An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

Making the case for Mr. Alright

Posted in Relationships by Frieda on February 3, 2010
Image from the 2008 Atlantic Monthly article

Image from the 2008 Atlantic Monthly article

I’ve recently become entranced by a woman who is single-handedly redefining what women want — if we’re to believe reports. Lori Gottlieb’s neatly-timed pre-Valentine’s book “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough” is based on an article she wrote for the Atlantic two years ago. And yes, I was surprised, too, that such a highbrow publication runs pieces on dating. I will certainly now be reading it more often.

Gottlieb’s argument is cut-throat and practical. Women on the dating market have a particular value, relating to their appearance and their youth. Many think, in their late twenties and early thirties, that they will meet the man of their dreams, but they’re WRONG! They won’t, she says, because “perfect” men won’t ever like ordinary women, who are doomed to hit their mid-thirties and find that they’re alone. As a London Times article put it earlier this week, “Woe betide the naive singleton who assumes her choice of men will widen, rather than narrow, with time.” Woe indeed.

In the Times interview, Gottlieb says, “I’m all for the feminist movement but I think what happened is we took certain feminist ideals — for instance, the idea of ‘you can have it all’, or ‘you deserve the best’, or girl power in general — and we applied that to dating.”

I avidly sought out all available accounts of Gottlieb’s stance, and traced it back to an article from five years ago, also in the Atlantic, called the XY files. There Gottlieb detailed how she broke up with her boyfriend because she didn’t love him, and became pregnant via artificial insemination because she wanted a child. She dreamed of the advice she might give her daughter when the daughter grew up (incidentally, she went on to give birth to a son):

“Perhaps by then I’ll be married to a man who was worth waiting for. But it’s equally possible that I’ll have revised my ‘somebody isn’t always better than nobody’ theory and will tell her that some partner might be better than no partner.”

She had one thing right.

As a girl/woman in her early 30s, I must accept that Gottlieb’s frantic warnings are aimed straight at me. I am one of the poor innocents of whom she speaks, blithely imagining I’m doing the right thing with my life, and little suspecting the disappointment that’s around the corner when my stock plummets.

I’ve considered her reasoning closely, and I partly agree. Let me explain. “Some guys aren’t worldly, but they’d make great dads,” Gottlieb asserts. “Or you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is 5’4″ and has an unfortunate nose, but he ‘gets’ you.” Er, yeah. It’s a sensible point — nobody’s perfect, and therefore the guy you could love might well not be.

But the thing with Gottlieb is that like many polemical writers, she makes her case by extremes. It’s not a question of meeting someone nice who happens not to be tall or rich — both of which are superficial traits —  and “settling” (as she puts it) because you get along with him, or her. For Gottlieb, it’s an issue of total passion v. total tedium. In her dystopian marital vision she even proposes the relationship of Will and Grace as an ideal (Will’s gay).

For example: “So if you rarely see your husband—but he’s a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own—how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?”

Mr. Good Enough is a bland creature, falling somewhere between a provider of cash and a babysitter. Despite her recommendations Gottlieb’s distaste for him is palpable. This puts her in a difficult position, because if she so dislikes Mr. Alright, it will be tough for her to settle for him. She is still single.

In the past her criteria in locating The One have apparently been rigid. She always believed marriage should have a “divine spark.” “Many of the guys I dated possessed these qualities, but if one of them lacked a certain degree of kindness, another didn’t seem emotionally stable enough, and another’s values clashed with mine. Others were sweet but so boring that I preferred reading during dinner to sitting through another tedious conversation. I also dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me—we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry—but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens.”

I’m sorry, but I just don’t know what half-note-off sensibilities are. And I thought reading at the table was rather rude. What would we say if a man did that? Gottlieb’s article is not that long, yet the word “tedious” features twice, and “boring” twice also.

The “tedious” Mr. Good Enough is not a creature of the real world, as Gottlieb’s trying to persuade us young women; he is a construction of her own neurotic mind. And although she says she’s already in therapy, the supposed existence of this man is, I suggest, nothing more than proof that she needs to keep going.

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