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. 121

    Mike, mike, mike- why are you already married, and where can i find another who thinks as you do? better yet, you need to teach men classes on the true meaning of commitment & how to achieve a marriage built on mutual love & respect. just 2 cents from a financially well-off, attractive, childless 43 yr old divorced-&-looking-but-disillusioned-thus-far-woman-who-is-about to-settle…..

  2. 122

    to Jerseygirl,

    You have met men whose biological clock is ticking? That is a new line, if I ever heard one. You must be a very pretty, attractive woman. Mostly men will marry your type, because they know that if they don’t, someone else will.

  3. 123

    to Kelly,

    My married male friends say they meet more single women now, than when they were single themselves.

  4. 124

    to Margaret,

    I agree with you about loving someone enough to marry. But, for all practical purposes, can we really tell the difference(love or infatuation, or just plain hots) when we are in our prime?

  5. 125

    “You have met men whose biological clock is ticking? That is a new line, if I ever heard one. You must be a very pretty, attractive woman. Mostly men will marry your type, because they know that if they don’t, someone else will.”

    I’m a cute girl but not super hot like you might be thinking. And yes, I have met guys that are basically worried about their own biological clock. Of course this is figuratively as men don’t have a biological clock biologically. But I have known alot of men that don’t want to wait until they are 40-50 to start familes and were feeling the burn. Aging is something that happens to all of us and I know men are just as insecure about aging as women, even if men are less judged for it typically.

  6. 126

    Yes, Hunter, there are guys whose biological clocks are ticking. Many of the single men I’ve dated (or known) who are in their 30s or 40s and haven’t had kids yet seem to be more concerned about the kids part than the married part. This is a group that I suspect would definitely settle, as they mention their desire for kids often. One guy I dated said that his biggest problem was that he was 33 and unmarried with no kids. Another guy I was talking to today talked about how he really wants to get married because he wants to have a couple of kids. These are the men (along with Lori Gottlieb’s women) who are just looking for someone to procreate with. I strongly suspect that they’re not looking for perfection, but someone who is able to have kids, would be a good mother, and is at least somewhat interested in them. Once you meet these requirements, they’d be down on one knee and ready to propose.

  7. 127

    I’ve also known men like A-L described. The one’s I knew were all under 40 and their *clock* was wanting to have kids while they were still young enough to play with them. And I also got the impression they would “settle” without falling deeply in love, quite quickly in order to procreate. It’s not just a female thing.

  8. 128

    It might sound cold, but the truth is that what evan is saying is right.

    also the fact that many women (and men) have elevated expectations ESPECIALLY because of online dating. People on jdate in particular have a motto of “never settle”. Thats fine and good in a realistic context but what happens when you raise the bar to some unrealistic level because of some imaginary ideal mate created that only exists in your head. Most people online at first probably feel like a “supermarket” of potential mates until and if reality sets in and you find that these are just the same people you meet everyday, just online.

    I’ve noticed that people new to online dating, and younger women in general (men too) have unrealistic raised expectations and the idea of “never settling” is good if your ideal mate is a realistic ideal.

    people should not be chasing a mirage in the desert thier whole lives only to turn 50 and find out they have been chasing nothing but sand.

    While it also might be unpopular to say so, some women and men will have to settle if they want this due to thier own lack of value as a mate. there is a mate for everyone but do you really think an obese woman will find a young handsome guy with a good job? or that 40 year old dungeons and dragons geek living in his mother’s basement will find the supermodel he you know whats to?

    hell no.

    the cold hard facts are that people need to look at themselves in a mirror as well and base thier “ideal” mate on something that is a realistic attainable goal. some people have legitimate options, others will be forced to settle for a mirror image of themselves. It all depends on what you bring to the table.

  9. 129
    Michael Ejercito

    Most people online at first probably feel like a supermarket of potential mates until and if reality sets in and you find that these are just the same people you meet everyday, just online.

    The difference, of course, is that the people online are available .

    Most of the women I meet already have boyfriends.

  10. 130

    I read Jeannie’s comment, and after her honest admission, I think any man living in a major city would be an absolute fool to get married these days. Like Steve, I also live in the DC area. If you want to see something VERY funny, but also sad, go to bars in Old Town Alexandria or georgetown, and watch women hang out at places where guys who own boats hang out. That’s an obvious sign of being rich. I was at a bar with lots of rich men yesterday,a nd you would see these women shamelessly not even bother to hide their interest only in money. I’m in a profession that one typically would presume one makes a lot of money, I don’t, though I make good money, and I would see women just go up to guys and ask immediately “what do you do?” and walk away if the guy had a non high paying field of work. Because I’m a lawyer, they keep on asking away questions to determine how long I’ve been working so they can figure out how much money I make. They have it down to a science to figure out the amount of income/status you have. IN some areas, like NYC, women will just straight up ask you how much money you make and walk away if they don’t like the answer. It’s a really sad state of affairs. it seems that in major cities, that being insecure, and doing the things insecure people do, boast, actually gets you women, whereas in other areas, you’d think that being so insecure would repell them. You’d do much better (at least getting sex) if you said “I make a lot of money, wanna see my Aston Martin?” Sure, you’d be used like an ATM though… I pity anyone guy who is trying to find a real relationship in DC. It simply isn’t realistic given how materialistic and status oriented the people are here.

    I’m sure anyone in DC will know that the first two questions people ask you here is “where are you from, and what do you do?” given that the highly transient population is so into status and presumes that nobody is actually from here.

  11. 131
    Angela Crisp

    Dear Steve. On marriage: what’s the old saying “Fools rush in where others dare not tread.” lol. As for women looking for a rich man, I assure you that men do the same thing. I make very good money in a predominately male field. It is hard for me to even get past hello with men because of the work issue. The tactics are largely the same, so I know it is not just a casual question. When I was younger, I was quite poor, and on the other receiving end of the same question. I tend to stick with men in a similar income range, but don’t rule out dating other people because money does not define passion or happiness. If women EVER treats you like a meal ticket, it is time to move on. It is the same for me. Try just not answering questions like these. When men as ask me what I do, I often reply “goof off, TG it pays,” and let them ask again later when we know each other better. You really aren’t obligated to say, and if a woman insists, your radar goes off, and you shove off. Hope this is helpful. Best regards, AC

  12. 132

    I think men are far more forgiving when it comes to income than women are. I’ve dated women who have been unemployed and living with their parents, where I know I simply wouldn’t be able to date had I been unemployed and living with my parents. You can deny it all you like, but women tend to date same income level or higher. I’ve made a lot more money than the women I’ve dated. The women who make as much as I do date/are married to guys that make a lot more money than I do. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I know many guys who are married and their wives made a lot less, or quit working. Do you know any female lawyers that would date male cashiers at supermarkets? I don’t, but I know male lawyers that date female cashiers.

  13. 133

    Michael, could you elaborate on your comment? I tried online dating a bit, never was very successful at it, I do better in person. What I have found, and other guys i know who tried it, is that there are only a couple kinds of women that do online dating:

    (1) serious basket cases
    (2) women looking to find mr. perfect and have a huge laundry list of requirements
    (3) women who have no intention of going on a date, but post ads to get a self esteem boost by getting 100 responses in a day
    (4) tiny minority of women who actually want a relationship

  14. 134
    Angela Crisp

    Steve: It seems you have so many stereotypes about women in your head, you fail to see the trees for the forest. All your criticism could just as easily be applied to men online. Unfortunately, if I did the same thing you have apparently done, I would never get a get to meet someone in person from an online contact either. You need to let go of your assumptions, strengthen your appreciation of yourself, and take control of your online experiences. Blanket judgments won’t get you a date this Saturday night. You are clearly articulate and intelligent. Decide you have the right stuff to achieve your goal of meeting a woman who does not fit into the criteria you outline above (perhaps with the exception of #4). I’ve had to reorganize my own attitudes about men to keep finding the good ones out there. I think you can do the same. Good luck. Best regards, AC

  15. 135
    Angela Crisp

    Steve, on your financial concerns meeting women. Most women do not make as much as men do, and very very few make an income like mine. This may encourage them to seek out a relationship to solve their problems. You can avoid it, just be giving women no information. If they are looking for the wrong reasons, it will become clear remarkably fast. Since I make a high income, if I insisted on dating men with a higher income, I would have eliminated a value pool of wonderful men to date. I, for one, would never want to do that. I think you should value yourself beyond the income, and see to it that you only date women who do the same. Money matters because everyone needs some just to survive. You have the mother wit to tell the difference, just apply the skill, and insist a woman value you as a person before letting them in on your business. Best regards, AC

  16. 136

    I’ve read some other threads on here regarding the issues of money and dating and marriage. I’d have to say that my experience also mirrors Steve’s. I also saw some posters in other threads point to articles and surveys where a large majority of women do seek men who earn more. See also the thread on here re: Women Who Earn More Than Men…

    I don’t think Steve is making blanket judgments about or stereotyping all women. I think he accurately describes the majority. I also suspect he is more than a little tired of it. You’ve seen more than a little frustration from many male posters (primarily) regarding the time, effort, and expense of slogging through all of this.

    Angela, I do like your attitude as a successful woman who will date men who earn less. However, it’s my experience that women who do earn more still seek men who earn even more than they. This is explored more fully in the thread I mentioned above.

    A poster there did have an interesting point regarding why women seek men who earn more: their options. They can continue to work or not, they can have kids or not, they can get additional education or not, all the while their standard of living does not fall.

    Women generally don’t ‘marry down’ in income. Exceptions exist, but they are few and far between in my experience.

    The problem is, as many, many posters have pointed out in this thread and others, is in divorce court. I don’t wish a divorce court discussion, but let’s just say it is not favorable to the higher earner (no matter the sex). Ask Paul McCartney!

  17. 138

    If I don’t date women that ask me what I do for a living or annual earnings(I have had but one, ask this question) I would be dateless all my life. Women know that men relate to their jobs, they want to know how we bring home the “bacon.” They want to know what type of “hunters” we are…..We can answer these questions, tactfully, more so in a bar type atmosphere…

  18. 139

    I like to play with women sometimes, ’cause some of them, that is there opening line, “where are you from.” I might say, “from my mother, don’t you know where people come from?”

  19. 140

    to Michael,

    try asking women that are not as “sexy.” Good looking women always have boyfriends, some women have a waiting line of guys. Until you get good at meeting, then, go for what you want.

  20. 141
    Angela Crisp

    Hunter, you humor in the last post is much appreciated, lol. But no one has to answer a question, it is a date — not a grand jury, lol. As for your being a “hunter” bringing home the bacon, the argument is now circular, and as a man you define yourself according to your income. If you don’t want to be treated like a paycheck, don’t act like one. I think most women want a lover who they can trust and respect, but if one happens to want something else, I would move on.

  21. 142

    “If you don’t want to be treated like a paycheck, don’t act like one.”

    Thank you, Angela, for telling that to the guys. Just like I tell the ladies, “If you don’t want to be treated like a trophy/object…” It goes both ways. If you want to be valued for a certain quality, emphasize that quality.

  22. 143

    By my experience, the women who are most insistent on dating men with money tend to pair off with the men most insistent on dating women with the best looks, thus effectively canceling each other out of the dating pool.

    I am a European woman living in a town with a university, so no educated women I know expect the man to pay for everything. I agree that it’s too much to expect of a partner.

  23. 144

    I will not deny that most women are interested to know that a man is financially stable and can support himself. I also know that there are woman who run after men in certain professions (doctor, lawyer, etc) because they think of them as having high salaries.

    I do not think, however, that asking about a man’s job is necessarily always done because of financial curiosity. A person’s job is usually how they spend at least a third of their day, if not more, and many are very passionate about their work. In addition, I get asked this question by men all the time. Does that mean they’re golddiggers? (And no, I don’t think they are.) But I do realize that some men are quite sensitive about the topic and therefore will only ask about it if they bring it up first, or on a second or third date.

  24. 145

    to Angela Crisp,

    Yes, move on, I agree with you…

  25. 146

    I’ve re-read many of the previous posts. Some shock me.

    Jeannie#61 – “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.”

    Not picking on Jeannie at all. Love the honesty. But it occurred to me that women who desire children do not need a guy or to ‘settle’ to have children. Lori Gottleib lived this, putting ‘her money where her mouth is’ so to speak.

    So why settle to have kids? 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?

    As a guy, the above paragraph is quite scary. I also thinks it gives men short shrift in the discussion. I think Vebosity & Hadley Paige adequately state the concerns I have regarding this.

    Doers anyone care to address this?

  26. 147

    I think most of us agree it gives men short shrift in the discussion. I’m interested to hear if Gottlieb addressed the downplaying of men’s roles during her public appearance, Evan.

  27. 148


    Sorry, I do not have time to read the whole thread so I may have missed some important input. Here is my few cents, and I’m only speaking for myself.

    Now, I don’t mind being called conservative but in my perception of family, the woman man relationship is the primary one, children being the fruit of it (or not, not every couple can have own children). Such constellation and a healthy relationship between the man and the woman provide a home which I would wish for my future children. Ideally, it should also prevent divorce when the children are about to leave the nest.
    This is a matter of personal philosophy (not connected to any religion) which helps to navigate in a reality which, to be honest, puts an enormous pressure on women to get married and have children by certain age.

    Now I’m a woman in my early 30ies, educated, unmarried, no children and on a good way to become professionally accomplished.
    I must admit, statements like the one you cited sound just as scary to me as I imagine must sound to a man.

  28. 149

    Now I would think that cinnamon’s perception of family would be the ideal (and should be norm). Kudos, cinnamon, BTW. What is unsettling to me is that the, I’ll call it ‘baby first mentality’ seems far more prevalent than cinnamon’s. If that is so, then it seems that verbosity and hadley paige are right – that the risks of marriage in this context are too great. As a guy, I find that very distressing.

  29. 150

    to vino again,

    Without trying to justify the, what you call it, baby first mentality I would like to add one more dimension to it.
    First of all, typically if a woman wishes to get solid education and some work experience before having a baby (for example in order to be economically independent, to name just one of the reasons) she is shrinking the time span where she actually can have this baby to just a few years. If she hasn’t found a loving and reliable partner who also wishes a family by that time, she suddenly gets under a lot of pressure which she needs to handle. People handle the pressures of life in ways which are better and worse

    One of the ways to handle the baby pressure is to say that one of the best things you can offer your (unborn) children is parents who have a good relation to each other.

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