Douchebag Decree: Lori Gottlieb *IS* all the single ladies

Have you been wondering what would be the perfect metaphor for being single in your forties? Well now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Lori Gottlieb and her godsend of a new book (Marry Him: a case for settling for Mr. Good Enough) have answered it: it’s like irresponsibly drinking before driving, and then causing serious bodily harm to yourself or someone else in a horrific accident. No seriously:

It’s kind of like the graphic anti-drunk driving public service announcements that show people crashing into poles and getting killed. If they just told you, “Don’t drink and drive,” you might think, “Yeah, I know, but I can have a couple martinis, right?” It’s not until you see people ending up brain-dead, lying in a coma in the hospital and surrounded by beeping monitors, that the message has an impact.

In the same way, if you don’t see how easily people can end up alone by making the dating mistakes I did, you won’t be dissuaded from making the same mistakes yourself.

And well, if you’ll allow me to mix outrageous metaphors, Gottlieb is dying to get married. This much is apparent in her 2008 highly-criticized Atlantic Monthly article, which details her dissatisfaction of being a single mom and her regrets of turning down past suitors who were “perfectly acceptable but uninspiring” (and she wonders why the men aren’t a’knockin anymore). In other words, women today are like Ms. Pacman, always too busy going after those tasty fruits to realize how many interested dudes you’re running away from (why couldn’t she have used THAT metaphor?!).

a picture of Ms. Pacman, Mr. pacman, and a baby pacman enjoying a barbecue. They all exhibit stereotypical gender and family roles

(Also, Earth-to-Gottlieb, the Atlantic Monthly used a retro, out-of-date, incredibly corny pulp comic image because your ideas are retro, out-of date, and incredibly corny.)

Gottlieb is serious about settling (emphasis mine): “It took not settling to make me realize that settling is the better option, and even though settling is a rampant phenomenon, talking about it in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable.” (Gottlieb then looked around and added, “Settling.”) Apparently her reiterations don’t improve in book form: Bitch editor Andi Zeisler called the book “reading the same three sentences over and over.” I guess when your argument is paper thin there’s nothing left to do but stack it deep.

And even though Gottlieb used cautionary tales from Friends and Sex and the City in her article, for her book she decided to instead dunk the anecdote bucket into the rich well of…her own experiences (and those of a few cherry-picked friends). Who else would I trust with a critique of feminism?

We aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle; we’re women who want a traditional family. 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.

the poster from Ellen Degeneres 1996 movie Mr. Wrong, which reatures Ellen in a wedding dress facing the camera and screaming

So not only is it feminism’s fault that women (ALL. WOMEN. EVERYWHERE.) end up unhappy and without husband, with nothing to show but a bunch of voter registration cards, college degrees, and property deeds, the other take-home message isn’t that successful relationships (and yes, even those recognized by the government) rely on compromises; but that it’s your fault for being too picky to settle down.

And even though, as one chapter title claims, feminism has fucked up Gottlieb’s life, as Rachel Fudge put it in her upcoming review in Bitch, blame should probably not be placed on women’s lib, but the cult of Carrie Bradshaw. Fudge writes, “No human alive possibly stand up to the degree of microscopic scrutiny that Sex and the City-style girlfriend gossip encourages.” Unfortunately, Gottlieb’s messages themselves ring as falsely as the vapid television shows, which—second Earth-to-Gottlieb, women don’t think are based in reality—and reinforce the messages she thinks are poisoning the minds of unmarried women. And with that I have to say, I’m sorry, Lori, it’s not me, it’s you.

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

I think there is something

I think there is something to be said about what people call "settling." I've known many women, especially young ones, who look for nearly impossible factors in a mate. He has to be hot, charming, successful, nice, giving, a snazzy dresser, etc. In other words, they want him to have it all and no one has it all. The only women I know who have successfully found mates were women who simply looked for someone they could be happy with and who respected them. Personally, I don't call that settling (I call it common sense), but many people would disagree.

Of course, there are women who couldn't give two shits about being married. Personally, I think that's how I got married. I wasn't worried about finding a husband, so I wasn't busy chasing down suitors. I ended up bonding with a friend of mine over our love of geeky things and a year later we were married.

agreed x2

Jen, I agree wholeheartedly with you on both parts: that it isn't so much settling as it is realizing what's really important in a relationship (and it's NOT finding the non-existent man who fulfills your impossible laundry list of what you're looking for in a mate), and also regarding how we stumbled into our relationships that turned into marriage. And I have a pretty fantastic marriage to a wonderful man who is nowhere near what my "ideal" mean was. (And now when I compare him to what my "ideal" man was, I think that my husband is so much more awesome. But I would have missed out because he wasn't some hipster acoustic guitar playing Radiohead fan, which is what I was looking for in college.)

Anyway, I'm reading this book right now to review for a group blog I post in, and I'm not that far in, but it's pretty much the same idea, over and over. Lather, rinse, repeat. I keep waiting for her to interview 40-something unmarried women who are perfectly happy. But I get the feeling they somehow don't exist in her world.

I had the same thoughts as

I had the same thoughts as to the definition of "settling". There are a lot of women out there who are looking, unrealistically, for that perfect guy. I have a friend who will not not not date a guy who isn't drop-dead gorgeous. My experience has been that the drop-dead gorgeous ones have massive egos and treat women badly. I agree that Gottlieb's article (and probably her book, haven't read it yet) emphasize way too much that women NEED men to be happy, when we really don't when we have a healthy sense of self-worth, but there is something to the idea that there are many women who are looking for the media's stereotypical version of Mister Right, when, in reality, their Mister Right is probably a guy not depicted on a Hanes commercial.

I'm a gatherer, not a hunter.

"I think there is something" made me smile. I, too, have never been a husband hunter. In fact, I've always been adamantly opposed to the idea. It seems silly to me that my entire happiness should hinge on whether or not I ever find a person who loves me as much as I love him. I think a lot of unhappy marriages have been created by the exact same argument Gottlieb is making. I want a husband so badly I'll settle for whatever I can get? And could that possibly objectify love any more? And while I'm not married, I found my amazing boyfriend while enjoying my life and taking things as they came. We just moved in together--a first for me because I wasn't going to take on the trappings of a serious relationship with just anybody in an attempt to have one--and I wouldn't be in this amazing relationship if I had settled for any of those other guys just because I wanted to get married.

But even long before I ever found my boyfriend, I still believed that I would get married if I got married, and, if I didn't, I'd live a perfectly happy life resting with the knowledge that I never settled for being anything other than myself. I think marriage sounds nice. I also think it's not something that should be treated like a thing. A relationship is made of people. People are not things.

Also, I'm 30, unmarried, and sleep just fine at night. No panic attacks.

Settled? Hardly! :)

I know quite a few folks who think I <i>settled</i> for my husband, but that is hardly the case. We've been together now for fourteen years, married over eleven, and I cannot see myself ever second guessing our relationship. Sure, he's got his flaws, and yeah, he's cut from some of that oldschool cloth so many of my progressive friends grind their teeth at, but he's good to me - and that's all that really matters.

I genuinely like that he's brutally honest but very neutral and fair, even if I've been accused several times of being a female chauvinist pig for being in our line of work. But the work we do *is* together, and he's proven it time and again I'm not just "the Missus" whose job it is to sit there and look pretty. In fact, half the questions we get from both clients and customers are answered by me, which always comes as a shocker to new people who work with us. That's their problem, not ours.

So he's not progressive. So he's not educated. So he's not eloquent. So he isn't loaded. So what! Who really cares? What does it really matter?

We're far from going on welfare, but that's to both our merit equally. He loves me unconditionally, even when I'm bitchy and look like shit! He's my handsome fella, even though he's no longer that gorgeous "Rock Star" I first met. And, he's my closest and dearest friend, lover and business partner who I know I can truly talk to about anything - and someone from whom I expect a brutally honest reply!

"<i>What else can a girl ask for?</i>"

Sleepless in Seattle

If I may quote Sleepless in Seattle:

"I don't want to be someone that you or anybody else settles for. Marriage is hard enough without such low expectations."

"And all I can say is, if

"And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying."

Ok, so I'm a young 20-something who wants to be a lawyer or cop and could never care less about dresses and ceremonies and thinks the whole "wedding" thing is a barbaric, chauvinistic tradition which idealizes and beautifies female subjugation (Love, honor, and obey, the history of ancient and Biblical marriage as a slave trade, etc.)

So, when I hit 30 or 35 or 40 or whatever, all my core feminist values that are a part of who I am are just going to magically dissipate, changing me from a strong, independent, career-oriented fish without a bicycle to some kind of bawling, cowardly, desperate wimp who's suddenly eager to marry someone she can't stand just to be married?
And, anyone who disagrees with your point of view is "in denial or lying". Great way to make an argument. Bravo.

Emotionally Secure?

"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."

How can someone be "emotionally secure" if they are willing to settle for mouse droppings JUST to be married?

Poor Lovable Slobs

The underlying assumption in the 'why don't you just settle?' movement is that there's this pack of poor, lovable, good-hearted slobs out there whose only flaw is that they can't match their socks. If only that were so.

I and so many of my friends in our 40's are single because the fundamentals were missing from the fleet of princes we haven't settled for: respect, intelligence, confidence, thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness, humor, caring.

There's a reason the divorce rate is so high in this country: settling. Only too quickly does the price of compromise become clear: self-esteem, comfort, confidence, security, happiness.

I actually feel sorry for Ms. Gottlieb, assuming she does believe this tripe she's peddling. If she is so pathetic as to think that a partner will complete her, I suspect she has bigger problems than where to find a slightly-imperfect husband.

All the best to her and any woman who buys into this nonsense as there are some hard life lessons ahead.

Some of what Gottlieb says

Some of what Gottlieb says is eerily similar to the words too many friends of mine: all smart, beautiful women in their late thirties who love their careers but would also like to be married---mostly because they want to have children and don't want to have to do it alone, but also because they enjoy having a primary relationship.
I always felt that wanting children within the "stable" context of a marriage is not a valid reason to settle for a guy who is "just okay." In fact, it makes settling a more destructive choice. If two people who are cordially indifferent to each other want to marry for the sake of not being alone, that is their problem. They can decide whether it is worth it to them, but to bring children into a lukewarm relationship for the sake of "stability" is nothing but harmful to children.

smart comments

Thanks for great thoughts from the commenters. This false choice between "the perfect mate" (which of course doesn't exist), and "settling" (recipe for divorce..) is ludicrous. While I agree there are those out there with crazy expectations, and those expectations should be re-examined, that is not at all about settling.

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