We've already argued at length against Marry Him's pro-settling premise, but reading the whole book reveals a whole new level of crazy. Lori Gottlieb's version of dating and marriage is basically calorie-counting for the soul.
Not since Going Rogue have I thrown myself on such a literary grenade for you guys. In fact, I'd say Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough is worse than Palin's book — it's solidly the most unpleasant reading experience I've had in the last five years. It's not just that Lori Gottlieb takes an incredibly narrow view of what marriage is for (she keeps mentioning the desire "to be part of a traditional family"), or that she views life without a man as necessarily lonely and shitty (she's especially harsh on the topic of girlfriends) — she also does all this with a vitriol that's frankly bizarre. Observe:
I'm not trying to bum people out. I'm trying to help. It's kind of like the graphic anti-drunk driving public service announcements that show people crashing into poles and getting killed. If they just told you, "Don't drink and drive," you might think, "Yeah, I know, but I can have a couple martinis, right?" It's not until you see people ending up brain-dead, lying in a coma in the hospital and surrounded by beeping monitors, that the message has an impact.
In the same way, if you don't see how easily people can end up alone by making the dating mistakes I did, you won't be dissuaded from making the same mistakes yourself. I had to show the reality of being single at my age because I used to be like a teenager who thinks he's invulnerable to drunk driving accidents — it's all in the abstract, something that happens to other people, but would never happen to me. It never occurred to me that I would become another dating casualty. I had to show, in grim detail, the accident that my dating life became so that you could make choices you wouldn't look back on later and regret.
Yes, she just compared being single to being brain-dead after a drunk-driving accident. Slightly less luridly, but no less upsettingly, she writes:
We take incredible risks, because we believe that everything is reversible, that no one decision is make or break. But when you have a time limit, one bad choice can make or break whether you'll ever marry, whether you'll have kids, whether you'll have more than one kid, and whether you'll marry someone as enjoyable as the person you turned away three or thirteen years earlier. We don't know how to stop while we're ahead, so we give up our best (and perhaps last) chance for marital happiness.
On some level, Marry Him is less about actual marriage — which is far more complex than Gottlieb gives it credit for — than about how dangerous it is for women to make even one mistake. She even marshals experts to teach foolhardy ladies what will happen if they stray from the one true path to happiness:
Edna Pollin, the divorce attorney in Denver, told me that in her experience, many women who divorce their husbands because they "want something more" aren't going to find it. What often happens, she said, is that her ex-husband remarries (someone much younger), and the new wife gets all of his love, companionship, financial support, and caretaking, while the wife who left him ends up in a one-bedroom apartment with a Netflix subscription and no sign of Prince Charming. Then she finally appreciates what she had, but even if her ex-husband is still single, she's caused irreparable damage and he won't take her back.
Gottlieb cautions against fairy-tale ideas of Prince Charming, but her message hearkens back to a genre that's just an old: the story of the ruined woman. From The Scarlet Letter all the way up to coverage of Bristol Palin, the message is that women who screw up — whether it's by getting pregnant, falling for the wrong man, or thinking they're strong enough to go it alone — are doomed to at worst, damnation, and at best, a life of serving as a cautionary tale to others. It's a way of keeping women in line.
Marry Him also owes a lot to another genre of female-persecution lit: the diet book. Gottlieb quotes her dating coach:
You're like the person who wants to lose weight but won't change their eating habits. 'But this is what I like to eat!' they say. And their doctor would say, 'Fine, you keep eating that — but you won't lose weight!' You have to do something differently if you want different results.
As Moe pointed out, it may not be a coincidence that Gottlieb once wrote an eating disorder memoir. She also wrote an essay about her inability to "settle" for a fat guy with whom she had great chemistry, which though occasionally insightful is also riddled with fat-phobic comments about his "oily beads of perspiration" and supposedly cream-flavored cum. Gottlieb treats dating like dieting — an unpleasant exercise in self-denial, meant to achieve a socially acceptable result (tellingly, the big problem in her relationship with the fat guy was her inability acknowledge him in public). But dating can also be like eating with abandon — enjoying different experiences, each nourishing in its own way, without worrying about how they'll eventually make you look. Of course, if you date this way you might end up alone — and if you keep eating what you like, you might not lose weight. But diets often don't work, and I'm skeptical about whether Gottlieb's advice will "work" either — if by "work" you mean, "produce a happy life." Maybe I just haven't watched enough driver's ed videos, but I don't believe happiness is something you win by making zero mistakes. I think that's a bill of goods society sells women to keep them from taking risks, and it's a shame Gottlieb's still buying.
Marry Him: The Case for Settling For Mr. Good Enough
Earlier: Just Because You Settle Doesn't Mean You Marry A Good Man
Do Women Actually Have Dating "Checklists?"
Lower Your Standards, Bitch
Settle For Mr. "Just OK" - While Your "Marital Value Is Still At Its Peak!"