May 1, 2008
When it comes to dating, even Tobey Maguire is interested in the concept of settling.
Now, I have no idea about Spidey's love life -- last I heard he was with Lois Lane, wait, no, that's Superman, not Spider-Man, and this just in -- the real Maguire is married and expecting his second child.
But I don't want to talk about his personal life, I want to talk about his professional one.
Maguire has just signed on to develop a feature film from essayist and occasional Jewish Journal columnist Lori Gottlieb's "Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough."
In a 5,500-word piece published in March in the Atlantic Monthly, Gottlieb, a 40-year-old single mother who chose to have a baby on her own asked a poignant question: "Is it better to be alone, or to settle?"
I'm not giving anything away by saying that Gottlieb quickly answers her own question:
"My advice is this: Settle! That's right. Don't worry about passion or intense connection. Don't nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling 'Bravo!' in movie theaters. 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. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year."
Gottlieb's stance caused quite a brouhaha on the blogosphere (read: rantosphere), where people called her everything from "immature" to "desperate" to "tragic" to "crazy," labeling her a narcissist, anti-feminist, crackpot journalist. She has also been told "she needs a shrink, pronto."
Gottlieb tells me she was a bit taken aback by the harsh reaction, but said that in addition to the 700 letters of support she also received, a number of rabbis have used her piece in their sermons. (She even spoke last month at Sinai Temple.)
I'm not surprised by the rabbis' support. Gottlieb's message is something I've heard many, many times before. Since the beginning of my illustrious dating career at age 19 (for marriage purposes!), rabbis, educators, teachers and other religious married people have been telling me the same thing: Find someone with shared values, someone you respect, someone you can build a life with. A good husband, a good father, a good partner.
Nothing new here.
In traditional Jewish communities, the notion of "Hollywood Love," of "Love at First Sight," of a "Love of Everlasting Passion," has long been viewed as a myth. The problem in those communities is not whether or not to believe Hollywood love myth, it's whether to believe love and attraction should play any part at all in the choice of a mate.
That was the message I got, anyway.
When I was in my early 20s, I went to dozens of weddings (to this day, the words "bridal shower" make me break out in hives). The ceremonies were solemn and the parties leibadik (festive), and the "salmon-chicken-or-prime rib" menus were delectable, if indiscernible, but to me it seemed like something essential was lacking: love. Back then, in my world, it seemed people settled too easily. They married -- young -- to have a partner, to not be alone, to fit into the community, to have kids, to be part of what Gottlieb calls "a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane and often boring nonprofit business."
If one could chart my own "why isn't she married?" trajectory (and believe me, there are many who do) it might be the result of this kind of advice: I've seen too many loveless marriages hastily entered into for anything but love.
Now, of course, Gottlieb isn't advocating marrying a man who repulses you or puts you to sleep every time he answers the question, "How was your day, dear?"
But it would seem that once you enter the slippery slope of settling, it would be hard to know when to stop. What exactly is the right thing to compromise on? If he is a nice guy, but he goes on and on at dinner parties until you hope someone will drop a plate of hot soup on his lap, is that settling?
See, the other side of the "too picky" see-saw is the "not selective enough" category. Most (married) people who watch their friends/children/congregants date are not familiar with this second category until it's too late. For example, if a single person regales a married person about her date, saying, "he made me pick up the tab and then just hopped in a cab home!" the married friend will reply, "Well, maybe he's just low on cash this week and got an emergency call, and you should really give him another chance."
No, the message to Jewish singles is and always has been Gottlieb's message: Why can't you all just settle down?
Now that I'm in my 30s, I wonder if there is something in between musical chairs (grabbing the last man standing) and "The Notebook" (holding out for perfection).
And I suppose that is the beauty of a different kind of Judaism, one that mingles with the mainstream world -- even Hollywood, believe it or not. Yes, there should be sparks and chemistry and love and happiness and laughter -- together with shared values, common goals and mutual interests.
Because if I've learned anything from 15 years (!!!) of dating, it's that whether you run into a marriage with someone you don't love, or you hold out for a hero who never comes, either way, you'll end up all alone.