Is There a Case for Settling in Marriage?

Single women say finding a man with 80% of what they want would be “settling,” but single men say finding a woman with 80% of what they seek would be “a catch.” I’ve heard these statements before, but author Lori Gottlieb backed them up with a scientific survey. Her controversial book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough is not really about settling at all. It’s about women needing to have more realistic expectations of Mr. Right.

Gottlieb was a woman with ultra-high standards. She thought women should have it all and shouldn’t settle for anything less; compromise was not a part of her vocabulary. She had many prospects in her 20s and 30s, but none was good enough. Then, she found herself single and 40, the mother of a donor-conceived baby, when she realized she would have made very different choices about marriage and family if she had know what truly would make her happy. She realized the loneliness she felt was not assuaged with a child. “It was different and perhaps even compounded. It’s both single-person loneliness and the loneliness of not sharing the little moments of my son’s life with someone who cares about him as profoundly as I do.”

She realizes she hadn’t been picky about the important stuff, but rather about the trivial stuff that doesn’t matter a decade or two into marriage “when you’re more concerned about child care and contented companionship than you are about height or hairlines.”

For those of us who are married, Gottlieb seems to make a lot of sense. But when you see her interviewed on national TV, they always pair her with a young professional woman who still believes there is one perfect man out there who will make her every dream come true, or with a woman who believes a marital partner is not necessary to make a woman happy. They get hung up on the word “settle” and feel doing so would be compromising their integrity. Gottlieb has been called “an affront to the entire woman’s movement.” She’s been called desperate, but she says she is only wiser. She has a better picture of who Mr. Right is, and his name is Mr. Good Enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not as perfect a wife as I thought I’d be, and my dear husband has one or two flaws as well. If we looked for perfection, we wouldn’t find it. I agreed with the wife in a Washington Post article about Gottlieb’s book who said “if I had made a list of what I wanted in a husband, I would not have had the wisdom, creativity and self-awareness to create a husband as wonderfully quirky and perfect for me as my husband is.”

Still, one can argue that a woman should know what she wants in a husband. I’ve known several women who have listed out their priorities and found great men to match them. The key is to know what your deal breakers are, and to know that they are not superficial. Physical attributes can’t be counted on. Job status is not permanent. However, certain character traits, common values and goals, and similarities in faith may be important to your long-term happiness.

Gottlieb says that recognizing both she and a potential Mr. Good Enough have less-than-ideal qualities is not settling—it’s maturity. It’s the kind of maturity that admits companionship and compatibility are as important as passion. “Nothing about good enough implies that you haven’t found a true love—or in fact, a much deeper kind of love.”

If you’re married, did you have a list of must-haves before you wed? If so, were they met? Do you think women are too picky in dating? Or do you think women shouldn’t feel pressure to “settle” in such an important relationship?

7 responses to “Is There a Case for Settling in Marriage?

  1. I had a list, but it doesn’t quite count because I wrote it after I met my husband – I loved him and was convincing myself that he was the one for me! I had been with another man for two years and thought he was Mr. Right – how wrong! I’m grateful to God we didn’t marry, and that I am Tom’s wife! That was 31 years ago.

    When our children started making lists of their own, we had them form two columns: negotiables and non-negotiables. This helped them form a clear and realistic picture of what’s of most importance when choosing a mate – it’s certainly not hair style or color. Most men lose it by middle age anyway! 🙂 It’s work ethic, love of God, humility, a willingness to listen objectively, not given to fits of anger, etc.

    In talking with some of the singles I know – this article nails it! Since they’ve never been married they don’t know what’s most important in a marriage.

    I couldn’t be more opposite than my husband, yet websites like match couples based on their similarities. This may make you happy, but it won’t necessarily help you grow in wisdom and maturity. I would prefer the latter to the former.

    This is why I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father – I prayed and He picked, not who I thought would be best for me, but who was exactly what I needed to become all that He had planned for my life! That’s security!

    • Great insights, Debi. You are one of the lucky ones who didn’t get ensnared in a relationship that would not be right for you. After more than 30 years, it sounds like you made a good choice! Good for you in helping educate singles on what’s important in a spouse. They will thank you later. Take care,

  2. Gottlieb annoys me because she assumes that all women are as thoughtless in their choices about marital bliss as she was for 2.5 decades. It is not settling to have a “list” filled with things like “listens to what I say and remembers it later” and “is thoughtful and caring towards other people.” One should never compromise on these essentials.

    The problem with Gottlieb is that most women suffer from the opposite problem: their standards are way too low. Too often I see women and men alike compromising their values for a relationship with a physically/financially attractive person (or even a jerk who treats them badly because they think that’s what they deserve). Attraction is a complicated thing and dating rituals in every culture in the world make things even more complicated. The problem with Gottlieb seems to be that she only just figured out her real values 2-3 years ago and is now spouting her “revelation” out to the rest of the world. I really hope people don’t listen to her.

    • Interesting perspective, Diana. I can see where you might conclude she is only now understanding her real values. I think many women have too-high standards for superficial attributes, and perhaps too-low standards for more important character traits. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. I think Gottleib has got something great going on. I applaud her work. More women need to think like her, in my opinion!

    In response to your questions, yes, I had a list before I was married, but my husband obliterated it. I thought my future spouse would have to be an intellectual who was into history and classic literature, like me. I ended up with a handyman who doesn’t even read one novel a year. He’s nothing like the man I wanted but he’s perfect for me!

    I’m glad I didn’t reject him on the basis that he wasn’t a “perfect fit” from my single-woman perspective. I didn’t know what was right for me until I had found him.

    • I’m glad you didn’t stick with your list and were open to a different kind of man than you expected. It sounds like an ideal match!

  4. Pingback: Personality and Theology | Daily Generous Husband Tips

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