I encourage readers tempted to “settle” and “marry him” after reading Lori Gottlieb’s article (“Marry Him,” March Atlantic) to consider that your children will grow up, need you less as they get older and become more independent, and leave your house one day. As this process occurs, you and your spouse will be left with each other. Before you “settle,” ask yourself, Do I want to spend adult, one-on-one time with this person as the nest empties? Your answer should be a resounding Yes! In fact, not only should you want to spend more time with your spouse as the kids mature, you should look forward to that time.
Given a world where women have many choices about how to live their lives, why does Lori Gottlieb assume every woman shares her obsession with traditional marriage and family? I am single, very far past 30, and have no children. And while I’m old enough to have plenty of regrets, my lack of spouse and kids is not among them. I’m very happy about my single state.
I’d advise women in their 30s to think long and hard about whether they really want to raise children or are considering it only because of hoopla about biological clocks and articles like Gottlieb’s telling them that “all” women want marriage and family.
Nancy Jane Moore
I think the word settle is sticking in people’s craw. But Lori Gottlieb is absolutely right. I was 50 when I finally wised up. And the man I married had a lot of problems. But he was like the house we bought two and a half years ago—there was nothing wrong with him that couldn’t be fixed. And fix himself he did, mostly. Nine years down the road, he has turned out to be my dream man.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Even though I married a man I fell madly in love with, there is a degree to which I am settling for him now on a daily basis. That’s not to say I don’t love him dearly, but my love is not accompanied by the electricity and intoxicating rushes of lust I felt for him when we were first together.
Marriage is, as Lori Gottlieb says, a partnership for a mundane, not-for-profit business. Isn’t compromise what being faithful is about, anyway? And don’t husbands who are faithful essentially settle every day for their wives? We women like to imagine ourselves as goddesses who are worthy of a man’s total worship and devotion, and we are incensed when he fails to give us that. Unfortunately, we get bed hair, body odor, wrinkles, thickness in the middle, and bad attitudes. We would not easily excuse such things in men, yet we expect men to overlook them in us.
Lori Gottlieb replies:
The writer from Los Angeles is correct that the word settle might be tripping up some people. When I advised “settling,” I was suggesting that many young women have unrealistic expectations of what they “should be feeling” when they meet “The One” (butterflies in the belly! dazzling excitement!). Having been one of those women, I learned the hard way that the Achilles’ heels of romantic attraction (looks, charm, success, Hepburn-Tracy banter) aren’t what make for a good long-term marriage; more-mundane qualities like friendship and values, on the other hand, are. So I agree with McAlister Dowd that we should marry someone with whom we look forward to sharing the empty nest, but we may not anticipate it with the same kind of romantic excitement we read about in novels or see at the movies. Personally, I’d happily “settle” for that.
Nancy Jane Moore is right in pointing out that not every woman wants a traditional family, and I should have qualified that in my piece. Given, however, that the vast majority of women do want this, I don’t believe the media is responsible for the pervasiveness of this very visceral desire. The biological clock isn’t “hoopla”; it’s medical fact. And the media is selling neither that biological urge nor the wish for marriage and family; it’s selling the idea that you need to feel some kind of divine spark in order to seek marriage and family. Which, paradoxically, results in fewer marriages and more single women.
Perhaps if the views of readers like Laura Parkhurst and the writer from Los Angeles were what young women heard more often, the word settle would have a more positive connotation (as in “settle down” in a contented way) than the one that has engendered such a heated response, in the blogosphere and elsewhere.