Several years ago I was at a weekend church retreat for 20something singles up in the Big Bear area. One of the church's pastors gave a talk that I've long forgotten the details of, but not the larger point: He encouraged the women in the group "not to settle" when it came to choosing a life mate.
I'm sure there was a heck of a lot more nuance to the presentation, but that admonition was what struck me then and sticks with me now. In fact, I walked up to the pastor afterwards and chided him for making life more difficult for at least half of the guys in the room -- including me.
For the vast majority of men -- in that room and in the wider world -- we are no woman's idea of a knight in shining armor. If she even hopes for one minute that all of the romantic comedies in the theaters and the sitcoms on TV hold the slightest glimmer of truth, then she's eventually going to have to settle.
Which brings us to this article by Lori Gottleib entitled, appropriately: "Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough." (There's a separate Q&A on the article here for those who are interested.)
What they understood is this: as your priorities change from romance to family, the so-called “deal breakers” change. Some guys aren’t worldly, but they’d make great dads. Or you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is 5'4" and has an unfortunate nose, but he “gets” you. My long-married friend Renée offered this dating advice to me in an e-mail:
I would say even if he’s not the love of your life, make sure he’s someone you respect intellectually, makes you laugh, appreciates you … I bet there are plenty of these men in the older, overweight, and bald category (which they all eventually become anyway).
She wasn’t joking.
A number of my single women friends admit (in hushed voices and after I swear I won’t use their real names here) that they’d readily settle now but wouldn’t have 10 years ago. They believe that part of the problem is that we grew up idealizing marriage—and that if we’d had a more realistic understanding of its cold, hard benefits, we might have done things differently. Instead, we grew up thinking that marriage meant feeling some kind of divine spark, and so we walked away from uninspiring relationships that might have made us happy in the context of a family.
All marriages, of course, involve compromise, but where’s the cutoff? Where’s the line between compromising and settling, and at what age does that line seem to fade away? Choosing to spend your life with a guy who doesn’t delight in the small things in life might be considered settling at 30, but not at 35. By 40, if you get a cold shiver down your spine at the thought of embracing a certain guy, but you enjoy his company more than anyone else’s, is that settling or making an adult compromise?
I encourage you to read the entire article. While the subject as a whole is a downer, I take a little solace in the fact that -- and I think Gottleib is right about this -- my prospects get better with each passing year. (That, of course, assumes that my work schedule would change to accomodate a social life.)