Good and Plenty

I don’t understand women like Lori Gottlieb. She’s the author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Gottlieb’s book is a cautionary tale: She was picky about the men she dated, so picky that she realized she might no longer be fertile by the time she finally found Mr. Right. So she became pregnant through artificial insemination and had a baby by herself. In her mind, becoming a single mother enabled her to remove the deadline (of eventual infertility) from her hunt for a man to spend her life with. What she discovered, instead, is that at 41, she was exhausted by raising a child on her own, and her own value in the dating marketplace had plummeted.

Her book, based on an article she wrote in The Atlantic, describes her sundry efforts to stop harping on what’s wrong with all the men she meets and start focusing on what’s right with some of them. And, in the process, she hopes to expose her misguided history of chasing alluring but wrong men and rejecting ordinary but right ones so that other, younger, women can learn and make better choices.

Whether I was extremely lucky or extremely smart, I married my Mr. Right six years ago. Reading Gottlieb’s book I felt variously smug at my own coupled state and annoyed at the bad choices in men she and her cohort had made.

The women Gottlieb writes about (with pseudonyms, of course) seem to have gotten their dating advice from Sex and the City. (So that’s one thing I don’t understand, because I never really liked that show, though the Sex girls’ cocktails always looked delicious.) These single, urban women are presented as outrageously entitled. No matter how good a man they are dating, they imagine that not only is there a “better” man around the corner (someone more passionate, more ambitious, fitter, taller or richer), but that that man is likely to be available and eager to fall in love with them.

But when Gottlieb was ready to “settle,” her ideal man had already settled down.

I can’t argue with Gottlieb’s humble conclusion–that she had some silly requirements in her youth and is now paying the price. Her happy ending comes as she realizes that an attitude adjustment may, someday, allow her to find someone with whom she can live a contented life.

No, my main gripe is with the book’s title. I write headlines, so I understand the need to boil down a long piece into a few choice words that will grab the reader and compel her to pick up your magazine or book. But I resent the implication that I (and anyone else who married a man who doesn’t look like George Clooney and have a degree or two from Harvard) married Mr. “Good Enough” or that I “settled.”

Before I got married, I used to read a fair number of self-help books directed at single women. So I perused both The Rules and a book called The Surrendered Single: A Practical Guide to Attracting and Marrying the Man Who’s Right for You. And I made a list of 20 qualities I was looking for.

The top seven: compassionate/kind, tolerant, intelligent, curious, funny, ethical (decent), dependable/responsible. The remaining qualities were labeled “gravy” and went from “likes to go to and talk about movies” to “well-traveled.” No. 15 was “tall(er than me).” (My husband didn’t quite meet that one; he is a half-inch shorter than I am. But I am 5’11”, and the average American man is 5’9″, so I did pretty well, even on that superficial measure.)

I got all the rest. How can I express how lucky I was to meet him, or how astute I was to recognize that I had found Mr. Right?

On Saturday, we took our sons, ages 2 and 4, to the lot where we buy our Christmas trees every year. We looked the merchandise over and my husband hauled out a tree in the section for ones we could afford. The tree was so beautiful and so full, I couldn’t believe it was supposed to be in the “yellow” area. The tree guy told us he’d give it to us for $25 (a bargain) but that he’d already sold it–twice–the day before. Two families had taken it home and brought it back because it was too big for their houses. Clearly, that tree was trouble. My husband and I looked at each other, and I said, “Let’s live dangerously.” He smiled and replied, “That’s just what I was going to say.” We paid our money and took that scary behemoth home, and we kept it.

To the author of Marry Him, I want to say: I did marry him. But he wasn’t Mr. Good Enough–he was Mr. Right.

So, did you have a list of requirements for Mr. or Ms. Right? What was on it?

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11 responses to “Good and Plenty

  1. What a fascinating book review and story inside — both hers and yours, Reid!

    I love the tale about buying the Christmas tree — and the decision to live dangerously. I also love how you found the cocktails on Sex and the City delicious, but that was about it.

    I also didn’t connect too much with that show, even though I wish I were the type to.

    Like the author of the book, I had a foolish youth, but when I finally stopped partying and started to look around for Mr. Right, he was standing right in front of me.

    I think it’s all about knowing yourself, being honest with yourself, and taking care of yourself — then you’ll know who is Mr. Right, and you’ll be smart enough to grab him.

    • You make it sound so simple, Amy! And yet Lori Gottlieb once thought that she couldn’t possibly be happy with a man who had a boring-sounding job or who didn’t have a full head of hair. Apparently, to some women a balding man of average height (or slightly below) is not a catch–no matter what else he has going for him. I feel sorry for women like this. If they really want to be married, as Gottlieb eventually learns, they should focus on qualities that can lead to a happy marriage, not fleeting “butterflies.”

  2. I so agree — marriage is not about crushes and butterflies and parties and giggles. I think people who eliminate so many possible prospects probably have issues about intimacy or commitment that they need to work out before they can choose wisely.

    • So true! But what can you do when women are focusing on all the wrong things–and thinking they do know themselves? Thinking, “I couldn’t possibly be content with a man who loves sports?” I thought that myself–I have an aversion to sports fanaticism. And on that point I did not have to compromise–my husband rarely watches sports. Mostly some baseball and S.U. basketball (pretty much a requirement in this area).

  3. At age 42, I’m still uncertain about whether my “requirements” are realistic. Actually, I’m not even sure what my requirements are, although I like your list as a starting point. I think that it is harmful to hold onto an image of the perfect guy and find the guy who is perfect–for you.

    That being said, the title of this book made me want to puke.

    • Lori Gottlieb–after wising up–recommends requirements that are “subjective” (kind, intelligent, funny) rather than “objective” (over 6′ tall, makes more than $100,000 a year, has a graduate degree). I think that’s a start. My own list was made in the absence of an actual prospect. It was a form of magical thinking–if you write it, he will appear. And it helped me focus on the important stuff. I think that’s what a list can do for you–figure out what’s actually important–height or how he treats you (and others)?

  4. As a featured character in this post, I can’t resist weighing in. I’m glad Reid didn’t have a rigid requirement for any of the categories I was deficient in, and that she apparently had a list of criteria in mind which were in themselves an indication that she and I were on the same page in many ways. Before meeting her I met (in person and online) any number of women for whom I was decidedly NOT Mr. Right, based on their fairly quick dismissal of me when I approached them either face to face or online. Fair enough; in the end, if anyone decides that they’ll “take” someone despite not thinking said person is good (attractive, interesting, kind, whatever) enough for them, both parties are probably in for a hard slog, so a quick dismissal was probably a great favor to me. That said, I do think that a lot of people of both sexes do themselves a disservice by setting the bar so high that a lot of good prospects never get a fair hearing; people can and do surprise, often in a delightful way.

    • “Mr. Right” is actually and always short for “Mr. Right For Me.” Personally, I don’t think it’s a matter of “picky” singles setting the bar too high (except, I suppose, in the case of height). It’s more that they focus on the wrong things–things that won’t matter much to their long-term happiness in a relationship. I think a woman underestimates herself if she believes she “can’t” fall in love with a shorter man. This is a point Lori Gottlieb makes in her book. Though I don’t know if women (and devotees of Sex and the City) in their 20s and 30s will take the book’s message to heart before it’s too late for them to recognize the wonderful men right in their neighborhoods or circles of friends.

  5. Sometimes you are looking for a 6′-2″ multi -millionaire and you get a 5′-8″ piano salesman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. That’s my top priority- someone to laugh with who’s inherently kind and honest. After that, to me, it’s small stuff. It can come and go in the wink of an eye.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can agonize and overthink as well as the next girl. And there have been times with men that my intentions and actions have been grossly misunderstood by all, but this life ain’t perfect and neither are we. Princess is as princess does. Final thought: Mr. Right looks damn hot in reading glasses. That’s a change from how he floated in my dreams at 25…

    • There’s a Match.com profile phrase for a single middle-aged man brave enough to use it: “Damn hot in reading glasses.” Because we all get older. Beauty fades. Vision dims. But a sense of humor–that’s something you can count on for decades.

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