“I wanna get married, yes, I need a spouse.I want a nice Leave it to Beaverish, golden retriever and a little white house.I wanna get married, I need to cook meals.I wanna pack cute little lunches for my Brady Bunches,Then read Danielle Steele…”—Nellie McKayMy home has been transformed from a happy bungalow to a menacing Palace of Pathogens. One of the three of us has been sick, sick, sick since Dec. 17 at 7:02 a.m.—not that I'm keeping track—and it might not be a bad idea to have the property tented, with the three of us quarantined inside.
Living in a tenuous state of perpetual exhaustion, impatience and ill health has been yet another test of marital endurance. Tonight, Sam and I stood in the kitchen, each ingesting two squirts per nostril of our own individually marked bottles of Flonase. The scene was not even a distant relative to sexy, especially since our next-door neighbor was present for the ritual (we have no pride), helpfully pointing out after the fact that we'd administered our medicine improperly.
Standing there holding my little brown bottle of nasty, secure in my knowledge that we still have rigid bathroom boundaries when all others break apart, I understood that a soul connection—a relationship quality that figures far less prominently than it used to—serves as our touchstone, making hard times surmountable. It is this essential foundation that makes me wonder why anyone would ever advocate that single women in their 30s settle for anything less.
But that's what Lori Gottlieb is doing in “Marry Him!” published last week in The Atlantic Monthly. A 40-year-old “empowered” woman and single mother by choice, the author lays out her reasoning for why women should stop holding out for Mr. Right and start settling for “Mr. Good Enough.” Gottlieb is eloquent, so I feel extra bad when I have to gong her.
The thrust of her piece is whether it's better to be single than it is to settle for less than ideal. To that I shout: Hell yes, ladies! The loneliest alone is feeling alone when you're paired. And trust me, I've been there. But Gottlieb shouts: “Settle! That's right. Don't worry about passion or intense connection…. 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.”
Her sad argument wrongly assumes that all women want marriage and a white picket fence and $800 Bugaboo strollers. Eventually, without “intense connection” to sustain it, a neglected heart will overflow with resentment for decaying teeth or an unbending choice of golf shirts tucked into pleated pants paired with Crocs.
It's desperate and not in any way self-actualized to choose a mate because He likes babies an awful lot! or He could provide a house with vaulted ceilings! or Jeeze, I can prolly deal with laying down with him forever even though his scent repulses me! The thing is, forever is a blip when you're content and an eternity when you're trapped, and even the best marriage will run the gamut.
Gottlieb accuses the unmarried 30-something of being a liar if her brow's not furrowed over her marital prospects.
“Take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you're not worried,” she cajoles. “Because you'll see how silly your face looks when you're being disingenuous.” I'm thinking Gottlieb sees a lonely woman in the mirror who dispenses disingenuous advice based on projections of her own have-and-eat-your-cake silliness.
The author's stance represents a change of heart since publication in 2005 of another article. Extolling a now reversed “somebody isn't always better than nobody” M.O., she chronicles her journey toward a sperm donor while simultaneously extracting herself from a long-term relationship because it lacked “a core connection.” At the time, she opted not to settle for the boyfriend she'd handpicked from an online profile and, instead, opted to handpick the father of her child from an online profile.
She left Mr. Hand Selected despite advice from a friend, “a feminist-studies professor with two degrees from Stanford.” Proving that even multiple prestigious degrees don't make you smart, this friend counseled Gottlieb to marry the guy and make babies while her eggs were still ripe. “You can always get divorced,” she said. “Maybe you'll marry someone you're in love with later.”
I would never suggest such absurdity to any of my single girlfriends! It's one thing to get married, have things go sour and end in divorce: She gets the 1,200 thread count sheets and many overstuffed pillows, he keeps all the vinyl and they hash-out doggie visitation rights. But to drag a child to the epicenter of that nightmare with a flippant Do-over! attitude is self-absorption to a obscene degree, forgetting altogether that the seemingly irrelevant child will learn how to be in a relationship based on his parents' model. Who are these women, anyway?
“We want a man to hold the door open for us at a restaurant, and society to hold the door open for us to have a child while we search for the door-opening man.” This is what our pre-settling author wrote of herself and single mothers like her. They want it all, and the fact of the matter is that, like happily ever after, there is no such thing.
Marriage is hard. Like—really hard. It's hard in a way that people entering into it cannot possibly fathom at the time of let-no-man-tear-asunder, whether in the throes of romantic love or a drunken trip to the Elvis Chapel. It's hard in a way that defies description to the uninitiated, much like the spoken virtues of parenting are lost on the childless.
It's hard enough to keep it together when the couple begins with love, adoration and connection as a base. The better-worse-sickness-health bidness? That's some seriously difficult shiznit in practice, and you better damn well like the person you're promising it to, s'all I'm sayin'.
It sounds to me like what Gottlieb really wants is a little help around the house, so she needs to empower her feminist ass, set an example for her son and carry on with what she started. She should handpick from online profiles a nanny, a housekeeper and a gardener to help with chores. And who knows? Maybe Mr. Right will still come along and one day, they, too, can snort steroids in their pajamas with the bond of “core connection” to keep it real.