Read it and weep: Atlantic Monthly advises women to just settle, already — you're not getting any younger, right?

It's enirely too late on a Friday afternoon to get all riled up about this article, but shit, it really went there. In a nutshell: Lori Gottlieb believes that women should settle for men they don't really want to marry, because being married is better than not being married. The Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, believes that this kind of crap is something that people actually want to read. Both of these things are, inherently, problematic.

Let's start with Gottlieb. A 40-ish woman who opted for single motherhood because she hadn't – oy, here comes the cliché – "met Mr. Right," Gottlieb now believes that women like her former self are far too picky, and need to just marry someone – anyone – because the alternative is, you know, being alone. So what if you'll eventually want to smother him with a pillow because you can't stand the sound of his very breath? At least you'll be married in the meantime, right? Here she goes:

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we're independent and self-sufficient and don't believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren't fish who can do without a bicycle, we're women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), 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.

Oh, I know—I'm guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren't widely representative, that I've been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I'm talking about. And all I can say is, if you say you're not worried, either you're in denial or you're lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you're not worried, because you'll see how silly your face looks when you're being disingenuous.

Ah, yes — the old "women who claim not to want a traditional life are fooling themselves" argument, with all the usual heterocentricism (that's a word, right?) that always accompanies it. But more problematic is Gottlieb's source material. I'm pretty sure that, yes, women will be writing to the Atlantic to complain that the women to whom Gottlieb refers in this piece aren't widely representative. In fact, they'll be complaining that the women in question are, uh, fictional. According to Gottleib, the best reason to settle is because Rachel Green and Carrie Bradshaw didn't. For real. Rachel, for instance, should have settled for Barry, the orthodontist who, as you'll remember, cheated on Rachel with her best friend (a post-rhinoplasty Jennifer Grey — I just can't let that go). And Carrie! Carrie didn't settle for Aidan, and guess what? Aidan had a baby and — get this — carried it around in a Baby Bjorn! "Can anyone imagine Mr. Big walking around with a Björn?" asks Gottlieb — when the more salient question might be, "Did anyone notice Carrie Bradshaw jonesing for a child? Yeah, me neither."

Oh, but you know how else Gottlieb knows she's right about this whole settling thing? Why, because people who write ridiculously essentialist self-help books aimed at making money off women's widespread insecurity agree with her!

So just how specious is Gottlieb's piece? Well, she uses the phrase "marital value" unquestioningly — as in, "Wouldn't it have been wiser to settle for a higher caliber of 'not Mr. Right' while my marital value was at its peak?" She assumes that, for women, marriage and babies are the goal of every partnership. She sets up a blindingly stupid dichotomy — namely, that there are utterly perfect men and less-than-perfect men, and that the profile of each is rigid and unchanging in the eyes of women. She, as mentioned above, bases part of her theory on fictional characters, and the rest on the musings of equally brain-free friends of hers, whose groundbreaking revelations on marriage — "I just want someone who's willing to be in the trenches with me," my single friend Jennifer told me, "and I never thought of marriage that way before" — seem to assume that all women think marriage is something that is scripted, staged, and furnished entirely by Disney. And finally, there's literally no acknowledgment of humanity in her argument — say, the idea that any kind of partnership generally involves two (or, you know, more, if you're into that) inherently imperfect people who might just be happy together even if one likes Kenny G and the other has an extra toe.

Some might argue that, indeed, women have been brainwashed into thinking that marriage is all hearts and flowers and bluebirds that help you suds up the dishes in your suburban ranch house, and that this piece is simply a wake-up call from a woman brave enough to stand up and shake a finger at the whole romance-industrial complex. Except that it's anything but: Gottlieb is one of the worst examples I've seen of someone who refuses to see the nuance of both relationships themselves and the emotional and intellectual work that sustains them. She's all absolutes: Women are too picky. "Marital value" is a static concept. Women have a sell-by date. Oh, and: babies babies babies!

As for the Atlantic Monthly: I've run out of steam, but here's a thought: Wouldn't it be nice if you published stuff that, you know, didn't perpetuate awful, shallow stereotypes about women, motherhood, and partnership? Seriously, I never though there would be a piece in this magazine that made me long for the antifeminist stylings of Caitlin Flanagan, but this one has done it.

by Andi Zeisler
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Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Ugh. Yeah cause every woman

Ugh. Yeah cause every woman wants to get married and have babies.
What is this the 1950's? Why is mainstream media so fucked up still? Oy vie.

total B.S.

i am actually looking forward to being 30 and unmarried!

Atlantic Monthly

I'm a subscriber to the magazine. When that issue arrived & I saw "Marry Him", on the cover no-less, I was disturbed.

This follows a long series of articles tucked in their back section, dissecting the vicissitudes of raising children in an upper-middle class household, or deconstructing the way women hate each other. I am saddened, but not surprised, it's come to this.

The Atlantic Monthly was once upon a time a literary magazine that supported an original approach. What happened?

picky, picky, picky

<p>&quot;Women are too picky.&quot;</p><p>What I find so disturbing about comments like this about this is that women are considered &quot;picky&quot; when we simply expect that our partner carry the same load that we do.  Clean up equally, work equally, take care of a child equally.  Somehow, it is just the expectation of even men who CLAIM to be &quot;feminists&quot; that women will do more work.  And crying bullshit on this sort of thing means we're &quot;picky.&quot;  Is being alone better than taking care of a husband because he is too lazy or too full of pride to clean the f*cking floor?  Um, YES.  And Jesus...I can hardly believe there writers out there who still believe all women want babies.  Good God.  -Anna Breshears</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Yup. I definitely

Yup. I definitely unsubscribed to the Atlantic the minute Caitlin Flanagan wrote her completely defeatist cover story.

I just want to say, to anyone who may have doubts, that at the behest of my wonderful male friends, I decided to STOP settling and only get involved with people I could truly admire. It was very hard for a few months, but now I'm happier than I ever dreamed, and I firmly believe that you need to fully respect and believe in YOURSELF before you try to look for love. Anyway, don't listen to the Atlantic: marriage is a partnership between two people who just want to make each other happy, and "settling" is as unnecessary as the 50 spam emails you got in your inbox last month.

And by the way, my spectacular boyfriend -- at zero urging from me -- asked to borrow my issues of Bitch and is currently devouring them with aplomb. :)

single, childless, and loving it

I am not lying when I say that I'm 30 and single and very happy with my situation.... and that it's completely by choice. I love working and I am not domesticated. I have no biological clock ticking inside of me telling me I better hurry up and have a bunch of babies. In fact, I'd say the opposite is true: the older I get, the less I want children. I live an amazing life, working, and socializing with other like-minded women and men. I have no desire for a wedding either. Whether I meet "Mr. Right" or not, I don't believe I have control over that. Right now I share an apartment with another 30-year-old single childless woman. We couldn't be happier with our casual sex partners, and our crushes, and our shoe shopping, and our traveling, and our dinners out, and our occasional silly drunken nights, and our nights in with our pyjamas and un-done-up faces, etc. I will never settle for less than perfection when it comes to committing myself to a man and no woman ever should.
But I suppose I'm preaching to the choir here.
By the way, are there any articles out there written about men who should settle and marry? Didn't think so.


thank you. that article infuriated me. even gottlieb admits that though she wants the rest of us to settle, she can't bring herself to do so.

also...clearly written from the vantage point of a woman who has never been through a bad marriage...a messy affair...a painful divorce...the kind of emotional upheaval and damage that tends to occur when men and women settle, or get married for the wrong reasons.

it is because marriage is so difficult, so challenging - that it tends to work best when two people are in love & are in partnership.

NOT when they are together because they just don't want to be alone. What that is, is selfish. That is using another person to satisfy your own need and loneliness.

And maybe that is why Gottlieb is still single, as she moaned on a recent NPR piece. Because for her, marriage is not about a partnership rooted in love and respect. Its about someone, anyone standing beside her, no matter who he is.

You didn't read what she's saying, hon

"Its about someone, anyone standing beside her, no matter who he is"

Actually, no, that's not what she's saying at all. She's saying that some girls have expectations that do not matter in a marriage and that when you find someone who is warm, gentle, you can get along with him 99% of the time, that is good enough, jump at the chance to be with this person cause there are other guys out there who are NOT like that, not even close. It's amazing what the human mind can make a person do. The mind can convince a person that being an asshole is ok. That treating people like shit is acceptable. I introduced my girlfriend to an old old friend. She thought he was cute. He's a nice guy, just not when it comes to dating girls. I don't know what goes on in his mind, but every relationship he's been in has turned to mush. He has money, brown/blonde hair, handsome, very nice home, just he's an asshole to women. She's saying, go for the first guy, he's what you really want.

What's a girl to do

Could we group together for a good old-fashioned boycott of the Atlantic Monthly? I don't normally read it so I'm not sure how effective that will be, but, please, something?

Perhaps this lady is putting

Perhaps this lady is putting herself out there too much. One possible reason why a woman might be picky and cannot find Mr. Right is that society has told them what they should want. Gottlieb may be displaying her own insecurities, her own ego in this article. One must be happy with oneself, before she can share her happiness with a man. She certainly is delusional, but if she can learn to love herself, she might find that no other man can love You and take care of You as well as you can.

Are you kidding??

(sigh)... let me take a sip of my cocktail before I begin. (slurp)
Gottlieb, go get a dog. Honestly, nothing against men, there are great ones out there. But you lady, need some help. Self-esteem, motivational, image management... whatever. But please don't even try to guess or as I detest the word, assume, that others are in denial because they choose a peaceful and carefree existence over the possible turmoil of a relationship that isn't 'right'. (slurp)... I believe and I could be totally disillusional, but when a couple marry, they are under the full impression that this is THE ONE. And, unfortunately many of those relationships dwindle away like dried leaves in the fall. I had worked up a great lather reading your piece, and now, I just feel a deeper pity. Join a gym, buy a dog and honestly, enjoy your life! But hey... who am I to dictate to you. Settle, and come back to chatter to all these wonderfully insightful people about your great existence in a year or so. (slurp)

Mesothelioma Doctors

Mesothelioma Doctors

Still unmarried

I just turned 49, have never been married, and have never regretted this choice. I'd rather stay blissfully single than endure the loneliness of being with someone you don't really want. Secondly, "settling" is grossly unfair to the other person.

Thank You for this!

I just turned 30 - no, child, no husband. Do I want a husband one day - perhaps, but there is nothing within me that says settle for anyone, just to be accepted in society. Look, this woman somehow believes that at the snap of a finger she can bubble up a stable, reliable, equal work sharing man who would want to be married to her.
Hello, have you seen marriages lately? Men are so unused to not being held accountable for anything, something like marriage throws them for a loop. They dont know heads or tails about what being a husband is about. Can we blame them? Many did not have role models, many of us women didn't have role models either, but we know in our hearts that settling for just any old thing to say - hey Im married! Is <i>not</i> acceptable to us. I did not remain childless in order to take care of a man who thought that wife = mommy I can have sex with.


I don't think I can.