Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling

Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling

I got an email from my sister the other day. She was forwarding an article written by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic, called “Marry Him — The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”. Actually, that’s not quite right. In fact, she was forwarding me a link to a gossip site called Jezebel, which was ripping the author for even posing the notion that settling was a reasonable idea. So first I read the criticism, then I read the article, then I read a post-article interview with Gottlieb, and then I watched Gottlieb defend herself on The Today Show.

It was very clear that Gottlieb was onto a hot-button issue. But why was she getting attacked from all angles? Why the seething vitriol at a single mother who suggests that it might be wiser to compromise at age 34 than to continue searching through a thinning talent pool at age 40? It was clear to me that the messenger was being shot for carrying a controversial message. But it wasn’t fully clear why. So I started talking with the very people who were upset about this piece — single women, 35-45. My clients.

They told me that the piece was offensive.

They told me that it speaks more about the author than it does of them.

They told me they were very happy being single and would sooner die alone than settle.

They told me that it’s unfair to single out women for “settling”. What about men?

Now, to be clear, I am very sympathetic to the plight of women looking for love. No, I’m not a woman, which inherently limits my understanding, but I am a dating coach who listens to the fears and complaints of women every single day. You’d be hard pressed to find a man more attuned to the frustrations of single women than I am. Yet from a coldly logical standpoint, I found Gottlieb’s argument virtually unassailable.

She didn’t say settling was ideal. She wasn’t saying that you should “settle” to the point that you’re miserable. She wasn’t saying that you couldn’t possibly be happy alone. She even admits that “talking about settling in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable”. So what was she saying? To paraphrase:

If you DO want that traditional American dream of husband + house + kids who look like you, then your odds of achieving it are greater if you “settle” in your early 30’s.

If you want to have your own biological children with a quality man, your options are considerably greater when you’re 32 than when you’re 42. And if that’s the case, it might behoove you to settle for a “good” guy when you’re younger, rather than hold out for an ideal guy when there are fewer quality options available.

I’m not sure what there is to argue with. I mean, you can make the argument that you’re perfectly happy being single. Great. Stay single. You can make the argument that you’d be suicidal if you were to marry the “wrong” guy. Certainly, you shouldn’t marry under those circumstances. But if you DO want that traditional American dream of husband + house + kids who look like you, then your odds of achieving it are greater if you “settle” in your early 30’s.

Here’s why:…

1) If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values is on the hunt for a wife, he is most likely is going to be attracted to someone younger. Wait, don’t shoot! I’ve got an older girlfriend, and have long advocated for the wisdom and experience of thirtysomethings over twentysomethings. But youth and beauty have always been coveted by men, and wishing it away doesn’t change a thing.

2) If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values wants to be the biological father to his own children, he is mostly likely going to be searching for someone younger. It makes perfect sense. He doesn’t want to have to rush the relationship, much less get engaged, married, and pregnant in a year. Thus, all things remaining equal, most 40-year-old men with a choice will choose to date a woman younger than 35. It buys them time. Time that 35-40 year-old women don’t have IF they want their own biological children.

If a tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old man with a six-figure income and great family values wants to be the biological father to his own children, he is mostly likely going to be searching for someone younger.

And that’s the caveat that I need to emphasize more than Gottlieb did in her article. If you don’t want children, you’ve got no reason to settle. If you already have children, you’ve got no reason to settle. If you’re fine adopting children, you’ve got no reason to settle. But if you want to have your own kids, you have a far better pool of male applicants at age 30 than you do at age 40. It’s not that it’s impossible. Women in their late 30’s and early 40’s fall in love, get married, and get pregnant all the time. It’s just more difficult, that’s all.

Which is why this should not be taken as a judgment against women over 35. It’s merely an observation about the dating preferences of men. It’s not like women don’t know this. If they weren’t fully aware that men discriminated by age, they wouldn’t be lowering their ages to 29, 34, and 39 on dating sites across America. And what these women have surely realized — what they voice to me on the phone daily — is that the quality of their suitors is abysmal.

Are all the good ones taken? Not quite. But here’s a lot of what you’re going to get as a 40-year-old woman on Match.com: Commitmentphobes. Players. Financially unstable guys. Unattractive guys. Socially awkward guys. Much younger guys. Much older guys. Look in your in-box. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know….

So where are the tall, dark and handsome 40-year-old men with six-figure incomes and great family values? Searching for women 25-35, that’s where. And while some of those 25-35 women are getting married to these guys, many others are holding out for better men —younger, richer, cuter, smarter. Are they wrong for doing so? Hell, no. They’re following their hearts. They know what they’re worth. They WILL. NOT. SETTLE. In the meantime, they focus on their careers, their friends, their travel, and their homes, because that’s more rewarding than the tedious, maddening process that is dating. But occasionally, as these women near 40, things begin to shift. They find themselves lonely at holidays, or fed up with weddings, or feeling a biological pull that can’t be ignored. So, once again, they decide to gamely search for Mr. Right. But who’s left to choose from? Mostly (not exclusively), a parade of the “wrong” men on Match.com.

Given all that, I find it hard to disagree with Gottlieb’s assertion that, for women who want their own kids, it may be a better long-term decision to snap up Mr. Good Enough at 32 than to hope for Mr. Perfect at 42.

It sure ain’t romantic, but it is practical. People hate practical.

It sure ain’t romantic, but it is practical. People hate practical.

You may be reading this and getting upset. Maybe you’re upset at me for my take on this. Maybe you’re upset with Gottlieb for perpetuating the myth that women need men. Maybe you’re upset with men for wanting younger women. But mostly, I think what is most upsetting is that the article challenges our worldview that we can have it all without having to compromise. And the fact that a few people seem to have it all makes it all the more tantalizing. But when the high wears off – and, oh, it does – what do those people have left? Ask any older married couple. They’ll tell you about the virtues that have kept them together for forty years. Friendship. Loyalty. Patience. Values. Compromise.

So why do we single people so arrogantly insist that our elders have got it wrong? And if you’d rather be alone than compromise, why get so upset that other people like Lori Gottlieb have a different point of view?




Click here to read more:

Lori Gottlieb’s Article in the Atlantic: “Marry Him”

Jezebel’s criticism of Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb defending her article on The Today Show.


Join our conversation (291 Comments).
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  1. 261

    @Lorna #263.
    So, why can’t you marry a guy who loves to travel, buy a home together with him, travel the world, and progress in your career at the same time?
    Or, you’d prefer to be on this site 10 years later, asking Evan for advice on how to get a man?

  2. 262

    Verbosity 7 – Wow! So the guy gets to give the woman a great lifestyle? While she spends her time drinking coffee latte, and going to the hairdresser? Maybe somewhere in this ideal world of hers, she gets to do the cooking (or at least, orders some ready made food?), pick up and look after the children and maybe, just maybe, make life a little bit pleasant for her husband?
    I know that some men get ripped off in divorce and that’s a shame.  
    Although, if a woman starts out well qualified and gives up her career to be a full-time mother and maybe wife and supports HIM in some emotional way, she does have a point, doesn’t she?

  3. 263

    Yes. Settle! This is why .. Because we all think we are better than we really are! Take a good look at who you are and don’t try to upgrade. Just be yourself.

  4. 264

    This article is a little depressing and I am 25. Once again seems like   things are always in better favor for men. They always win.   I don’t care about dating anymore at this point. I don’t even want kids and never have. I guess I’ll just scdew them sometimes ams show them the door. lol Also you’d be surprised at how many older men don’t even want a younger woman. This is out of fear of turning into a sugar daddy

  5. 265

    Oops typos. Lol screw them sometimes and show them the door. * there we go lol

  6. 266
    Grammar Nerd

    Editing comment: periods at the end of a quote always go INSIDE the quote mark. Yes, I am a “grammar nerd.”

    If the sentence is an expletive or a question, the exclamation point goes outside. However, if the quotation IS an expletive or a question, the end quote is placed after the punctuation.

  7. 267
    Marie Benard

    As Evan pointed out in a recent video interview, there’s a difference between “settling” and “compromise.” Choosing a good enough guy instead of continuing to hunt for perfection is not really settling. Don’t settle on how a man treats you or how you feel about yourself when you’re with him. Don’t settle on the quality of the relationship. Settle on things that don’t matter as much, like how much money he makes, how tall he is, how pretty he looks or how well he dresses, his social position, degrees, etc. If you find a man who treats you like gold, is respectful, smart, has integrity and good family values and you get along well, then don’t let him go in hopes that you’ll find something better. It’s easy to have the attitude that something better is always around the corner when you’re 25. But you won’t be 25 forever, and one day you’ll wake up at 45 wishing you hadn’t thrown out the genuine article so you could chase shiny and plastic, thinking that might be better. It isn’t.

    1. 267.1
      Michael Ejercito

      I wonder if the same applies to men.

      1. 267.1.1
        Karl R

        Michael Ejercito,

        The same applies to men.

        I routinely meet women who are similarly attractive, intelligent, charming, fun, etc. as my wife.   Some of these women seem to find me attractive, intelligent, charming and fun as well.   If I did a side-by-side comparison of these women’s good and bad points, compared to my wife’s good and bad points, based upon the available information.   Some of these women would flat out win over my wife.


        Here’s the underlying flaw with my assessment:

        It took a long time to discover my wife’s flaws.   She’s perpetually late.   She can be cranky.   She sometimes gets mad at me because I can’t read her mind.   Things like that.   I figured those things out during the months that we dated and lived together.

        With the other women that I meet, I have discovered none of their flaws (unless these women are so flawed that their flaws are blatantly obvious to everyone).   They clearly have flaws, since they’re human.   But I am unaware of those flaws, which makes them easy to overlook … for now.

        If I look at  my wife’s good -and- bad points, and I compare them to another woman’s good points, then the other woman will sometimes  appear to be the better partner.

        But this is not a fair comparison.   More importantly, it’s not an accurate comparison.   If I got into a relationship with the other woman, I would eventually discover and have to deal with her bad points.


        I dated for several years before dating my wife.   If I had decided to break up with her, I expect it would have been several more years (on average) to find someone equally amazing … and with an equally good relationship.

        Now if it takes me 4-5 years just to retry and end up with someone equal to my wife, how many times would I have to retry in order to get someone better?

        If you repeat enough times, you’ve spent 20 years … and you’re still doing just about the same.

  8. 268

    Its a very provocative article and I cant argue with her reasoning.    She is not really asking women to “settle” but to grow up – lose the fantasy and embrace reality.

    I strongly disliked and disregarded the article in Jezebel.   The author in Jezebel ripped Lori to shreds as a person and brought up her struggles with anorexia and depression and I found that argument to be cruel and unconvincing.

    Lori’s problem is with tone.   She made “settling” sound as exciting as eating a plate of spinach.   Her pain and disappointment as her fantasy is dying is palpable.   The anger she has at feminism is palpable.    She hasn’t gotten to the reward yet.   She’s looking back on her past with regret and wondering if she blew her only chance at happiness and is doomed to a lonely loveless.   I tend to believe that her best days still lie ahead.   She’s taking an important first step – its something similar to Evan giving up his dream of being a playwright.   It was painful but it opened the door to real possibility – she’s at that exact place right

  9. 269

    You may be overstating the case – here’s evidence that men suffer the same choices, or worse:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/21/why-men-are-settling-for-mrs-good-enough.html

    1. 269.1

      Ebet – But what do men qualify as ‘settling”? The only example I saw given in the article was that the man didn’t need a ‘Victoria Secrets” model. Are men largely talking about settling on looks? Because whenever I see men talk about what they want in a woman, it’s usually always focused on her looking a certain way. Perhaps if men did more personal work, and figured out who they were and the qualities they wanted in a partner that went beyond looks, they wouldn’t feel as if they were ‘settling’. Plus, I actually can understand why some men are saying sex isn’t very important. That’s because men are getting sex from the internet. But I’m a woman who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a man that chooses me for practical reasons or even just companionship while he seeks sexual entertainment else where. To me, that’s not what a relationship should be about. It’s a depressing prospect.

      1. 269.1.1

        Looks, sex, social stature, intellect, common interest, wealth  – any of these, I’d assume. The article is making the point that women’s economic rise has meant that they needn’t depend on their (perceived) attractiveness to men as keenly as they did before, with a consequent effect on the market as it bears on men. In other words,  with wealth comes choice, for both sexes. I get a  surprising amount of mail from young men, and I think I know why. I sincerely doubt that guys are satisfied with internet sex, rather that it addresses fantasies and desires they can’t meet in real life, and they know it – but who would admit this to a pollster? It’s a market, and markets don’t care about shoulds.

        1. AllHeart81

          I think it would be helpful to hear from men themselves what they consider ‘settling’ and how it ultimately affects how they feel about their partner. Does love grow from settling or is it more like “oh well, I’m going to settle and this is all it’s ever going to be.”

          Do I think a lot of guys are satisfied with internet sex? Yes, I think they are. Whether it started as a way to meet needs they weren’t having met or not. The world we live in today is one where men supplement a lot of their sexuality through virtual options. I think when you have so much virtual sex available it’s easy to say that sex isn’t as big a deal when you can already circumvent it with other outlets. I can’t speak for other women but I’m not looking to be in a relationship with a man that things I’m a nice person but fulfills his other needs with other women in other ways.

  10. 270

    I have, I should say had a friend, a 33 y.o. women, earnestly struggling to find a partner. She’s rather attractive. Not hot and glamorous but I find she has definitely appeal. She has hobbies and passions and she’s outgoing. She climbs, she attends all sort of craft beer events, she skis. I ran track with her 15 years ago and I only recently caught up and she invited me out for a drink, on her which is remarkable because she’s really living paycheck to paycheck, which stresses and frustrated her. I’m a jerk for letting her pay. I know. But I don’t drink that much. Anyway we caught up and she was super talkative, about many things, but one theme is she’s looking for a man to be with, and it’s hard, and she blames to a large extent both the Midwest and the social media and smart phones. I felt for her. As a man, I feel I’m in a pretty similar situation, but i dont have the biological clock to the same degree and I’m way more focused on money, but it’s only recently that I became reasonable like that.

    I thought theres a possibility, however slight, I could see myself with her. Not my first choice, but the fact I could entertain the idea seriously says a lot. I still feel for her as a person.


    What transpired in the meantime is through misunderstanding and miscommunication via online texting (I haven’t seen her in person since, and similar things have happened with other girls I get along well with in person and who are open and talkative and bubbly) our relationship has caved.


    The latest incident was she hated what I said about donald trump and blocked me from Facebook. I feel I’m seen as the enemy, demonizes by a lot of American women. But.. I still not to be a nice guy martyr because that’s not how I self-identity, but I do still care about her happiness. If she doesn’t change course she’s going to be 40 and still poor, the worst of both worlds. See I only at most expected that people could be reasonable. There a reason women are often regarded as hysterical. They often just are. I realize that sounds horrible to many (blasphemy!!) but getting hysterical over the fact I just said that is proof itself..and such women shoot themselves in the foot, if they are seruous about wanting to find love and respect. I fully accept I may not understand women or come across as a brute in the modern age and locality, or maybe I just don’t think it’s worth tiptoeing, but she’s struggling, but she’s proud. How much does that pride cost her? I’ve been told I’m clever and beware my own cleverness. That has cost me. But it’s really necessary to be reasonable. It’s like women can he rational in business but when it comes to certain areas, guys are not supposed to voice their opinions of dissent and they the women become fixed and rigid.. but I just find another one for a friend but they only harm themselves. What ever happened to softness, smiling and reasonableness? Of course I do not date one who is unreasonable, who must always have the last word, etc. I’m fine being single but I know a dangerous women when I see one


    I am not a troll, I’m a person, just an average human being. Man lately I’m starting to feel like Shrek. I honestly think maybe they want the to condition us to be selfish and indifferent. If so it’s probably working. A baby boy gets his needs met by going after it.. a baby girl by crying. I just had to help my neighbors’ 88 y.o. mother to the bathroom when he was running to the store. She was so dependent and helpless, the look of anxiety on her face and she’s nice. I learned something there. The deep anxiety women feel about being unsupported, which probably is why they work so hard to cover it up, proclaim how independent and confident they are. I’d be happier if they just owned it, were humble. But I’m not perfect, I have to somehow change certain things about myself too but I guess unreasonable peoplr haven’t gotten to the point where they can accept reality. Maybe it’s Mee too but I see it in aging single women. This bizarre set of behavior. At least she had health and took care of her body. Hey I equally disrespect men who get fat and turn into slobs. I’m just a fascist with standards but no gotta smile and be reasonable and not unfriend your true friends but surprisingly this unfriending didn’t get to me all that much, unlike in other cases, even though I would have loved a friendship.

  11. 271

    I think that there’s a balance.   One day in prayer God told me to detach from the desire from a spouse.   He told me that sometimes people can want something SOOOO bad that they can end up making really bad choices.

    So when I date I really put the person up for prayer.    However this doesn’t mean looking for perfection either.   The guy I’m currently dating now- he isn’t everything I thought I wanted.   He does not have a six figure income.   He had one at one time and gave it up to work as a teacher.   Funny in a selfish sense it of course teacher’s salary less money.   But the fact that he would do that is actually what I love the best about him.   It shows character and kindness towards others.

    We share the same faith but he is way more liberal.   He has an amazing smile but is balding a bit…   However I love kissing him.   When I pray about the two of us I really do think we are going to end up together.

    So I think there’s a balance to be quite frank.   If you are looking for perfection your going to be alone.   You have to be willing to fall in love with the people that are right in front of you.

    And you have to think about the fact that there is no guarantees you will met someone better. NONE.

    So it is important to find the balance between being so desperate to find marriage that you are willing to settle for a bad relationship.   And looking for a mirage.

  12. 272

    I love this article, it was exactly what I was looking for and so true!!! Thank you for writing it so well. I do not blame men for being men. That’s their nature, to be visually and biologically driven. As a woman, it’s a lot of fun when you know this and can play up what they want xD

    I’m 32, I want kids, and currently trying to decide which route to go. I think it is worth thinking about now rather than “panicking” in my mid-late 30s (and I’m not sure I would). The pool is ALREADY abysmal in my opinion. And honestly I’m not the pickiest person in the world… picky yes, but not to a fault. Smart, sarcastic, and good looking is apparently hard to find in my generation. It’s gotten to where I am honestly repulsed with dating. I agree with you that it is tedious. It is also exhausting and boring.

    I would rather be at home with my cat Snickers and getting drunk to reality tv than spend an hour of small talk with Mr. 1, 2, 3, etc who is wearing plaid and drinking craft beer (I’m in SoCal). I have no energy to pursue dating, however if something does happen I am open to it. The connection is there… or it’s not. My intuition is pretty spot on. But in general, it’s hard to find a best friend. And that is exactly what I’m looking for. How many best friends do any one of us get in life?

    Luckily Mr. Fantastic isn’t necessary to start a family. I would just prefer having him, mainly for the sake of my kids. I know what it’s like to grow up with a parent who is absent, and ones who abandon. I wouldn’t want that for my kid if I can avoid it to the best of my ability. Anyways, so right now I’m thinking about the options… either go with Mr. Good on Paper, who I can barely stand but know he would be a good, loving, and present parent. Go with adopting. Go with artificial insemenation so I have my baby who looks like me but will not have a father figure… or wait until I am feeling pressed to get this “done” and choose one of the three options (no). Crazy conundrums these days. I am thankful to have this freedom instead of trapped in an undesirable situation of my own making, though. It only would be downhill from there! Wish me luck 😛

  13. 273

    Isn’t it sad and unfair to the man who is being “settled for” too? No one is perfect, but I don’t want a man marrying me if he doesn’t love and adore me. I would imagine the man I marry would deserve the same from me, or he should be left free to find someone who does feel that way.

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