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. 161

    I watched “The Ugly Truth” this evening.     I laughed my ass off.       Thanks 🙂

  2. 162

    @Stacy I have a bit of a crush on NY myself! 🙂

  3. 163

    @160 Stacy,
    One should try to live without, or at least see it up close before making judgements of what’s really important.

    Aw, what an interesting assumption. Let me tell you more about myself. I grew up in Eastern Europe. I shared a studio apartment with my parents for the first 17 years of my life, then I lived in dorms with roommates (sharing a room with 2-4 girls at a time) for seven years, then moved into another studio apartment, got married, had two children, came to America when the kids were 4yo and 15 months old. We started out with zero income for a family of four, then I found a job two months later and our family income skyrocketed to 20K/year, again for a family of four. I’ve used foodstamps, my kids went to daycare on a Welfare voucher, I bought everyone’s clothes at second-hand stores. If it wasn’t for my crappy marriage, I would’ve been happy.
    Fast forward to this year – we’re comfortably middle-class, living in a nice suburban area, good schools, nice size newer colonial on a street that’s considered prestigious in my neighborhood… I decide to take the kids and the dog and move out. Just like that, my family income dropped in half and the expenses went up. We rented an apartment. (Had to buy a house later, because no apartments would take the dog, but it’s a much smaller house). I have to really watch my expenses now. I thought we’d all be miserable. Guess what? We’re not. Turns out, money is not such a big deal. You can have tons of it and be miserable, or you can have not as much of it and be happy. I’m not talking poverty level of course. There has to be some middle ground between “three generations in an apartment” and a 5000 sq ft McMansion. But, after a certain (pretty low, in fact) income level, there’s no correlation between money and happiness. I believe there was a research done earlier this year that found this out.

  4. 164

    Very interesting, Goldie.   Thanks for sharing!

  5. 165

    Money can Buy you anything but not happiness, happiness is what come with people around you and from within yourself so i agree with Goldie. It is better to find a man/woman who will keep you happy through out your life than a person whose income is above $100000.

  6. 166


    I have very similar background… I know exactly what you’re describing, I lived that life too and was miserable and angry, because I knew that there was a better life somewhere, and I wanted it.  I guess by channeling my anger into hard work I ended up achieving more than I ever dreamed of faster than I ever thought I would. Marriage and children weren’t even on my list until a few months ago 🙂 but I digress.

    In your case, you said it yourself – you had a crappy marriage, sorry  about that. You’re now happy just because you got out, you’re happy the same way I was happy when after a weekend of horrible tooth ache I finally got my wisdom tooth removed by my dentist on monday! That kept me happy for jeez, the entire day, I think.  Wait till you see how happy you are after a few years of struggling to make ends meet, when  the original feeling of relief of getting out of your marriage wears off.

    Now, I am not suggesting that you won’t do fine. I wish you luck in getting back on your feet. All I am saying is that your case has nothing to do with how money pertain to happiness.

    And that study  that money don’t correlate with happiness after certain level? That is such total  crap, don’t even get me started on that one. The only thing I can think of that money can’t buy is eternal youth, “for everything else there’s mastercard”. Seriously, nice life,  education, healthcare, even love (because it is easier to be attractive or woo the person you want) and friendship (because it is easier to get exposed to people you want to be friends with)  – money can buy. 🙂

  7. 167


    I dunno Stacy, if any of these several threads on this topic are anything to go by….the women who have a good amount of money aren’t getting the person they supposedly want.   Hence the complaints.

  8. 168

    Stacy, you’ve made a good case for people to want to make money. Of course education and healthcare and dental care are important. But if women can get that by their own hard work, the rest are just perks.   I disagree that money gets you better friends, I’m not wealthy and I can’t imagine having better friends than I already have. As far as money buying love, well, I don’t really see that either. Look at celebrities. Matt Damon married a cocktail waitress! Shes cute but it doesn’t look like she spent loads of money on her appearance, he probably fell for her characteristics and the fact that she was already a good mother. On the flip side you have George Clooney, who dates a roster of beautiful party girls (a lot have probably had plastic surgery) yet he has no intention of marrying them. Why should he? There will always be a new one around the corner. Other notables are Robert Downey Jr who married a producer, shes cute but he could have any number of glamorous starlets. Sure, obviously shes financially secure but I’ve read interviews with him praising her nurturing nature and unrelenting encouragement, not her status.   As for female celebrities I’ll point out Keri Russell, who is happily married a carpenter. No doubt he makes no where near what she does, but why should that bother her? Her money buys her the FREEDOM to marry for love.
    My point is that spending a lot of money on your looks may get you a date with Clooney, but is that really better than having the characteristics that will win you long term love?

  9. 169
    Karl R

    Stacy said to Goldie: (#167)
    “All I am saying is that your case has nothing to do with how money pertain to happiness.”

    Really? I would say that it’s highly relevant. As Goldie implied, if your needs are being met, then the rest of the money barely makes a difference.

    My income doubled four years ago. My lifestyle has barely changed, because there wasn’t much that I wanted which I didn’t  buy on half the income.

    Living below the poverty line (which I’ve done before) is unpleasant. But once you achieve financial security, money doesn’t contribute to happiness.

    Stacy said: (#167)
    “friendship (because it is easier to get exposed to people you want to be friends with)  – money can buy.”

    I want to be  friends with  to people who are funny, trustworthy, easy to get along with, and who share some of the same interests that I do. How does money help me “get exposed” to those people?

    Stacy said: (#167)
    “even love (because it is easier to be attractive or woo the person you want)”

    If my money makes me more attractive to a woman, then  I don’t want her.

    If a woman is going out with me  because I’m taking her on expensive dates (instead of the free concert in the park), then she’s not into me. She’s just hanging around temporarily for the perks.

  10. 170

    Selena #168

    I beg to differ. The woman who paid 40K for plastic surgery and got a man she always wanted? What is this is not buying love?

  11. 171

    I’m speaking of the numerous posts on this blog from high earning women and their laments about finding men. Specifically, men who earn more than they, or don’t resent them, or want them period. Apparently money doesn’t buy love. In the OP’s case, money bought her a certain look, which attracted a certain man, but she’s questioning if the love will last if her looks don’t. I wouldn’t say the 40k bought her love. You’re stretching.

  12. 172

    Stacy, some viewpoints expressed in your comments  show remarkable levels of presumption and shallowness.   How do you know how long Goldie has been living apart from her ex?   How can you presume to tell her how she will feel in a few years?   That is tactless to say the least.

    And the belief that money can buy love – either as mates or as friends – is naive to the point of wondering if anyone who thinks this way ever really experienced mature love.   You can be surrounded with people who are apparently of the  class that you deem to be worthy of your attention, but you cannot ever genuinely be friends or lovers with them unless there is mutual respect, tenderness, common interests, and a willingness to sacrifice on others’ behalf.   Money does not and will never buy these things.

  13. 173

    With regard to living without:
    A year and a half ago I went through quite a crisis and lost everything…I mean EVERYTHING…   I worried about I’d get to the next week, let alone month.   It was baaaad.   I mean really bad.   (The translation business basically came to a screeching halt – tango saved me after a while and paid my rent until the translations kicked back up, but that was not immediate and it was really hard).   I was living in Buenos Aires at the time and saw poverty on a daily basis, which further emphasized the fact that I had… nada. Nothing.   I was grateful that my American and Italian (EU) nationalities gave me opportunities that a lot of the people I saw didn’t have (I could leave – they couldn’t).
    Doing “without” made me realize just how little I need.
    That’s not to say I don’t appreciate material comforts – believe me, after living in Buenos Aires where my bedroom door simply fell off the hinges and on to the floor (because things in Argentina do that), when I got to Italy, I felt like such a queen to be renting an apartment with good, solid heavy doors on durable hinges that weren’t going anywhere.   This is actually an example of why I feel my quality of life in Italy is so high.
    As long as I can pay the rent, feed myself, and occasionally partake in some of the delicious deals that the European low-cost airlines offer (recently went to Palermo for 11 Euros for example), I’m content.   When extra opportunities or things present themselves and I’m able to fund them, I feel nothing but pure gratitude that I can, because of where I was before.   I know that it may not always be this way, and I count my blessings.
    In any event, it’s all about perspective and priority.   Regardless of where one stands in terms of standard of living and material comforts, it’s important to be honest about it and I guess find some sort of balance with your partner, should their stance be different.

  14. 174

    One more thing!
    I wasn’t going to comment but I just can’t resist. 😉
    Stacy said: 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.
    Ok, regarding the trains – yeah… I have to admit I don’t enjoy the regional trains without air conditioning. Blech.   But it’s a small price to pay…
    Re: cramped Euro-style apt with two generations, etc…. well…. kind of depends – I can see this happening in Rome where it’s just so expensive.   But in Lecce, where I live, most people I know live on their own.   It’s very affordable here.   However, since I grew up in an Italian family, I’m not really phased when people do live with their families. Living on one’s own is ideal (I must say I prefer it), but I barely blink when I meet people who live with their families.   It’s just normal to me I guess.
    I’d also like a definition of basics.   If by basics you mean rent, then yes depending on what city one lives in, that can be expensive.   But the places I have lived, rent has been quite reasonable.   If by basics you mean food and health care, you don’t have a solid argument as the food here, particularly produce, is much cheaper than it is in the US, and health care is public and available to all.   If by basics you mean appliances, not really.   If you go to the larger stores outside of city centers, you can find very reasonable deals on good quality appliances.
    Italian life IS a nice life and it suits me very fine.   But it depends on where you live. I may not be saying that if I lived in Naples for example!   But here in Lecce, I can say it.

  15. 175


    this is an interesting debate in and of itself – European lifestyle vs. American lifestyle, but I am not sure that this is the right forum for this. But since Evan hasn’t kicked us out yet…  

    I gotta tell you that by basics I mean simply food and every-day essentials, like soap, toothpaste and manicures. To put things in perspective, I own a fairly large place in one of the most expensive zip-codes in this country and spend about ~36pc of my after tax income on home ownership and the basics, with the rest available for discretionary spending and savings.  

    From my numerous conversations with friends who live in Europe (France, Germany, Italy), it is clear that the same level of lifestyle and consumption is simply unattainable to them. Partially, it is a result of higher prices to income ratios, and partially, which I think the root cause of all this actually is – a result of much lower upward mobility in European countries (i.e. poor stays poor), since we all started at approximately the same level.

    As an anecdotic example, a french friend of mine visited New York this summer, and she was extremely excited to buy fake nails at Duane Reade for $7 and see that they looked very similar to those done in  a salone. She told me that to do such nails in a salone in Paris would cost her over 60 euros. Holy crap, over 80 bucks for a manicure I routinely pay $20 for in NYC. I think she bought about 5 sets of those nails to take with her.

    Also, you may not know about it, but discount designer clothing stores in NYC (such as Cenury 21) are kept in business almost entirely by European tourists. It is pretty ironic to watch Italians piling up slightly defective D&G-s and Valentino’s at 50% off  in NYC, though I can’t blame them considering how darn expensive those same designers are in Milan (enough to send even me, a big spender on luxury, into the state of deep shock).

    So, I guess from what I see, Europeans in general are willing to accept much lower level of consumption, and they’re still happy. I think I am forever spolied by American lifestyle where consumption is very high, so I am completely unwilling to compromise on it, no matter what the other perks may be.

    To your point that “it depends on where you live” – duh, of course the bigger the city the more expensive it is to live there. I could probably buy a small palace in Oklahoma for the value of my NY apartment, but this is a moot point because what the city has to offer is a big part of the lifestyle, that would’ve been forgone if I moved there. Similar to how you forgo what Rome or Milan have to offer because you can’t afford a decent apartment there, lets say.

  16. 176

    Stacy, I enjoy talking to you about this stuff and hearing your perspective and Thanks Evan for not kicking us out! 😀

  17. 177

    Ok… I admit that I did not read ALL of the 177 comments that came before mine…
    I have been divorced for over 10 years and have been taking care of my six children alone without child support.   I did not look for a step-father for my kids and I did not look for a paycheck.   I never once calculated that if I met someone and brought them in the house… how much I would save on babysitters, rent and food… no, I decided to go to University after a year of being divorced. Part of the reason was to work toward a career to be able to support my kids better and the other reason was that the government (Canada/Quebec) gave money to women in my situation for going to school.
    I didn’t date anyone for the first six years and it was only after moving to Israel (with all of my kids) that I began to try to date
    I made ALL of the common mistakes and some not-so-common and after dating and/or talking to a lot of different types of men… I found that it is NOT about money, looks or even personality.
    It is about us.   We need to understand ourselves… be happy with ourselves… learn to be by ourselves and only when we know and understand what we expect from ourselves in this world and what our values and goals are,   can we begin to look for a romantic partner
    We must get out of our heads the notion that we can “find ourselves” with someone else.   If we need another human to “complete” us… than we are not ready… and yes, sometimes it takes a long time but if we don’t put in the work… we will also be lazy in our relationships
    What I found that was most important to me was… morals, ethics, and motivation.   If we have no motivation to be better… do better in life than it’s probably ok that our partner won’t have either… and that would not be considered compromising or settling.   If we disrespect lovers and people in general… than we can expect to attract like-minded partners. But I worked on myself and decided over those six years that what mattered most was if the man had morals and most of all if he had a passion about something in his life… whether he had motivation to grow and change
    We must be honest with ourselves.   That is the ONLY thing that matters when looking for a life partner.   All these calculations won’t help… all the egos won’t help…   we have to understand our flaws and then to be able to see and either accept or not accept other people’s flaws
    Know what you want… and go and get it but be humble and kind while you’re looking and every date that doesn’t turn out to be “the one” should be looked at as a learning experience and an often “funny” one at that
    Naomi Adler

  18. 178

    Great article Evan!
    I couldn’t agree with you more about the difference between settling and compromising. Something we teach on our courses over at GetTheGuy.co.uk is that women should never settle for a guy that isn’t the man of their dreams.

  19. 179

    nice post… as a fella just arrived at 40 i am finding it a jungle out there… i cant remember it ever being that way! i have been snooping the internet and it is nice to finally see some decent debate about modern relationships/issues.
    for me i am a fan of older women precisely because they are easy – not in a sleazy way though there are plenty of those! no, because they are truly adult and they are simply nicer people to deal with. i was a late bloomer in relationships and i guess i have missed the whole wife and kids thing. these last few years i have tried to do that but as your comments/stories indicate i have had no luck.
    i have met a truckload of single attractive women in that 30-40 age group and many of them i am still scratching my head as to what i was thinking in becoming involved with them. i totally believe that it is a modern phenom that it is women who are running the game now, and they way they are playing it is gonna leave alot of them quite lonely in there middle years…
    anyway i am heading back out to the promised land of the older woman, seems a bit more normal out thataways!
    good luck to you all!

  20. 180
    Karl R

    gus said: (#180)
    “I totally believe that it is a modern phenom that it is women who are running the game now”

    I have no idea what you mean. Either I choose to ask a woman out, or I don’t; if I ask, then she chooses to accept or decline the invitation. Or a woman chooses to ask me out, or not; if she asks, I choose to accept or decline the invitation.

    How is either sex “running the game” more than the other? Everyone has equal veto power in relationships. If you  believe someone has more control over your  dating life  than you, you’re  overlooking the control you do have.

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