Gottlieb’s poor title choice

I just finished reading Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, and I have to say the book’s title doesn’t really match its contents. It’s brilliant marketing, though. Any kind of controversial title will always bring more attention to the book. I doubt Gottlieb would have riled up critics and skeptics as much with a title like Have actual reasonable expectations when dating. Not quite as snappy-sounding, is it?

Ultimately, though, that’s what it boils down to. Sure, Gottlieb throws in little humorous self-deprecating anecdotes and makes the book entertainingly simplistic. There is a lot of good truth in her book, though. Unfortunately, where people seem to take offense is in the book’s narrow scope. Truth may be truth… but not all truths are universal.

Who should read this book? Whom do this book’s truths apply to? It seems only women who are like Gottlieb. If you are a woman who feels entitled to the “perfect” man and believes “perfect” involves all sorts of nitpicky details about his hair color, his income, what clothes he wears, what his favorite movies are, etc., and you desperately want to get married and have kids… then, yes, you should read this book (and just ignore the sensationalist title). Anyone else will just find this an interesting sociological glimpse into the world of a certain segment of upper-middle-class heterosexual dating in America among those who buy into traditional gender roles.

In all fairness, I don’t think Lori Gottlieb picked the title to be sensationalist (that was probably just a fortunate-for-her side effect). From the beginning of the book all the way until the end, you get the sense that this epiphany of hers is strictly cerebral. Even as she is telling women (or certain types of heterosexual women) that it isn’t about settling but about recognizing romance, beauty, and attractiveness where perhaps you didn’t see it before; it’s pretty clear that she is still in the process of convincing herself, and so her perspective on it remains labeling that adjustment settling.

All of this becomes quite clear in the chapter in which she signs up for Match.com with the assistance of a dating coach named Evan. Her dismissals of various men explain quite easily why this woman who is desperate to get married (because not all women are) is still single in her early 40s. One man she dismisses because he doesn’t post his salary to his profile. Another she dismisses because his favorite movie is You’ve Got Mail. Even though she is only 5′ 2″ tall, she initially wants to look at men who are only 5′ 10″ tall or above. Seriously? This isn’t about settling. This is really about getting over the princess complex of “I deserve to have every little thing my heart desires.” She eventually, based on stories from friends and consultations with professionals and researchers, does make the distinction between what you want and what you need. I don’t think by the end of the book it fully sinks in for her that you may not even know what you really want (she does hint at it briefly, so there’s hope for her).

The main criticisms I’d lob at the book are:

  • Even though the professionals and friends she quotes in the book present more nuanced views of heterosexual relationships, Gottlieb keeps going back to this false dichotomy of men being either exciting and unreliable or boring and reliable. Men are human and complex, just as women are. I have absolutely no interest in her (I’m married), but if I were single, I know she’d glance right over me (my favorite movie is When Harry Met Sally, I’m much taller than her but still “too short,” I am not rich, I am not Jewish). Worse still, if she were actually interested in me, she wouldn’t be interested in me. She’d just be rationally convincing herself that I’m the last resort… and she’d be settling. It doesn’t sound as if she’s ready at all to appreciate men who aren’t some impossible Frankenstein hodgepodge of traditional het female ideals for potential mates.
  • She blames feminism for her problems. Well, she blames a lot of stuff, but she has a whole chapter dedicated to how feminism ruined her life. Feminism didn’t ruin her life, though. Feminism has nothing to do with it. Feminism isn’t about finding some crazy ideal of what a husband should be. Feminism isn’t about feeling entitled to some “perfect” man desiring you. Maybe she needs to go back and read some Betty Friedan and Susan Brownmiller… or even some Cynthia Heimel.
  • Not all marriages involved what she calls “settling.” Sometimes there are butterflies. Sometimes there is romance, sparks, fireworks, etc. Yes, couples that have been together a long time may spruce up their “how we met” story a bit, but that doesn’t mean “how we met” is always “Yeah, I couldn’t have George Clooney or Brad Pitt, so I married this guy. He wasn’t what I wanted, but otherwise I’d be alone in my 40s and writing bestselling books.”
  • A good marriage doesn’t just mean finding two people who match up with each other. We are not all puzzle pieces looking for a matching, interlocking puzzle piece. It’s not as if you suddenly meet “The One” and then everything’s golden. A lot of what makes two people good together isn’t just who they are and how well they match up with each other. A lot of it has to do with what they have been through together, the experiences they’ve shared, and the ways they’ve supported, shaped, and appreciated each other over the years. She quotes (and actually misquotes, at one point) When Harry Met Sally a couple of times. Maybe she needs to watch that movie again.

Despite all my critcisms (and, believe me, I’m not the only critic), I enjoyed reading the book. Lori Gottlieb has an engaging writing style, and she mixes in her own thoughts and experiences fluidly with professional and personal interviews/anecdotes. If you identify with this obsession with fairy tale weddings and having two-page lists of everything you think some guy should have, this book is certainly for you. It isn’t about “settling,” though. It’s about appreciating beauty where you didn’t think you would find it. It’s about ditching your assumptions about men based on their looks, salary, height, or superficial interests. It’s really about realizing that men are humans, too. If you’re a woman like Gottlieb, just think about how you would measure up if men judged you the way you judge them.

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5 Comments

  1. Doesn’t this whole “Mr Perfect” syndrome stem from the 18th and early 19th century (and earlier) up to the first half of the 20th century: when a class hierarchy was very present in society; and a higher-class woman could never ever marry someone out of love, but had always to consider his reputation – and “reputation” was plainly defined by salary, good taste and family.
    (Think Pride & Prejudice… Everyone so scared about what their society would think. Had nothing to do with Christianity but with class.)

    So maybe the women being so unromantically about partner choices think – subconsciously, probably – they are being high-class c.q. aristocratic c.q. modest in some way.

    However men are not like that anymore, and of course they never were “perfect”, just keeping up appearances, like women. When the pill came they took their advantage. Women too, but are still called derogatory terms when they do. Maybe because women are still easily labeled derogatory terms when they act free, they search for a non-free lifestyle (a “perfect” man). Because it makes themselves seem more “perfect”=acceptable.

    (btw I don’t of course :P I also think the heavy need to bear children should be “cured” because serious overpopulation issues. Wanting more than one child is – imho – pretty asocial.)

  2. “Settle” is such a loaded word. Of course, author’s don’t usually pick the titles of their books. The publishing company typically does this to promote sales of the book and controversy that will promote sales of the book. Personally, I think in order to be happy, married or single, you need to be happy with yourself first. No one else is going to do it for you.

  3. Kate said: “Personally, I think in order to be happy, married or single, you need to be happy with yourself first. No one else is going to do it for you.”

    Kate you are so right. What many people think they are looking for just represents their own lack of self confidence and awareness.

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