What’s the Difference Between Settling and Compromising?
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.
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”.