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.