Writing this blog got me thinking, so I decided to scatter some pictures of sexy, bald men throughout it. I hope the eye candy helps you get through this long critique of a self help dating book, and how it relates to my love life.
A couple of years ago a friend sent me an article from The Atlantic titled Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. I believe I blogged about it. Okay, apparently not. Well, there’s a link to the article, in any case.
Well, the author, Lori Gottlieb, got such a response she decided to extend the article into a whole book. I just finished reading it.
It came out at a very interesting time for me. I have been getting more and more serious with my boyfriend, Jeremy. I love him very much, and so does Elijah. If things keep going this well, I see it becoming permanent.
The book reminded me of our relationship a lot. The title is unfortunate, I mean, Mr. Good Enough? That sounds horrible! That is certainly not how I would describe Jeremy. But the title is misleading. What the book is really about is the need to let go of superficial ideas of a soul mate, and to start focusing on what is realistic, and what is really important.
Gottlieb describes our clinging to these superficial ideas as being picky, but in her case, and the case of some of the women in this book, I think a more accurate term is shallow. They had lists (very long, complicated lists) of traits that are musts in a man they are dating. These lists often included traits like “full head of hair”, “physically fit”, “must be at least 8 inches taller than me, but not more than ten inches taller than me”. Wow. I felt so superior to these women when I was reading this stuff. I wasn’t that shallow. I could see beyond physical imperfections, and some of those aren’t even that imperfect. I mean, full head of hair? Big deal! There are plenty of sexy bald men out there. One of my first crushes was on Billy Corgan. Obviously, a full head of hair isn’t an issue for me. And 8 inches taller than me? Ha! That dude would be a giant (oh, actually, that dude would be my father’s height). I’m happy if the guy is the same height as I am. I’ve even been known to date shorter guys in the past (although its not my favorite thing to do).
But there were other list items I could relate to, such as “must have a certain level of education”, “must enjoy outdoor activities” or “must love (insert thing you’re passionate about here) as much as I do”. Are these things
really important, when it comes to building a long term relationship or marriage together? Lots of women would argue that they are. That you can’t possibly spend years, perhaps decades, with someone that you don’t share interests with. For that matter, many women would argue that you can’t be with someone you don’t find attractive (there by justifying the shallow list items in the above paragraph).
I once dated a guy who made the same argument. He said that you can’t develop an attraction to someone if you don’t feel it from the first moment. I said I disagreed, not telling this guy, who was two inches shorter than me, over weight and had greasy, long hair that I found terribly unattractive, that my attraction to him had developed over time. In fact, when I first met him, I thought he was too ugly for me to consider dating, and surely he would see that I was out of his league (I was just home from my deployment and was in by far the best shape of my life, a full 50 lbs lighter than I am now, and with more muscle), but as we talked, I found we shared a lot of interests, and he was charming and intelligent and funny, so I was suddenly willing to over look how incredibly unattractive I found him. Eventually, that smart, hip, funny guy who shared my interest in indie rock and alternative lifestyles turned out to be a bum, a cheater, and just kind of weird. So maybe sharing interests isn’t a fail safe either.
Jeremy and I do not share a ton of interests. He and I have very different music taste, for example. There was a time in my life when I would have never dated anyone who said their favorite band was Metallica. Sadly,
musical taste was one of the items on my list of traits I put the most value on. I figured a man who shared my taste in music and the arts would share my sense of style (is that even important?) and my view point on the world. Then, when I was pregnant with Elijah, I looked back on all those artsy, indie boys I dated and I wanted to laugh at what jokes they were. Clearly, musical taste spoke very little of what kind of person someone would be.
So are shared interests important? Is it important that I can go on hikes with my boyfriend/husband? Is it important that I go to concerts with him? Is it important that we vote the same way?
Or is it more important that we both want the same types of things in the future, like children and a certain lifestyle. Is it more important that the two of you respect each other and are comfortable around each other? Is it more important that you share values (like, neither of you are racist – or, I suppose if you are racist, you will want to find a spouse who also is)? Is it more important that the guy be trustworthy and always there for you?
Most women would say, “Why can’t I have both? Why can’t I have a man who shares my values and likes the same music as I do? Why can’t I have a man who wants children and likes to go hiking with me? Why can’t I have a man with whom I feel comfortable and he’s in great physical shape?” Well, maybe you can. But the
book makes a good point, what percentage of men do you think fits all those requirements? Ten percent? Five percent? One percent? The longer your list is, the smaller that percentage of guys will be. And what percentage of women do you think are looking for that perfect guy? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Eighty percent? How good do you think your odds are of bagging him?
In short, is this perfect man you’ve dreamed up in your league? You have imperfections too. Do you think Mr. Perfect is going to overlook your imperfections? Or do you think he’s going to be looking for someone as perfect as he is? We tend to think our imperfections are quirks which the perfect man will find endearing, but a perfect man likely isn’t going to be that forgiving. If I were holding out for an Eric Bana look alike who thinks my tendency to talk about bloody show and placentas while eating is endearing, I might be waiting an awful long time. If I start saying that dude has got to like indie music and hiking too, and I might have just described a dude who doesn’t exist.
At a certain point in the book, the author was given the instructions by a dating coach to make a new list of must have traits, and that it should be no longer than three traits long. She had to focus on what was really, really important. I don’t remember what her list was, but I can tell you what mine would be.
- Must love kids
- Must be self sufficient
- Must be kind and trustworthy
Honestly, I would like to add a fourth: Must be willing to accept my environmental lifestyle. If you count kind and trustworthy as givens (shouldn’t that be on everyone’s list?), then I guess I could put that on there.
That should be enough to get you a wonderful man. A three trait list. Its not telling you that you should marry the first man you find who has these three qualities, but these are the only traits that, if a man doesn’t possess these, you can rule him out for. Everything else, you have to give a chance to. Who knows what you’ll find? You might be surprised that there is a big difference between what you think you want, and what you’ll actually fall in love with.
I’m really glad that I was willing to see what was out there when I started dating again after having Elijah. I’m
really glad that I said, “You know what, I don’t want to limit myself. I’m willing to consider any guy who supports himself, is willing to accept my son, wants to have kids in the future, is cool with my environmental life style and is not a racist.” Seriously, that’s all I told the woman at the dating service I met Jeremy through. I told her that it would be nice if the guy was at least as tall as me, and it would be nice if he was within ten years of my age, but those were not the most important things. I’m really glad I didn’t judge the guys I met on the same standards that I did before I got pregnant, because you know what? Jeremy doesn’t listen to indie music. He doesn’t appreciate the banjo as much as I do, and he’d probably think Conor Oberst was a whiney jerk. Jeremy is never going to go to a 1Sky protest of his own free will, and he’s never going to write congressmen about political issues. He’s never going to be the most intellectual or witty guy at a party, he’s never going to kick anyone’s ass in a mosh pit, and he’s probably not ever going to be interested in doing a Peace Corps mission.
But he is always going to be one of the kindest and most respectful people at a party. He’s always going to be wonderful to Elijah. He’s always going to be open minded, curious about and considerate of my passions and hobbies, even if he’s not as into them as I am. He’s always going to be incredibly responsible, stable and trustworthy. He’s always going to make me laugh, and we’re always going to laugh at the same kinds of things. I’m always going to feel comfortable around him, not like I always have to be “on”. He wants the same things in the future as I do, children, a house with a good sized yard. He even appreciates my love for homesteading, and is totally cool with the idea of chickens, he even said he thought a goat might be cool! He’s always going to have a nice family who I feel comfortable with. And even if his hobbies aren’t exactly the same as mine, I think they mesh well with mine and I like his hobbies. He’s handy, I’m crafty. I think that’s a good combination, don’t you?
I don’t need him to come hiking with me, just like he doesn’t need me to play golf with him. We both have friends outside of each other, and I happen to think that’s important for maintaining a healthy relationship. You have to maintain your own identity. Marriage is not about absorbing yourself into another person, or counting on that other person to provide for your every emotional need. Marriage is about working as a team.
So what if he’s not artsy? He’s creative in a much more meaningful and practical way, and you know what, now that I’ve had both, I think I like Jeremy’s form of creativity better. Would you rather be with a guy who can paint a pretty still life, or build shelves? I’m going with the shelf building, thank you very much. But I didn’t know this would be what I would fall in love with before I met him. I’m really glad I didn’t let my old stereotype of what my soul mate would look like color my dating perspective.
He and I almost didn’t get together. After two dates I stopped returning his phone calls. I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic. I mean, he was nice, there was nothing wrong with him, but it took so much energy to date, and I just couldn’t muster the motivation to do it if I wasn’t super excited. This is another issue the book addresses, the myth of instant chemistry. A lot of women think that they should feel some sort of overwhelming emotion when they first meet a guy with potential. I don’t think that feeling of butterflies or whatever you want to call it is necessarily a good sign. Right before I met Jeremy, I went through an experience with another guy with whom I had great instant chemistry. I mean wow, I was infatuated right away, after only one date. He seemed just as enthusiastic for about a week after that date. Then he cancelled the next date and slowly stopped contacting me. In the mean time, I went on my dates with Jeremy.
When I was ignoring Jeremy, he kept calling and calling. Eventually it got me thinking, “Gee, this guy must
have really liked me.” I started wondering if it made sense to still be feeling bad about that guy who gave me instant butterflies, when I had another perfectly nice guy who seemed to be really interested. Finally, I sheepishly texted Jeremy asking him to forgive me for being so rude, and saying that I’d really like to see him again. The minute I saw him, I was so glad I swallowed my pride and contacted him again. Every time I think about how stupid I almost was, I feel a little sick. (Incidentally, that other guy started contacting me again right after I got to the point with Jeremy where I changed my Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship”. He said that he was so sorry he might have missed his opportunity with me, and asked me to give him another chance. I told him I’d keep him in mind if things didn’t work out between me and Jeremy. I hope he’s not still waiting.)
Chemistry can be misleading. I don’t know what makes it go off, but its not traits that are going to lead you into a healthy and happy relationship. I had great chemistry with my son’s biological father right away. We all know how that turned out. I’m not saying you can’t have chemistry with someone good, I’m just saying that their good traits probably aren’t what’s causing the chemistry. Also, I’m not saying that if you don’t have butterflies in the beginning, you won’t ever. I may not have had “butterflies” when I first met Jeremy, but I certainly have them now.
When I first met Jeremy, I thought he seemed very nice. There were things he said and did that impressed me,
there were things he said and did that just seemed … well … meh. Nothing about him seemed bad. And he was cute. He wasn’t Eric Bana, but he was cute. If you go on a date where this is sort of your first impression, go on another date! Go on a few more dates! People are nervous the first date. If they didn’t make a grand first impression, that doesn’t mean they’re not a wonderful, awesome person. In fact, it probably means that they’re less likely to be the kind of snake who will be able to charm you in order to take advantage of you. Awkward guys should get bonus points, they’re more trustworthy.
Gottleib hopes that young women will read this book and learn these lessons before she did, because the older you get, the harder it becomes to find someone who is “good enough”. In her article and in her book, Gottleib says that what you can settle for when you’re 25 is better than what you can settle for when you’re 35, which is better than what you can settle for when you’re 45. We live in a world where men easily and often date younger women. When you’re in your twenties, statistically, you’ve got the best odds of landing a good man, because you’ve got a larger pool of men to work in, and less competition from women. When you’re in your twenties, you can pretty much date men in their twenties and their thirties. You don’t have competition from women younger than you (because its illegal for men to date them) and you don’t have much competition from women older than you, because men generally prefer younger women. When you’re 30, you have your choice of men in their 30’s and 40’s, but you have competition from not only other women in their 30’s, but also women in their 20’s. When you’re in your 40’s, your choices for men go to men in their 40’s and 50’s, and your competition is women in their 40’s, 30’s, and maybe even some women in their 20’s! Your stats look better when you’re younger.
Furthermore, the older you get, the fewer good men there are in your age range. Good men tend to get married
younger. When you’re in your 40’s and your looking at what kind of men are still available, you find that many of them are still available for very good reasons. At that point in your life, you’re picking through a lot of men everyone else rejected to get to the few good ones out there. Men tend to be alone because they’ve been rejected by too many women or because they have no interest in committing. Women tend to be alone because they reject too many men or waste time on men who have no interest in committing.
I have friends who I’d like to give this book to, if I didn’t think it would offend them. It would be hard for most
of them to get past the title, which is horrible and misleading (although I know it was chosen to get a reaction, in the hopes that reaction will make people curious enough to read it, like the book Skinny Bitch is not really about weight loss, it’s about animal rights). I think what’s most important about this book is getting a realistic view of what love is. Too many of us expect what we see in movies, that love is supposed to be this 24-7 romantic comedy. It doesn’t work like that in real life, and God, imagine how exhausting it would be if it did. I like that I can wear my hair in a ponytail around Jeremy. I like that I can change a poopy diaper in front of him. I like that I’m comfortable with him and his family and that he is comfortable with me and mine. I like that I don’t always have to feel “on”. I’m not infatuated. I just love him. Its simple, and it sounds mundane, but its nice and relaxing and stress free. Like putting on your jammies at the end of a long, hard day.
That’s real romance. That’s the real Mr. Perfect.