Friday, February 08, 2008

On Love and Marriage

I just can’t let this slip by without commenting.

MM left for work at 4:30 this morning, leaving me to leisurely eat Soy Dream Chocolate Brownie “ice cream” for breakfast while watching the Today Show on his awesome new flatscreen television (if only he had cable). This story piqued my interest, most likely because it’s was given a headline that is – from the perspective of a self-respecting woman – somewhat infuriating and obviously going to insight emotionally-charged responses: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Confusion abound, I’m sure.

The back story for those of you who have better things to do with your time than watch Matt Lauer read the fluff: Lori Gottlieb, single mom and writer, penned an article for the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic Magazine. She argues that we (women) shouldn’t hold out for Mr. Right (aka "The One" or your “soul mate”). In fact, you should settle for… I guess… whoever happens to come along.


I know. We’re all enraged. Why should we settle? We’re smart, funny, talented, beautiful woman and damnit we deserve to be with someone who deserves to be with us. We all (supposedly) want Prince Charmings, and to be whisked away by passion and deep, meaningful love, and intense burning desire, all the culmination of complete mental, physical, and emotional understanding. Lest we not forget, he should also be successful, good-looking, witty, intelligent, and loaded.

I’m going to skip calling out Gottlieb on her vast generalizations and complete failure to recognize that there are plenty of women out there who do not view the traditional husband + baby = happiness equation as the be-all-end-all of their hearts' desires. And, as I haven’t reached the magical age of 30 when apparently women are not only given permission, but expected, to freak out if they don’t have a ring on their finger, I will refrain from commenting on passages like this:
…Every woman I know — no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure — feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried… if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.
Plu-ease. OK… I almost refrained.

The main issue I have with Gottlieb’s argument is that she might actually be trying to make a valid point. But, it’s lost (or maybe it’s not there at all) in a very immature approach to determining whether one should wait for Mr. Right or settle for Mr. Well-Since-You-Asked.

First of all, I find it infuriating that nowhere in this article does Gottlieb point out that Mr. Right is a figment of Hollywood’s imagination or that searching for a soul mate is an archaic notion. I abhor the use of terminology that suggests there is only one dude, or rather, one person, out there for each of us. Really? One person? Of all the bazillions of people, for each of us there’s only one who will rock our respective worlds. And if you think you've found that person, and for some reason the relationship goes south, then what? Were you just wrong? Or are you screwed? Then what?

Much of Gottlieb’s search for a soul mate in her "youth" seemed to rely on esoteric ideals. Well-thought out and important-sounding? Maybe. Practical? No:
I thought that the person I married would have to have a sense of wonderment about the world, would be both spontaneous and grounded, and would acknowledge that life is hard but also be able to navigate its ups and downs with humor.
A “sense of wonderment?” I’m not really sure I would know what that was even if the wonderment hit me square in the face. It’s no big mystery why she didn’t find Him. Of course, she acknowledges this with – you know – the entire article.

What I’m missing perhaps in all of this is the point. Oh wait… I’ve got something:
As your priorities change from romance to family, the so-called “deal breakers” change. Some guys aren’t worldly, but they’d make great dads. Or you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is 5'4" and has an unfortunate nose, but he “gets” you.
This deserves a big, "WTF?" Go for guy with the unfortunate nose. That’s your advice? OK lady, if you’re desperate to find a mate, but cutting out potential suitors because they have a crooked nose or fail to meet a height requirement of 6’2,” it’s going to be a long, lonely life.

I suppose what gets me about this article is that nowhere does reality come into play. I am, obviously, no expert. I’m only 28. I’ve never been married. I’ve had plenty of boyfriends, two of whom I likely “could have” married. But the way I see it, the divorce rate in this country already tips the scales at a whopping half. Half! Settling for the sake of settling is bound to lead to resentment, which is never good for a marriage, and generally (one would think) is the kind of feeling that eventually can cause estrangement, or even infidelity… which of course brings us right back to divorce.

Why not, instead of telling women that dating is musical chairs and if they don’t pick a seat for better or worse, they’ll be standing up alone for good, persuade women to not to write off a potential mate just because you didn’t want to rip off his clothes the moment you laid eyes on him, or you didn’t have the deepest of conversations ever on your first date. She almost made this point during the Today Show interview (I’m paraphrasing), "I should have given a lot of nice guys a chance, but I only went out on one date with them because there wasn't an instant spark." This, I believe, is Gottlieb’s only nugget of wisdom and value. This spoke to me.

In my own experience, which is very little, I have contemplated tossing a guy to the curb because I wasn’t feeling the “spark” right away. But, he was nice and we had some important things in common, so I stuck it out, let myself get to know him, and am better for having done so. Sometimes the spark isn’t immediate. Sometimes it’s delayed. Sometimes the instantly intense relationships are the ones that fail the fastest. There is no way, in the normal, mundane day-to-day realities of life (even without kids in the picture), to sustain constant passion, no matter how earth-shattering the sex, or the conversation, or the connection is.

I believe Gottlieb is right, romance will, in most relationships, eventually fizzle. I'm just not sure that is an argument for never having it in the first place. However, often we mistake instant chemistry as a necessary ingredient for a long-lasting relationship and fail to factor in the important stuff: Do we like each other (genuinely) as people? Is our vision of the future similar? Can we compromise for each other and (if applicable) our family? Once we aren't in the mood to get busy every couple of hours, will their be partnership, respect, and love? Can I put up with your bad/annoying/obnoxious habits, and vice versa? I like to believe that these are the ideas that Gottlieb was actually trying to get at and not the petty, "give the guy with the big nose a chance even though he's not the One" nonsense.

Sure, maybe using the word “settle” was a smart, savvy tactic for getting media attention (and God knows that the Today Show is the Holy freaking Grail when it comes to a media placement). It worked. But, wouldn’t the article have made a lot more sense if she had said, “Hey women who have unrealistic expectations, think about what’s really important long-term and give people a chance.” I suppose “settle” is a bit catchier.


Kendra said...

"Settle" is a terrible concept. When you are shopping, do you buy the shirt that is less expensive and makes you look like a sack of potatoes, or the one that is more expensive but makes you feel like a million dollars? A simplified comparison, I know, but when you are thinking about getting married, sometimes the simple ideas are the best.

TravelGretta said...

I stopped reading Gottlieb's nonsense after the first page. Sheesh, that was annoying.

Be careful what you wish for...and if you're just wishing for Mr. Well-since-you-asked (LOVE THAT Lou), that is what you'll get.

Gottlieb is either unaware, or forgetting, that some of us TRULY prefer our own company, to that of someone who falls into the "settle" category. No thanks.

heidikins said...

Amen. Amen amen amen. And I'm not even religious enough to truly warrant four "amen's", but after starting her article I started to throw-up a little in my mouth. It's women like her who give NORMAL women (regardless of their relationship status, or their desired relationship status) the "I'm 30, I'm Single, I'll say Yes" bad rap.

Excellent post, love it!


Jen said...

You should turn this blog entry into an article and send it to The Atlantic Monthly as a rebuttal of sorts. have a knack for this writing crap, Lou. You manage to make very valid points and be funny.