Let me begin by pretending I picked up author Lori Gottlieb’s book, Marry Him, The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, so I could impart Valentine’s Day wisdom to my readers and clients. It had … ahem … nothing to do with the morbid curiosity of a single 40-something journalist and life coach whose photo is on the page.
Now that we have that straight, let’s get to the wisdom. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is single or contemplating being single. Truth is vital for this kind of relationship message to work and Gottlieb has put herself on the page.
I must be honest in sharing that my initial reaction to this book was not positive. Like many others, I bristled at the idea of the word “settling” in the title and so I opened it with some skepticism. The first 50 pages, frankly, got on my nerves and I almost put it down. But then, lo and behold, I became absorbed and more curious and ultimately enlightened.
The way I experienced Gottlieb’s book is precisely what she wants women to do in dating. You don’t like something about the cover? Pick it up anyway. Give it a chance. The beginning is a little shaky for you? Give it a chance. Hmmmmm. I like this. Yes, that’s good, too. This isn’t so hot. But this, oh, this I could live with. And so on.
Get the picture?
My initial disconnect to Gottlieb’s writing came because, while we are both single, 40-something writers, I don’t share her feeling that singlehood is a disease which can only be cured by tying the knot. While she doesn’t come out and say that, it is woven throughout the pages of her book that being single makes her something “less” than married folks (i.e., “the endless merry-go-round of single life”).
In the spirit of true confession, I am probably a little jaded in my opposing view. Gottlieb may glorify marriage, but I can’t name all that many marriages that seem appealing. I am the one that watches the Super Bowl and is horrified by the emerging theme of how “whipped” married men feel they are.
We had a car manufacturer showing a glazed-over guy who walks the dog, eats fruit, shaves and cleans out the sink, takes his wife’s call, lets his wife’s friends express their opinions of his friends, puts the seat down, and separates the recycling and so, apparently, needs a Dodge Charger because it’s “man’s last stand.” FloTV gave us Jim Nantz narrating a scene where a guy is lingerie shopping with his girlfriend, who has “removed his spine” and rendered him “incapable of watching the game.” The kicker is, “Change out of that skirt, Jason.” And, oh, let’s not forget the Dockers’ spot showing guys with no pants and declaring, “It’s time to wear pants.”
That all these brands came to the conclusion independently that this shtick would speak to men sends chills up my spine. Really? Am I just not in on the joke? Is the underlying theme that it’s cool to be whipped? I sure hope so.
Perhaps even more illuminating about the societal view of taking the untraditional route is a comment by Jimmy Kimmel during the recent late-night television flap.
“Listen, Jay, Conan and I have children,” Kimmel said to Jay Leno. “All you have to take care of is cars. I mean, we have lives to lead here. You’ve got $800 million. For God's sakes, leave our shows alone.”
The message: “Conan and I have lives because we have kids. You, Jay, don’t.” So much fuss was made over who was stealing what job that Kimmel slid this little judgment about his more meaningful lifestyle choice than Leno’s right past most of America. Or not. They heard it but it didn’t seem noteworthy because they agreed with it.
One of the challenges of enjoying life is living it in the moment and reveling in our choices despite what others think. To Gottlieb’s credit, and I mean real credit, she had a baby on her own when Mr. Right didn’t appear and she adores motherhood. I’m a big fan of knowing what you want and going after it. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am childless by choice and have never had to deal with the ticking clock that haunts so many women.
But when Gottlieb talked about women saying the primary purpose of marriage is to make them happy, I cringed. I couldn’t disagree more. I want someone who is attracted to me because I’ve created a meaningful life for myself, someone who would enhance that life and, in turn, me his. Marriage is not supposed to cure what ails us. And it is not some kind of coup.
When Gottlieb talked about how feminism’s message affected her, again, I felt a disconnect. While she heard that having it all means happily ever after, I heard that I can pursue my happiness any way I want. For me that meant I could go to college and keep learning and it was OK not to find a house in the suburbs dreamy. For others it meant having the ability to stay home and raise their children because they wanted to, not because they were supposed to. Feminism was about choices.
I think the idea is to be happy before you get married, not because you get married. I see this kind of like losing weight. You’ll be more successful if you get thinner because you love yourself, not love yourself because you got thinner.
“Our generation of women is constantly told to have high self-esteem, but it seems that the women who think most highly of themselves are at risk of ego-tripping themselves out of romantic connection,” Gottlieb writes. “The more highly we think of ourselves, the more critical we are of perfectly good guys.”
When did ‘confident’ become synonymous with ‘too good for?’
Let’s take the example of Sex and the City. Gottlieb references it in her book, but she stops short of really imparting its full message. I recall having a full-blown disagreement with a co-worker years ago when Carrie broke up with Aidan in the popular series. She loved him and he was a great guy, but something in her gut didn’t feel right when it came to marrying him. My co-worker saw Carrie as stupid; I saw her as avoiding a huge mistake.
Now fast forward to the Sex and the City movie and Gottlieb’s example.
“Carrie is a nightmare Bridezilla who’s outraged when her fiancé tells her he’d be happy to marry her at City Hall,” Gottlieb writes.
That’s true. And it’s also true that she goes off to Mexico on her would-be honeymoon and complains about men with her friends. But Gottlieb missed the truly spiritual message of the film by not finishing the storyline. Months later, Carrie realizes her own self-absorption and takes full responsibility for it. She apologizes and marries him in a “no-name dress” at City Hall.
Sometimes it’s an evolution and it’s meant to be. If we’re deriving messages from pop culture, let’s at least go with the played out version. Sometimes using an example of a woman who passed up a certain guy can mean she was smart to do so. Just because he went on to get married and she’s “still single” doesn’t mean she’s deficient.
But, and this speaks to Gottlieb’s larger point, it certainly could mean she needs to relax her “list” and be open. That’s where the book starts to lure me in. The most valuable information from this author’s intensive sharing comes from the dating coach she hired, Evan Marc Katz, and her insights around his advice.
“Next time you’re about to rule out some guy because he’s not your ideal, try to focus on the good things about him, because some guy is going to have to focus on the good things about you, even though he may have wanted someone more easygoing or taller,” Katz says.
The nitpicking that so many women do in dating is really put under a microscope here, and rightfully so. I have made contact with potential dates who start by listing their material possessions in the first phone call. It took a while for me to realize it’s because they’re so used to women wanting the vitals up front – type of car, salary, etc. – that they figure they’ll get it out of the way. They’re startled when I take the conversation in another direction.
Sometimes even the most well-meaning friends and loved ones have a way of enabling our dating credentials “list” or imposing their own. If every guy has to be put through not only our filter but those of our friends, where will that get us?
If the idea is we deserve the crème de la crème of male companionship, I think Gottlieb’s message is we need to change our notion of what that means. I get it. I had judged this book by its cover and I was wrong. So here’s my message:
Go ahead. Judge a book by its cover, but read it anyway and open yourself up to its possibilities. It could change your life.