old (2008), Uncategorized

if a single woman settles in a forest where there’s no one to hear her, does she still make a sound?

Our youth is fleeting
Old age is just around the bend
And I can’t wait to go gray

And I’ll sit and wonder
Of every love that could’ve been
If I’d only thought of something charming to say.
(Death Cab for Cutie, The Sound of Settling)

Lori Gottlieb’s latest article in Atlantic Monthly, Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough, is causing quite a stir on the hip mamas list today. And I don’t know why. Well, I do know why… but I can’t say that I entirely agree with their take.

The point of the other mamas — which I’m not at all belittling — is that they are evidence of what happens when you settle: years wasted on bad marriages, discontentment, feeling as though sex is rape every single time, longing for something better, and a zillion other “all signs point to no!” responses to, “Should I settle?”

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Gottlieb is saying we should resign ourselves to marrying people who are passionless, unattractive, irritating, or otherwise incompatible with our core selves, though I do understand how some of the things she says can be interpreted that way. But then you read the accompanying interview with her, and she utters a gem such as this, when asked what “settling” is:

Well, it’s different for different people. But you look at what you need and what you want. You may have certain needs, like having a child. And kindness from your spouse. And reliability and stability and safety. But beyond that, what do you desire? You desire passion. You desire shared interests. You desire a certain level of intimacy. If your needs are met but your desires aren’t, that may be how you can tell if you’re settling.

And I guess how I can see how that could be translated into Gottlieb saying that passion and shared interestes and intimacy aren’t important AT ALL… but, well, I don’t think that’s her point. Reading her entire article and the complete interview, I get the impression that what she’s trying to say is something like, It’s nice to have the fantasy that one person is going to be everything you’ve ever wanted and desired and will be so for, well, forever, but that’s just not realistic. Grow up, and focus on the big things you need, and see what happens.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that, in the past, I’ve been one of those people who has focused on excitement and passion and edginess and, well, a certain sense of danger. I’ve wanted my life to be like a Hollywood movie, or possibly even an E! True Hollywood Story, something more appropriate to a renegade lifestyle than anything resembling real life interactions with human beings. It’s only recently that I’ve realized — and worked to change — my tendency toward finding men who offer me passion and drama and that feeling of constantly being on the edge of my seat (not to mention violent kisses)… which is all fine and good, but all of those men have left something (actually, a LOT) to be desired when it came to all that kindness and reliability and stability and safety.

It’s possible someone out there exists who offers all that nice responsible grown-up stuff with excitement on the side, but I’m skeptical. Well, let me clarify. I’m skeptical that someone who offers that initial reaction of WOW! This guy rocks! or This guy is EXCITING! is going to be the same guy who gives me the things I need in order to be in a healthy relationship. I should know — I’ve been in dozens of those situations, and they all ended up the same way, again and again: with me feeling as though I deserved better but didn’t quite know how I ended up with the short end of the stick, yet again. But, and I am finding this to be 100% true, there are people out there who may not be our “type” or who aren’t the ones who initially knock our socks off who actually end up lighting a fire under us in ways we never expected or imagined.

What I suppose I’m trying to say is that “settling” means different things to different people, and I think what Gottlieb means is that we need to stop seeking out that exciting guy and start looking around for the guys who can meet our needs… and perhaps that excitement will come later, or we’ll realize it wasn’t what we really wanted after all, or a host of other things that are a lot better and more fulfilling than being alone. As for me… I’m satisfied, for now, figuring out that my “type” was just a mechanism by which I pushed people away because I was afraid of finding happiness in unexpected places. And, as it turns out, violent kisses are just as prevalent in nice-guy land as they were in the land of assholes. Who knew? Namaste.

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