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This Valentine's Day, Think about "Settling"

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 14, 2011 6:20PM

Lori Gottlieb's book was just released in paperback.
If you’re feeling glum, alone and, well, um, old, this Valentine’s Day, you probably have only yourself and your own pickiness to blame says Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case of Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Before we ruin all the book’s secrets by giving away her words of wisdom, we’ll start by explaining where the title came from, which Gottlieb admits to not even liking because of the confusion it causes. She surveyed both men and women and asked if they would be satisfied with a partner who had 80 percent of the qualities of their ideal guy or gal. The majority of single women who responded said getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a partner would be "settling." The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be "a catch." “People hear about settling and they think about lowering their standards,” said Gottlieb when we spoke with her last week. “But it’s really about raising your standards.”

Gottlieb’s book, which was just released in paperback, is a journey in her own self discovery. As a 37-year-old single mother, she was on the market for a guy close to her age with the same interests and values as her, especially on raising children. Was that so much to ask? Maybe, said the countless dating experts, matchmakers and even the rabbi who offered their insight. Although it’s important to find someone who shares similar values, Gottlieb discovered through her research and dating coaches that many women, she included, don’t have a good grasp on what the word “value” actually means. Sharing a love for all things David Sedaris is not a value. Dating guys who only meets a certain height requirement has nothing to do with values. And neither does disregarding a guy because he laughs weird, or is wearing a bow-tie in his profile or did an awful Austin Powers impression on your first date.

“I think a lot of women grow up with this sense of entitlement,” said Gottlieb. “We’re so fabulous, we never compromise, and then you get these people who don’t want to take a job because they’re better than that. We’re yes women for each other. It’s hard to tell your friend you should take that job. And it’s the same with men.” And while women are on the hunt for the perfect guy, they don’t realize that they might not quite be the perfect girl.

In writing the book, Gottlieb discovered she had hone down her list of ideal values from 17 to a more realistic three. Along the way, she learned some interesting tidbits about the economy of dating:

As any economist will tell you, it’s all about supply and demand. The longer you hold out, the more supply of available men goes down at the same time that their demand does up and a woman’s marital value goes down. The result, for women, is like a really bad dating recession.

In other words, women can be as picky as they want… as long as they have the option of being picky, as one of Gottlieb’s dating coaches told her. Gottlieb also brings in several other realistic viewpoints about the whole business of marriage. A marriage is a socioeconomic partnership, not a romantic weekend getaway. Finding someone who is thoughtful enough to pick up toilet paper on the way home might be more important than finding someone who has a really good sense of style. Might there be a guy who picks up toilet paper AND dresses well? Perhaps. But women who are waiting for the guy who has 100 percent of their ideal traits are often left with no one; if you can’t choose anything, you’re eventually left with nothing.

A lot of the points Gottlieb made throughout Marry Him made good practical sense. She gets emails all the time from both men and women who have said her advice has helped their dating lives, that it’s not as depressing of a dating world out there as they thought. Should you read Marry Him? If you’re trying to find a partner, read it. If you aren’t, but think that one day you might want to get married and have some kids, read it. If you do not fear being judged by strangers on the El, read it. And if you’re alone on Valentine’s Day and all bitter about it, why not stop by the Book Cellar, Women’s & Children First or your Chicago Public Library branch on your way home from work and check it out?