Would You Settle?

The Atlantic Monthly has a an interesting article by Lori Gottlieb called Marry Him! In it she argues that the true desire of every late 20/early 30 something single women is not to get more education or a better carreer, but to fall in love and get married. And in a culture that emphasizes the romantic ideal with fewer and fewer good men available the question becomes, “Is it better to be alone, or to settle?” Gottlieb’s answer:

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.)

Obviously, I wasn’t always an advocate of settling. In fact, 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. Whenever I make the case for settling, people look at me with creased brows of disapproval or frowns of disappointment, the way a child might look at an older sibling who just informed her that Jerry’s Kids aren’t going to walk, even if you send them money. It’s not only politically incorrect to get behind settling, it’s downright un-American. Our culture tells us to keep our eyes on the prize (while our mothers, who know better, tell us not to be so picky), and the theme of holding out for true love (whatever that is—look at the divorce rate) permeates our collective mentality.

Would you settle for Mr. Good Enough?

Thinking about this question is a little more complicated with regard to men. The desire for something fixed has to be there for it to matter. Usually men don’t care about that. But as I have been reading and learning more about our culture and how ridiculously transitory it is people are often left with a void longing for something fixed and stable. Going from relationship to relationship, from job to job, from living situation to living situation, from degree to degree, and in some cases from religion to religion people are left impovrished–not because there isn’t enough resources available, but because there is abundance of options available.

When I was a kid I always had an answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now that I am adult I have almost no definitive answer. The fixtures of marriage and family are enduring because something in our humanity needs them in order to grasp for fixed points of existence. Yet our culture’s values, which we unwittingly adopt, leave us wondering if we have to compromise who we are to get them. There seems to be something very wrong with that.


20 thoughts on “Would You Settle?

  1. Sarah says:

    Interesting that you blogged about this. Settling is an issue that’s come up in my own life this week. An ex-boyfriend took me to dinner and we tossed around the idea of getting back together.
    I don’t think he could truly make me happy and the more I think about it, the less happy I think I’d be. There are too many “big” decisions we absolutely do not agree on, but as I approach my 3-th b-day I find myself thinking more about settling.

    Often the question presents itself in my mind “Can I be ok with settling vs. the probablity of spending my life alone if I don’t?”

    Sure people (my mother especially) tell me there’s plenty of time and I shouldn’t settle. However, having very few dating opportunites ever I find the notion of clinging to something or someone who’s right there vs having no one at all more appealing.

    There are no guarantees that everyone who desires to be in a relationship will be in one. On the other hand it also seems to be a choice between what is right for oneself vs what is easy.

    It’s easier to settle because there is Mr or Miss Right here and now. I often wonder though if I ever did settle -and I do think I could be happy settling just not AS happy as I might be with someone else. There would be more strain- but if I did settle, would I forever think about what “could have been” if I’d just waited longer.

    I’ve been reading a lot of books from the 19th century where -at least for women- marriage was more for security and social status than love. Yet people who married for those reasons still stayed together far longer than most Americans today who do marry for love. Then I think settling might not be so bad.

    I think it’s a very personal issue. I think at some point in many peoples’ lives they come to that crossroads. A person just has to make the decision that they think would be best for their own lives, and compare what settling would mean with their own life’s plan.

    Most days I think I could be happy with just about any man, but when I think about things like shared interests- like camping, or sports, or social events……if I marry someone who doesn’t like to camp, or who doesn’t like the sports I like or who doesn’t like to go to social functions I’d either be living much of my life alone by continuing to do these things or would be living in misery at wanting to do them but not doing them because I’d rather be with my husband.

    Sorry for the long-winded response. This is just something close to my heart :)

  2. I have thoughts!

    I think the rightness or wrongness of settling has a lot to do with people’s definitions of settling. I tend to agree with the author that if you have (irrational) expectations too high for something like marriage, you’ll end up disillusioned when those expectations are inevitably unmet.

    People have unrealistic expectations for romantic love, and the more we make a god out of our specific desires, the more we make a god out of our own happiness, and further the more we make a god out of our own selves.

    However, if your definition of “settling” is actually rational, then it’s ridiculous to settle. Getting married to someone who is clearly not right for you just because you prefer that to staying the course God intends for you – that’s making a false god out of marriage, right?

    So…just don’t be stupid?

  3. Sarah, I agree that marriage has been conceptually juggled by how our culture has changed. The idea that it is a romantic ideal didn’t really become mainstream until after the Industrial Revolution. Up until then the household survived on mostly agricultural means that required both partners to equally contribute to the workload all within an area of about 15 miles. When things began to modernize the man left to go to work and the woman stayed home to “make” the home (interestingly enough “home” became redefined to as a haven from the working world where before they were one and the same). Economics of time allowed for this, but it has disintegrated. If women were to heed the call of traditionalists and all return to the home our economy would grind to a halt! We seem to be in a place somewhat similar to the earlier model where economics demands both partners work. The problem is work is something that can be done in vastly different spheres of life.

    Christine, I think your thoughts display a lot of common sense. But I still think the question of marrying someone who isn’t quite right for you v. not marrying at all (which doesn’t seem to be right for most people) is an interesting one.

  4. I have demonstrated a propensity to develop “wandering eyes” when I’m in a relationship that has clear imperfections.

    Until I learn to control that impulse or find someone who better fits my (I think relatively reasonable) set of hopes, it won’t be fair for me to “settle.”

    While I trust myself to a certain extent, I don’t want to set myself up for a life of emotional infidelity. No one deserves that from a spouse.

    But I don’t have requirements about income, number of kids desired, location, prestige, education, favorite color or house-cleaning habits. Only basic religious and political similarities, chemistry, and if possible, a similar love for music. I think settling on any of those things is setting myself up for a life of disappointment and subsequent withdrawal from full, vulnerable participation in the relationship and ultimately mutual loneliness. Honestly, I’d rather be single forever. Might still be lonely, but I wouldn’t be lonely and making someone else miserable, too.

  5. Depends. If you find yourself settling on matters such as “does so and so put God first?” Then this is a bad idea. If you are settling on the question of whether so and so is hot, funny, confident or whatever, then there is plenty of merit to settling. Once you are a year into marriage, you are settling anyway, since the grass always seems greener on the other side.

    Every time my wife is watching HGTV and doing her nails, I am settling. And guess what? The HGTV/nails paradigm is what marriage is about until you have kids, and then it becomes a poop-everywhere paradigm.

    Our lives aren’t meant to be casually bearable. They are to be actively unpleasant. The Bible says so. You can’t get to that level of unpleasantness without a spouse and kids. Christians are required to have them so they need God more, and so the species exists, not so they can be happy.

  6. “Our lives aren’t meant to be casually bearable. They are to be actively unpleasant. The Bible says so. You can’t get to that level of unpleasantness without a spouse and kids. Christians are required to have them so they need God more, and so the species exists, not so they can be happy.”

    That is a rather bleak biblical theology, but I see your point.

  7. I totally agree with Renee, everyone should have there “non-negotiables” (deal-breakers, whatever) for what is most important to them. It shouldn’t be a huge list, just a couple things that you’re passionate about, and then the rest – who the heck cares? There are plenty of things that I’ve learned about my husband since being married that had I known ahead of time they might have caused me to think twice, but oh well! And I further agree with Renee that it is a matter of perspective (paraphrasing, hope you don’t mind) if your eyes wander, then they’ll probably wander – even if you find Mr./Ms. Right because there will always be something you’d like to change, but if you settle (your mind) on the one you want and can decide that this is it and you’ll accept him/her as they are, then there’s no more wandering.

    And I love Kevin’s bleak theology because it’s true. I have yet to find anything in life that challenges me more or pushes me more toward God than marriage, and it’s not the good times that do it. And I fully expect that having kids will do it even more.

  8. lurker says:

    wow, interesting post. six months into a dating relationship, i find myself asking about long-er term things, and the question of settling takes on new meaning.

    I think “settling” implies that we’re doing something other than perfection, and by perfection, we mean the absolute matching of one person with another. the woman i’m with is amazing in many ways, but we have different tastes in music, think about things differently, expectations on a friday, etc. should i bail and go somewhere else? nah, because while we have our frictions in some places, it’d be something else with someone else. those are the opportunities for exploring difference and having our lenses rearranged, i think.

    as for happiness being the triumph over misery, i.e. that relationships are meant to be actively unpleasant, that’s a real Protestant way of looking at this. Adam’s is the much more orthodox way, that that which desire by virtue of having been created by God coheres, albeit imperfectly, with that which is good, so that our lives are meant to be a continual yearning after the Good which is God. This is NOT done apart from our lives, though, as if spouses or children or all the rest were just negative means to the ends, irritations to show us how good God is. that’s just lunacy at best and Gnosticism at worst.

  9. great post, great comments. my random addition to all of this is that i currently feel really removed from the settle vs be alone question. i’ve dated some, but nothing really serious. one relationship lasted about 3 months, and as it ended it was obvious to me that we weren’t a good fit. i can’t say i’ve ever met a single, available christian guy i could really see myself married to. on the one hand, that’s frustrating, but on the other hand, it makes me think that it’ll be pretty obvious if i do meet someone worth marrying.

    ps to kevin… if you think you are settling because your wife paints her nails and watches HGTV, your view of settling is warped. maybe you should have just gotten a guy roommate instead of getting married? :P

  10. “This is NOT done apart from our lives, though, as if spouses or children or all the rest were just negative means to the ends, irritations to show us how good God is. that’s just lunacy at best and Gnosticism at worst.”

    Good thing I didn’t say anything of the sort, then. Real happiness, at least for men, comes from the fulfillment of having overcome struggle. I can’t think of anything in my life that has made me very happy that did not involve my achieving success over some struggle. If you don’t believe that, I don’t see what you get from marriage, other than a heaping pile of disappointment, which is not altogether uncommon.

    Yearning after what is good is painful.

    “ps to kevin… if you think you are settling because your wife paints her nails and watches HGTV, your view of settling is warped.”

    It certainly falls short of any romantic expectations of marriage. Did my wife dream of a man who drinks beer, plays poker, and knows what dry-aged meat is?

  11. JillBE says:

    Great topic Adam. we’ve been married for 7 years in May. The people who I know who settled 7 years ago (or less) are divorced now. Those of us who had some non-negotiables, but allowed an open mind to see what kind of person may enhance us and make us better…We are still married, most of us have had to go to counseling, but we are deeply committed and are better people today. Settling is the easy path. And listening to the ache deep in your gut is the first thing telling you when something is wrong.

    My work with women has shown me that women who pursue their purpose, use their talents, press towards their passions…well surprise, we meet men who are traveling along side us, who have our non-negotiables. I am such a believer in being ok with not knowing if you’ll ever marry or not, but pursue using your talents in your life and work. Obedience finds the greatest blessings. Do I have peace? and Will I regret this? are questions we must ask ourselves in every major life decision.

    Women! do not settle! But consider how open minded you are about the right guy…let yourself feel and be surprised at who turns your head. Men are attracted to confident women on their own journeys, so be honest with yourselves, find friends that are honest with you about men. Don’t trade the pain of singleness for another pain of a shallow marriage and life. Thanks for listening.

  12. Recently Divorced says:

    There are so many words on this page I am settling for skimming them. This is just my two cents.

    In a marriage we all “settle” Everyone will settle because no one is perfect. I think that you need to take a long look at what biblical marriage is and what is Gods model for it. I think that people are so deluged by the world that we have ZERO idea of what a healthy, God honoring marriage looks like. Adam makes some a really good point at the begining about men’s and women’s roles. Lets not forget that The idea of aranged marriages is still very popular today when you consider there are a billion people in India.

    The Bible says to over look eachothers faults. It says that we should work together for one common purpose. It says that the man is the head of the house hold and that we (men) submit to our wives out of reverance for the Lord. I don’t remember there being salary requirements or a sense of humor scale referenced in the Bible. We put more importance on status than stature. We put more importance on appearance than attitude.

    Falling in love is beautiful and being married was some of the best years of my life. Being married was also some of the hardest years of my life. I believe with all my heart that any two people can be married, happily, if they are willing to do it God’s way.

    (Yelling) MARRIAGE IS NOT WHAT I GET OUT OF IT! IT IS WHAT GOD GETS OUT OF IT! Marriage wasn’t created for us. How egocentric to think it was. Its not about us and what makes us happy. It’s about glorifying God. Anything else and you are kidding yourselves.

    I didn’t think this thru all the way and I can’t spell. I hope it all makes sense.

    Adam. I love you brother, and I love your heart. I will be praying that God will bring you an excellent wife. When the time is right. Until then, serve Him with all you have.


  13. Excellent topic. I would definitely “settle”. I say this as a guy who told myself that I would never, in any circumstances “settle”. Now that I’m more mature, I realize that I make my own happiness.

    Find someone you can get along with, personality-wise, and spend your time falling in love with them, not with their extra-curricular activities like camping or playing sports. Once you love them and they love you, settle for what they like to do in life, as long as it’s not against your ethics. It’s your job to make sure you are happy in your marriage, not someone else.

    Seriously, doesn’t everyone “settle” unless they’ve lived with the other person for multiple years?

    Just so you know where this is coming from, I’ve been married for 7 years and I didn’t think I was settling at the time. At this point in time, I fully believe that everyone settles, as far as the word is described in this post.

  14. JillBE says:

    When I think of ‘settle’ I think of caving, doing what my heart knows deep down there, that it is the wrong thing to do…and will always wonder if something right would be there if I had patience or did more research. (job, mate, parking spot, dinner item)

    I think many of you are ‘settling’ meaning imperfect people, and that none of us get our ‘ideal’ mate. That is certainly true, I do not call that settling. I call that doing the right thing, despite our limited minds and visions of the future. In counseling, one of the things my husband and I did was describe our ideal person before marriage, and actually grieve that imaginary person and celebrate the person that was ‘right’ and best for us…each other. We have a limited view of reality and if we are open, God opens our minds to what is best and right. This is not settling, it is obedience, faith, hope, and love.

    Remember Hosea? He married a whore and it was right. Listen to the Violet Burning, Song of the Harlot, it’ll move you.

  15. JillBE says:

    I should add that I did break off an engagement once.

    1 year later I loved being single, had no desire to date anyone.

    1 year later I had a long talk with God about this boy that I was terribly attracted too, He was slightly odd.

    I married him, I have no regrets. Even when we fight and he doesn’t rinse the dishes.

  16. Hosea was told to marry a whore. I haven’t heard anyone else claim that they’ve been told to do that by God ever since.

    Of course, I have a very small circle of friends…

  17. Settling is better defined in terms of OUR settling for something MUCH more than we deserve. People need to quit thinking so much of themselves quite honestly.
    Any puffing up of “I could have done better than this” reaks of pride….for one to be so blind to their own condition…yikes.

    Jesse is right, we are all whores…….we all have wretched sin. For all of our unfaithfulness to God in preferring sin (lust, laziness, being inconsiderate, being a coward) and lack of loyalty to our spouses in our minds throughout the day (thinking things like “I bet she/he doesn’t realize how lucky they are”) …….
    NO one deserves to be loved….which is why God’s love for us and my husbands love for me – BLOWS MY MIND and fills my heart with a thankful song, even as I struggle to be faithful and to subdue my own flesh. It’s a paradigm shift…..BOTH emotions at once…….

    I think that the perspective to be sought with all our might is the gospel in marriage….and getting a clear picture of what ‘totally depraved’ means.
    To know that you really don’t deserve anything but hell……I mean, to REALLY know that deeply….and that you’ve been set free from your debt – you will gain ground on seeing your spouse as through God’s eyes. It is a blessed meditation, and obedient to the thinking about what is true and lovely, and worthy of praise……what is more lovely and worthy of praise to think about than the glory of God in showing any sort of love toward one SO undeserving?

    Love is most beautiful when it is under the greatest persecutions and trials.
    It is clear that this is what my faith is for.

    Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

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