Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling

Why (Some) Women Might Consider Settling
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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.

 

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Comments:

  1. 41
    Angela Crisp

    Smartcookie: I agree with you. It takes a powerful connection between a man and a woman to pull off a home life, much less handle the stress of even one child, biological or adopted. Settling merely strips back what could be a better situation for the couple and the child(ren). Its not about seeking an impossible ideal, it is about trying to get what is best for you for your own contentment. Waiting for contentment is worth it in my opinion, for the sake of myself, children or no. Thanks for reading and your kind response. A.C.

  2. 42
    Angela Crisp

    Paul: I would like to know why you believe women have a harder time with respect then men? In Biblical terms, if women have a harder time respecting men, do men have a harder time loving women, thus the injunction to each? I would say for me to stay with a man, I would ask him to earn my love and respect prior to any commitment. I would also expect to earn his love and respect, also called getting to know someone else and falling in love. Am I asking too much for a response like that from a man? I would be interested in knowing your thoughts. Thanks for reading and your kind response. A.C.

  3. 43
    ABF

    I think there is a real difference between settling and being open-minded and realistic about potential mates (this goes for both men and women). Nobody should “settle” for the mere sake of havinig a spouse and children. That merely breed resentment and discontent. Being open-minded, on the other hand, allows you to make a deeper connection with someone that you might otherwise never given a moment’s notice.

    As an aside to the alimony debate in this thread: the law is shifting towards a more equitable system. See

  4. 44
    Steve

    About having children.

    I remember reading some articles and stats that parents are not any less likely to spend their final years alone in convalescent homes. They are also not any less likely to die alone.

    It seems to me many people focus on having children without ever considering if they WANT to be parents or if they have TIME to be parents.

    You shouldn’t have kids, if having kids is just an item on your lifetime to-do list. They are human beings and not accessories.

    Ask yourself:

    – Do you really know what the day to day reality of being a parent is like?

    – If yes, do you want that day to day reality.

    – Do you have TIME to be a REAL parent or are your kids going to grow up in a day care center? There is a lot of research ( and yes, not from social conservative ) that shows that quantity *IS* quality time as far as children are concerned. Are you ready to come home after a long day of work and be enthusiastic about being with them?

    If you aren’t sure get an idea of what it is like having another living thing dependent on you. Babysit a small child for several weeks. Foster a rescued dog until you can find it a home.

  5. 45
    verbosity

    Good post, ABF re: alimony. I would like to point out a few things for readers in general.

    The law.com article shows that these are simply proposed legislative measures. They need to be approved by the legislative branches of each respective state AND then signed by the executive. Not an easy path.

    The article mentions the NY and NV proposal to provide ‘guidelines’ in place of judges’ discretion. In reality, they are one and the same as practiced. For Example, AZ has a 10+ ‘gudelines’ in determining an award of spousal maintenance. (shouldn’t we call it EX-spousal maintanance?). Judges have unlimited discretion in determining how much of these guidelines they are going to apply. For example, a judge might say to himself, “I’m going to weight the style and accustomed manner of living during the marriage 98% and the fact she has a college degree 2%” Thereby weighing his efforts (style of living) more than hers (her education). Judges do not write opinions detailing this thought process.

    It’s just like the use of the word ‘reasonable’ in law. What does it mean? Damn near anything. Same things with these ‘guidelines.’

    Contrast that with child support, capped by law in AZ to $2,500 max. That isn’t a guideline. There has to be major extenuating circumstances in existence for ANY deviation from this, and they need be well-documented by the parties and the court.

    I applaud MA’s efforts, but my God, isn’t it pathetic they’ve already made their system so to take earnings from a 2nd wife (in part) and give it to the 1st?

    But this whole thing regarding ‘guidelines’ is mere window-dressing, as it doesn’t limit judicial discretion (abuse) in any practical, meaningful way. It’s placation.

    It is positive, however, that more legislators are becoming aware.

  6. 46
    verbosity

    For the above post, it relates back to what men face if these women ‘settle’ for them, and later become unhappy. Lori Gottleib wrote, “So if you rarely see your husband but he’s a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?”

    The exposure to men for providing women the flexibility to have children and not work simply isn’t worth it the vast majority of the time.

  7. 47
    verbosity

    Lastly, the thought just occurred to me….if a woman is ‘settling’ so that she can have children, doesn’t this completely discount men’s role and value as incidental? He’s simply there to provide her with sperm for the child so SHE can be fulfilled, and to help with all of those other pesky things of life, like providing a home, its maintenance, child’s future health and educational needs, etc? He exists merely as an instrument to fulfill her child bearing desires. Doesn’t he deserve more?

    Food for thought…

  8. 48
    Honey

    Steve, unfortunately there is absolutely no evidence that the present 6+ (almost 7!) billion people is a sustainable world population. I googled around a little bit to try to find information on this, and many people are asking the question. There is an organization called Negative Population Growth that claims 2 billion is the maximum sustainable population. I have no idea if that’s true, but if it is, then we’re all in big trouble. But I hadn’t considered the issue before in terms of sustainability. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  9. 49
    Eda

    To Verbosity:

    Why do you visit this website? You don’t seem to like or respect women. You definitely don’t have any use for the institution of marriage. I’m not even certain that you think relationships are worthwhile. It just seems that all you ever want to do is state how divorce leaves men finanacially devastated and their ex-wives living high on the hog. Ok. Your message is loud and clear. Women are leeches; men who marry them are stupid ninnies.

    Can you now try something really wacky and different and provide constuctive and useful information for people who haven’t yet abandoned hope on a relationship or marraige?

  10. 50
    Li-Ann

    I can’t comment on the settling issue to have children, since I’ve never had children and my drive to meet someone had nothing to do with having children. I just was never the type of women who would squeal with glee when I saw a baby – but I know there are a lot of women out there who have an enormous drive to have a baby. I just wasn’t one of them. I also had friends tell me that once they had a baby, that baby became their everything, and really much more important than the man.

    I read the article carefully, and Evan’s comments. I give my two cents from the perspective of someone who went through their twenties never settling, and them married the “love of my life” at 33. Only to have it end in my 40s.

    The problem is that by the time one thinks about settling, it is really too late. There would be no way that I’d settle, right up to 33. I was always looking for the one. For me it wasn’t about money or possessions – it was a romantic ideal. Usually these romantically handsome and fascinating men were unemployed or barely employed. At that time, the only person pushing me to settle was my Mother. I didn’t listen. She’d say that in the end its going to be about the day-to-day – the housework, etc. She said that the euphoria will settle down with just about anybody, and it would be a lot better to deal with the stresses of marriage and at least have money than be broke.

    I married someone I felt the spark with. He had no job, no car. I looked after him. In the end, we parted when he finally got a decent job. No kids. I didn’t ask for any money, a clean break,. He did make the mean comment that in the end it will be easier for him to find someone new than for me. After all, even if we both were 10 years older- for a woman that’s a problem, and for a man, he said the fact that he has his hair, is 6 ft. tall, and has a job, is really all he needs. He used to laugh sarcastically about short men, and how he had such an ease in meeting women, even including when he had no money. I felt that was all so very unfair. It ends up being true. Once he had a good job, he wanted to get someone younger.

    Looking back, I probably would make all the same mistakes over again. The guys I rejected in my 20s might have been better partners. However, I bet I would have felt like I was missing something. The guy I was with, despite out initial passion, turned out to be abusive at times, and always taking more out of the relationship than he returned. I was really just like a maid. Many times I would think how much nicer it would be to be with someone who was at least kind hearted.

    So my feelings are mixed. Now that I think about it, there was a super nice guy back in my twenties that I rejected for being boring. Things might have worked out well with him. Still, I feel I need to have at least the slightest spark.

    Maybe I misread Evans intelligent comments, but it seems to send a not very hopeful message to women over 40. The advice seems to be summarized in that a woman should not be so picky in her twenties and early thirties, and take someone who would be a good husband. By your forties, the pool will be so small, that it will be almost impossible to find anyone, especially if you still wanted a family. I take that to mean I have a very small, maybe 5% chance or less, of getting someone now. And even that is probably with some heavy duty settling. I guess that’s pretty sad, because based on what I’ve just read, it’s all over for me.

    One comment that caught my attention in the original article was that men don’t need to settle – that there are more women who want marriage than men. Is that really how it is?

  11. 51
    Evan Marc Katz

    Men don’t have the same biological imperatives to have to settle. But even men price themselves out of the market if they wait too long to settle down after 25 years of confirmed bachelorhood.

    As far as this message not being hopeful, Li-Ann? I want to acknowledge that it’s not all rosy – especially if your goal is to find a man your age to be the biological father of your children. If you’re fine with adoption and fine dating older men, your picture is a lot sunnier. But to suggest that most 40 year old men are searching for 40 year old women is simply untrue and it would be irresponsible to say otherwise.

    So where does this leave you? Hopefully, vigilant about making something happen in your love life. Get online, start taking adult education classes, go to Meetup.com, hire a matchmaker, join a local singles adventure organization, go out with your girlfriends, attend parties, keep your eyes open in real life. All is not lost, not by a long shot. For as depressing as this outlook seems to be, I can tell you story after story after story of women finding love between 35-45. Your only hope is to stay optimistic and pro-active. And I only wish that the information you get here helps you in some small way.

    Have a great weekend.

    Evan

  12. 52
    verbosity

    To Eda:

    This is not about me, so don’t try to make it so. I do believe that as an institution the way it is constituted, there is zero benefit for men to marry. That is not to say that men and women are not or cannot have long and happy relationships. They can and should. They simply need not marry to prove that.

    That said, what is the resentment for me providing education to men in the dating/marriage arena? If after they know the risks, they assume them, so be it. It is not up to me to do something whacky and different and provide constructive information. I just think that, given the topic that women who believe they should ‘settle’ for ‘Mr. Good Enough’ need to sell why this is a good deal for men. So far, I haven’t heard anything bordering on persuasive.

    Someone, please persuade me.

  13. 53
    Steve

    Honey;

    I wasn’t talking about sustainability, but reducing the population. If most couples limited themselves to just 2 children ( hopefully less ) not enough people would be born to replace everyone. The world population would SLOWLY decline. Most couples are not going to adopt, go childless, or limit themselves to one child so I tell them the good news of the world replacement rate being slightly ( by a fraction ) over 2 kids per couple.

  14. 54
    Steve

    In reference to post #55.

    I hate to quote wikipedia ( not the best source ) but here is what I mean about a limit of 2 children per family being a good compromise between being responsible and going with the urges to be a biological parent:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-replacement_fertility

    My apologies for the off topic post. This week I am on the patch for posting novellas. Next week I will work at staying on topic. After that I will work on limiting myself to 34 comments a day.

  15. 55
    Eda

    To Verbosity:

    It is about you — it’s about you and your agenda to dissuade men from getting married. Funny thing is, Verbosity, I actually have no desire to get married — I never have — probably because I have never wanted to have children and because I see marriage as being oppressive — for me. However, just because I don’t want to get married, I don’t try to convince other women that they shouldn’t want to get married either. Yet, it seems that every chance you get, no matter what the topic, you’ve got to point out that men should not get married because women screw men over when they get divorced. Yes, men do get screwed over, and plenty of women get screwed over as well. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT! So, don’t pretend that you are providing important information that is new news. Plus, if divorce is so horrible for men, why do men often get married a second time when statistics would suggest, that there is a very high probably that they are going to get divorced again? And, many times, men will get married again before their ex’s do. Clearly, men are getting something out of marriage that you don’t/can’t/won’t see.

    But what disturbs me even more than your anti-marriage stance, is your dislike of, and disrespect for, women — I notice that you didn’t deny that’s how you feel. And, if you do, again I ask, why are you on this website? I am sure there is at least one anti-woman, anti-marriage website where you can feel right at home.

  16. 56
    hunter

    to verbosity,

    ….you say there is zero benefit for men to marry?….hhmmmhh…one benefit that comes to mind,,,, if she is sexy,,,,, and you don’t marry her,,,,,, someone else will!…..LOL!……

  17. 57
    hunter

    To li-ann,

    ..a half a century has gone by right before my eyes,,,and it seems as if I meet more women my age, than when I was in my 20’s….

  18. 58
    Hadley Paige

    One Man’s view of women who are Settling

    If women follow the suggestion of the article and settle so that they can get married & have kids, does it not follow that conversely men are getting a women “out of their league”? If the woman settles w/o a philosophy & attitude adjustment (Namely: lowered expectations >> increased contentment vs. same higher level of expectations and entry into “settled” marriage >> increased discontent), I think for me this would not be good for my goal of a successful LTR.

    Why? I think settling leads to (IMHO) increased likelihood of divorce and leads me to conclude (as a man who is mindful of the effect of divorce on me [namely financial atomic bomb]), that I should choose a women as a wife who is not settling, but rather someone who is thrilled to get me, someone who perceives me as uplifting her.

    Note to responders to this post: I encourage you not to fall for the logical fault of discounting or dismissing facts or suggested inferences which you may not like. I am not attached to the above suggestion, nor does it necessarily appeal to me, but it occurred to me after reading the article on settling.

    Bottom line for me at this point is: I don’t think I want a women who is settling for me bc I think the likelihood of a successful LTR is diminished by that fact. Opinions ??? (not on whether you like this but whether you think it is likely true)

  19. 59
    Jeannie

    Thank you for this article Evan. You have raised a topic that I and my single girlfriends (30s, 40s and 50s) discuss just about every single time we get together. Are our standards unrealistic? Should we settle? What is good enough? At what age should we just give up?

    Frankly most of my single girlfriends opt to “settle” and play out the point that Hadley has raised. A number of my girlfriends date men who are 8+ years older than them and every single one of my girlfriends doing this do it for the money. Not one of them loves their guy and these men have no clue that all they are good for is their credit card. When us girlfriends get together, they complain about how they don’t love their older beaus, they don’t strike me as really being happy for having “settled.” My childless girlfriends are looking to settle for a sperm bank – again, the men involved have no clue – and I know how that will end as that was once me.

    Once upon a time, I settled for Mr. Good Enough so I could have babies – and joined the ranks of the 70% of women who divorce their husbands 11 years later. It devastated my husband and I realized that “settling” is just a more polite term for using another human being. and that is wrong. Men deserve to be loved fully for themselves and not because they are a sperm bank or a credit card. And if a woman is settling for a man, she is keeping him from the possibility of meeting someone who would truly love him. Very unfair to him.

    Underpinning this premise is also a bit of sexism against men. Sure I have friends with unrealistic expectations. But for the most part, my friends ask no more of a man than they ask of themselves. So the notion of “settling” suggests that men could not possibly be the equals of women in terms of looks, emotional health, romance, finances etc. It implies that a very attractive woman should not expect to have an attractive man cause there aren’t enough of them out there. And there is an implication that there are no quality single men in their 40s. This is a terrible way to view men and Evan, as you so wisely bonk us ladies on the head when we complain “there are no good men,” it really isn’t true.

    As a 40 something woman, yeah, dating can be a slog and I’ve kissed a lot of toads. But I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of men in a 2 year period and hearing their adventures in dating. And frankly men have it no easier than women. And men have a lot of unrealistic expectations too.

    I am learning that a lot of men just don’t understand women and what creates attraction in us and how to romance us and so everyone loses. I met a lot of nice guys who just couldn’t create that spark – they didn’t know how. Go to any bookstore to the relationship section and it is all targeted to women – there is nothing out there to help men navigate the world of women and thats unfortunate. If this information was available, this conversation would be a lot less necessary.

  20. 60
    verbosity

    Hey Eda,

    Please discuss the subject matter. You may not like how I put forth my points as they are particularly blunt. Too bad. Hadley Paige just asked the same thing I did (albeit with far more diplomacy). 😉

    So please quit your whining about how I am supposedly anti-woman and do not respect women. You know nothing of me, halelujah. It’s not worth the time to respond to your little diatribe, especially as it is off-topic. I’m not going to take that bait, so please go whine somewhere else.

    Curiously, you still cannot or will not respond to Haldey’s or my concern that a woman who ‘settles’ for a guy is more likely to have a successful LTR. That is the topic. Please stay on it.

    Apologies to other readers who may not like the tone of this post. Just because someone doesn’t like the inference or point of my posts or others’ posts, that is no reason to sling unfounded accusations at me or other said posters. As Hadley said, “However, sometimes I encourage you not to fall for the logical fault of discounting or dismissing facts or suggested inferences which you may not like.”

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