The Sound of Settling

In The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb says to give up the search for the mythical Mr. Man of Your Dreams and settle for Mr. Good Enough:

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.

Gottlieb — a successful single — didn’t settle and regrets it. Marriage really isn’t deeply romantic, she says. Seek a “stable, reliable life companion” instead of a soulmate. Be practical when you’re young and pretty, “when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger —as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods. ”

Oddly, this is what people said when women had no options but marriage, although then women married for financial security and today they marry for emotional security. And of course, it’s what Boundless always said, too.

I never trusted the Christians who said the same thing, though, because I always knew they saw my career as a way to mark precious time on the road to fulfilling a woman’s true calling, while I see my writing as one of my callings.

But this woman — with her successful career and softened feminism — I sort of half-way trust. Maybe it’s my stage in life or my mood this week, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I feel a strange and secret sense of relief at the thought that soulmates don’t exist.

Is this right, or should I hold on to the dream? Or does it not matter because, as Gottlieb suggests, whether I settle or not, I’m screwed?

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~ by stultiloquence on February 18, 2008.

12 Responses to “The Sound of Settling”

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Randy Nichols.

  2. This is exactly why Darcy must die. “Soul Mate”-ism, thankfully, seems to be on the way out (I hope). A return to sanity or a move to cynicism, I don’t know.

    While he’s a complementarian, you might appreciate what Voddie Baucham has to say about the pagan myth of love as this overwhelming force that pierces your heart via a cherub’s arrow. Love is actually restored to something even a philosopher can respect and acknowledge (without going over to the dark side).

  3. Voddie Baucham sounds interesting. I’m so wary of complementarians though.

  4. […] Personal Dating Advice wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt In The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb says to give up the search for the mythical Mr. Man of Your Dreams and settle for Mr. Good Enough: 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. Gottlieb — a successful single — didn’t settle and regre […]

  5. There are different definitions of soulmate, but anyone who says they don’t exist is being a little silly. I think most people have more than one “soulmate,” though I could be wrong. I never thought I would find one, since I feel so estranged from humanity, but I’ve found one just the same. The problem, then, I think, is not finding a soulmate, but finding one that you should marry. That may be impossible, with “dream” standards. In my case, for example, I will probably marry a non-soulmate or not marry at all.

    You see my point though? If I can find a soulmate, it should be easier, I would think, for you. You can hold out for a soulmate that you want to marry, but you may never find him – or you might.

  6. haha … “you can hold out for a soulmate that you want to marry, but you may never find him – or you might.” you’re really decisive about this!

  7. Always thought-provoking. Here I go.

    This whole soulmate business is ridiculous. If you say there’s more than one out there, than isn’t the whole concept meaningless? And if there’s JUST ONE, well, you better not screw up! Personally I find most married couples’ stories to be so bizarrely random and arbitrary that, save the Sovereignty of God Almighty, no one can “find” their “soulmate.” You should find someone you love, someone who is exciting, someone to live and die with, raise a family, share adventure, etc. But to believe that a “perfect” mate exists is to deny reality, not to mention Scripture.

    I’m in a Shakespeare course right now. We talked about how the marriage at the beginning of Othello mirrors the marriages at the *ends* of many of Shakespeare’s plays. That is, this seems like “Act VI” on some other play. I wonder how many chick-flick endings have a disastrous “Act VI” waiting in the wings….

    Settle is a scary word, and I don’t like the idea of lowering standards. Yet, overall, I agree. If you’re looking for perfect, then you better get a habit and a ring and marry Jesus. The fact is that, young or old, everyone is “damaged goods.” We’re all screwed up, and we all have our massive blind spots, weaknesses, and sin. That doesn’t mean marry any schmuck, alcoholic, pagan, whatever. But it does mean that these Christian girl checklists, these God-forsaken chick-flick expectations… simply won’t happen. Seek someone who loves God humbly and boldly, who strives to know Christ more and who takes joy in the struggle. And you need some similar interests and passions, and you can’t disagree on some things — like your “callings.” But, as my Dad constantly told me when I whined as a kid, “major on the majors and minor on the minors.” Accept that he won’t be exactly to your specifications, and realize that he’s going to be a disappointment at some point and in some way.

    Everyone will disappoint you at some time or another. Becoming acquainted with a dear friend or family member’s sin is an awful, awful experience. That shock — the jarring of expectations and the abysmal, shameful fall from grace — destroys friendships, rips apart families, devours marriages. The shock is all the greater for those who go in expecting no such thing.

    See, we’re told and we know that marriage is “hard.” We do expect hard work. But it seems to me that we expect a constant, side-by-side mutual labor — the kind that’s hard but that you tackle together grimly working arm-in-arm. I think we “otherize” the difficulty; like the “hard” part is some outside, external force pushing into your relationship. It isn’t. The hard is you, and him (or, for Jacob and myself, her). Marriage is hard because people are disappointing, and disappointment feels like betrayal. It’s hard because you’re a flawed person, and he’s going to be a flawed person. The struggle is not external; it’s personal and interpersonal. As despair.com says, “The only consistent factor in all of your disappointing relationships is you.” Unfortunately, that’s terribly close to home.

    So I suppose this response has come off as an unromantic entirely-too-cynical exposé. I don’t want it to be. Relationships are amazing. People are amazing, bizarre, funny, inspiring, and exciting image-bearers. I will say this: the new depth that comes to a relationship after forgiveness and healing is a wonderful thing, a palpable type of the grace of God. There is nothing more relieving and joyous than when another has learned of your sin and forgiven it, because only then can the walls come down. If somebody knows your own failing — your pathetic, stained imperfection — and still cares about you, still loves you all the same… that’s peace. Terror is trying desperately to hold up the world’s standards of the perfect relationship, trying to be “that guy” or “that girl” in “that relationship,” the one everyone loves because “they’re so cute” and “they’re so right for each other.” That’s horror, because you know it’s a fraud, the other person knows it’s a fraud, but each is terrified that if he or she is exposed, it will be the end.

    It’s not. It’s the beginning.

  8. I’m a little more decisive about it than I sound like I am. What I’ve decided is that finding a soulmate is not certain, or even likely for some people, but it can very certainly happen. Finding someone who is at least almost a soulmate is likely, I think. However, marriage is not something everyone needs, even if one feels a “need” for that kind of relationship. Also, sometimes two soulmates should not marry each other, because being soulmates is not all there is to it.

    So, it’s a matter of waiting for something that *works* well. It’s not about perfection or about settling. Don’t take some pretty good guy that you don’t feel right with, but don’t move past a guy who seems almost right just because he’s not exactly what you’d dreamed of.

  9. Mark – I received some complaints that your post was too long so I wanted you to know that I read through it and thought it was generally sensible. I think we all pretty much agree — have reasonable expectations — but I’m not sure we (especially girls, maybe) live it out. Writing out the “Christian girl checklist” always seemed stupid to me, but I’m not sure that I don’t have one floating around in my head — some vague and shadowy impression of a guy who’s a cross between Hugh Grant, Jesus, and a male model. Not that I or any of us deserve a guy like that. It’s all pride.

  10. Pride, yeah.

    That’s so hard of a thing to come to a conclusion on, for me. Should we ask “What kind of a person is best for me?” or should we ask “What kind of a person is good enough for someone like me?” There are certain things we’ve learned to expect and require. The contextually equivocal, agreeable, and meaningless question, of course, is “Who does God want for me?” Turning down the opportunity for something close to what _I_ want feels shamefully prideful, even when it feels like the right thing to do.

  11. Maybe Mark could just start his own blog to respond to your blog. I would probably read it.

  12. Well, if you click on my name, you’ll go to my blog, which is largely boring and lacking in wit. And sometimes my responses to this blog end up adapted as posts.

    I do not apologize for the length. It is a bit ridiculous for a blog comment, true… but if someone’s attention span is too brief, then scrolling down for half-a-second past the reply ought to be short enough.

    I don’t know what I think about being generally sensible. Aren’t the generally sensible fellows the one’s in chick flicks who get left at the altar or brushed aside with a phone by the heroine as she gloriously opts for the sizzling-hot hero?

    I should also clarify that the fellow or lady should not be boring or uninspiring. That is, expect to be disappointed, but not entirely bored, for God’s sake. The raging torrent of passion is probably unnecessary, and very likely to lead to disappointment and disillusionment… but a piddling stagnation of dullness? I certainly hope not.

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