Lori Gottlieb.

Mr Good Enough: The case for choosing a Real Man over holding out for Mr Perfect





Mr

Good Enough

LORI GOTTLIEB

The Case for

Choosing a Real Man Over Holding Out for Mr Perfect


For my husband, whoever you are.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Prologue: The Husband Store

PART ONE: How Did We Get Here?

1: The Dating Trenches

2: The Romantic Comedy That Predicted My Future

3: How Feminism Fucked Up My Love Life

4: Speed Dating Disaster

PART TWO: From Fantasy to Reality

5: Older, and Wanting to Be Wiser

6: $3,500 for Love

7: The What Versus the Why

8: Mondays with Evan: Session One: The Percentages

9: Its Not Him, Its You

PART THREE: Making Smarter Choices

10: Dont Be Picky, Be Happy

11: Mondays with Evan: Session Two: The Wrong Assumptions

12: The Men Who Got Away

13: Pulling Another Sheldon

14: Mondays with Evan: Session Three: The Lowdown

15: What First Dates Really Tell Us

16: Are Wo men Pickier Than Men?

PART FOUR: What Really Matters

17: Mondays with Evan Session Four: Wants Versus Needs

18: The Business of Love

19: Love at Twenty-seventh Sight

20: Mondays with Evan: Session Five: The Chemistry-to-Compatibility Ratio

21: Dump the List, Not the Guy

PART FIVE: Putting It All Together

22: The Good Enough Marriage

23: A Visit with the Rabb

24: Claires StoryGetting Over Myself

25: Alexandras StoryMr. Right in Front of Me

26: Hilarys StoryFinding What I Needed

27: My StoryA Dating Public Service Announcement

Epilogue: Where They Are Now

Acknowledgments

ALSO BY LORI GOTTLIEB

Copyright

About the Publisher

The events and facts presented in this book are true and based upon my reallife experiences and research. Names and personal details of some of my friends and others who appear in the book have been changed or, in a few instances, composites created either at the individuals request or out of my concern for their privacy.

You know youre in love when you cant fall asleep

because reality is finally better than your dreams.

Widely attributed to Dr.

Seuss

Prologue The Husband Store

A NEW STORE HAS OPENED. A HUSBAND STORE! THERES A SIGN AT THE ENTRANCE:

YOU MAY VISIT THE HUSBAND STORE ONLY ONCE. THERE ARE SIX FLOORS, AND THE VALUE OF THE PRODUCTS INCREASE ON EACH SUCCESSIVE FLOOR. THE SHOPPER CAN CHOOSE ANY ITEM FROM A PARTICULAR FLOOR, OR GO UP TO SHOP ON THE NEXT FLOOR, BUT SHE CANNOT GO BACK DOWN EXCEPT TO EXIT THE BUILDING.

So, a woman goes into the store. On the first floor the sign on the door reads:

FLOOR I MEN WHO HAVE GOOD JOBS.

Thats nice, she thinks, but I want more. So she continues upward, where the sign reads:

FLOOR 2MEN WHO HAVE GOOD JOBS AND LOVE KIDS.

Shes intrigued, but continues to the third floor, where the sign reads:

FLOOR 3MEN WHO HAVE GOOD JOBS, LOVE KIDS, AND ARE EXTREMELY HANDSOME.

Wow, she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

FLOOR 4MEN WHO HAVE GOOD JOBS, LOVE KIDS, ARE EXTREMELY HANDSOME, AND HELP EQUALLY WITH THE HOUSEWORK.

It cant get better than this! she exclaims. But then a voice inside her asks, Or can it? She goes up and reads the sign.

Floor 5MEN WHO HAVE GOOD JOBS, LOVE KIDS, ARE EXTREMELY HANDSOME, HELP EQUALLY WITH THE HOUSEWORK, AND HAVE A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR.

Having found what shes looking for, shes tempted to stay, but something propels her to the sixth floor, where the sign reads:

FLOOR 6YOU ARE VISITOR 42,215,602 TO THIS FLOOR. THERE ARE NO MEN ON THIS FLOOR. THIS FLOOR ONLY EXISTS TO PROVE THAT WOMEN ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE. THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT THE HUSBAND STORE.

PLEASE NOTE:

To avoid gender bias charges, the stores owner opened a Wife Store right across the street.

The first floor has wives who Love Sex.

The second floor has wives who Love Sex and Are Kind.

The third floor has wives who Love Sex, Are Kind, and Like Sports.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth floors have never been visited.

My version of an old joke about choosing a husband

Okay, here they are. The qualities, off the top my head and in no particular order, that would be on my shopping list if I visited a Husband Store.

Intelligent

Kind

Extremely funny

Curious

Loves kids

Financially stable

Emotionally stable

Sexy

Romantic

Passionate

Compassionate

Irreverent

Intuitive

Generous

Same religion but not too religious

Optimistic but not naive

Ambitious but not a workaholic

Talented but humble

Warm but not clingy

Grounded but not boring

Soulful but not new-agey

Vulnerable but not weak

Quirky but not weird

Free-spirited but responsible

Charismatic but genuine

Strong but sensitive

Athletic but not a sports nut

Open-minded but has conviction

Decisive but not bossy

Mature but not old

Creative but not an artist

Supportive of my dreams and goals

Has a sense of wonderment about the world

Is close to my age (shares my cultural references)

Good listener and communicator

Flexible and can compromise

Sophisticatedwell-educated, well-traveled, has been around

Over 510 but under 60

Has a full head of hair (wavy and dark would be niceno blonds)

Has shared political views

Has shared values

Is not into sci-fi or comic books

Has good taste/sense of aesthetics

Health-conscious and physically fit

Cares about the community at large

Cares about animals

Competent

Handy around the house

Cooks

Likes the outdoors (hiking, biking, Rollerblading)

Likes my friends (and I like his)

Not moody

Trustworthy

Is a team player

Is literary and enjoys wordplay

Is math or science-oriented

Likes discussing (but not arguing about) politics and world events

Stylish

Stimulating

Not a slobrespectful of our living space

Is madly in love with me

Actually, this isnt my current list. This is what I started off with when I sat down to write this book. Id never made a list before, but a married friend put me up to it. I told her I didnt have a list, and she insisted I did, even if it only existed in my head.

I cant quantify what Im looking for, I said. I always just fell in love.

But she was right: It took me all of three minutes to give a detailed description of my ideal guy. Even if Id never written a list, I clearly kept a mental file. Then she took it a step further: Hone down the list to make it more realistic.

I gave it a try. I crossed off some easy itemshe doesnt have to know how to cook (besides, he could always learn); if hes 57 instead of 510", I could live with that. But even as I eliminated some qualities, I found it hard to get rid of most entirely. Maybe I could compromise on funny, but where do you draw the line between a guy whose banter makes your heart race and one whose sense of humor merely makes you smile? On a sliding scale, how much passion would he need to be considered passionate?

There were so many variables. In the past, I dated a freelance artist, only to say that next time I wanted someone financially stable. Then I dated a doctor, but we didnt connect creatively. Finding a financially stable artist or a doctor who wrote novels in his spare time wasnt impossiblebut pretty rare. And combine that with all the other characteristics I wanted, not to mention chemistry, and suddenly the mystery of why I was still single was solved.

Maybe the man I was looking for on paper simply didnt exist. And maybe, as my friend suggested, some of these qualities werent that important when it came to a happy marriage anyway.

Yikes. What if she was right? Had I overlooked men who might have turned out to be great husbands because I was drawn to an instant spark and a checklist instead of a solid life partner?

Of course, I wasnt completely clueless. By the time I hit 30, I knew that nobody was perfect (including me) and that whoever I married would be a flawed human being like the rest of us. I wasnt expecting perfection so much as intense connection. I also knew that none of that heady first-blush excitement guaranteed everlasting love, but I felt that without this initial launching pad, romance would never get off the ground. As far as I was concerned, there was no point in going on a second date if there wasnt a strong attraction on the first.

So, at least in the beginning of a relationship, I expected to be dazzled (even if that meant being so distracted by my object of affection that I nearly lost my job and risked my very livelihood). I expected to just know that he was The One (even if it often happened that a year later, Id just know that I wanted to break up). I expected to feel some sort of divine connection (even if that meant being in a constant state of nausea and having an obsessive need to check my voice mail every thirty minutes). This was what falling in love felt like, right?

Meanwhile, my unconscious husband-shopping list grew even longer. Like a lot of women, the older I got, the more things I wanted in a guy, because while life experience taught me what I didnt want in a relationship, it also gave me a better sense of what I did want. So the thinking would go: The last guy wasnt X, so next time I want X plus all the things I had on my list before. Basically, my Husband Store went from a six-story building to the worlds tallest skyscraper. And I didnt think I was alone.

Could this be one reason that in 1975, almost 90 percent of women in the United States were married by age 30 but in 2004, only a little more than half were? Or why the percentages of never-married women in every age group studied by the U.S. Census Bureau (from 25 to 44) more than doubled between 1970 and 2006?

I wanted to find out.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE STORY

This book is a love story. Its not mine, exactly, but it could be yours.

It all started with a dinner I had with my editor at the Atlantic. I was 39 years old, a journalist and single mother with a toddler, and I was grumbling about a date Id had the night before with a lisping 45-year-old lawyer who chewed with his mouth open and talked nonstop for three hours about his ex-wife but failed to ask a single question about me. I didnt know if I had it in me to go on another date. Ever. I was so tired of having to talk to strangers over plates of pasta when all I wanted was to hang out in sweatpants with my husband on a Saturday night, like my married friends did.

How had this become my life?

Just two years earlier, Id written The XY Files for the Atlantic, where I told the story of my decision, at age 37, to have a baby on my own. Obviously, this wasnt my childhood dream, but neither was marrying someone who wasnt The Oneand so far I didnt think Id found him. I wanted to have a baby while I still could, so instead of signing up with another online dating site, I registered with an online sperm donor site. Soon I found myself pregnant and still hopeful that Id meet Mr. Right. My plan was to have a baby first, find true love later. At the time, I felt empowered and even wrote in the pages of the magazine that what I was doing seemed somewhat romantic.

Well hahahahahahaha!

Now, at dinner with my editor, I couldnt stop laughing. Of course, I was ecstatically in love with my child, but lets face it: Things werent so romantic over in the Gottlieb household. Like my married friends with small children, I was sleep-deprived, cranky, and overwhelmed, but unlike them, I was doing it all alone. Sure, sometimes they complained about their husbands and, at first, I felt proud of my decision not to end up like themin what seemed like less-than-ideal marriages, with less-than-ideal spouses. But it didnt take long before I realized that none of them would trade places with me for a second. In fact, despite their complaints, they actually were really happyand in many cases, happier than theyd ever been. All those things that seemed so important when they were dating now had little relevance to their lives. Instead, the idea of choosing to run a household togetheras unglamorous and challenging and mundane as that wasseemed to be the ultimate act of true love. Why hadnt I looked at marriage that way five years ago?

If I knew then what I know now, I told my editor, I would have approached dating differently. But how could I have known?

As a single 42-year-old friend put it, for many women its a Catch-22. If Id settled at thirty-nine, she said, I always would have had the fantasy that something better exists out there. Now I know better. Either way, I was screwed.

I remember being surprised that my friend, a smart and attractive producer, was basically saying she should have settled. But she explained that I had it all wrong. She didnt mean resigning herself to a life of quiet misery with a man she cared little about. She meant opening herself up to a fulfilling life with a great guy who might not have possessed every quality on her checklist. In her thirties, she told me, she used to consider settling to mean anything less than her ideal guy, but now, in her forties, shed come to realize that shed been confusing settling with compromising.

Id come to the same conclusion, and I started asking myself some important questions. Whats the difference between settling and compromising? When it comes to marriage, what can we live with, and what can we live without? How long does it make sense to hold out for someone betterwho we may never find, and who may not exist or be available to us even if he didwhen we could be happy with the person right in front of us?

I brought up these questions with my editor that night, and neither of us had the answers. For the next two hours, he talked about his marriage and I talked about the dating world, and when the check came, he thought I should explore these issues in an article.

Over the following weeks, as I spoke with friends and acquaintances about their relationships, something surprised me. Whether or not these people went into marriage head-over-heels in love, there seemed to be little difference in how happy they were now. Both kinds of marriages seemed to be working or not working equally well or poorly. Meanwhile, the women I spoke to who were singleand unhappy about their single statewere still nixing guys who were obsessed with sports or too short, because they figured that if they married the short guy who didnt read novels, theyd be unsatisfied in that marriage. Yet the women who had done just that werent.

When Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough appeared in the Valentines Day issue of the Atlantic, I pored over e-mails from complete strangersmen and women, married and single, ranging in age from 18 to 78. The notes were incredibly personal, and most people admitted that theyd struggled with these same questions in their own lives. Some had resolved them happily and felt grateful to be with a more realistic Mr. Right. Others regretted letting a great guy go for what now seemed like trivial reasons. Still others said that marrying for fireworks left them feeling like they were settling once the pilot light went out because once they could see each other clearly, they realized they werent that compatible after all. Someincluding priests, rabbis, matchmakers, and marriage therapistsfelt that adjusting our expectations in a healthy way would help members of their congregations, clients, friends, or family members find real romantic fulfillment.

But where did that leave me? Out in the dating world, I was doing exactly what Id suggested in the Atlantic article. I was trying to be more open-minded and realistic, and focus on what was going to be important in a long-term marriage instead of a short-term romance, but somehow that didnt seem to be working. I was still drawn to guys who were my type, and when I dated guys who werent, I just wasnt feeling it. I wasnt looking for instant butterflies anymore, but there had to be some it there, right? And if so, how much it was enough?

WHAT IF I WANT A DIFFERENT 8?

Then I got an e-mail from a single woman who wrote that she wasnt looking for the perfect 10 in a matean 8 would be great. She was even dating an 8. But there was just one problem, she said: What if I want a different 8?

That, I realized, was exactly my problemand so many other womens, too. She agreed that we should be looking for Mr. Good Enough (who exists) instead of Prince Charming (who doesnt), but she didnt know how to make it work in practice. Neither did I. In fact, when readers wrote in saying that theyd decided to get engaged because of my article, I worried that five years later, Id get a slew of e-mails saying that they were getting divorced because of my article, since nobody knew what being more realistic actually meant. How much compromise is too much compromise? How do you know if youre being too picky or if youre really not right for each other? If being with Mr. Good Enough means sharing both passion and connection, but also having more reasonable expectations, how do you balance those things?

In order to find out, I decided that Id have to become a dating guinea pig. Id go out there and get some answersthen apply them to my life in the real world.

I started by talking to cutting-edge marriage researchers, behavioral economists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, neurobiologists, couples therapists, spiritual leaders, matchmakers, divorce lawyers, dating coaches, and even mothers. I also listened to stories from single and married people who had helpful experiences to share. I didnt expect anyone to have the answer, of course, but I was hoping that with some guidance and insight, Id come closer to finding the right guy. Maybe Id help others do that, too.

What follows isnt an advice book or dating manual. There are no worksheets to fill out or rules to follow. Instead, its an honest look at why our dating lives might not be going as planned, and what our own roles in that might be. Then its up to the reader to decide what kinds of choices she wants to make in the future.

Ill warn you that you might not like what some of these experts have to say. At first, I didnt either, and I spent a lot of time kicking and screaming in denial of the facts. But eventually I realized that knowledge was power, and this journey changed me and my dating life profoundly. It could change yours, too.

Because in the end, I discovered that finding a guy to get real with is the true love story.

PART ONE How Did We Get Here?

1 The Dating Trenches

One night, my friend Julia called to say that she had just broken up with her boyfriend, Greg.

I just wasnt inspired by him, she said.

When Julia met Greg two years earlier, they were both 28 and he was her coworker at a nonprofit. She thought he was cute, sweet, and very smart. He was kind of unstylishhe wore nerdy highwaisted corduroys all the timebut she liked how real he was, how unpretentious and nonmaterialistic. She also felt at ease with him in a way she hadnt with previous boyfriends. Julia had never dated anyone as supportive as Greg. Whatever her goals were, he helped her out. Whenever someone wronged her, he had her back. Whenever she felt insecure, he made her feel beautiful. Youd think this would have made her love him all the more, and it didat first. But now, as Greg started talking about marriage, it began to have the opposite effect.

Greg made me feel like I was the most wonderful woman in the world, she said. So then I started thinking, If Im so wonderful, maybe I should be with someone better.

By better she meant, in part, someone more charismatic. Greg could be shy and somewhat insecure in social situations, while Julia was confident and outgoing. Julia was quick with the one-liners, while Greg had a more subtle sense of humor. Greg came from a more modest background than Julia did, so he didnt always share the more sophisticated references that came up with Julias friends in conversation.

Meanwhile, thanks to Gregs encouragement, Julia had risen up the ladder at workand eventually earned more money than he did. Not a lot more, but it made Julia uncomfortable.

I want to work, Julia said. But I dont know. Its not how I imagined my marriage would be.

When I asked how she imagined it, she let out an embarrassed sigh.

Honestly? she said. I guess I want my husband to be more of a go-getter.

I pointed out that Greg was sweeter than anyone shed dated, especially her last boyfriend, the ambitious lawyer who often forgot to call her when he said he would. Greg was loving and reliable. He was passionate about his work. They had great sex. They shared similar interests, especially because they worked in the same field. They had a lot of fun together.

But he wasnt inspiring enough, Julia repeated. Hes just this, you know, really nice, regular kind of guy. I started feeling like, This is it? This is the guy Ive waited all my life for? Im worried that long-term, Im going to outgrow him. Im going to want more.

More what? I asked.

The phone line went silent for what seemed like a long time.

More like I imagined, Julia said. He just wasnt husband material.





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