Open Thread on “Settling,” Marriage and Relationships

Lori Gottlieb, “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”

This article is from a while ago, and I’m not sure whether I agree with it fully or not. I obviously think the lessons hold for women and men, but that the author telling us about her personal experience can’t be generalized too much. Still, I don’t pay much heed to the “as you get older, the market favors men” argument. Being lonely sucks, and getting older and staying lonely sucks worse, regardless of gender. I’d rather not make this a he said/she said game and instead get to the question of whether we have the right attitudes or not. It seems like something we should definitely discuss in the comments, to wit:

What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

I don’t see many articles – including ones that are more realistic – stress the self-evident boring parts of living together. But I think what’s really interesting is how complicated our mindsets regarding relationships are:

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. Many of the guys I dated possessed these qualities, but if one of them lacked a certain degree of kindness, another didn’t seem emotionally stable enough, and another’s values clashed with mine. Others were sweet but so boring that I preferred reading during dinner to sitting through another tedious conversation. I also dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me—we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry—but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens.

It’s easy to condemn the author and forget just how articulate and self-reflective she is. Most of us are probably being really picky about relationships and not even knowing it. At the same time, I do wonder if some of us are being picky enough. I know some women and men who’ve gotten into bad situations because of making their criteria too lax to begin with. Still, “settling” itself is pretty hard, all things considered:

And no matter what women decide—settle or don’t settle—there’s a price to be paid, because there’s always going to be regret. Unless you meet the man of your dreams (who, by the way, doesn’t exist, precisely because you dreamed him up), there’s going to be a downside to getting married, but a possibly more profound downside to holding out for someone better.

So I do encourage you to read the article and comment here, because I’m interested in the truth of these reflections and other questions we can raise.


  1. I got married very young so I don’t think I have a lot in common with this woman, but I do have more than enough to say on the subject- I won’t bore ya’ll with all of it.

    I didn’t see getting married as “settling” AND I don’t believe in the 1 true love thing. My husband and I are compatible in many ways, but my main requirements, while fairly obtainable were absolute. I think they would have remained that way no matter how old I got. I absolutely required that my spouse be kind and have the ability to consider other people’s feelings. I also could not voluntarily live with a man who had substance abuse problems and my husband neither drinks, nor takes any drug stronger than an asprin.

    I also hated dating and lacked the maturity to do it responsibly. I partly got married to save myself, but that’s an unrelated issue.

    I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to settle in some areas. If a guy is intelligent and funny and well off and a complete jerk- I don’t see the point. A dull marriage might be better than none, but being single is a good deal better than being stuck in a truly bad marriage.

    The author believes things would have been easier for her had she married and calls her friends out for complaining about their marriages. I think this is just a continuing of her unrealistic ideals regarding marriage.

    Being married is not easy. She may think that an extra income and a helping hand with children and household chores would come along with marriage. This is not necessarily true. If your spouse travels for work or never leaves his/her office or becomes disabled or plain refuses to earn a living you lose these benefits. These are not super rare occurances. I know multiple women in each situation and have been in one myself. Additionally, as modern and civilized as they claim to be, most men still don’t even think about housework or cooking or any of the messy parts of child-rearing; they’re just things that somehow get done when they’re not looking. (This is not to say men are exclusively a burden in marriage as plenty of women turn out to be lazy as hell or to lead you down the stereotypical route into huge debt… or both.)

    Anyway, my point being: In my opinion, if you want to be married then it’s ridiculous to wait for some magical destined thing that probably doesn’t even exist (and I definitely know that you will find varying degrees of physical chemistry with different people, but I also know that it usually, if not always fades and isn’t a very smart thing to base your decisions on), but it’s also very important to have genuine love for the person you marry. Some people might seem like they’d make a good partner, they may be tidy and interesting enough and bring in good money, but if you don’t love them enough to take care of (and clean up after) them when they’re sick and support them when they can’t bring up their end- in anything- and to accept them when they react very differently to tragedy or stress than you do, and to be willing to compromise on some very important issues then you should not be marrying them. You’ll either be miserable for life or more likely, your marriage is not going to last.

    *Disclaimer: my marriage is not perfect and has had lots of problems, some of them have been huge. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but the article linked to does strike me as a little immature and short sighted.

  2. When we were little kids we used to choose “best friends” for the day or week–remember those “circle yes or no” notes we got? I think marriage is meant to be a best friend note that lasts for a lifetime–with passion/chemistry to spare. Teamwork. But the strangest part of it is that both in the partnership grow and change and sometimes not necessarily together. I don’t have any answer for this except “work”(or “rejection” which isn’t marriage). We can be different and still blend–think “harmony.”

    I appreciate the article you reference because it is an attempt to look at the nuanced expectations we have and evaluate how important they are to the whole.
    I think every marriage is totally different since it is defined by two different souls–in a unique concoction.

    One-sided loyalty is worthless in a partnership. This is what is meant by “committment” and “settling.” In order to have the best marriage, you really have to know yourself and what is most important to you, and then think about whether you could give up some of those things for someone else. Sometime in any marriage you are bound to have to reconsider your own dreams, in order to show genuine love for your partner. “In sickness and health, for richer or poorer…” We need to find out what is most important to our partner.

    Mutual giving makes any relationship beautiful but it is meaningless without mutual taking too. If one partner is always taking, I could not call it marriage–it is slow parasitic death.

    Just for the record–some of the most lonely people I know are married. Getting involved in other people’s lives is the best cure–especially if you run into someone with similar dreams and pastimes! ..And dare to share yourself. I think we all have to constantly balance ourselves to keep going…

  3. I think the author starts to make a little sense, but then draws entirely the wrong conclusion. She recognizes (correctly) that maybe you shouldn’t hold out for your One True Soulmate Who Completes You Perfectly In Every Way, as such a person is almost certainly non-existent, but she doesn’t seem to think that a relationship with anyone other than that silly ideal could possibly be based on real, fulfilling, love. She seems to think her only options are finding mythical Prince Charming or giving up and marrying the next schmuck who proposes because at least it’s better than being single.

    Is it “settling” to marry someone with an imperfection or two, or who isn’t quite 100% compatible with your personality? Is some sort of platonic Will and Grace partnership the best you can hope for? I think most married couples would tell her she is quite mistaken.

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