Saturday, February 09, 2008

Single Mom asks the 'Settling' question

Writer Lori Gottlieb is making waves with her new Atlantic Monthly article, Marry Him!

I hate the title (which she probably didn't pick) but I agreed with much of what she said. Her premise is that if women keep holding out for Mr. Perfect, they may end up alone:

My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. 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. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)

I've met Lori and she is wickedly funny, endearing and an incredible writer. You've probably heard her NPR commentaries (and she did one on this topic). I had a chance to hear her do stand-up about the fact that she had a tube of donor sperm banked and was deciding whether to use it. The next year I heard that she had a son, so apparently her stand up hit closer to home than your typical comedy routine.

So Lori is writing this piece from personal experience, as a single Mom over 40 who would like to find a partner, not as a "smug married" who is speaking hypothetically. The other day Lori was on The Today Show paired up with a married matchmaker for a counterpoint, and the matchmaker's optimism that there is a soulmate out there for everyone fell flat against Lori's candid pragmatism.

This knotty issue resonated with me on the level that we are sold so many fantasies about marriage and babies. We know how different the reality of motherhood is compared to our unrealistic fantasies. Marriage and (especially) raising kids are entirely different than the fantasy you see on something like The Bachelor. I loved Lori's description of marriage:

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.

Lori is not saying that women should marry someone they don't love, but rather not to disqualify guys so quickly, for example by turning down a second date because there's "no chemistry." She describes women's declining choices as they get older while men's options stay largely the same. The age trap.

I used to be the biggest romantic but as I get older I do appreciate the pragmatic aspects of marriage. I read or watch Pride and Prejudice every few years, and while I still cheer that Jane married her highly improbable soulmate Darcy, I now see how reckless she was, and how precarious her family's financial situation was, when she turned down the obsequious Reverend Mr. Collins.

Now I don't think Lori would endorse marrying Mr. Collins, but in real life the choices aren't usually so stark. We should at least give Mr. Nice Guy a chance. If we insist on holding out for Mr. Darcy, we may end up chasing an illusion to our own detriment.

Lori is getting some pushback from young single women who have read her commentary, but I am really interested in getting feedback from the Mojo Mom audience.

Read Lori's article and let me know what you think. Do women expect too much from marriage as their ultimate fulfilling experience? Where is the line between settling in and selling out?

Lori, I am rooting for your happy ending. If the married matchmaker wants to make her point, then she should help you out!

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Blogger Amy said...

I like the saying that "the truth will out." So, if a woman settles and hopes a marriage will work (after all, she thinks, I won't have to spend that much time with him because we'll both be so busy), I'm willing to bet bad things will come of that decision.

I would alter Lori's 'settling' motif to something more like 'reprioritizing.' When I was younger, I wanted a very different type of guy than I wised up to choose. My nearly bald, sports-loving husband could have walked past me without my noticing when I was 30. No, I was after the intellectual learned type. Did I settle? Absolutely not. My husband is my true partner - in the trenches with me everyday and calling me on all my bullshit (as Lori says). He's definitely the right choice.

I shudder to think how my life would be if I had married some of my old beaus - lonely, one-up-one-down, pathetic. I found my equal, even if we share almost no hobbies (well, we do now - a passion for and our backgrounds are quite different. We share all the stuff that matters.

I'm very grateful I waited until I was wiser before marrying.

8:24 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Hi Amy--I couldn't have said it better myself, though I do have ideas for a follow-up post that I plan to write tomorrow.

You've hit the nail on the head when you say "reprioritizing." The term "settling" is going to ruffle feathers. But I do agree with the heart of what Lori is saying, if I take her humorous style with a grain of salt.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this question not really a question at all. Of course romance is illusion. Of course there's no Mr. Perfect. Of course all expectations are unmet. And no, these aren't expectations foisted on us by anyone or anything else. It's how we human beings do everything! We set out to satisfy our ego's desires and find out that it doesn't work. And so yes, for it to last, marriage must be a kind of settling, because it is an eternal compromise, because it is not the place where ego is enhanced, but rather the place where ego is supplanted by a higher purpose. Perhaps it's just a bad day, but I can't see any other reason than family for marriage, and I can see the divine, mysterious trick that we all fall for to get us to contribute to the survival of the species! Only then do we have a chance of learning the ultimate truth: that love is not a feeling, but an act of selfless service.

Better go empty the washing machine.

3:43 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Karen, I love reading your comments, as always. I almost have to laugh when I think of the absurdities of the Fantasy Wedding that are so heavily marketed to young women. It's not a helpful illusion to hold on to, is it?

In Mojo Mom I said that being a Mom should be a life of service, but not that of being a servant (as in a maid). My daughter and I have both been sick this week and it takes me right back to BASICS. Not always a glamorous sight, but that's real life.

4:10 PM  
Blogger MamaMo said...

Heard you plugging for WUNC this afternoon, then right after, they interviewed Lori -- freaky. I plan to read the article and comment soon; I love the topic.

3:51 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Cool coincidence! I am also trying to get Lori to come on The Mojo Mom Podcast so keep your fingers crossed.

4:04 PM  
Blogger ErinOrtlund said...

It's tricky, because while she's right that people should not necessarily hold out for an "ideal", you don't want to settle in such a way that you have a mediocre marriage or a divorce.

12:21 PM  
Blogger m3ggiesue said...

I completely agree with Lori. The grass is always, always greener. But it's a lot easier to ask yourself what might have been when you've got a partner in crime.

It all comes down to being confident in your ability to make the right choices. That, to me, is what separates a successful person from an unsuccessful one.

If you believe in your ability to choose, then you will have a much easier time living with the choices you make. Our present is nothing more than the consequences of our past decisions.

If you can feel confident that you made the right decision to marry or not marry, that's how you can be truly happy. But for those of us who have any lingering doubts, it is always comforting to have company for our misery.

1:35 PM  

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