Julia Baird in Newsweek argues “the case against settling,” mostly as a shot across the bow of Lori Gottlieb, who’s written a book called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. One problem, says Baird, is Gottlieb’s assertion that women expect too much:
This twisted thinking makes my head hurt. First, the only evidence offered to prove that women expect too much is anecdotal. Are some women too picky? Sure. People are shallow, unkind, and judgmental. But I don’t know any women who have checklists. If they do, I imagine it’s something most grow out of. If you will only date someone who looks like Brad Pitt, “earns a gazillion dollars, and makes your knees go weak every time you’re together,” as Gottlieb writes, then you’re probably either 20 or stupid.
It appears Baird’s circle of friends doesn’t intersect with mine, because every woman with whom I’ve discussed this paragraph has agreed with at least some of it:
Women, I have always believed, have a Mate Template of sorts, and whether a man has any chance with her depends on how closely he conforms to the standards she has proposed. Some points are more negotiable than others, and perhaps some won’t budge in the slightest, but ultimately, what determines the course of the relationship is how much she’s willing to compromise on that template. (Men’s selectivity is somewhat less linear, I think.)
Which I say neither in sorrow nor in anger: it’s simply a hypothesis that explains things better than previous explanations, and as such is subject to change should a less-inaccurate account come along. And the standards set down in this template are generally not so specific as “Must look like Brad Pitt” or “Must earn no less than $1.0 gazillion,” though I’m pretty sure someone who escaped from Meth Mountain and subsequently showed up on the coast isn’t going to get much of anywhere with Julia Baird. (Or, for that matter, with Lori Gottlieb.)
On the other hand, this sort of observation doesn’t play particularly well with me:
Gottlieb’s sadness is another lament for the unlucky in a generation who delayed marriage longer than any other, risking their fertility, and found themselves fighting for a family in ways our mothers would not have dreamed of. Half a dozen of my friends are having children on their own: buying sperm, signing up for IVF, freezing eggs.
Um, well, yeah, okay. Probably half of those children will be girls. And some day they’re going to be looking for mates, and perhaps by then they might dimly realize that they have no experience whatsoever with the other half of the species. You can’t say that, though: the first rule of “fighting for a family” is that you do not talk about actually fighting for a family.
Now I have no idea how well this template business works in the opposite direction. I do know this, though: if I’ve run the analysis, and the target appears to be at least 50.1 percent of what I’m looking for, the heart is rolled into position, ready for its new assignment. And when nothing happens, as nothing always does, it’s dragged back into the shadows, left to accumulate another layer of dust.
But if it’s Baird’s world, and I only live in it, none of this should matter: I’ve had my children, and they in turn are having theirs. The species is thus perpetuated. I suppose I’ll have to, um, settle for that.
(From a throwaway remark by Robert Stacy McCain, who surely had no intention of sending me off in this direction.)