Waiting for Mr. Good Enough

Every now and again, a subject comes along that we know is going to cause a debate. Today’s Midmorning broadcast with author Lori Gottlieb is one such subject. She advocates women in their early 40s to stop waiting for Mr. Perfect, and accept Mr. Good Enough, if they want to get married and have families.

Gentlemen, I know what you’re thinking: “Thank goodness my spouse didn’t settle for ‘good enough,'” to which I have only one response. “Are you sure?”

Here’s Gottlieb’s treatise, which was published in The Atlantic:

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist–vehemently, even–that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), 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.

This widespread characterization, of course,is met with a single word of advice: “settle,” as in “settle for less.”

In another article she wrote for MSNBC, Gottlieb says:

Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).

Is this true?

Not according to a writer — a woman — on Helium who says she’s tried the “settle for less” thing and what she longs for in life isn’t what Gottlieb says she longs for:

Today I find myself struggling with a decision. Settle for this misery, or be free? Am I being selfish, as my husband constantly reminds me, to go after my goals of finishing school, of writing that book, of having a life outside of my husband and children? Am I trading the happiness of my children for my own? Is it better to be alone than to live your life wishing you were alone?

This discussion isn’t exactly new. It’s been going on for generations (usually inspired by an impatient mother, I hear.) And last year, on the NPR segment This, I believe, it was given voice by Corinne Colbert, an Ohio woman who settled:

So, yes, I’m settling. Sure, I wish my husband would kiss me more often, tell me he loves me every day, and get as excited about my accomplishments as I do. Emptying the dishwasher without being asked and giving me unsolicited foot massages wouldn’t hurt, either.

All that would be nice, but it’s not necessary. I’m happy with my husband who, despite his flaws, is a caring father, capable of acts of stunning generosity and fiercely protective of his family. Thinking about him may not set me on fire as it used to, but after 17 years and two kids, our love is still warm. And I believe that’s good enough.

This is one of those areas of discussion that my colleague, Mary Lucia, usually turns into a question for which every answer is lacking. Since she’s down in Austin at South by Southwest, I’ll have to fill in. So here’s the question that you might want to think about before going home tonight and discussing this with your insignificant other: If your spouse settled for you, do you really want to know?

  • c

    my mother’s married friend suggested this about my good friend and coffee pal after i explained that there was no sparks, chemistry, shish boom ba or whatever you call that love connecction thing, “learn to do your grocery list on the ceiling”


  • jim

    I think the Wizard of Oz put it well:

    “I’m a very good man – I’m just a very bad Wizard.”

  • Emily

    This whole argument makes me so angry. First, why is all the pressure on the women? What about men? Shouldn’t they be settling or not? Don’t they choose who they ask to marry them?? Do they get no say in love and marriage? Isn’t the decision to marry a two way street?

    I also think it’s a little judgmental to assume that every woman has a perfectly decent guy hanging around just waiting to ask her to marry him. As I pointed out to my aunt who accused me of being single and thirty because I’m too picky, “OK, which of my ex’s do you want to me to marry? The one who cheated on me? The dumpster diver? The guy who ‘forgot’ to tell me about his wife?”

  • Michelle M

    HOLY SMOKES! I lived nearly 9 years of my life in a state of panic and didn’t even notice! Guess I missed the part where they told us that if we were 30 and single that it was panic time. I waited (’till almost 40!!) and found Mr. Perfect, I’m happy to say. (Full disclosure, my Mr. Perfect is the “jim” poster above, and he’s a very good man and pretty good at wizardry, too!)

    The whole idea this Gottlieb woman is touting is ridiculous. Isn’t she painting all women (and men) with one broad stroke of the life-goal brush? Feh. Next topic please.

  • c

    yep, jim is good at wizardry- ;9

    just kidding….I don’t know him…really.

  • Dave

    I wonder if the answers would differ between recently married couples compared to couples who have been married a number of years? The highly romantic version of love in the early years of a relationship changes over time to that old familiar tune and becomes familiar love. Maybe for not all of us, but I bet for many of us this is true. After that change, it is hard to remember or distinguish if you “settled” or not.

  • d

    When I read the original article I wondered if “settling” was the proper verb. Might it be rather that one identifies what matters most and insists on those qualities?

  • matt

    The personal details of the writer’s life indicate the kind of shallow regard she has for men, and herself, in any case like that of the women friends she references. Her ability to “accept reality” apparently means doing the opposite and naively having a kid by herself, blaming the ensuing romantic pitfalls on the self-help books that so cleverly led her astray.

    The entire argument hinges on the assumption that everyone needs a family; that reproducing is so vital for self-fulfillment that all you need as a woman, really, is a fertile set of male genitals that you can be okay with on a daily basis. (But she’s a feminist…!)

    The ideal I (and many of my men and women friends) have embraced coming into my 20s now is that the mate you might choose to spend your life with should be your best friend, someone you can actually relate to and compromise with, are attracted to, framed by mutual respect. I think that is a very noble and attainable ideal at any age. Sometimes it means knowing someone for a long time before you get married. But for women like Ms Gottlieb and their male counterparts, actually getting to know and appreciate a member of the opposite gender is an obscure concept, one that might be harder to realize anew when you’re approaching middle age and bitter, and treating life like a game of Monopoly. I’m not sure “mutual respect” between sexes has ever entered her vocabulary.

    The advice i have is not to settle, ever, but to learn to know and love yourself when you are young, and to know other people, before you prioritize marriage or procreation ambitions above true friendship and self-realization. That comes later, apparently.

  • dr ruth

    well mathew so many big words I had to crack the dictionary, I’m old school. And so wise for only coming into your 20’s, (even though you are not fully mentally developed until your mid to late 20’s according to research and we all know how powerful those surveys and studies are) but evidently according to your vast social experiences you have mentioned, you have much to enlighten us all on the mating topic.

    as such.

  • Al

    I missed most of the show and can’t decide whether or not that is a good thing. The whole premise seems so one sided and wrong. Almost as if all of the perfect woman out there have to just settle for an imperfect man, which virtually all men are apparently. I haven’t met many perfect men or women. Maybe we should ask a couples in their 50th years of marraige just how ‘perfect’ their spouse has been and just how they would rate their own performance. I think the happiest married people spend years learning to live with the imperfections of their spouse, all the while feeling incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who could overlook theirs. This is where I find myself after only 10 years. My wife drives me crazy somethimes, but thank heavens she can be so forgiving of my flaws.