[This blog entry is counterpoint to the well-stated opinions of Ms. Pearls N The Hood, found here.]
I’ll admit it—if Ms. Lori Gottlieb is one of Pearls’ heroes, on first reading of her article (found in The Atlantic, March 2008), had me casting her as one of my villains. I thought the notion of “settling” for a man was awful—an anti-feminist, misogynistic, backwards view of womanhood, marriage, and family. For someone who shares this viewpoint and wrote about it eloquently (if in strong words and phrases), see Jessica’s take at Feministing.
But when I took a step back and saw past the red haze clouding my vision, I took a deep breath and thought for a minute. Did I agree with Lori Gottlieb? No, absolutely not. But I don’t have a lot of rage anymore either. After all, we all know that the world is often a tough place and, for someone who desperately longs for a traditional home and family and doesn’t have one by the time they’re 40, settling might seem like a valid, even wonderful, option. As she says in a defense of her argument published in the Huffington Post, at least 1,000 women emailed her in response to her article and were “solidly in my little world,” where settling is a valid option. Obviously, Ms. Gottlieb isn’t alone in thinking like she does.
And though I respect and value each woman’s right to have her own opinion, I challenge Ms. Gottlieb’s argument. She says these women shouldn’t hold out for their fairy tale and okay, maybe if their fairy tale in along Sleeping Beauty or Princess Jasmine proportions, a reconsideration of the likelihood of the events might be in order. But different women have different versions of the fairy tale. Some women, myself included, aren’t looking to be swept off our feet by Prince Charming. We’re looking for something a little more ordinary, a little more real. Maybe the guy who just started work in our building catches us in the elevator twice in a row and asks us for coffee. Maybe the colleague we’ve been working side-by-side with for years gets a new job (or we do!) and we realize that we miss seeing their face every single day. Maybe we look at our best friend, the person whose been through the good times and the bad with us for nearly twenty years and say, “You know what? I want a life with him (or her)!” Love happens in all places, in all circumstances. And just because it might not a fairy tale Disney would write about doesn’t make it any less real and true. And waiting for that, whatever it might be, whichever is one of the greatest chance games in life. And I’m not about to stop playing by settling for someone I consider to be “good enough” for me. I’m fantastic and wonderful (which I say with all due modesty, of course), and I want someone equally fantastic and wonderful to spend my life with—as should we all. We shouldn’t settle out of fear, or because we think that’s what we need to have a family.
After all, it might not even be what all of us want. Haven’t any of you ever wanted something desperately for years and years and then, after you’d finally achieved it, taken a step back and said, “You know what? This isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I’m not sure how I feel about this at all!” And that does happen to some (but of course not all) of the women who dream of the big white dress, the four children, the two dogs, and a husband. Some of these women who are still single in even their mid- to late 40s look around at their colleagues and friends rushing home to the suburbs and family and say, “Wow. You know, I don’t think I’d like that life at all,” and they genuinely feel relieved and happy to be single (and I’ve been lucky to count several of them among my closest friends).
Of course, some people who dream of the wedding and husband and children and are still single in their forties, like Ms. Gottlieb, certainly wouldn’t count themselves among these women. They want the traditional family, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with that. But I challenge them: instead of waiting for it to happen, make your own version of the fairy tale. Life is unpredictable and challenging and that’s what makes it so exciting and scary. I’d imagine when Ms. Gottlieb went into the delivery room as a single woman on the day she delivered her child, both of those emotions were coursing through her veins (at least, they certainly would’ve been in mine!) and I applaud her for taking the step towards the child she desperately wanted even when the husband she’d hoped to have with it hadn’t yet materialized.
But I also wonder—why is it so bad to apply this same fearlessness to the romantic part of life? Why settle for a man who’s “good enough” when you could wait and see what happens? And yes, that’s lonely and envying the mothers who complain about their husbands not doing chores is certainly going to be a part of it. But I, for one, am not going to settle for a man I consider “good enough” and will likely end up resenting for it in the future. I’m not looking for perfection—I’m looking for a person I want as a partner. The person who becomes so important to me I can’t see my life without them in it, and if that happens at 26, at 36, or even 49, I’m willing to wait. Even if it never happens for me, I’m okay with that too. I have fantastic, wonderful friends, a loving and supportive family, and I have my brain and my will and my street smarts. I don’t need a man to complete me, and I’m not about to settle for someone I don’t love, respect, and cherish just because I’m tired of going it alone.