Lori Gottlieb takes on the haters and looks for love on Valentine's Day
Here comes another Valentine's Day, and oh, how I wish I could spend it with a husband. Not an Adonis with the humor of Jon Stewart and the bank account of Bill Gates; just a good-enough guy. This might sound innocuous -- a single woman wishes she were married -- but apparently, it makes me a throwback to the '50s, pathetic, desperate, needy, immature, creepy, weak, Ann Coulter meets the Devil and a few other phrases I can't print in a family newspaper. I know, because I've made this confession before.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for the Atlantic titled "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," in which I said that having found myself still single at 40, with a donor-conceived toddler, I'd reached an uncomfortable realization: Had I known when I was younger what would make me happy when it came to marriage and family, I would have made very different choices in my dating life. All hyperbole aside, my main message was simple and serious: Look for the important qualities in a partner, and let go of the stuff that won't matter five, 10 or 20 years down the line, when you're more concerned about child care and contented companionship than you are about height or hairlines.
Some readers got tripped up by the word "settle," which I wasn't using literally, but to make people really think about that concept. The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be "settling." The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be "a catch." For these women, it seemed, "settling" meant not much less than "everything."
It's no wonder, then, that while hundreds of married folks and single men backed me up with moving personal stories, many single women -- mostly those in their 20s -- went wild with rage and disdain for my confession: Mr. Good Enough was just fine; in fact, I'd happily take the 80 percent, if only it was as available to me as it had been when I was 30. Not because I'm desperate now that I'm older, but because I'm wiser. I realized I'd been too picky about the trivial things and not picky enough about the important ones.
Suddenly I was "ageist," "sexist" and "anti-feminist." All because I wasn't a fish who could do without a good-enough bicycle.
Now I've written a book on this theme, in which I interviewed dozens of scientists in fields from psychology to neurobiology to behavioral economics. This time, the experts have shared their data and insights on what makes for a happy marriage. But by merely reporting their findings, I'm still considered sexist, pathetic and all the rest.
I'll admit, just a few years earlier, I might have been one of the women bashing this Lori Gottlieb chick for saying the unthinkable. I, too, felt that women should "have it all" (whatever unrealistic ideal I took that to be) and that anyone who suggested otherwise was out of touch, offensive or just plain off her rocker. Compromise? No way. That would mean not being true to myself.
A lot of women my age and younger grew up thinking this way. They're operating under the logic that women today aren't just supposed to be strong and independent -- we're also supposed to be happy about it. We're supposed to focus on our own lives, and when a partner comes along, that's gravy, not the main course. We're supposed to have high standards, and if a guy doesn't meet them, we should be gloriously fulfilled on our own. We're "empowered"!
But at 40, I didn't feel so empowered. Instead, I had a sinking feeling that my standards might be a bit unrealistic. Besides, I wasn't happy alone. No matter how full my life (career and good friends; later, adding a delightful child), I ultimately wanted to go through it with a partner. But the mere fact that I said I craved a conventional family with a good-enough guy made me, in some people's minds, the kind of woman who wanted it too badly. According to some readers, I was an affront to the entire women's movement (one actually wrote: "You are an affront to the entire women's movement! You should be ashamed of yourself!"). My inbox filled with vitriol, telling me that I was needy, codependent and tragic. Women wrote:
"Could you be any more desperate?"
"I am totally appalled by your need for a man."
"Get some self-esteem!"