I recently read Lori Gottlieb’s book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Because of the title, the book has been criticized for telling women to take whomever will have them just so they can be married. Having now read the book, I can definitely say that this isn’t what the book advocates. Rather, it reads like a cautionary tale not to let excessive pickiness keep you from getting married, or, as Gottlieb points out in the book, if you let an 8 go in hopes of snagging a 10, you’ll most likely end up with only 5s as your options.
In a way the book had a dual personality. On the one hand, it was a sort of quasi-memoir where Gottlieb portrayed herself as a delusional elitist who couldn’t accept that as a 41-year-old single mother (by choice through artificial insemination), her dating prospects, especially in L.A., were rather limited and that her options from professional matchmakers and dating websites generally were balding divorced men. On the other hand, it was like Gottlieb stepped outside of herself to offer an objective voice about her situation. I would like to believe that Gottlieb actually, genuinely learned from the experiences chronicled in the book, but she IS still unmarried, so….I don’t know if that’s because she’s older, or because she fell back into the bad habit of wanting AMAZING CHEMISTRY!!11 from the get-go.
While reading the book, I found myself wanting to shake Gottlieb for being so unreasonably picky. She would discount men for the most insignificant reasons, like naming a movie she didn’t approve of as his favorite. She basically had it in her head that she could only relate to and be attracted to men who fit a very narrow profile (basically that of a fashionable, sophisticated, secular UMC Jewish SWPL with all the “right” tastes who still had his hair and wasn’t more than a few years from her in age). With her discounting men for the slightest of reasons, it was no wonder she had gone through life without ever marrying. Actually, what I found the most disheartening was not that she had dated a bunch of guys that were not marriage material – it was that some of them HAD been marriage material, but she dumped them for not fulfilling her ideals. It would have been one thing if she had only dated cads – but she didn’t.
As I grew frustrated with Gottlieb’s bullheadedness, I started thinking that modern Christian women have been taught to think like Gottlieb – to be what she calls “maximizers”: people who will only accept the absolute best. The fear of settling for a less-than-totally on fire for God man is implanted in Christian girls from at least junior high on, both in church and in Christian media. How many times have Christian girls been warned not to marry a man who doesn’t TOTALLY LOVE JESUS WITH ALL HIS HEART, with dark implications or outright warnings that life will be TERRIBLE otherwise? How many times have Christian girls been told that the man must be the Spiritual Leader, with the implication that if he’s not leading the charge to go to Sunday School and lead devotions and pray all the time, that he must be disqualified as a potential husband? Conversely, how often have Christian girls been told to give Christian men encouragement to grow in their faith and to have patience with them if they weren’t as “strong” in the faith as the women? The bar has been raised so high that hardly any Christian man can be marriage-worthy. (See: The Earl of Piety.) And it’s common enough that even my readership has experience with this.
It’s not that Christian singles don’t get married. Christian singles generally marry younger than the population at large, or at least the college-educated population at large. But it’s obvious that there is a significant percentage of Christian singles who are having trouble not just getting to the altar, but getting to a point where getting to the altar is even a consideration. The problem isn’t solely the fault of the women – but the church really needs to calm down with the ON FIRE FOR GOD GUY standard, and encourage women to consider men who are not so obviously on fire for God but still take God seriously. I don’t know if this would work, since it would require people giving up hope that they will be an exception to the rule, or at least giving up enough hope to act pragmatically, but it really seems that the church has screwed over young women by telling them to hold out for God’s best and making it seem like God’s best is some SUPER ON FIRE FOR GOD GUY when in actuality, God’s best might be a low-key guy who happens to believe in Jesus.
P.S. Gottlieb never instructs her readers to settle for a guy to whom she has zero physical attraction. She only asks them to expand their definition of what they find attractive so that they can end up with someone instead of no one.