NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Lori Gottlieb laughed off her mother's advice not to be so picky, but she's had second thoughts after turning 40. Sure, the dream of finding Mr. Right remains alluring but in the real world, she argues, it may be time to settle for Mr. Good Enough.
And in a hotly debated article in The Atlantic magazine, she claims that many unmarried heterosexual women her age feel the same way but just won't say that out loud. Well, no matter which way you feel, here's your chance. Hold out for the romantic ideal and risk being alone, or accept that marriage may be more partnership than passion? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lori Gottlieb joins us now from NPR West in Culver City, California.
And thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. LORI GOTTLIEB (Freelance Journalist; Author): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And there's been a lot of blogitude, to coin a word, about your piece. People are pretty angry about it.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think they are. I think, they're sort of upset about the message even though I think a lot people acknowledge that what I'm saying is something that people have been thinking and they just kind of don't want to, you know, we're sort of in love with the idea of love. And anybody who speaks against that is kind of looked at as somebody suspect.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Nevertheless, enunciate your reasons why at this juncture in your life, Mr. Good Enough may be Mr. Good Enough.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Well, you know, I think that Mr. Good Enough, when we first started to have to define that, I'm not saying like go out and marry any schmoe, you know, off the street. I'm saying, there are a lot of guys out there that you may not feel that incredible chemistry or zing with and that you pass those guys up and that marriage is really, you know, mostly about, you know, kind of a partnership, kind of running the business of the household together, and you want to do that with someone you like but do you have to have all of that, you know, that divine spark, that blinding love? I don't know how important that is.
CONAN: Marriage, you write, isn't a passion fest, it's more like a partnership formed to run a small, mundane and often boring nonprofit business - and I mean this in a good way, you add.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And there are - talk about some of your friends and why they are reluctant to say this out loud.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Well, I think that my married friends actually will acknowledge that on some level, maybe it wasn't their Prince Charming that they married but they're perfectly happy. And then I look at people who married the people that they consider their, you know, their true love, their soul mate. And they have the same complaints that the people who, you know, settled did.
CONAN: And you also point out, though, that there's a bit of a catch-22, it's - if you settled when you're early 30s, you might be resentful of that later on in life; nevertheless, if you hang out and wait for the perfect man, you risk being alone.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Well, you do. And I think that one thing that we forget and certainly something that I forgot when I decided to have baby on my own and then find my soul mate later, was that I was going to become less attractive as a mate, as a spouse, as I got older.
And so, you know, my whole point was not to - and my whole point, originally, was to have a baby and then find my soul mate later. It certainly wasn't to have a baby and then settle later for somebody that, you know, I probably could have settled for somebody better when I was, you know, 30.
CONAN: Do you regret some of the decisions you made about boyfriends, eight, 10 years ago?
Ms. GOTTLIEB: You know, not necessarily about boyfriends because I think I did have that intense chemistry, so that wasn't the issue. I think it's more about the guys that, you know, I went out on a date with and I just thought I don't really feel that spark and so I'm not going to go out on a second date with them. Or I don't want to pursue a relationship with that person because he seems more like a friend. But really, you know, a friend isn't so bad,
CONAN: And now, you also point out that you do have a child and it's one thing to settle for Mr. Good Enough if you're going to marry him. It's another to be careful that - you want to be careful about, to make sure your son has a good father.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Right. It's sort of the irony is that the more incentive you have to settle, the less willing you are to settle.
CONAN: And also, at the same time, the available pool of men, well, they seem to have a lot more choices.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Yeah. They certainly do. And you know, I think the thing is it's kind of like, I think, 30-year-old women or 35-year-old women should think, you know, are you willing to risk what you have now in order to hold out for, you know, what may or may not exist, and also what may or may not become available to you even if it did exist, you know, the older you get. So it's kind of, like, I'll take, you know, the guy who's 85 percent there when I can.
CONAN: We're talking with freelance journalist Lori Gottlieb, the author of "Marry Him!" a piece that was published in the March issue of The Atlantic and she's with us from NPR West in Culver City.
If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com.
Let's start with Megan(ph). Megan with us from Astoria in Oregon.
MEGAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.
MEGAN: This makes me a little bit nervous but I'm 41 years old and I've had relationships in the past which I don't regret. But I've kind of come to the decision, I guess, that I'm willing to spend my life alone. And…
CONAN: Rather than settle.
MEGAN: Yeah. Yeah, and it's painful. It's very painful because I am in love and I have been for a while. And to me, settling for a partner rather than someone that you actually are in love with and vice versa - for whatever reasons - settling for - to have children together or to start a family or to do what, you know, I guess society sort of demands of us, to me just seems very inauthentic. And the older I get, the more truthful my life has become. And I hope that I'm not alone for the rest of my life but I just - I can't see myself settling.
CONAN: You also said you were in love now, so is this something that you fear is not going to work out for some reason?
MEGAN: Well, I don't know. He's quite a bit younger than I am, about 12 years. And he also - I don't consider myself to be religious but he's of a different religion. And I think in their culture, it's very important to have a woman who fits certain criteria, and one of them is being young enough to bear children. And although I'm sure I still could, my mother did when she was 43. I just don't see the idea of being a - how can I say this - a breeder. I see people in that culture choosing women that they don't necessarily - that they're not in love with, just to benefit them, to further their idea or their culture's idea of what their life should be like. And it just seems very inauthentic to me.
CONAN: And Lori Gottlieb, I know you have sympathy for Megan's plight.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's sort of the crux of the issue in the piece. But, you know, I also think that, you know, the problem that we have when we think I, you know, I'd rather be alone than settle for someone is that, you know, it's kind of redefining what it means to settle. For women, I think, often we think, this is the person who's going to fulfill me on all of these profound levels and if I don't find that, then I'm settling.
And I think it's different for men, you know, when she's saying, well, men, well, you know, maybe settle in order to find someone with whom they can have children. I think that men realize that, you know, they want to certainly have deep affection for their wives, hopefully be attracted to them, hopefully have some things in common. But they can - it's not one-stop shopping for men. Whereas I think, for women, they feel like if the guy isn't all that, then I'm settling.
MEGAN: Yeah. I, you know, that's really hard - I think it is - there is definitely a difference between men and women, and the age also, you know? You get older and you learn a few things and particularly about yourself and what you can and can't live with. And I - it's - I'm an artist and it's very important for me to be true to myself.
CONAN: Megan, good luck.
MEGAN: Thank you so much.
MEGAN: And I love your program.
CONAN: Thank you.
MEGAN: And I appreciate the topic.
CONAN: Okay. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Sarah(ph) in Chicago.
(Reading) I was in my early 30s when I met and married my husband. He was not my romantic ideal. And in all honesty still isn't. But I knew I wanted a partnership with someone who had some of the qualities he did - trustworthiness, reliability, creativity - and I knew I wanted to have children. Now, four years later, we have a beautiful daughter and we are very happy together. It isn't high passion but it's a rich, deep partnership that we're growing into more and more every day. I feel very fortunate in having a strong marriage, and I don't think high passion would have given me such great foundations.
And that's something you write about, too, Lori.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Yeah. You know, that was exactly the point of the piece. It's sort of like that high passion, that blinding love. You know, it's not what most people have. And so, you know, even when you think you're going in it for true love, you still see the other person's faults and what they're lacking and what practical concessions you are going to have to make in order to be with him long term. So my point in the piece is given that that's the reality, maybe, you know, maybe when we go in with lower expectations - and I don't mean, you know, that we're going in knowing that we're not going to be happy with this person - I mean, the thing, here's a really nice guy who has all the qualities that Sarah says, you know, her husband had, in her e-mail. And you go in with that and you say, we can build something based on that.
CONAN: Lori Gottlieb's piece "Marry Him!" appears in the March issue of The Atlantic.
Again, if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get John(ph) on the line. John with us from Fort Benning in Georgia.
JOHN (Caller): Hey.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
JOHN: Yeah. I was calling because I'd like to applaud her for her book and her thoughts because I think that some people, it's not so much a settling but some people are way too picky and they're looking for perfection, and it's hard to look for perfection if you're not perfect; and no one's perfect.
CONAN: Nobody's perfect. That's a lesson in life, too, I think, Lori.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Yeah. You know, it definitely is. And I think that, you know, I don't think that people - think that the women who ends up alone didn't have unrealistic expectations. They weren't looking for, you know, the Brad Pitt. They were really, you know, they had realistic expectations but they still wanted that, you know, that chemistry.
And my point in the piece is, you know, when you're married and you're dealing with kids and the diapers and the mortgage and all those things, and my biggest complaint - the biggest complaint, in fact, that friends have is that they never see their spouse anyway between work and child care. So if you never really see the person but he's like, you know, a great guy, and you may not have that incredible, you know, romantic spark with, does it really matter whether he's the one? You know, are we being too picky?
CONAN: John, thanks for the call.
JOHN: Thank you.
Let's go now to Daniel (ph). Daniel with us from Tucson, Arizona.
DANIELLE (Caller): Hi. Yes, my name is Danielle(ph).
CONAN: Danielle - excuse me. I'm sorry.
DANIELLE: That's okay. I just turned 30 this year, and I was actually engaged last year and I broke it off because I realized that my priorities have really changed in the last five years or so. As I've gotten a little bit older, I realized that, you know, passion is not the number priority for me anymore. I've been in a lot of passionate relationships that fizzle out very quickly and don't, you know, work in a practical way. And I just, being an anthropology student, I've traveled a lot, and I've noticed that, you know, outside of the United States, looks and chemistry are not what people are looking for - first on their list. You know, as Americans, we have this whole Hollywood perspective on what it means to be in love. But marriage really is so much more than that. And I just, you know, I see a lot of my friends getting married for passion and then it fizzles out really quickly. I've already, at age 30, seen several divorces for that exact reason, so I just - I don't know that settling is the right word. I think the older you get, you make more mature choices. And passion isn't the number one priority anymore.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Right. And my point is, you know, to make those choices before you're too old to have the option to, you know, find someone that you are compatible with but, you know, you may not have that intense passion with.
CONAN: Here's a contrary point of view, though, from Kim(ph) in St. Louis, Missouri.
(Reading) So I'm almost 41, divorced, two months after settling for 14 years, so now I'm suppose to settle again?
Ms. GOTTLIEB: You know, I think that that - I don't know what she means by settling. I think, again, if you go into it with somebody that, like, what Sarah said when she went into her marriage, you know, a great guy but it's not like sort of the love of your life. You know, real romance to me is sort of now about the banal day-to-day of togetherness. And it's not really so much about all that we see in the movies and what we think romance is supposed to be.
So I don't know if she's - you know, I don't know what she meant by settling if she consciously said, I don't really think this guy's going to be the one I want to, kind of, go through the trenches with. That's different. I'm saying, pick a guy you want to be in the trenches with but he may not be like, you know, your, you know, your white knight.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Thanks for the call, Danielle.
DANIELLE: Thank you.
CONAN: And here's another e-mail question. This is from Tim(ph) in Charlottesville.
(Reading) So you'd be glad to be considered Miss Good Enough?
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Well, you know, as I say in the piece, I think that now I'm at the age where, you know, anybody that I would even, you know, quote/unquote "settle for" would actually, you know, most definitely be settling for me at this point. So, you know, I think that it's not so much that I'm - I would be Miss Good Enough, it would be that the person really truly likes me, but maybe, you know, I don't, you know, maybe I'm not, you know, everything to him in the way that he would have liked in a soul mate.
CONAN: Let's get Steve(ph) in. Steve's calling from Chicago.
STEVE (Caller): Hey, how's it going?
CONAN: All right.
STEVE: I met my wife when she was 42, and I was 23 and we fell madly in love and we've been together for 10 years now. And I'm saying, definitely hold out for the passion.
CONAN: Definitely hold out for the passion.
STEVE: Absolutely. Hold out for the passion.
CONAN: Lori, is it good news to find that there are Steves still out there?
Ms. GOTTLIEB: I think it's wonderful. I think if people can find it, great, but I think for the vast majority of us who don't find it, there are other options, and that's what I'm trying to make the case for.
Steve, good luck.
STEVE: All right. Talk to you later.
Another e-mail - this is from Marilyn(ph).
(Reading) How about the poor guy who gets a woman who is merely settling for him, thinking she feels as strongly for him as he does for her?
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Well, you know what? I've gotten so many e-mails since this piece has come out from women who say that they quote/unquote, "settled," and they're truly, madly in love with their husbands now. And I think that that's what happens when you don't go in with these great expectations, when you go in saying, I really, really want to be with this person even though he's not what I, you know, had not what I thought my dream guy would be like. And then you form this really strong bond and that's what happened in - with a lot of these women. So I think that the guys actually, you know, those are the guys that the women tend to value even more.
CONAN: Lori Gottlieb, thanks very much. And I think this is going to continue to be debated for the next millennia or two.
Ms. GOTTLIEB: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Lori Gottlieb, a freelance journalist, with us from our bureau at NPR West in Culver City, California. You can find a link to her piece "Marry Him!" on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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