Nearly two years after Moe (and everyone else) criticized Lori Gottlieb's advice to just settle for Mr. Maybe, Gottlieb came back. And so did her critics, and some evidence showing why exactly her advice is crap.
Gottlieb's bullshit starts from one basic premise: nothing is as terrible as ending up without a husband. Despite being single herself, she knows that no married woman could possibly be as genuinely unfulfilled and unhappy as a single woman. Also, she's certain that the reason she ended up single is that she was too picky (read: shallow) about the men she deemed not-right-for-her in her twenties, with whom she could have been better off — if not, you know, happy — so she now believes that the road to something akin to non-misery runs straight through the guy you don't think you really want to go out with.
Moe's response was:
In fact, that's a good rule of thumb, if you constantly find yourself dating dudes for whom you think you are too good, that is probably the personality flaw that is keeping you from the perfect Mr. Right type characters you think you deserve.
In this, I think we all agree. If "settling" means finding a little maturity, dating guys because they are interesting people and treat you with respect and with whom you have things in common instead of dating guys because your mom hates them or they are taller than you, that's a good start. If you define it as "settling" because he is 5'6" rather than 5'9", then you're the one with the problem.
The bigger issue, for me, is the idea that almost any husband is better than no husband. Julia Baird has the same problem.
But it's a leap of illogic to suggest that the answer is for women to settle for humdrum marriages with men you tolerate so you can have a father for your children. How insulting for men: imagine going to a boyfriend's house and seeing Marry Her: The Case for Settling for Ms. Good Enough on his shelves.
It's unfair to you, and it's unfair to the man in question — who, in all likelihood, could find someone who actually, you know, loves him — and it does nothing but set both of you up for disappointment. If a husband is the goal, they're not hard to find or, if the divorce rate is anything to go by, to lose. And as anyone who has been in a long-term unhappy relationship knows damn well, it is often just as easy to be lonely in a relationship as lonely without one.
Want some examples of how this works in practice? James Delingpole has a whole host of them in his article The Secret Lives Of Married Men, in which he purports to reveal the essential truths of maleness: namely, that married guys all cheat (or desperately want to), lie and think their wives are more their mothers than their partners! It makes marriage sound wicked awesome. For example:
"I think most men see their wives as authority figures that they have to rebel against. Sometimes I'll nip outside for a sneaky fag, not because I'm a smoker, but because of how much my wife hates it.
Paging Dr. Freud! Somebody's got unresolved mommy issues, and he's not alone. There's also this fabulous dad:
"And it's not that I don't love my kids; I adore them more than anything. It's just that I like them to see me at my best, when I'm doing fun stuff with them, rather than worn down with tedious ferrying duties: recorder concerts, ballet classes, that kind of thing."
You know, the shit his mother did for him! What a bitch she must have been.
Oh, and then there are the guys who hide their financial situation from their wives, since it's not of their wives' business what they do with "their" dough.
"I'm not sure when I'm going to finally clear my debts, but till then, what the wife doesn't know isn't going to hurt her, is it?"
Oh, the ladies and their math skills! And other guys figure their wives are only in it for the wallet and the sperm-donor anyway (paging Lori Gottlieb!), so they're off the hook as long as they've given her what she wants.
And if the thought of a guy treating you as a mother-figure against whom he ought to rebel, or keeping you in the dark about your mutual financial situation doesn't get your ovaries a-tingling, we can always get to the cheaters, the wankers and the whoremongers. They look at internet porn, fearing you'll be offended and scold them likes their mothers did; they dream about boning other hot ladies and know that, since you're not that interested in sex, you have no idea how hard it is to be monogamous; they cheat and tell themselves that, since you must know, it's a "tacit arrangement"; and they engage in risky sexual behavior and claim that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas because everyone knows STIs never follow you anywhere. It's a great read, really.
What's the commonality between these guys, other than their massive Oedipal issues, their inability to view their wives and partners as intellectual and emotional equals and preference to lie? Not a one of them talks about how in love they are, how connected they are: it's all about the drudgery, the children, the house, the Marriage (as though its another child they just need to keep alive and get off to college). In fact, they're all describing the relationships Gottlieb lauds in her writing as better than being alone.
Tara Parker-Pope, writing for the New York Times, has a slightly different perspective: she focuses on relationships where husbands and wives have unequal economic status that tilts in favor of the wives or totally equality. Guess what? Those marriages tend to last longer.
Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.
The other thing statistics show is that women who have economic independence and education tend to get married later. In fact, it's almost like these women don't settle... and then they are less likely to get divorced. Hmm. Take this example:
"Women no longer need to marry up educationally or economically, so they are more likely to pick men who support a more egalitarian relationship," said Stephanie Coontz, director of research and education for the Council on Contemporary Families and author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.
She pointed to herself as an example. "In my marriage, I have more education and, because he's retired, more income," she said. "I picked him not because I needed a meal ticket, but because I liked the fact that he respected me and had no problem sharing the responsibilities of daily life with me. More and more women now are able to make those choices."
I'd rather be 40 and married to someone like Coontz's husband than in my peak fertility ignoring any of Dilingpole's friends' myriad lies to keep my relationship intact. In fact, that's the exact choice I've made, and, believe me, it's not one that I regret.
So, settle if you must, so as not to end up like Lori Gottlieb: 42, embittered and still single with a kid. Just don't be too surprised if you end up 42, embittered and divorced with a kid and an ex you can't stand. At least you'll know you settled.
Photo via Archie McPhee Seattle