You're Almost Just What I've Been Looking For

When we enter into relationships, to some extent all of us settle. There is no human being who is unbelievably physically attractive, mentally acute, kind, loving, a good parent, a demon in the sack, always there when you want them to be, always going away when you want them not to be, and perfectly thrilled with all your idiosyncrasies, from the way you snore at night to the way you have a tendency to leave your pop cans scattered throughout the house.

You're not perfect, and neither is anyone else, so we form relationships with people who are imperfect, like us, and yet in those relationships we can find a kind of perfection. For though your partner may not resemble either Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, and may not have more than a three-digit trust fund, and may annoy you by using the word "irregardless," you soon find that you don't want perfection -- you want the person you love, warts and all, and they want you despite your many flaws.

There's nothing wrong with being realistic in a relationship, accepting your partner for who they are while still nudging them toward better things. But there comes a point where who your partner is simply doesn't track with who you are, and what you desire. He or she may be stunningly gorgeous and perfect in bed, but when you try to talk to them you find you have nothing to latch on to, nothing in common, nothing to build a relationship around for the long term. Or you may find someone who's sweet and kind and likes the same kind of television shows you do, but there's just no spark there, and no how much you'd like there to be, you just can't find yourself attracted to them. And in these cases, while there may be something to value in the relationship, it's probably best not to sanctify that relationship in matrimony, for it will only end in tears, for you and your partner.

This is something that Lori Gottlieb needs to be told.

Gottlieb wrote a truly depressing article for the Atlantic that was published on MSNBC.com. I don't know when MSNBC decided that it was time to start playing the misogyny card; perhaps it was a decision made by David Shuster and Chris Matthews over martinis. However it happened, MSNBC has jumped into the fever swamp with both feet.

Gottlieb's article is entitled "Why it’s OK to settle for Mr. Good Enough." That in and of itself isn't horrible advice, for men or for women. If you find someone you're pretty attracted to and someone you love, but they have a few minor annoying habits, well, you can probably live with that. Nobody's perfect. But Gottlieb goes beyond saying it's okay to settle for someone who's imperfect, and leaps right into declaring it's all right to settle for someone who you hate, who you're revolted by, and who may or may not even be physically attracted to people of your gender.

Buckle your safety belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Gottlieb opens as all articles urging women to settle must by law open, by raising the fear of a manless future:

About six months after my son was born, he and I were sitting on a blanket at the park with a close friend and her daughter. It was a sunny summer weekend, and other parents and their kids picnicked nearby — mothers munching berries and lounging on the grass, fathers tossing balls with their giddy toddlers. My friend and I, who, in fits of self-empowerment, had conceived our babies with donor sperm because we hadn’t met Mr. Right yet, surveyed the idyllic scene.

“Ah, this is the dream,” I said, and we nodded in silence for a minute, then burst out laughing. In some ways, I meant it: We’d both dreamed of motherhood, and here we were, picnicking in the park with our children. But it was also decidedly not the dream. The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

I'd be snarky, but I'll cut Gottlieb a little slack: it's not always easy to be alone. I'm divorced, and while there are advantages to being on my own, there's also a bit of loneliness to it, too. And while I feel reasonably confident that I've made the right decision to stay out of dating for the foreseeable future, that doesn't mean it's always easy, or fun. So I can understand why you'd feel a bit lonely from time to time if you were single; indeed, there's not a single person alive who hasn't.

But from this reasonable launch pad, Gottlieb takes off for pure claptrap:

Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).

There's an awful lot in that paragraph to unpack, more perhaps than Gottlieb intended. First off, not every woman gets married looking for a child. Most do, I would imagine, but most men do, too. But there are more and more childless marriages every year, people who decide to join together just to join together, because they like each other and want to be with each other.

Moreover, not every woman who gets married is looking for a husband and by extension a child. She may be looking for a husband, and a child, but she most likely understands that the two things are not a package deal, that being a parent is different than being a partner, and that the relationship between wife and husband is not the same as between mom and dad. And that both are valuable, for different reasons.

And of course, it goes without saying that some single 40-year-old women are looking for a wife. And that many really aren't looking for a spouse, a kid, a smaller waistline, or a better apartment. Many are, dare I say it, happy.

But they're fools. Gottlieb says so.

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 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.

Golly gee, Lori, why do you think you'll be accused of being co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash? I mean, it's not like everyone hasn't read this basic article ten trillion times already, always from people telling women that they need to put off school, quit their jobs, and find some guy to impregnate them, stat! And that when they're barefoot and pregnant, then, and only then, they'll be happy.

No, this falls under the category of saying "I'm not a racist, but...." If you have to say you aren't sexist, you're sexist. And boy, is Lori sexist, and not just against women.

The MRA set always likes to come by here and bleat about misandry. But nobody's more misandrous than anti-feminists. If you doubt me, just read the following paragraph.

My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)

Yes, marry a man. Any man will do. Doesn't matter if he's nice, or doesn't brush his teeth. Indeed, his inner life doesn't matter much at all. He's part of the infrastructure, you see, of the family. And while infrastructure may sometimes collapse and fall into the Mississippi River, it doesn't think.

I'll skip over the part where Gottlieb talks about The Mary Tyler More Show and Sex and the City as if they make a point, and go on to the part where Gottlieb declares that if you hate your husband, that's proof things are okay.

What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way. I don’t mean to say that settling is ideal. I’m simply saying that it might have gotten an undeservedly bad rap.

Hold up. Nobody who's been married will argue that there are times that passion is lower on the totem pole than other things. The first six weeks of my daughter's life, my ex-wife and I desired nothing so much as sleep. There is plenty about marriage that's mundane.

But for the love of the Ceiling Cat -- no, you're not looking for someone fun to go on vacation with, you're looking for someone to go on every vacation with you for the rest of your life. And when that vacation's done, you'll get in the car at the airport and go home with that someone. They'll sleep in the same bed as you, watch the television with you, clean the bathroom, diaper the baby, vacuum and dust -- all with you. And you'll do all that with them. No, it's not all five-hour massages and oral sex, it's much, much more intense than that. This person had better be someone you at least think is someone you'd probably like to see every day for the rest of your existence.

Or, you know, someone who you despise.

As the only single woman in my son’s mommy-and-me group, I used to listen each week to a litany of unrelenting complaints about people’s husbands and feel pretty good about my decision to hold out for the right guy, only to realize that these women wouldn’t trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband. They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection — it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

Maybe, but Gottlieb truly underestimates the fact that some marriages are not partnerships, and sometimes your teammate is a ball-hog who showboats and goofs off while making you do the tough work. Sometimes your teammate abuses you emotionally or physically, sometimes your teammate lies to you, sometimes you're better off not having that teammate than having them.

The truth is that there probably was a mom in that group who absolutely would trade places with Gottlieb, and how. A mom whose partner isn't. A mom who has to bribe her supposed partner with sex in order to get him to watch the kids, or a mom who puts up with a husband with a wandering eye, or a mom who can't trust her spouse, not after what he did. But Gottlieb has a seriously underdeveloped sense of what she should expect out of a partnership.

The couples my friend and I saw at the park that summer were enviable but not because they seemed so in love — they were enviable because the husbands played with the kids for 20 minutes so their wives could eat lunch. In practice, my married friends with kids don’t spend that much time with their husbands anyway (between work and child care), and in many cases, their biggest complaint seems to be that they never see each other. So if you rarely see your husband — but he’s a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own — how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?

Okay, just shoot me now. First of all, asking your husband to take the kids now and then? That's sort of expected, since they're his fucking kids, too. I hate hate hate the meme that dad is doing a favor for mom by watching the kids once in a while. He's not a fucking nanny. He's their father.

But Gottlieb doesn't seem to view men that way. In her mind, dads are nannies who come with a paycheck, somebody who takes care of the kids when you're away, and chips in on rent. They let you spend time with your child, and can be safely ignored. The idea that marriage is not just about raising kids seems not to have crossed Gottlieb's mind.

I'll skip over the part where Gottlieb idealizes Will and Grace as a template for marriage, because married people don't have sex, as everyone knows. Because the next paragraph is just too good to wait for.

“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.” Two of Jennifer’s friends married men who Jennifer believes aren’t even straight, and while Jennifer wouldn’t have made that choice a few years back, she wonders whether she might be capable of it in the future. “Maybe they understood something that I didn’t,” she said.

Oh. My. God.

What Gottlieb is saying, quite simply, is that being a beard can be fun! Oh, sure, you're living a lie, and doing grave damage not just to yourself, but your non-heterosexual partner, and, not for nothing, but you're basically begging for divorce. Oh, and you're going to have to explain that to the kids some day, and while I think most kids would be pretty blasé about having a gay parent, most would not forgive being lied to.

What they understood is this: as your priorities change from romance to family, the so-called “deal breakers” change. Some guys aren’t worldly, but they’d make great dads. Or you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is 5'4" and has an unfortunate nose, but he “gets” you. My long-married friend Renée offered this dating advice to me in an e-mail: “I would say even if he’s not the love of your life, make sure he’s someone you respect intellectually, makes you laugh, appreciates you … I bet there are plenty of these men in the older, overweight, and bald category (which they all eventually become anyway).”

She wasn’t joking.

Speaking as a man who's in the overweight and bald category (older's coming in due time), let me say that I know this will come as a shock, but there are actual women who find overweight guys and bald guys attractive, or at the very least not repellent. And while I'm just speaking for myself, when I get back to dating those are the women I'll be interested in. You see, I don't want you settling for me. I'm better than that.

There's an infinite amount of article after this, but I'll just highlight one more point, because it's pretty much the point at which Gottlieb proves that nobody hates men more than people attacking feminism.

Just as the relationship books fail to mention what happens after you triumphantly land a husband (you actually have to live with each other), these single-mom books fail to mention that once you have a baby alone, not only do you age about 10 years in the first 10 months, but if you don’t have time to shower, eat, urinate in a timely manner, or even leave the house except for work, where you spend every waking moment that your child is at day care, there’s very little chance that a man — much less The One — is going to knock on your door and join that party.

They also gloss over the cost of dating as a single mom: The time and money spent on online dating (because there are no single men at toddler birthday parties); the babysitter tab for all those boring blind dates; and, most frustrating, hours spent away from your beloved child. Even women who settle but end up divorced might be in a better position than those of us who became mothers on our own, because many ex-wives get both child-support payments and a free night off when the kids go to Dad’s house for a sleepover.

Parenting is hard, very very hard. But you know what? I'm not giving my ex-wife a fucking free night off when I take my daughter. And I'm not a goddamn wallet. I'm a father.

But Gottlieb isn't looking for a father for her child, she's looking for a babysitter. She's looking for a man who will raise her kid, give her money, and accept that she doesn't find him attractive or actually like him very much. She's the kind of woman the MRAs fear. Which is why I'm completely not surprised to find that she's lecturing women about why they should give up on feminism.

But should Gottlieb actually settle, I fear she'll find out what too many of us have found out -- that marriage isn't any easier than parenting. That it requires its own sacrifices and its own compromises and its own hard work. And that when a marriage fails, it's far more painful than any monthly check or night off from parenting could ever assuage. You're never more alone than when you're married, and alone.

Of course, Gottlieb doesn't seem to have an actual understanding of what marriage is. For her, it's a wonderful, bloodless, sexless partnership for raising children. Such a partnership is interesting in theory, but it isn't marriage. Marriage exists above and beyond and around any children that issue from the pairing, just as children exist quite apart from a marriage. It is a partnership grounded in love and mutual respect. And those are the two things Gottlieb urge women to jettison in their consideration of a partner. And that's a horribly narrow view of marriage, a horribly narrow view of women, and a horribly narrow view of men. And nobody reading this is surprised; like me, you knew where this was going from the very first paragraph.


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