Q: I’m 26, and I’ve been looking at my stepsister’s dating life with a measure of worry. She’s 36, and wants children, but still hasn’t
found “the one.” She’s gone from being ultrapicky to swearing she’ll just marry the next guy who doesn’t pick his nose at the dinner table. Wow. Is that what it comes down to for women — eventually having to give up and settle for a guy you’re less than on fire for? It horrifies me to think of being her at some point.
— A Decade To Go
A: Women in their 20s are quick to rule a man out for deep character flaws like wearing Dockers, not knowing that you’re supposed to hate Nickelback, and buying vegetables grown by multinational conglomerates instead of two aging hippies. Some women in their 30s, especially those who wake up with baby rabies at 35, continue to maintain high standards: demanding that a man be straight, single, and paroled. Ideally, that is. At 39, they’ll pretty much consider anything with a paycheck and human sperm.
The need to scale back from Prince Charming to Prince No Recent Felony Convictions starts with The List — the long list of demands no mortal man could ever meet. But, the problem isn’t being uber-picky, but remaining uber-picky. Many women in their early-to-mid 20s only think they’re ready for a relationship, so they sabotage every potential one that comes their way. Eventually, they get ready, and then ditch those tiny calipers they’ve been using to determine whether a guy’s nostrils flare at the proper angle. Other women need some hard lessons in what to be picky about. Sometimes, it takes a stint with Paul The Pot Cloud or the cruel Adonis to appreciate the nice guy who calls when he says he will and loves to surprise you, and not by letting you catch him in bed with your two best girlfriends.
Most women seem to get their priorities in order well before they come up against the “enjoy by” date on their eggs. But, as Jessica Grose quipped on Slate, “…Nobody ever went broke underestimating the anxiety women feel about getting married.” Grose is referring to the bestselling “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” by Lori Gottlieb. Gottlieb, most charmingly, finds being single at 40 akin to being in a drunkdriving accident and left comatose and braindead. Personally, I find there’s nothing lonelier than feeling completely alone while in a relationship with somebody else.
Of course, that’s easier to say if you don’t want kids. Gottlieb’s advice to women who do? “Settle!” Forget looking for love, passion, or intense connection (aka “zing”); look to set up “infrastructure” for a family, and quick-quick, find a dependable guy with a nice fat salary to be your tool. (Oh, the paycheckstasy!)
Obviously, a 30-year-old woman who wants to have children before her ovaries start laughing at her can’t be as picky as she was at 22, and Gottlieb wisely notes that the search for a husband should be “about finding someone who is enough, as opposed to someone who is everything.” But, both her book and her 2008 valentine to “settling” in The Atlantic are filled with advice like “Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics.” Okay, you can be the one who decorates, but how do you spend your life with a guy when kissing him reminds you of licking a dumpster? (Hmmm, maybe Gottlieb is counting on how marriage is often a cure for sex.)
“Zing” isn’t everything, but you’ll probably have a pretty grim time staying married without it (especially if you have to stick it out for all those years from delivery room to dorm room). Sure, zing fades — you’re probably not going to light up like you did on the first date the 30,000th time he walks into the living room — but having a base of love, attraction, affection and connection is what helps you not hate him when he’s being so annoying it makes your fillings hurt. (Unfortunately, you can’t just look deep into his retirement account and appreciate how obedient he is at household tasks.)
Beyond all the love stuff, you shouldn’t get together with any man you don’t respect and admire; meaning you need to have the hots for a man not just physically but as a human being. If you want kids, do your best to make that happen, but accept that it might not, and develop yourself, your friendships and your life. If you feel complete without a man, men are more likely to feel incomplete without you. You, in turn, might not have to force yourself into that Gottlieb-style bliss of going from demanding that a guy have hair to demanding that a guy have a head.
© 2010 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.