February 8, 2010

Don't Settle For The Man You Want

marry him.JPG
I stopped reading The Atlantic when I wanted to stop cutting

Lori Gottlieb, in The Atlantic, writes Marry Him!, and describes a problem so pervasive and urgent it's hard to imagine Obama hasn't cleared his desk: what's an "independent," "feminist," "heterosexual" 40-something "woman" with a sperm-donor child to do when she can't find a man to marry her? 

My advice is this: Settle! That's right. Don't worry about passion or intense connection. Don't nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling "Bravo!" in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.

Oh, that Lori Gottlieb, she's a kidder.  But she's not kidding.

There's a few ways to go with this, but here's a start: where is she finding all these idiots who yell bravo or have bad breath or poor aesthetics, or is this all the same idiot?  If you're 0/3 in a single paragraph, you need to consider the problem is you.

To be fair, my conceptualization of what a good relationship is may be very different from hers.  Here's hers:

In my formative years, romance was John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything. But when I think about marriage nowadays, my role models are the television characters Will and Grace, who, though Will was gay and his relationship with Grace was platonic, were one of the most romantic couples I can think of.
Nothing characterizes The Dumbest Generation Of Narcissists In The History Of the World better than using throw away cinema as a template for life.  What kind of results did she  expect?

She thinks that Will being gay is an unfortunate coincidence, but it is actually the primary thing she wants.  She wants a gay man not because she likes them gay, but because gay men aren't real to her, they're props.  She wants someone who will see her the way she wants to be seen and fulfill various other roles she has planned for him, leaving herself free to "grow."   It's hard to get that to happen when his Staff Of Unreasoning and Hyperbole is pressed up against her coccyx while she's trying to go to sleep.


That Will & Grace speaks to her is completely by design.  The producers tweaked that show specifically for a certain demo, i.e. her. 

In its first miserable failure of an incarnation, it was called Ned & Stacey, and it paired Debra Messing with a good looking, heterosexual, womanizing rich guy.  Everything else was the same.  Here's the opening theme:

Ned: Why Stacey?
Stacey: Why Ned?
Ned: It was business.
Stacey: Strictly business.
Ned: Here's the deal - to get a promotion, I needed a wife.
Stacey: To get a life, I needed his apartment.
Ned: So what the hell, we up and got married.
Stacey: The only thing we have in common? We irritate each other.
Ned: Right! Enjoy the show.

The show lasted one season.  No woman could relate to his, no woman would want this, only this.  But make the main character gay, and you have a fantasy scenario: materialism and  safety, but the emotional freedom to constantly reinvent and reaffirm yourself.  The show should have been called, "The Non-Judgmental Dad I Never Had" or simply "Let's Pretend."  But I'm not in TV.


There are really two questions: the first is where Lori Gottlieb went so wrong, and the second is why The Atlantic thinks this is a legitimate posture.

A short excursion through Lori Gottlieb's prior life is illustrative.

Her first book, in 2001, is about her experiences growing up to affluent but shallow parents (her description) in Beverly Hills in the 1970s.  Pause for effect.

This is what the Amazon blurb says:

In the image-conscious world of 1970s Beverly Hills, 11-year-old Lori knows she's different. Instead of trading clothes and dreaming of teen idols like most of her pre-adolescent friends, Lori prefers reading books, writing in her journal and making up her own creative homework assignments. Chronically disapproving of her parents' shallow lifestyle, she challenges their authority and chafes under their constant demands to curb her frank opinions and act more "ladylike.

Many of you may sympathize.  What's a budding intellectual, not to mention future NPR contributor, to do in such a dystopia?  Answer: she decides to become anorexic.

Somehow this has been characterized as a struggle with anorexia but you'll have to take my word for it: this is a struggle with anorexia the way Girl, Interrupted was a struggle with  inadequate access to healthcare.  It's all blamed on her parents, and secondarily on her social group.  This is from her website:

"Of course they aren't overweight," Lori told her psychiatrist when asked if she thought the girls at school who diet are overweight. "Didn't I already say they were popular?"

Before you call Bill Cosby, consider that this kid is having a conversation with her psychiatrist.  In the 1970s.  Whatever you may think about the overpopularization of psychiatry today,  there was a very specific demographic of kid that got to talk to a shrink in the 1970s, and that demographic is now in their 40s, unmarried and writing articles for The Atlantic.  If you think there's no connection, then Amazon.com suggests you may also enjoy The New Yorker.


The mistake is to take the writing prowess Lori (now and at age 11) has and assume it mirrors the quality of the ideas.  The writing is good (there, I said it) but the idea set is dangerously, catastrophically wrong.

Her next book, Inside The Cult of Kibu, was about her experiences at a failed dot.com.  This is the introduction:

In the Spring of 2000, Lori Gottleib was lured away from Stanford Medical School to become the editor-in-chief of Kibu.com.... but after her comically unceremenious "unhiring" three months later...
Work through the timeline.  This book was published in 2002.  Stick Figure was published in 2000, which means it was written before 2000, i.e. while at Stanford Med.  Meanwhile, she's hanging out at Whole Foods (not a joke) and joining Kibu.  Then she's fired.   So she hastily put together another book.

You can imagine this is how she dates.  No direction, no sense of self, just jumping from one scheme to the next, trying on different identities.  She actually laments how, while a med student, she was surrounded by more dot-commers than doctors.  At parties they wouldn't think her interesting enough as a med student; but when she signed with Kibu, she

heard myself saying, "I'm on the cutting edge!  I'm going to influence an entire generation!" Part of me even believed this.
Your problem is you believed it.  My problem is you were right.


A reasonable question might be, what kind of a man is this woman looking for?  I defy you to answer this question.  She's two books and at least three essays into the topic, and still I have no idea.  What I do know, however, is what she's not looking for.  That's where her laser focus is pointed.

She titled one essay, "5 Traits In A Mate That Are Not Deal Breakers."  Take a moment to ponder the construction of that title.  If I wrote an essay, "5 Things You Can Do That Won't Make Me Stab You In The Teeth" how many condoms will I end up using?  You might counter with history: she was having trouble with mates before she wrote that essay.  True, but you know  that the type of person who would think to write an essay like this one reveals herself in other ways as well.

I've never believed that we should stop looking for Mr. Right (we shouldn't!) - but I do think that by changing our rigid idea of who Mr. Right is, we're more likely to find the right Mr. Right. You can't just order up the perfect husband á la carte - I'll take a little of this, a little of that, less of this and more of that. A guy is a package deal, as are we. Recognizing that isn't settling. It's maturity.
I actually had to pull my car over to the side of the road when I read this.  This woman is in her 40s.  And she has a kid.  What the hell did those halcyon hours at Stanford Med do to her?

...having found myself still single at 40, I'd come to an eye-opening realization: Had I known when I was younger what would make me happy in a fulfilling marriage, I would have made very different choices in my dating life.
This woman should have a scarlet "ME" on her shirt.  What makes me happy?  What do I want?  You can't run a relationship this way, you can't run a life this way.  But the longer she stays single, the more self-absorbed she becomes, the more she thinks about what she needs and wants.

It's almost unnecessary to list the 5 Things About A Man Lori Is Only Pretending Not To Care About, but here they are anyway:  1. His height. 2. His Match.com profile. 3. His occupation.  4. His age. 5. How he compares to "my type."  None of those are jokes.

Indeed. I ended up falling hard for a 5'6", balding, bow-tie-wearing guy I almost didn't e-mail on Match.com. He wasn't who I had in mind, but he was who I wanted to be with. And that, of course, is the thing that matters most.
Indeed, indeed.


Back to the article.  There's absolutely no chance any woman will benefit from reading this article; I'd argue that it would even make her impossible to be in an elevator with. 

I referenced Will & Grace, above, but the real star of the article is Sex & The City. This article is written about, and for, Carrie Bradshaw.

It's equally questionable whether Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, who cheated on her kindhearted and generous boyfriend, Aidan, only to end up with the more exciting but self-absorbed Mr. Big, will be better off in the framework of marriage and family. (Some time after the breakup, when Carrie ran into Aidan on the street, he was carrying his infant in a Baby Björn. Can anyone imagine Mr. Big walking around with a Björn?)
She doesn't get it, at all.  Are you asking whether I could I imagine a big producer, like the one that Mr. Big is based on, carrying a baby?  Sure, why not?  Or do you mean a guy like Chris Noth, the actor who plays Mr. Big?  He just had one, so yes.  Or do you mean...?

Meanwhile, the real Carrie Bradshaw (Candace Bushnell), the actress who plays her, and heck, even the character Carrie Bradshaw, are all in solid relationships exactly opposite to the ones she is looking for.

Mr. Big wouldn't carry a baby because that's the character.  If you're looking to hook up with a two-dimensional character, you'll get what you pay for.


Gottlieb figures that because she's attractive and intelligent, the problem must be her standards are too high or men are threatened by her.  Wrong.  The problem is she is daring someone to like her.  She has a Match.com profile-- fine-- but meanwhile, she publishes articles in major magazines that men are going to read, right?  that say things like,  "I'm at the age where I'll likely need to settle for someone who is settling for me."  How do you like me now!  "It's not that I've become jaded to the point that I don't believe in, or even crave, romantic connection. It's that my understanding of it has changed."  Who's up for role-play?  You think I'm pretty?  Bam! Now I have a kid!  What do you think of that?

All of this is what an adolescent girl might do, who puts her worst features front and center.  She's not sure her best features are going to be good enough, but if you can like her despite the bad ones, then you must be The One.  (Never mind that immediate next thought will/should be, "what kind of a loser would like me?")

All of this is a game to elicit a specific response from the man: "oh, baby, those things don't matter to me because I know that's not who you are, I know the real you."

The guy is irrelevant. As long as he delivers his lines, on cue.


You may wonder why I am focusing on The Atlantic article and not the book that just came out, Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough.   First, I didn't read the book.  HA!  Take that, required reading list. 

More importantly, a book contaminates only its readers, but an article in The Atlantic makes it ok for intelligent people in general to think like this.  That makes her wrong ideas dangerous.

You want something uplifting, so here you go: you can never have a good relationship with anyone when your focus is the relationship.  There's a human being there who existed well before you got to them, and they weren't built for you or your needs or your parents or your future dreams as an actor.  If you want to be happy with someone then your body and mind have to instinctively adapt to their happiness.  If you're not ready for this kind of sacrifice, then you're simply not ready.


Lori Gottlieb becomes a Therapist: The Cult Of Self-Esteem