Do women sabotage themselves by waiting for Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet? Is it time to stop pining for Mr. Right and start considering Mr. All Right? Journalist and NPR commentator Lori Gottlieb raises these questions and others in her new book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (Dutton). TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs discussed the dating scene with Gottlieb.
What's your definition of settling?
Our culture views anything less than the perfect man to be settling, and so it's used ironically in the title. I do not advocate settling for somebody that you don't have passion and connection with. I'm saying he may be shorter than you imagined, he may be skinnier than you imagined, he may not meet every criterion on your checklist. That's what a lot of women consider settling. There was a study done that asked, If a guy had 80% of what you are looking for, would you marry him? And most women said no. A guy is a package deal, as are you. Many women throw out the guy because they don't like a part of the package. We're all flawed human beings. Recognizing that isn't settling.
Are women pickier than men?
When I asked men and women what they wanted in a partner, men were far more open-minded. They mostly talked about finding someone cute enough, kind, warm and interesting enough to talk to. Women got absurdly specific he has to be successful but not a workaholic. He has to know how to order wine in a restaurant. He has to be stylish but not too into fashion in a feminine way. And the lists went on and on. Women seem to want one-stop shopping a guy who's going to be her best friend, share all of her interests, stimulate her intellectually and sexually and connect deeply with her on every level. Men seemed more willing to accept that they may get certain things from their friendships, other things from their work colleagues and still others from their spouses. Guys don't care if you don't want to hear about the baseball game, but women might be disappointed if the guy doesn't want to hear the details of her book-club discussion. It gets to a point where no guy measures up, because no one human being can be everything to anyone.
Do women overestimate their own desirability? Is that part of it?
I think they do. I talked to a lot of experts about this sort of sense of entitlement that women of our generation grew up with. I'm all for girl power and all of that, but I think that a lot of us are "yes women" to each other. We say, "You should hold out for the better guy. Oh yes, absolutely, you deserve the best." I think we do ourselves a disservice where we kind of inflate each other's egos to the point of unreality. Guess what? Most of us aren't all that, either. We have our good qualities, but some guy is going to have to put up with our flaws and give up certain things he may want in a partner too. Maybe he wanted someone with a better body or someone with a better sense of humor or someone less overly sensitive. There's nothing wrong with having high expectations. But there's a difference between having high expectations and having a completely unrealistic sense of what you can offer a partner and what he can offer you.
You write about women in their 20s having more power. What do you mean by that?
Women in their 20s have the most power in that they're at the top of the totem pole in the dating hierarchy. They're the most desired age group biologically in terms of childbearing ability, in terms of their appearance and also just in their attitude. When you're in your late 20s, you feel very confident and very on top of the world, and you haven't become jaded by being out there dating for 15 years. I'm not saying this to scare women, but I just think people need to be aware of it, because when you are in your late 20s, you think, Oh, even when I'm 38, someone will see how special and charming and lovely I am. And they might, but it's going to be a lot easier when you are 28 if you give the really good guys that are available to you a chance. Because those guys are going to be married by the time you are 38.
How did writing this book change you and your own situation?
There's a short bald guy with a bow tie on the cover, emblematic of what happened to my dating life. There was a guy on Match.com that I didn't even want to e-mail because he was wearing a bow tie in his profile, and I said, What kind of dork wears a bow tie? And then I thought his career sounded boring because it said he was in real estate. I just made all these assumptions. I think a lot of us do that, whether it's online or in the real world. So Evan, my dating coach, really encouraged me to e-mail this guy because of the other things that were good about his profile. I did, and I ended up really connecting with him and we ended up dating for a few months. I was very, very happy in that relationship. What I did learn was that I can be genuinely attracted to people that I make assumptions about, and it's really helped me to not do that because I never would have ended up in a relationship with this guy. I was hugely bummed when it ended. Still am.