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Settling for Mr. Good Enough isn’t enough

Maybe it’s the word.


A lot of my blogging friends like Dad’s House and Single Mom Seeking are Facebook fans of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” by
Lori Gottlieb, and I’ve been asked to fan it, too.

Feeling a little like Groucho Marx — I’d never join a club that would have me as a member
I never join or sign anything until I know what it’s about. I haven’t read the book yet, but I read Lori’s article in the Atlantic a few years ago, which lead to the book. And, Lori is right — women (or men) who go around with the fairy-tale idea that they’ll find a “perfect” partner are, well, living in a fairy tale — one that won’t end happily-ever-after.

I wish all single moms by choice (which she is) would read what she says about raising a baby by yourself while working and trying to find love. Most single moms by choice I know have teens now. They’re tired and stressed and still single. And they cry a lot.

If you think dating is hard as a single person, just try doing it with kids, especially if you’re a woman. More women are interested in being stepmommy to  someone else’s kids than men are, and I don’t blame the guys. The best thing choice moms have going for them over divorced moms is that at least there isn’t an ex to deal with!

I don’t disagree entirely with what Lori says:

“Look for the important qualities in a partner, and let go of the stuff that won’t matter five, 10 or 20 years down the line, when you’re more concerned about child care and contented companionship than you are about height or hairlines.”

That’s all well and good, with one problem (as most divorcees know all too well) — we never really know for sure what will happen five, 10 or 20 years down the line. It isn’t enough to find a “good enough” guy; it’s all the hard stuff of married life after that. Although a lot of marriages break up over the three As — affairs, abuse, addictions — a lot fall apart under the weight of quirks (the ones we find so endearing when we first meet) that cumulatively start to drive us crazy. And all of us have them, Adonises as well as nice guys.

Marrying Mr. Good Enough doesn’t guarantee happiness or companionship.

All settling for Mr. Good Enough gets you is a husband; it does not necessarily get you a long, happy marriage.

If we’re heading to divorce court anyway (as a good percentage of marriages do), why shouldn’t we at least start off having wild hanging-off-the-chandelier sex with a drop-dead gorgeous hunk? Or, marry someone for money, who’s going to shower us in diamonds and Louboutins and trips to Bora Bora and Paris? Those sorts of marriages might work out because at least each party knows exactly what he or she’s in it for.

Which is more than most of us can say.

It isn’t enough to “settle” with someone who has 50, 60, 70, 80 percent of what we’re looking for; it’s also the expectations we place on him once we walk down the aisle and say our I dos.

I married for love. Did I expect to be divorced in my 40s? Hell no! And, when I met Rob, I wasn’t even all that attracted to him. He wooed me and then I started to fall for him. So when he cheated on me X-number of years later, I thought: “WTF? I wasn’t even all that attracted to you in the first place; if anyone should have cheated, it should have been me!”

So I and many of my friends married our “good-enough guy,” the one Lori says she wants to be with this Valentine’s, and, here we are, divorced and not one of us remarried.

Sure, I know what she’s getting at — be realistic about what’s truly important. I agree, but how do we know that when we’re in our 20s or 30s? There’s no way to, even though I sure thought I did. As she admits, now that she’s older, she’s so much wiser. Well, doh. But if someone tried to tell her that back then, well … good luck.

“Ultimately, what most of us are looking for isn’t the guy who keeps us so intoxicatingly distracted that we’re tingling in anticipation of his every phone call. It’s the guy we feel completely comfortable with, the guy who “gets us,” hugs us at our parents’ funerals, laughs with us, reminds us to go to the doctor, fixes the toilet, has our backs and eventually sets his dentures on the counter next to ours.”

Right. And he still might have a midlife crisis and trade you in for a Corvette and a blonde.

So, if settling — not going for, as Gottleib says, “an Adonis with the humor of Jon Stewart and the bank account of Bill Gates” — doesn’t necessarily lead to happily-ever-after either, what does?

So glad you asked.

You need to find a guy with whom you can be open and honest and communicate well and genuinely like (and vice versa). And — this one’s a biggie — you have to be on the same page about having and raising kids.

Then work, work, work on the marriage. At least you’ll have a fighting chance.

Oh yeah; guys like that can just as easily be short, overweight and bald as they can be a beautiful mix of Stewart, Gates and Adonis.

  • Is Lori Gottlieb right about settling for Mr. (or Ms.) Good Enough?
  • Do you think marrying a good enough person makes the marriage more likely to last?

Photo © Steffbiene –

Bring on the comments

  1. Lagunatic says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes….and throw in some sexual compatibility for good measure – as in, we need men who walk softly and carry a big stick.
    .-= Lagunatic´s last blog ..Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit… =-.

  2. Kat Wilder says:

    Lagunatic — “A big stick” indeed! I like your thinking!

  3. dadshouse
    Twitter: dadshouseblog

    I’m partway through reading her book, and I am shocked by how women go about choosing men. Truly shocked. All the little crap that gets dissected and analyzed by women and their girl friends. I sort of knew all this from hearing my previous girlfriends talk. But to read it in print. Oy. Guys take a much simpler approach to picking a woman. We want someone kind, sexy, compassionate, and attractive. At least I do. And I don’t need guy friends telling me who is worthy of my time.

    As for this: If we’re heading to divorce court anyway (as a good percentage of marriages do), why shouldn’t we at least start off having wild hanging-off-the-chandelier sex with a drop-dead gorgeous hunk? Or, marry someone for money, who’s going to shower us in diamonds and Louboutins and trips to Bora Bora and Paris? – I think the relationships you describe here are recipes for long term disaster. And saying from the get-go that you’re heading to divorce court is just negative thinking. IF that’s what you believe, then don’t get married again.

    Maybe the title of the book should be “how to recognize Mr. Great when he’s right in front of you”
    .-= dadshouse´s last blog ..Broken TV on SuperBowl Weekend =-.

  4. Steve says:

    More women are interested in being stepmommy to a someone else’s kids than men are, and I don’t blame the guys.

    Um, I don’t think any man wants to be a stepmommy. Well, maybe a few, but after the surgery you wouldn’t have a husband 🙂

  5. Kat Wilder says:

    Steve — yes, well, not that there’s anything wrong with that ….

  6. Kat Wilder says:

    Dads — Oy indeed! Women, think much?

    As for those marriages, they are arrangements like a Sugar Daddy-young thing, and, as I say, each partner knows exactly his/her role and expectations in an arrangement. Long-term? Who cares. It’s working for them. For the rest of us, we constantly struggle with roles and expectations.

    I didn’t go into my marriage expecting to get divorced, But if I got married again — which, as I’ve written before, I don’t want to — I would have a prenup. And, having a prenup, while not saying we want a divorce also is an acknowledgment that, hey, shit happens.

  7. Jenni says:

    Nice post. I agree whole heartedly with everything you’ve said.

    I think settling for ‘Mr. Good Enough’ will only end in yet another divorce. When you’re going through a divorce [or have gone through one], your expectations change – the standards you place on your next partner change.

    You can have great sex, even fall in love, but in the end you actually have to LIKE the person you’re with. You have to feel comfortable, be open with, and have the same goals as the person you’re considering spending the rest of your life with.

    Aside from my ex’s addictions being the ending factor in our marriage, we also had different goals in life. He had “superstar musician” goals in life, and I had “I want to raise my kids and be a family” goals. Obviously those two don’t really mix – especially when one of us is nearing 40 and refuses to acknowledge he’s an adult. But I digress.
    .-= Jenni´s last blog ..No More Winter =-.

  8. Kat Wilder says:

    New blog posting, Settling for Mr. Good Enough isn't enough –

  9. You’re always thoughtful, Kat, so thanks for this blog post. I sincerely think you’ll get a different picture when you read the book.

    The controversy over Gottlieb’s tome is not over the content of the book – everything is built into people’s individual definition of the word “settle”.

    The woman who “settled” on a man and found herself miserable will say that “settling” is a terrible idea.

    The woman who “settled” on a man and found joy, sex, and everlasting friendship in a different package than she expected will say that “settling” is just the right solution.

    In short, how one feels about Lori Gottlieb’s book says much more about HER than it does the book itself.

    At no point does the author say that marriage is a cure-all panacea. Her perspective is that of an overly intellectual and picky woman who realized, too late in life, that she was passing up amazing guys because they didn’t fit her image of what it was supposed to look like.

    Just as “settling” is no guarantee of happiness, neither is “passion” – an affliction that causes FAR more people to get married.

    As you said, Kat, the real trick is in choosing character traits that are valuable in the long-term and knowing what you can put up with. “Marry Him” suggests the same exact thing.
    .-= Evan Marc Katz´s last blog ..My Long Distance Boyfriend Does Not Want To Think About Our Future, But He Insists He Is Committed To Me. How Can I Be Sure? =-.

  10. Amira says:

    Hmmmm. Let me just say that I settled (yes, a key word) for Mr. Good Enough and he became my ex-husband 10 years later. He was and is not a bad guy. However, I now know that *I* cannot settle like that again. Are my expectations and aspirations now too high? No, I don’t think so. I think that at my age and with two kids and as a single mom, I have a pretty good handle on what I want–and what I don’t want. It’s just finding a guy who is willing to give himself and that I’m also attracted to that is the challenge.

  11. Steve says:

    I’ve read iterations of this issue a number of times on blogs. In the end, it doesn’t come down to what people should do. It comes down to your personal happiness.

    Looking at how happy other people are with their decisions is not always a reliable test for a given piece of advice.

    What doesn’t work/works in one situation doesn’t always work/not work in other situations.

    The best people can do is use their own judgment, but that has been true for everything.

  12. Kat Wilder says:

    Jenni — Just to be fair to Ms. Gottlieb, she does say that you do actually have to like/love the person. What she’s saying is that you shouldn’t expect to find everything you want in one guy; just a lot of what you want.

    Evan — thank you for your kind words, and thank you for stopping by! I agree — settle has a negative connotation for most of us. I wonder if she’d be so vilified (and sadly, she is; thus is the world of anonymous, instant communication) if the book title were different. Of course, press is press, good or bad. And, you nailed it perfectly when you mention women who are dealing with an “image of what it was supposed to look like.” We have the same kind of images about what relationships are “supposed” to look like, too (i.e.”The Rules”), which also makes so many people miserable.

    Amira — yes, well, that is the challenge indeed. And, the stakes are so much higher when there are kids involved; who wants to drag them through a breakup again? Knowing what we want, and knowing ourselves (yes, we must!) is essential. Good luck!

  13. brian says:

    Sounds more like a business arrangement than a marriage

    The person you choose to marry is not a means to an end or someone you use to get the things you want
    Kids, a nice home or higher economic status
    And simply because you want these same things isn’t enough

    When I was younger everyone who I knew who was married told me pretty much the same things
    You just don’t understand things change over time
    Sad really then and now
    Most of them got divorced within 10 years or as soon as the kids left for college
    The men shortly thereafter got remarried usually to a younger woman searching for their last (first?) grand passion

  14. Kat Wilder says:

    Brian — The men shortly thereafter got remarried usually to a younger woman searching for their last (first?) grand passion. Did the women?!?

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