Should You Settle?
The article below was a thoughtful post from Boundless Line that I enjoyed reading. He mentions Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic article “Marry Him!: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” For some reason, I did not enjoy Gottlieb’s article when it came out in the Atlantic, and not in the times I’ve read it since then. I think it’s because to even speak of “settling” is to speak as if our imagined ideal of a mate is a picture that actually has validity. Most of our ideas of the “perfect” mate are quite imaginary and likely unrealistic anyway. The Boundless article, “Brother, You’re Like a 6” comes to mind as an example of how our relationship expectations can be very out of sync with what is reasonable. I think that more often than not, people don’t need to “settle” so much as we need to learn to love what is truly good instead of what we’ve simply imagined to be good.
Willing to Settle
by Adam R. Holz on 02/24/2012 at 2:25 PM
In 2008, author Lori Gottlieb launched a national debate about whether women should “settle” for less than everything on their “list” with her Atlantic article “Marry Him!” (which shortly thereafter became a bestselling book by the same name and the subtitle The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough).
Gottlieb skewered the romantic notion that if a woman just waits long enough, sooner or later the man of her dreams will appear. In sobering fashion, she outlined a pretty compelling list of reasons why the reality might be disappointingly different.
“My advice is this,” she wrote in the article’s opening, “Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. … Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.” (Listen to an interview with Lori on The Boundless Show.)
It could be argued that the question of settling is primarily one that women wrestle with. I know I’ve had plenty of conversations, both before I got married and after, with female friends who’ve lamented, “Where are all the good guys at?” And among Christians, the question is even harder: “Where are all the good Christian guys at?”
Interestingly, though, a new study addresses the issue from a male perspective. Men, it turns out, grapple with the question of settling, too. And despite the common stereotype of men being afraid of commitment, Rutgers biological anthropologist Helen Fisher actually found the opposite to be true: Men are surprisingly willing to trade in their romantic ideals for more practical considerations such as friendship and family. More so, in fact, than women are, according to her survey of 6,000 single adults.
In her Feb. 21 article “Why Men Are Settling for Mrs. Good Enough” at The Daily Beast, Jessica Bennett talked with Fisher about the results of her study. One of the most interesting statistics was the fact that 31 percent of adult men said that they’d commit to someone they didn’t love as long as that person exhibited all the other qualities they were looking for in a mate. Perhaps even more surprising still, the percentage of men willing to make that choice was actually highest among men in their 20s, nearly 40 percent, compared to just 22 percent of women in that age bracket.
Explaining her findings, Fisher commented, “We have a stereotype in this culture that it’s men who are the ones who don’t want to commit, who don’t want to settle down, who are the scarce resources. But in fact, it’s the opposite.” Fisher mentioned one man who told her, “My wife isn’t perfect. She isn’t the best I’ve had in bed. But she’s a wonderful mother to our daughter, she’s very helpful in our business life, and we get along very well.’”
While that comment may not seem particularly kind, romantic or flattering, I think it gets at the reality of marriage as an ongoing and deeply satisfying partnership. Lasting satisfaction is not, as this man’s quote hints at, ultimately based on permanent infatuation. Rather, it’s about the joy of companionship, of living and building a life together.
Bennett also talked with Tom Matlack, co-founder of the Good Men Project. He echoes Fisher’s assessment when he says, “Marriage is challenging. Are you always madly in love with your spouse? No. But being a good husband and a good father is about trusting the other person, about being willing to deal with difficult stuff. I think it’s a sign of maturity on the part of men to admit that. … I don’t need the Victoria’s Secret model. I don’t need the infatuation that’s not going to last. I need a partner in life.”
The question of when “settling” constitutes a mark of maturity and when it’s a mark of compromise is, admittedly, a very difficult one (and one I suspect Boundless readers will be happy to kick around a bit more). But I’d like to (hesitantly) suggest that I think there’s some wisdom in Matlack’s perspective.
Marriage is a partnership. As Christians, we believe that it’s a partnership with a spiritual purpose, that of glorifying Christ. And hopefully it’s a partnership that brings a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment. Sometimes, though, you’re just glad to have survived another day, another week, and having a soul mate is less existentially important in the moment than the fact that your loving spouse remembered to wash your clothes for you.
Parodoxically, as the years and mileage piles on — and after almost eight years of marriage and three kids, I think I can say this — there’s something about doing even those mundane tasks together (and for each other) that enriches and expands your entire conception of what a soul mate really is.