The Case against Settling

By Baird, Julia | Newsweek, February 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Case against Settling


Baird, Julia, Newsweek


Byline: Julia Baird

Don't blame feminism for bad dates.

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally when Harry refuses to believe that a man called Sheldon could be a great lover? "A Sheldon can do your taxes," he says. "If you need a root canal, he's your man. But between the sheets is not Sheldon's strong suit." Sally didn't care--but Lori Gottlieb did. In her new book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, she says she hesitated before dating someone because he had the name of a "nerdy sidekick." She also balked at the fact that he had been upset by his divorce a year earlier, he loved sports, and he was born in the Bronx, N.Y., a place she "associated with beer-can-smashing guys with thick accents." Her type, she said, was "sophisticated intellectuals."

Sounds awful, right? As she weighed up her matchmaker's assurances that this man was not "belching" or "rough talking" and had been Ivy League-educated, "Sheldon" started dating another woman. This incident caused Gottlieb to rethink her standards--and go on to mount a case that the reason many women are unable to find love is because they are superficial and hypercritical, as she was. Gottlieb, a 42-year-old single mother, caused quite a stir when she wrote a piece for The Atlantic in 2008 telling women to settle for men with shortcomings like bad breath--and not hold out for a big, heart-clenching love. If they did not, she argued, they would find themselves alone and without someone to help with the hard slog of bringing up kids. Marriage, she wrote, was not a "passionfest," but a "boring, nonprofit business." Just makes a girl want to crack open the champagne, doesn't it? In her book, Gottlieb posits herself as the latest example of that now-cliched cautionary tale, Women Who Dare to Dream of Love, Don't Find It, and End Up Tragically Alone. The prevalence of these kinds of stories does not diminish the struggle and heartbreak behind them. Gottlieb's sadness is another lament for the unlucky in a generation who delayed marriage longer than any other, risking their fertility, and found themselves fighting for a family in ways our mothers would not have dreamed of. Half a dozen of my friends are having children on their own: buying sperm, signing up for IVF, freezing eggs.

But it's a leap of illogic to suggest that the answer is for women to settle for humdrum marriages with men you tolerate so you can have a father for your children. …

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