“Settling” May Not Mean What We Think It Means

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Perhaps the "settling" part of the book title was used to spark controversy and interest...because Gottlieb's idea of "settling" isn't all that bad afterall.

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Photo: Ferran on Flikr

Is it possible to ever be certain about a mate choice?

So I blogged a few weeks ago about a book I heard about called “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” by Lori Gottlieb. Based on the title and the negative connotations that I (and other women my age) have associated with the term “settling”, I decided I had to read the book – and I did.

With chapters like “It’s Not Him, It’s You”, “Don’t Be Picky, Be Happy”, and “Dump The List, Not the Guy”, I was nothing short of skeptical. Once I got over that, I really got into the book, so here are some of my thoughts.

Happy with Mr. Normal

Gottlieb interviewed a number of people for material. One population she probed were happily married women. These women expressed that they weren’t with extraordinary men, but they were with men who met their needs and their happiness had little to do with the qualities on their wants list. Gottlieb emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between the two and looking for the perfect partner, not the perfect person.

Impact of finding love online

In Gottlieb’s field research (which was more anecdotal than academic) she also found that the less you know about a potential mate before you meet, the better. In online dating (where apparently 25% of new relationships begin these days), you get to know so much about a person based on their profile before you ever even decide to meet them! By doing that, Gottlieb found that you end up forming a fantasy about this person that is rarely met. So regardless of how the person differs from the fantasy, there is an element of disappointment.

Also, online dating tends to give the impression that the choices are endless. Even if someone meets your needs, you may be left wondering if the next match to pop up on the screen might be even better than the last.

However, the book still supports online dating as a great forum to meet people….just with the disclaimer that you shouldn’t build a person up in your head before meeting them.

How settling might not be settling after all

It depends what you want. Do you want to be married and have stability and a life partner? Or would you prefer to keep spontaneity and excitement at the forefront? I’d like to think that both can be possible, but I must admit that this book shifted my views a little bit. How often is it that the person who never calls when they say they are going to ends up being “the one”? This could be the same person that has an incredibly ambitious and busy lifestyle (which may be desirable qualities to some) but those are the same qualities that may make them unreliable.

The role of gender

Gottlieb touches upon gender roles and the way they shape who we end up choosing as mates. She acknowledges that although men may seem less picky, men and women may actually just want different things. What women may think of as “complexity” may be the same thing men think of as “instability”. Men reported specifically looking for someone who is easy-going, adoring, low maintenance, and unchallenging. Very few (if any) of those qualities will be found in a career-oriented woman (which are the ones more likely to feel entitled to “having it all”).

The consensus

Although this all may sound a little depressing (or maybe it seems hopeful to some?), if nothing else, this book made me look at things a little differently. It is based on anecdotal evidence from dating-experienced men and women in addition to some great professionals in the field (Paul Amato, Helen Fisher, and Barry Schwartz to name a few) and is actually a clever, entertaining, and honest look at the dating world.

Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH

completed her PhD in Health Behavior and her MPH in Biostatistics, both at Indiana University. Kristen is an Assistant Professor in Health Promotion at University of Kentucky. Kristen's research focuses on sexual pleasure, sexuality in long term relationships, sexual function, and women's sexuality.
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Comments

  • Chris K.

    I particularly agree with the “looking for the perfect partner, not the perfect person” comment. I had quite a few great relationships that I ended because although the person looked perfect on paper, they just weren't right for me. I have since then found someone who really compliments me and I've never been happier.