It’s a question of… settling for second best

In a few days (February 4) yet another “relationship” book will hit the bookshelves – and most probably the bestseller lists, considering the massive PR work that’s been done around it.

Its “enticing” title is Marry Him: The case of settling for Mr Good enough. In it, author Lori Gottlieb advocates that single women over 30 should stop looking for ‘Mr Right’ and instead marry the first ‘Mr Second best’ who comes along. If not, they’ll end up unmarried and childless at 40 – which would be terrible because as Gottlieb states: “In reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family”.

Seen on a bench in London…

Therefore, she goes on, one “should not worry about passion or intense connection” when choosing a partner and also “overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics”. For marriage is not “a passion-fest” but a partnership formed to run “an often boring non profit business”. And she means this “in a good way”. (Makes you wonder how she can draw the conclusion that the only thing all women really want is “to get married”!)

The “theory” about women having difficulties getting married once they’ve passed 30 is far from new and often goes hand in hand with statistics that are just as ancient. A 24-year old article from Newsweek stating that professional women over 30 only have a 20% chance of walking down the aisle (and women over 40 years a 2,6% chance) is still being actively, and wrongly, referred to today.

But let’s look away from that fact that Gottlieb is stuck in another era. There seems no need either to emphasize that all women do in fact not want to get married at all. Let’s concentrate instead on the “settling for second best” business.

Contrary to Gottlieb, I think that women learn very early on that the “perfect man” (as depicted in various movies, be it in the role of a father or a lover) does not exist. Sure, many of us may dream of getting swept off our feet by some kind of Richard Gere / George Clooney / Luke Wilson (my personal favourite), but do we actually believe it’s going to happen in true life? I don’t think so.

We do however often fall in love with – and marry – men who are not Mr Perfect – at least in our friend’s and family’s eyes. I for one don’t consider any of the men my friends married as ‘Mr Rights’. In fact, I wouldn’t “settle” for any of them, not even at 40. And this despite none of them having bad breath or a questionable sense of style. As for the men I’ve been involved with, well I don’t think my parents or friends ever thought of any of them as Prince Charming.

The thing is though, when you fall in love, the object of your affection becomes “perfect” even if he, like every person, has many flaws. It’s not like you actually believe that the imperfections don’t exist, it’s just that you don’t care about them. And that’s a good thing. Because by the time these flaws do become apparent and irritating (and they nearly always do), your relationship should be strong enough to live with them.

Considering the work it is to be – and to stay – married, there is no meaning in “settling” for someone. It’s unfair on yourself and on the person you’re marrying. On your wedding day, you should be totally and head over heels in love. It’s a minimum requirement. (This might be easier if you don’t spend a year planning your wedding or live together for a decade before actually getting wed).

I have not read a “relationship” book since “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” came out. I think the sexist, prehistoric views it promoted put me off that kind of literature forever. I will therefore not be reading Gottlieb’s seemingly just as archaic and damaging book. I don’t buy her “women are too picky” theory. (In fact, I often think women aren’t picky enough). And I don’t support the “go for Mr Good enough” option. It’s degrading for both sexes.

I believe a woman can have everything she wants – love and children included – without getting married. I believe that “settling” for someone will not provide happiness or a good home to raise your offspring. Most importantly, I believe authors, women and the rest of society should stop viewing marriage as a life achievement award for the female gender. Because why on earth should women settle for that?

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “It’s a question of… settling for second best

  1. Gill

    Here here! Well said! The shame of it is, that Ms Gottlieb will earn a bucket load of money from this, and I hear there is a film option too. Form a queue all you second rate jobbing actors then!

  2. Stella

    I don’t really have anything to add to the debate because really, I can’t be doing with any of this self-help industry- it’s all nonsense to me. I just wanted to say, Luke Wilson, eh? I saw two (2!) Luke Wilson films last night!

  3. Ed

    Did you know for centuries Romance and overwhelming Chemistry had little to do with Marriage? Marriage has Always been a means by which to establish a secure foundation in which to establish a home and have children. Kings and Queens married for the sake of the kingdom, to establish alliances and better safeguard their realm. The fact is that the hormones that create that overwhelming attraction to someone are temporary. Mother Nature provides them as an incentive to procreation. What this author your criticizing is advocating is a return to the practicality of choosing a life partner. Passion is great, but passions can easily be manipulated. Passion makes you loose your head. Instead, choose a man that has shown you the ability to communicate on a higher level with you. Love is a decision on how your going to view and interact with the universe. Instead of waiting to make this decision with a man that makes you loose your head, perhaps you should consider a man that helps you keep it. The Decision2Love is always yours.

    • Hi Ed. As far as I know, we’re in 2010 now and even kings and queens don’t marry to establish alliances anymore. Why would anyone want to have children and live with someone they don’t love? More to the point: why SHOULD anyone do it? Marriage is in no way compulsory and telling women to get married before 30 “or else…” is, in my eyes, plain stupid and a big step back in history. And frankly, no woman in her right mind would like to live according to the “old rules” from back then.

  4. Ed

    Its about priorities (do you want to be a mother). Many relationships fail because they rely on Passion instead of Positive Communication. I am not advocating a loveless marriage. I am stating the fact that too many people think with their groins and not their brains. “Why would anyone want to have children and live with someone they don’t love?”- Plenty of women are choosing sperm banks to become mothers. Would it not make more sense to choose a responsible working man to help financially and as a good role model for the child? “And frankly, no woman in her right mind would like to live according to the “old rules” from back then.”- Women complain all the time about the loss of Chivalry, which happens to be a part of those “old rules” you speak of. Chivalry is classic example of rules that treat women as less capable then men, but you don’t see too many women complain when men act in a chivalrous manor. I am sure what you meant to say that no woman would want to be treated as property and having her opinions disregarded because she is a woman. “Marriage is in no way compulsory and telling women to get married before 30 “or else…” is, in my eyes, plain stupid and a big step back in history.” Your right, marriage is not compulsory, but how is it a step back in history to advocate getting married before 30? A woman’s twenties is her best years to attract a responsible working man. Once she hits the big 30 it gets harder to attract men, that is just the facts of life.

    • Ed, I’d have to write a whole new post to respond correctly to your vision of man=provider and woman=breeder (before 30) who has to “attract men” (before 30), and maybe I will.

      In the meantime, just for the record: “chivalry” is about courteous behavior and respect, being thoughtful and kind. Contrary to what many still seem to believe, it has nothing to do with gender equality. I personally don’t hear any women complaining about lack of chivalry but I do hear “people” complaining about lack of good manners and respect. The same very simple rule applies to all: treat others (women and men) as you want to be treated yourself.

  5. Sensible Blogging Inc

    This is a horses for courses debate and does not apply solely to women. Do you want a family? Yes? Then what sort of family do you want? What role models would you like to be available for your children? What level of financial security would you like to opt for? Then there is the question of what type of relationship you are looking for from a partner. Do you need one at all or are you in for the perfect man only? All of these questions and more determine whether this book is relevant to what you want to achieve in your personal life. As time passes perhaps your goals will as well and as such so do your answers to the questions. The catch is if you have really sat down and thought this through then you probably won’t need to read the book.
    The problem is that in my job I see alot of worse relationships than the ‘comfortable partnership’ scenario that is being proposed and while children are loved and cared for in a supportive environment does it matter if there is a deep unabiding love between parents? There are worse environments for kids to grow up in.
    While your experience may be different, others may choose the path of compromise to get some of what they want rather than end up with nothing. If the kids are loved I think ‘comfortable partnerships’ are ok.

    • I’m not against what you call “comfortable partnerships”, though I’d personally hate to think of myself as being in one. People make different choices for different reasons and as long as all partners included are satisfied with that (in the long run also), why not?
      I do however have a problem with books telling women to settle for second best, that marrying Mr Good enough is better than not marrying at all and that what all women “really” want is to get married and live a “traditional” life.
      The universal “perfect man” and “perfect woman” do not exist, but this doesn’t mean that people who get married are all “settling”. At least not if there is love involved…
      As for “family”, well it doesn’t necessarily mean “married with 2 children”.

  6. always beautiful and insightful,
    when it comes to family and sex, it is complex…

    Happy Saturday!

  7. http://jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/sundays-forecast-sunny-100-sunshine/

    U deserve an award,
    claim it in my blog
    and pass to 12 or 14 friends of yours..:)

  8. many congratulations on your “sunshine award, much deserved and congratulations to the nominees, a great sunshine day :)

  9. Tak

    “…everything she wants – love and children included…”
    Children are not their mother’s property and certainly not an item you “want” or fancy and just get. There is much more to them than that. You seem to be ranking them at the same level as a Starbucks fall special…
    I would be interested in your definition of love.

    • That’s one cheap – and so wrong – attack. When couples get married, don’t you hear them say “We want children”? Isn’t it a pretty normal way of saying it in the English language? It doesn’t imply that you think children are “an item”.

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