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 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.

Life relationships

Can you help whom you’re attracted to?

Kind of an odd question for a married person to ask, I know. But I do have single friends.

My gut tells me “No.” It says “You can’t help whom you’re attracted to. Attraction is chemical. It’s coincidence or fate or something magical. It’s not like going to a store and picking something off the shelf or sifting through products online based on reviews.”

I’m not so sure if it’s quite that simple, though. I know quite a number of couples (both fictional and real) who were not attracted to one another at first but who developed an attraction later (for a fictional example, watch When Harry Met Sally…). I’ve also heard of some arranged marriages in which love (actual romantic attraction, not some kind of duty or obligation) developed over time.

And what do we mean when we say “Oh, just give him a chance” or “Wait till you get to know her better” to friends?

I think one of the reasons people tend to be skeptical of the idea of love at first sight is the knowledge most of us have that you develop love as you get to know someone. And it isn’t just getting to know facts about them. It’s the experiences you share together—the memories of the good times and bad times, the things you’ve taught each other, and the things you’ve fought about.

Surely we can’t just be successfully romantically involved with just anybody, but there is a little bit of choice or willpower involved. Just ask any het woman who has said something like “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were exciting, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.” If attraction were immutable, you would have to say “I’m attracted to jerks, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Even simple physical attraction can change over time, as your tastes change or as you get to know a person better. There are times when you initially see someone attractive (because of a confident presence or good bone structure) and get to know her or him and later consider that person ugly… yes, even physically. And vice versa: there are people who don’t have the best facial structure, but their smile and warm personality come through in their faces and seem to be the most physically attractive people you know.

Whether it comes naturally at first or develops over time, I think everyone wants to feel attractive to her or his mate.


Let’s take a moment for the short males

Occasionally, I do some “tag surfing” and just see what other WordPress bloggers are blogging about. I happened today to stumble upon two posts that are related and make me sad when I think about the great guys I know who also happen to be short. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge het short men.
People Cannot Help Being Short
Dating Deal Breakers

On the one hand, I think a little bit of superficiality makes sense. You should find the person you’re with attractive. Nevertheless, I think a lot of het short men really get a raw deal in the dating game. Het tall women get a little bit of that as well, but at least they can go for a taller man. A lot of short men even get the shaft from short women! Well, not much to say here. There’s no accounting for tastes or personal quirks, but it is sad when that leads to sociological widespread discrimination.


Why I was never a bitter nice guy

I’ve met my fair share of bitter “nice guys,” but I’ve never been one of them. I’m a nice guy; I’m just not a bitter nice guy or ex-nice guy. You know whom I’m talking about: the guy who seems nice, fawns all over some girl he likes who happens to like jerks herself, and then when she doesn’t return his affections and says she thinks of him only as a friend, he gets all bitter about it and whines about how girls like only jerks. Eventually, he decides to be a jerk himself so he can get more girls.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read some of these rants from bitter ex-nice guys:
Why Nice Guys Finish Last
Nice Guys Finish Last, Assholes finish with time to spare !
“What Happened to All the Nice Guys?”

Now you know what I’m talking about. Well, I’ve never been like that. See, in my book, if you’re a nice guy only because you think it’ll get you girls and then turn into an asshole because you think that’ll get you girls instead when your nice guy act doesn’t work, then you’re not really a nice guy. You’re an asshole who pretended to be a nice guy to get what he wanted. You were always an asshole—you’re just now finally owning up to it.

If you’re nice, you shouldn’t be nice to reach some end goal. You should just be nice. It should be a part of who you are.

The phenomenon, which is widespread but not absolute, of heterosexual women going for “jerks” instead of “nice guys” is complex, and I’ll try my best (as a het man) to explain it to all the pretend-nice-guys out there.

Here are some reasons she may not be digging your nice guy act:

  • Many women find assertiveness attractive, and a lot of jerks tend to be more assertive than their nice guy counterparts. Granted, the jerks can be overassertive (re: obnoxious), but these women find it better than nothing.
  • A lot of nice guys are attentive to the point of being suffocating. I know the stereotype is that men are the ones always complaining that they need space in the relationship, but women need space, too (it’s a human, not a male or female, need).
  • A lot of nice guys like to whine (as you can see from the above links) about being nice and getting the shaft. This kind of bitter self-pity isn’t attractive.
  • Jerks create drama, and (for a time at least) drama can be fun, particularly if you can share it with your girlfriends and have them commiserate in turn. A rite of passage for het women is the ability to complain about what bonehead thing your boyfriend has done lately.
  • Many women subscribe to the notion of females being the more virtuous of the two main sexes. A jerk makes a normal woman look great by comparison, and she doesn’t even have to do much. The more of a jerk he is, the more a martyr she looks like.
  • Men aren’t the only ones who like the thrill of the chase, or as The Tao of Steve says, we pursue that which retreats from us (or something like that). Traditionally, people tend to think of men as being the pursuers and women as the passive pursuees, but women can also enjoy a good chase, and some women may find supposed nice guys too readily available.
  • On a similar note, a lot of women enjoy a challenge. They can sometimes view boyfriends as a makeover project, and if the guy is a jerk, all the more to make over. If the guy appears too much of a nice guy, she might worry that she’s the one who’s the makeover project for the guy.
  • On a very basic level, the media portrays the “bad boy” as exciting. You want to be with the hunky guy, not stuck with Ducky.

I should also add that it’s entirely possible that a lot of these snubbed “nice guys” might in turn be snubbing nice girls and going after jerk girls themselves for many of the same reasons these girls are going after jerk guys.

Cheesy as it sounds, be yourself, and you’ll attract whom you’re supposed to. Relationships and dating may have game-like elements to them, but they are not games. The more you play games, the more you will also be played.

This is the same reason het women shouldn’t debate about whether they should ever ask a guy out or not. If you’re afraid asking him out will turn him off, and you want a guy into traditional gender roles, don’t ask him out. If you don’t want a guy into traditional gender roles, don’t be afraid to ask him out. It’s not that difficult.

If you’re nice, be nice. If you’re an asshole, don’t be pretend to be nice. Be who you are and confident in who you are. Confidence and a strong sense of identity are attractive to everyone.

Recommended Reading
No More Mr. Nice Guy

Further Reading
Good girls and their bad boys
Why Nice Guys Finish Last