The foolish fairy tale of 'Mr. Good Enough'

Author Lori Gottlieb exhorts women to "settle for Mr. Good Enough." But in her mixed-up manifesto, she has simply replaced one marriage myth with another.

Tish Durkin

Single, over-thirty females, repeat after me:

There is absolutely, positively no reason to get married except irresistible love. There is absolutely, positively no reason to get married except...

Scratch that. Don't repeat after me. Don't pay attention to anything I say. When it comes to something as important as marriage, please don't insult yourself by seeking guidance from columnists, lifestyle gurus, or the plots of romantic comedies. Apparently, these same sources got under the skin of Lori Gottlieb, commingled with her own exhausting life experience as a single mother and prompted the mixed-up manifesto that is her book, "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." The Atlantic essay-turned-new-book-soon-to-turn-movie exhorts you to make the biggest and most preventable mistake of your life by ditching your dreams of lifelong love and hitching yourself to the least offensive Tom, Dick or Irwin who comes your way.

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God, I hate lecturing this way. A Martian, newly arrived on Earth — or at least in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble — might get the impression that women care truly, madly and deeply — but mostly madly — about the life choices that other women make. Not me. Yet, every once in a while, I read something like Marry Him, and I don't just disagree. I combust. I want to stick a flashing red light on my head and rush down the street, parting traffic while screaming, “Don't! Don't! Don't!


For starters, there is the book's merry penchant for mixing statements of the stunningly obvious and the wildly dubious, and treating the result as revelatory. Obvious: no man is perfect; loneliness sucks. Dubious: endless anecdotes about women who wish they had married young; zero mention of all the women out there who wish they hadn't. Allegedly revelatory: young women who rule out romance with anyone who wears bow ties, stands less than six feet tall or fails to swear that he could never love any other woman as much as he loves her, even if she happens to die, run a high risk of becoming old women on the speed-dating circuit.

This brings us to the seemingly willful confusion of defining love down with growing up. Gottlieb appears to equate recognition that life is not a fairy tale with resignation to the idea that marriage need not be a love story, unless “love” is defined in its most dishwater, fireworks-free form. Granted, long before she gets anywhere near a marriage license, a half-wise woman will either have discarded her girlish romantic checklist, or reworked it so that points of style (abdominal six-pack, flashy job title, speaks Italian) are subordinated to those of substance (kindness, loyalty, mental stability). Men will have done the same. But that is not “settling.” That is graduating from high school.

More flawed than the terms of the argument, though, is the tone of it. Although the book is pitched as a reality check, Gottlieb has merely swapped the fantasy of a knight in shining armor who will sweep a damsel off her feet for the fantasy of a mensch in baggy cardigan who will fold the stroller for her. She discards the myth that marriage is a long, hot love affair – and embraces the myth that marriage is a bottomless cup of hot cocoa; a dual-pedal paddle through waters of financial and emotional calm.

Excuse me?

Whether the dream figure is Prince Charming or Steady Teddy, the salient appeal is the same: the presence of the male instantly, greatly and permanently eases the burden of the female. But what if instead he becomes the burden, as any man or woman may do at any time? As long as his biggest problem is a receding hairline, Mr. Good Enough may well remain good enough. But what about when he has an illness or an accident? What if the child she's drafted him to sire turns out to have a major problem? Assuming he's no crazier about her than she is about him, what happens when he – oops! — meets someone who does feel like fate?

Those are just the great big nightmares, which Mrs. Settle may be spared. But how about when Mother Of Hairline decides she'd like to move in? Or his brother needs another loan? Or his career is sure to flourish in a new place where hers is sure to fade?

For the love of one's life, one will work through all this and more. For one's conjugal consolation prize? Not so much.

Ultimately, though, Gottlieb's real wrong is done to those whom she is trying to set right. For reasons that defy all logic and deny the 20th-century triumph that is female empowerment, our culture insists upon making good, productive — and often downright fabulous — women feel like garbage if they are not paired off and procreating. But for crying out loud, the answer is not for such women to find themselves a Mr. Not-So-Bad. The answer — or at least part of it — is for other women to help drown out that dimwit cultural chorus, not join it.

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