Essayist and novelist Lori Gottlieb, who has written a great deal about her own life, including her choice to become a single mom, has a new book out with some tart advice for picky single women: “Settle!” She talked with The Journal about the importance of shared values, why falling in love doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthy marriage and why she blames feminism for messing up her love life.
Jewish Journal: Your book “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” makes the argument that women who want to get married and have children should give up their search for Mr. Right and settle.
Lori Gottlieb: I’m not asking women to stop looking for Mr. Right. I’m asking them to change their perception of who Mr. Right is. Women have to understand that what is actually going to make them happy in a marital relationship is very different than what will make them happy in a dating relationship.
JJ: Describe what you mean by settling.
LG: Settling is what our culture defines as getting less than everything we want. We think that settling is compromising our soul. But what most people consider settling is actually like the catch — the ‘8.’ I would never tell anybody to marry the loser schlub — that’s truly settling.
JJ: Are you saying that women should lower their expectations and look for a good partner rather than their romantic ideal?
LG: I don’t think they should lower their expectations at all. I think they need to look for qualities that are important — like shared values, kindness, responsibility — character things.
JJ: Choosing a partner based on values and not instant chemistry makes a pretty convincing case for arranged marriage, don’t you think?
LG: The lesson we can learn from arranged marriage is that the important things have to be there; whereas in our culture we think ‘We’re so in love, so of course we’re going to agree on how we raise the kids and run the household.’
JJ: Your 2008 essay in The Atlantic, which inspired the book, suggested that women shouldn’t worry about passion or intense connection. That doesn’t make relationships sound very appealing on a romantic level.
LG: True love develops over time. You may not have those butterflies on the first or second date. And a lot of us, if we don’t have it right then and there, give up. You do have to have passion and excitement at a certain point, but you have to give somebody a chance. People aren’t getting divorced because they settled; the divorce rate is high because people are marrying in this high state of chemistry and realize 10, 15 years later that they’re not compatible.
JJ: Why do you think people have reacted so vehemently to your message?
LG: I think it makes people really uncomfortable to hear a highly educated, very sophisticated woman saying, ‘You know, I’m really, really sad that I’m not married.’
JJ: You’ve compared marriage to a ‘boring nonprofit business.’ Why would anybody want that?
LG: It’s not that marriage is so boring, it’s that life is not this constant high of thrills and pixie dust. Marriage is about finding somebody that you want to go through life with — it’s not just about going Rollerblading together and we read the same books and we like ‘This American Life.’
JJ: Was your parents’ marriage a model for you?
LG: My parents have been married for 45 years, maybe more. It’s hard to compare our parents’ marriages [to the ones we’re looking for] because gender roles were so different then. Theirs is a traditional, ’50s kind of marriage, and women today are looking for a more egalitarian marriage when it comes to gender roles.
JJ: You’ve openly blamed feminism for the fact that women have impossible standards and a you-can-have-it-all sense of entitlement when it comes to finding a partner.
LG: Feminism as a social movement is a great thing, but feminism never wrote a dating manual. It never said this you-can-have-it-all thing can apply to your partner. A lot of us got tripped up by misapplying some of the empowerment of feminism into the realm of dating.
JJ: Some people have called your position antifeminist — and even ageist — for suggesting that single women over 35 are basically doomed, because, either there aren’t enough single men to go around, men that age prefer younger women or the older available men come with loads of unpleasant baggage.
LG: There is a reverse power curve. And women can be in denial and pretend the world doesn’t work that way, but we can’t change certain fundamental things about the way men and women are attracted to each other. I always found it unbelievably offensive that men had this thing about dating younger women, but if I could date men who were younger and had less baggage and were more appealing in that way, I totally would. It’s not so much that men are superficial and want women under 35 because they’re more attractive; the real issue for men is that they want biological families.
JJ: You do get that there’s a part of this that’s really scary and depressing for women of a certain age?
LG: Oh yeah! Oh, believe me, I get that. In the first third of the book I’m really getting hopeless about the whole situation. But what I came to realize was that as scary as it might seem, I’d rather look at the data so that I can make more informed choices.
JJ: Wouldn’t a man be offended to know you’ve settled for him? Wouldn’t he rather be the man of your dreams?
LG: Mr. Good Enough is the man of my dreams.
Lori Gottlieb will appear Feb. 9 with Rabbi David Wolpe and Sandra Tsing Loh at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. 7:30 p.m. $20. 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. writersblocpresents.com. She will also appear Feb. 10, 7 p.m. at Borders, 1360 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles.