affordable), I have two seas to choose from (the Adriatic and the Ionian) so I go to the beach almost every day, I live in an olive oil and wine producing region, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, everything around me is built of sturdy, reliable material that has lasted through centuries, and have you seen the guys here? Beauuuutiful. 😉   So I’m not sure how you can say my standard of living is low.   It may be cheaper here but this isn’t North Korea.   But I hate to veer off topic (sorry Evan!) so please do stop by my blog (click on my name), read if you’d like, and comment – I am always happy to discuss these things!

  7. 147

    Please forgive my double comment. Only time it shall happen.
    @Stacy – oops!   Forgive me, I decided to go look up “standard of living” and I see what you mean. 😉   I confused it with the term quality of life (though for some reason I always thought standard of living was also measured by quality of life in terms of accessibility of goods and services, etc… which would make Italy’s high).   In any event, ciao! 😀   Sorry Evan for the two comments!

  8. 148

    Stacy,  by the various socioeconomic indices that measure standard of living, Italy and the United States are very similar. So it is not “a lot lower” in Italy.   It would help to do resesarch before issuing judgmental  statements that put an entire nation down.

    Meet Me In Outer Space and Steve, it’s entirely feasible – indeed, likely – to be in the 90th percentile of earnings in one’s late 20s if one has a PhD, JD, or MBA.   That said, I couldn’t agree with you more, MMIOS, about the presumptuousness of Sophie attempting to advise other women about how they should change themselves; when she herself is obviously ignorant about many things.

    Tina, would love to join you in paradise!

  9. 149

    Helen, I wouldn’t rely on socioeconomic indices too much. In fact. I wouldn’t rely on them at all. The way they’re calculated… there’s lies, damn lies and .. well, socioeconomic indices 🙂

    As someone who dated an italian, have been to italy many times   and was able to observe the lifestyle of my b/f’s extended family members, I know for a fact that their standard of living is a lot, a lot lower than that of people living in the US, even outside of large metro areas of NY and LA. It’s just like Tina said  – people can not afford having their own apartments (and a house? – forgettaboutit), cars, decent appliances and other things that are quite common in the US. To each his own, but to me being able to afford   my own place (or two) definitely trumps low gini index and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella 🙂

  10. 150

    Stacy #150,
    As someone who just clicked over and read Tina’s blog 😉 I’m sure she is quite aware of the benefits and attractions of living in America (homeownership! cars!! strip malls!!!), yet she chose to move ) and seems to survive very nicely without all these things.
    Personally, I think the role of material goods in our lives is highly overrated. Homeownership is highly overrated. We wouldn’t be needing cars on a daily basis if we had well-developed public transportation. A car in and of itself is a nuisance and a money drain, not to mention the leading cause of death. What I’m trying to say here is, we surround ourselves with a lot of material things we don’t really need, and then convince ourselves that those things are critical for our survival, and in reality they are not. On the other hand, healthcare, college education, retirement – these things are essential, and they come with a very high price tag here in America. So, not sure if we really have it that much better than people living in Europe 😉 Plus, my friends that live in NYC and LA tell me that many people in those areas cannot afford to own an apartment (let alone a house) or a parking spot 😉
    I, too, apologize for veering off-topic, though IMO this new discussion ties in pretty nicely with the original post – the part about concentrating too much on a person’s income when choosing a partner. Tina just gives more proof that money isn’t everything 🙂

  11. 151

    Cars and decent appliances??? Is that what its all about? Ugg. I seriously do not get it. To each their own indeed!
    And seriously Stacy, you’re gonna compare Italy to North Korea? I hope you were joking, although its not even funny.
    I’m with you Goldie. Status and “things” are nothing compared to health and education. Studies show that the happiest nations are the ones where you don’t NEED to marry a rich man to raise a healthy and well-educated child, because the country and community believes those are rights, not privileges for the wealthy.
    The more I reflect on the op the more I see the despair of the young(ish) woman who wishes for a white knight to come take care of everything. Sad really. I wonder if she can benefit from role playing? You know, like rather than looking to marry an alpha she can instead marry one of the “60th precentile” guys she has “no problem” getting, and ask him to act like an alpha in the bedroom? If shes that good looking I’m sure many would oblige.

  12. 152

    Hey I live on my own AND eat fresh mozz & tomatoes… 😀
    Stacy brings up good points though.
    I think a lot of it is cultural too – I, from Seattle originally, have a goal-oriented attitude and a certain way of treating my money, etc… and i think outside the box.   A lot of Italians don’t necessarily. It’s easy to stay at home (and sometimes nicer than having 5 to 10 roommates), there are not a lot of jobs and when people do have their own homes, they are inherited in a lot of cases. But, with the right attitude towards money anyone can save up and own a home – i do know several Italians who do so.
    But Stacy I think your view of Italy is almost TOO grim.   I’m the only person I know in Italy who does NOT have a car or a washing machine (only because I hate driving and I just haven’t found a washing machine I like) – people are obsessed with their scooters and cars here, and the appliances here are wonderful – more than just decent.   I have not had to touch a flimsy thing since I’ve moved here.   (Compared to Argentina, mamma mia…)
    I may not own my apartment and I may not have a car, but I am a tri-lingual dual citizen with my own business as a translator and another business as a dance teacher, and I am living my dream! I worked hard to be able to live here and do what I want…. I feel filthy rich myself despite the small salary. 😉 I guess it’s all about perspective and priority.   Alas on my way up the ‘Tina ladder’ I turned away from some very nice guys who would have gladly walked by my side, and that is why I am at this blog.
    And this DOES stay on topic in an important way… one person’s impression of a particular standard of living or income or… success or whatever, is always going to be different than someone else’s.   In a relationship I can see where this could be an issue, and if you put a multi-cultural couple together stuff like this comes up.   SO… how to deal with such things when they come up?
    But anyway. I have a piazza to go sit in… 🙂 ciao!

  13. 153

    @ Tina #153

    Brava! 🙂

  14. 154

    Tina, I checked out your website… you are HOT!  

    AND interesting.   You will have no trouble finding a man if you want one.   The good thing is that it sounds as though you absolutely love life anyway.

  15. 155

    @Helen, aw, thanks!
    The dating scene here in this town is actually pretty difficult – lots of cultural lessons to learn… plus I also have to weed out the guys who are just excited to date the international chick (and not really interested in who she is inside)…. and the women here, in my opinion, are agressive towards men – since I prefer doing ‘nothing’ and allowing the guy to pursue, it has been tricky!   I have been ‘intercepted’ by many a crafty girl.   I had a guy try to trick me into asking me out – he was confused as to why I hadn’t.   But I won’t budge and it’s starting to work, with a little patience and the help of a local match service (without which I would be so lost), I’m finally dating. 🙂

  16. 156

    Money is just a tool that aides in getting part of happiness.   The game is about getting happiness.
    I imagine to someone who sees herself and the world in terms of percentiles that sounds like a loser’s philosophy of sour grapes.     That is probably true for some people too.
    Lets assume that a high percentile woman hooks up with the high percentile man.       Why would he bother with her?     She, him?     A piece of ass?     They could get that any time without having to give up some of their high earning time to someone to maintain a relationship.
    What will they have to talk about?       Will those topics still be interesting enough to make getting together still be fun after eleven weeks?
    Lets say one of them is forced to be in a waiting room for a while.     Nothing to read, nothing to do.       Assume they can’t occupy their minds with mundane matters like scheduling their time or deciding what to eat for dinner.
    What is going on internally?   Are they comfortable waiting?

  17. 157

    I agree, Tina is quite the dish.     The pictures of Italy on her blog are beautiful.     I’m starting to wonder if Italy has jobs for programmers and how easy it is to buy tofu there 🙂

  18. 158

    @49 Diane

    Your post was brilliant. TY 🙂

  19. 159


    I don’t think that “material things” are overrated. It’s all a matter of perspective. One should try to live without, or at least see it up close before making judgements of what’s really important. Take it from someone who’s seen it up close: you do not want living in a cramped european-style apartment with 2 other generations of your family (try having sex there), you do not want to sweat in trains and spend most of your salary on basics (because they’re so damn expensive). It is just not a nice life. Of course, there’re more to life than just the material aspect, but a quick look at the Maslow pyramid suggests that the material stuff comes first 🙂

  20. 160

    Tina #153

    It looks like you’ve got some great things going for you! I am very happy that you’re happy 🙂 I guess the bottom line is that everyone’s dream is different. I am living my dream in NY too and wouldn’t trade  places with the Queen of England 🙂 All the best!

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