There are many other things I should be doing, but I ended up getting hooked on this book: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Why are so many eligible women–particularly in their 40s and up–still alone when they desperately want to be married? Lori Gottlieb, a 41-year-old single mother and journalist, aims to find out. What follows can be best described as a combination of Sex and the City, Dr. Phil, and Malcolm Gladwell. It’s filled with anecdotes, tough love, and behavioral research. It’s funny in parts, insightful, and very easy to read.
How you feel about this book will likely vary wildly depending on your age and gender. As a guy, I found it interesting and mostly true. As a young single woman, you might think it’s hogwash and possibly infuriating. As a 40-year-old single woman, you might sing like it’s the Gospel. Still, I think it’s a must read for any woman looking to get married. Even if you disagree with the book, it will at least get you thinking seriously about the topic, which is a good start.
First, the bad news. The first half of Marry Him is entertaining and enlightening, but then it gets repetitive. The book could easily have been a hundred pages shorter. Some readers might also take issue with Gottlieb’s tone, neuroticism, and opinions. Fortunately, these have little bearing upon the validity of the book’s insights. While these insights are not particularly original, they are thought provoking nonetheless because they are presented in such a comprehensive manner.
Despite its provocative title, Marry Him is not about settling but about setting realistic, achievable goals. The underlying problem, as Gottlieb points out, is that women want it all. To complicate matters, some of them are what behavioral researchers call ‘maximizers,’ meaning they always want ‘the best’ and are willing to hold out for it. ‘So what?’ you might ask. Many consumers behave this way, including men’witness their obsession with electronic gadgets. Ah, but consumer goods don’t judge the buyers, and men are not constrained by the biological clock like women are. Life isn’t fair, but those are the rules. In reality, you cannot get everything that you want in life, but you can get one thing if you prioritize it. Women who end up alone often fail to prioritize marriage soon enough.
The secret to marriage is simple: it’s not about you; it’s about “us.” According to Gottlieb, women who cannot ‘get over themselves’ or compromise their standards are the one that have difficulty getting married. To make matters worse, they are also looking for the wrong things. They know what they want, but it’s not necessarily what they need. Marriage is about building a team for the long haul. Who would you want to be stuck on a desert island with? Is he trustworthy, patient, and kind? These are the things that make marriages work, not his stats, looks, or hobbies. The fluffy stuff is certainly nice, but it also changes with time. Character is what endures. Unfortunately, in America, style too often trumps substance.
When building a team, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In relationships, people instinctively focus on similarities. That might be a mistake, Gottlieb suggests. Instead, they should be looking for complements. To better understand why, let’s look at a team sport. Take basketball, for example. If you pick all guards, who will rebound? If you pick players with similar styles, won’t they run into each other on the court and generally be ineffective? Individual stats are grossly overvalued in America. Suppose you could clone Michael Jordan’the basketball equivalent of a ’10”and create a whole team with them. It would be a disaster. No one would pass, and all of them would want to take the final shot!
As if all this wasn’t enough to contend with, many women set up additional filters to further restrict their selection pool. The book offers several insights on this topic, of which I’ll briefly mention three:
- Some women choose to believe in ‘love at first sight’ as the rule rather than the exception, yet any coach will tell you that team chemistry usually takes time to develop. You have to work at it; it’s not magic.
- On a related note, perhaps there isn’t just one “soul mate” out there for you. There are many potential ones. Arguably, you create a soul mate by building shared experiences together. Gottlieb interviews a number of women in arranged marriages who offer support for this notion.
- When it comes to dating, less is more. The problem with online dating is that there is too much information for women to nitpick. They end up toss out perfectly eligible guys on technicalities without ever meeting them in person. In one of the most entertaining parts of the book, Gottlieb hires a dating coach who attempts to break her ‘bad habits’ so that she can get more out of online dating.
I thought about writing a similar book many years ago. It was easy for me to see what was going on and what would likely happen in the end. Throw in a few interviews with women and scientists, and bam! I’d have a bestseller, right?
I’m glad that I didn’t write it for two reasons. First, no one would have read my book because I’m a guy and it’s all theoretical to me. Gottlieb’s personal anecdotes are what make Marry Him real and entertaining. Second, even if people did read it, I would still be haunted by the inescapable feeling that it was all for naught. Single women, forty and up, might agree with it; however, younger singles are too busy dreaming to take it seriously.
Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this book will do the trick. If you’re playing the Game of Love, read it. At worst, it will entertain you, enlighten you, and possibly enrage you for a few days. At best, it will make you seriously reevaluate your approach and possibly change your life. What have you got to lose?