Do you have "The List"? I’m sure you’re familiar with "The List" — that column of checkmark-less boxes lined up next to a set of qualitites that must characterize any man you date, let alone marry. Thousands of women have a List, but the question is: does it help or hinder your journey to finding true love? In her book "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough", Lori Gottlieb examines this question by seeking advice and information from sociologists, neurobiologists, marital researchers, behavior economists, as well as single and married folks from every generation.
In Gottlieb’s opinion, the idea of Prince Charming has imprisoned women in a box of unrealistic expectations when it comes to dating and marriage, so she explains that instead, ladies should be looking for reasons to say yes to a realistic, grounded perspective of lasting love. Through the chapters of her book, Gottlieb escorts readers on her own path to finding Mr. Right and along the way discovers what she considers to be the reconciliation of the desire for a happy marriage with that long list of must-haves and deal breakers.
ModernMom: How does pop culture shape our ideas of romantic happiness?
Lori Gottlieb: I think pop culture is for women kind of like what porn is for men. If men watched porn all day long, they’d start to have a completely unrealistic idea of what a woman should be like sexually, what her body should look like, what her sexual desires and interests should be like. But most men, by the time they’re ready to get married, know that women in real life aren’t like porn stars. Yet some women really have trouble differentiating fantasy from reality. When women are inundated with romantic comedies, romantic novels, and magazines telling women that they "deserve" to find Prince Charming, they look at perfectly wonderful men who don’t match this unrealistic ideal and think, "Hmm, but I want somebody taller or more charming or who makes more money or who always knows exactly what I’m thinking or makes me laugh all the time or who never has bad moods." They’re looking for The Dream Guy, and besides the fact that The Dream Guy doesn’t exist (because, you know, we dreamed him up!), we forget that we’re not ideal in every way, either. But our girlfriends are always telling us how fabulous we are, so we forget that maybe some guy is going to have to compromise to be with us, too. Maybe he wanted somebody who didn’t have a certain annoying habit, or who had longer legs, or didn’t get so stressed out about tiny things. But he doesn’t care, because he can fall in love with somebody who’s human and imperfect. In MARRY HIM, I cite statistics and studies about how women are actually pickier and more unrealistic than men, which is surprising to a lot of women — as it was to me — because a lot of us often think that men are the ones who are unrealistic. Well, it’s surprising, but women are, too!
MM: What should women look for in a good husband?
LG: You have to have chemistry, so I’m not suggesting that women dismiss physical chemistry at all. You have to be attracted to each other. But often women pick a guy with a chemistry of, say, a 10, and a compatibility of, say, a 4. They think their compatibility is higher because they both love sushi and hiking and the same music and movies. But they’re not compatible on the bigger things — shared values, shared life goals, shared ideas about how they’d run a household together, whether they both want kids and if so, how many, and who’s going to take care of them, and who’s going to be earning the money and picking up toilet paper on the way home from work. Marriage isn’t a trip to the Bahamas. It’s about the day-to-day. And if you have this intense, tremendous chemistry and love the same movies and read the same books but can’t agree on things like commitment, trust, who’s doing the laundry, you’re not really that compatible for marriage. In MARRY HIM, one expert told me that the happiest married couples have a chemistry of "7" and a compatibility of "7." It’s about even — not a chemistry of 10 but a compatibility of 4.
MM: Can any woman looking to get married find a good hubby?
LG: I think it’s a lot easier than we make it for ourselves, especially when we’re younger. I can’t tell you how many happily married women have written to tell me that they’re giving my book to their daughters so that their daughters can look for what matters in a happy, long-term, romantic marriage. I’m not saying dating is fun, because a lot of us get burned out to the point of asking, "Where is he already?" But if some women would be aware of the fabulous men they’re overlooking all the time, they’d be surprised at how many great men are right there. The problem is, often they’re going after men who aren’t a good match — the charming guy who won’t commit, etc. I wanted to call the book: Mr. Right (In Front of You) because if you know what to look for, Mr. Right could be right in front of you!
MM: What can we do to be sure our daughters are not confined by an unrealistic idea of love?
LG: I think in earlier generations, mothers talked to their daughters about love and marriage differently than today. There were larger communities where women gave advice that passed through the generations. Today, a lot of the information we get about love comes from reality shows, talk shows, media of all kinds. Women tell each other that we don’t "need" a man — and we don’t — but that doesn’t mean that many of us still want one. They’ll say that you should hold out for "the best" guy, but they don’t define what that means. Is the "best" guy the one who looks like Brad Pitt and has the sense of humor of Jon Stewart but is unreliable, or is the "best" guy the one who loves you and calls when he says he will and is kind and emotionally mature and a really great person to hang out with, even if he’s no Brad or Jon? So while yes, we should absolutely have high standards, we need to define with our daughters what those high standards should be.
MM: How do we change our expectations?
LG: A lot of women say, "I’m not picky, I just have high expectations." And I say, great, absolutely, have high expectations! The problem is, some women have high expectations about things that don’t matter at all for long-term romantic happiness (height, how he dresses) but their expectations aren’t high enough about the things that DO matter (she’ll continue to date a guy who isn’t kind enough or supportive enough because he’s so what she wants "on paper" so she turns a blind eye on the character issues, the issues she should have extremely high standards about!). In the process of writing and reporting MARRY HIM, I spoke to so many experts about what those expectations should be if we want a lasting, fulfilling marriage, and they’re so different from what many single women look for when they’re dating. No wonder the divorce rate is so high! They think they found The One, only to realize a few years into the marriage that she didn’t have high enough expectations where it mattered, and she had too high expectations in areas that didn’t.
MM: What should our expectations be?
LG: Well, I spend most of the book exploring this, so I guess it would help to go through the process the way I did. Because there’s no "list" — it’s different for everyone, but there are certainly common themes. But I think you kind of have to go through the process like I did to really understand how to apply them.
MM: We’re often told “never to settle.” What’s the difference between settling for Mr. So-So and lowering our expectations? Where’s the balance?
LG: Settling for Mr. So-So is lowering your expectations — I would NEVER recommend that! The word settling in the title is used ironically. There’s a survey where men and women were asked if you got 80 percent of your ideal qualities in a partner, 80 percent of your fantasy wish list, would you be happy? And you know what? 93 percent of women said, "Eighty percent? No way, that’s settling!" But the majority of men said, "Eighty percent? I hope I find eighty percent! That’s a catch!" So my point in using that word is to ask people to think about what settling has come to mean in our culture. Eighty percent isn’t Mr. So-So. Eighty percent is like, well, an 8 out of 10. And that’s settling? I don’t think so. Because remember, we’re not tens either! We’re eights, too. And that’s pretty appealing. So I’m not asking people to settle. I’m asking them to think, so they can make choices that will lead to their happiness instead of perpetual frustration.
MM: The divorce rates are absurdly high these days. If we marry Mr. Good Enough, how do we make marriage last?
LG: Again, you should only marry a person you’re completely and genuinely in love with. Most people aren’t getting divorced because they’re standing at the altar and thinking, "Yeah, he’ll do." They’re standing there thinking they’re marrying the love of their life. Then reality hits, marriage is different from dating, they’re not truly compatible because they weren’t looking for the things that would make for compatibility in marriage, and voila — divorce. Or sometimes they really are good partners, but she decides to leave to find "something better." In MARRY HIM, I spoke to a researcher who has studied divorce over several decades. He said that when people were getting divorced, he had them rate their marriages on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being terrible and 10 being fabulous. He expected he’d get a lot of 3s and 4s – after all, these people were getting divorced, it must have been pretty bad. But instead, most divorces were initiated by women (the men didn’t even think anything was terribly wrong), and the women rated their marriages at the time of divorce as 7s. Sevens! This is the lowest point, the worst part of the marriage, so bad they want to leave it all. And it’s a 7! He’d ask why the wanted to get divorced, and they’d say things like, "He’s just not my soul mate" or "I love him dearly, but I’m not in love with him anymore" or "Something’s missing." So this researcher, Paul Amato, was surprised, and he followed these couples for 20 years and every few years he’d interview them and rate them on scales of depression and life satisfaction. And instead of the divorce making them happier, almost all of the women were less happy than they’d been in their marriages, and many missed their ex-husbands — they missed the companionship, the friendship, the love, the shared history, the raising children together. They didn’t find Prince Charming out in the world, and if they did remarry, they simply traded in one set of problems for another. Most of the husbands, on the other hand, had remarried or found other relationships and weren’t open to getting back together if the wives realized they’d made a mistake. So I think we need to appreciate the good qualities in our spouses, while realizing that they’re overlooking our less than ideal qualities and focusing on our good qualities, too. That’s how you make marriage last. Not by lowering your standards, and not by seeking some fantasy ideal that nobody can live up to over the course of a many decades-long marriage.
MM: Anything else you would like to add?
LG: I’m hoping the book starts a conversation that helps people to have an easier time finding and keeping love in their lives. So thanks for having me here for this conversation!