Don’t Settle for the One Who Loves You More

It’s an old and unhelpful aphorism: a woman should marry a man who loves her more than she loves him.  My Genderal Interest column at Jezebel today looks behind this truism, working in references to Lori Gottlieb and the Myth of Male Weakness.  .  Excerpt:

In this age where hormones and evolutionary psychology are commonly cited as explanations (or outright excuses) for the most appalling male behavior, it makes good sense to teach women to look for an effective and enduring guarantor of masculine reliability. That means encouraging women to make romantic decisions based more on men’s devotion rather than on their own desires. Shorter Gottlieb: “caring” trumps “tedious”, and don’t be so much a fool to insist that you can easily have the former without the latter.

Not only do we believe that men are weak when it comes to impulse control, pop culture relentlessly reminds straight women that they are hardwired to be attracted to “bad boys.” Evolutionary psychologists trot out all sorts of theories to explain why women are sexually drawn to unreliable alpha males, but the end result is that we teach women to be suspicious of their own longings. In a corollary to the myth of male weakness, grandmothers and Gottliebs warn that a woman who is head-over-heels in love and lust will be less likely to see vital warning signs; a woman who finds herself only tepidly attracted to a man will be able to assess his character more accurately. His greater devotion keeps him faithful; her less intense passion keeps her safe — and, presumably in control both of her own emotions and of her male partner.

And then of course, there’s always Auden’s take.



14 thoughts on “Don’t Settle for the One Who Loves You More

  1. This seems to me more encouragement for women to prioritize lust, looks, etc. above literally everything else- as if they don’t freaking do that enough already, for god’s sake. If you’re not Johnny Depp, most women want nothing to do with you. I think this is the main reason so many young guys have cripplingly low self-esteem- that is, women sneering (that’s the best word for it- sneering) at anyone except the token pretty boy (who has them ALL eating out of his hand). It’s the 80/20 rule- 20% of the men have 80% of the romantic connections, and I believe it to be a major unheralded issue in our society. So what’s the point of this article? Honestly, I hardly think young women love at all, it’s all about judgment after shallow judgment. I suppose, since most young women already do what you tell them to do, it makes no difference, but it grates to see a man endorsing this type of behavior. Then again, maybe you’re one of the 20%, I don’t know. Either way, I don’t think women need any more license for debauchery.

    • Your point in this comment seems to be that we should, as a society, continue lying to women about how to pursue their own happiness in order to benefit men, and that people would be happier if more of us formed romantic attachments to people we are not attracted to (to get that 80-20 distribution closer to a Normal Distribution — like it would be in the society depicted in Zamyatin’s “We”, for instance).
      I don’t commonly write comments, but as a fellow member of this legendary 80% I can’t stand by and let opinions I so thoroughly reject be reported as if representative of that population.

      • Well, for one, I reject the assumption that we are in fact “lying to women”. Exacerbating the issue that I have outlined above, society encourages women to treat pretty much any man that isn’t Depp as trash. It’s all over the media. If I were to discuss my preference for The Perfect Woman, and basically tell everyone else to go to hell… the Feminists would be all over me.

        If you’re one of the 80% (ie, a normal man), women make it their business to sneer at you (I love that word… it describes them perfectly) any opportunity they get. The arrogance and lack of empathy that a lot of women (and this guy, apparently) have is simply astounding to me.

  2. I’ve often heard this theory from women and the first thought that came to my mind was, whatever relationship that person ends up in will be doomed.
    Whether it’s the person that thinks they don’t have to work as hard for a relationship, or taking the person that loves you more for granted, or enhanced feelings of entitlement, that feeling of disparity comes out sooner than later in the form of resentment.

    Might be a tried and true approach from a time when marriage was more durable, but in this day and age when the average marriage has a five year shelf life, its the kiss of death for a relationship whether it helps create a power imbalance in the short term or not.

  3. Flipping things around from the male perspective, I’ve always wondered what the heck men in this equation or on the receiving end of Gottliebian “settling” are supposed to think. Not only is the notion of having been “settled for” in and of itself pretty unappetizing, as a practical matter it would seem to be a pretty good recipe for eventual unhappiness and infidelity or divorce on the reluctant wife’s part.

    • Gottlieb addresses this in her article:


      Settling is mostly a women’s game. Men settle far less often and, when they do, they don’t seem the least bit bothered by the fact that they’re settling.

      My friend Alan, for instance, justified his choice of a “bland” wife who’s a good mom but with whom he shares little connection this way: “I think one-stop shopping is overrated. I get passion at my office with my work, or with my friends that I sometimes call or chat with—it’s not the same, and, boy, it would be exciting to have it with my spouse. But I spend more time with people at my office than I do with my spouse.”

      Then there’s my friend Chris, a single 35-year-old marketing consultant who for three years dated someone he calls “the perfect woman”—a kind and beautiful surgeon. She broke off the relationship several times because, she told him with regret, she didn’t think she wanted to spend her life with him. Each time, Chris would persuade her to reconsider, until finally she called it off for good, saying that she just couldn’t marry somebody she wasn’t in love with. Chris was devastated, but now that his ex-girlfriend has reached 35, he’s suddenly hopeful about their future.

      “By the time she turns 37,” Chris said confidently, “she’ll come back. And I’ll bet she’ll marry me then. I know she wants to have kids.” I asked Chris why he would want to be with a woman who wasn’t in love with him. Wouldn’t he be settling, too, by marrying someone who would be using him to have a family? Chris didn’t see it that way at all. “She’ll be settling,” Chris said cheerfully. “But not me. I get to marry the woman of my dreams. That’s not settling. That’s the fantasy.”

      • Everything this woman writes makes me want to slit my wrists. It’s like a “Saw” style booby trap where every possible means of escape is designed to seriously maim you. In her book “Marry Him,” she and the multitude of “dating coaches” and “experts” she’s lined up taunt women that “aren’t feeling it” constantly. You think you can do better? You think your “market value” is high enough? There’s nothing special about you, and you’re losing value by the month. Forty, your “shelf life” (says Rachel Greenwald) is sweeping down upon you like Poe’s pendulum. After that, there won’t even be options to “settle” with. Settle before settling is no longer an option. In a response to an article on Huffington Post by Bella DePaullo that criticized the essay, Gottlieb replies “I specifically recommend settling for women in their thirties that don’t want to end up alone for the rest of their lives.” The positive reviews of “Marry Him” on Amazon and in the media scare the (rhymes with “wit”) out of me. To me, if you’re looking for motivation to be depressed, look no further.

        • This is one of the biggest reasons I chose to never have kids– I am free to pursue love untainted by biological clock concerns. I size men up 100% for their companionship potential, rather than partly for their father potential.

          The whole “raising children” thing still throws a bit of a monkey wrench into romantic and egalitarian ideals… it’s still too easy to slide back into gender roles, if only because new parents often lack sufficient energy, time and sleep to stay vigilant. Not to mention, the whole depressing goal-orientation it brings to romances; which like everything else relational in nature, have no guarantees.

          Kudos to Amy Richards for writing about how parents can bring more equality into their daily lives. Because at the end of the day, the majority of people are still going to want kids… and want to have kids with someone they’re in love with. And nothing is more depressing than the idea that raising a family requires you sacrifice the best of yourself and your partnership.

        • On the flip side, I think that many younger women seem to be completely unaware of what happens as they age. I think that one person’s long term planning may be another person’s “settling.” People of both sexes often react negatively when they are encouraged to think about the long term.

    • I think that it’s not appealing to men no matter what you call it, but the problem is not with the people who are encouraging women to do it, it is with attitude of the women who would consider it as such. I would say that the vast majority of what is referred to as “settling” is really about making a smart choice, knowing how to weigh the pros and cons and find a good balance of trade-offs, and in general make choices based on long term planning. I think that the advice to “settle” is normally targeted at women who are bad at making decisions and put off the hard work of deciding for years, hoping for the puzzle pieces to fall into place all on their own.

      If you read Ellen’s excerpt where Gottlieb interviews Chris, it’s clear that Chris has made a resolute decision based on some trade-offs and he believes that he has a reasonable enough chance of being the best match for that woman. That woman, however, has been coming back to him and breaking off from him for 3 years already, a sure sign that she needs to improve her decision making skills and make a decision once and for all. 3 years is a long time to “think” that you may not want to spend the rest of your life with someone that you’re spending your life with anyway.

  4. I can see where this thinking comes from without resorting to Gottliebish “don’t be so much a fool to insist that you can have [devotion without tedium]”. It could also be a form of emotional self-preservation. Many people have a hard time dealing with the fact there are no guarantees in relationships… and especially women are so often given the message that they must not be desperate or they’ll scare potential lovers away. But even without that reductive and unnecessary message, in general the one who is more in love is more likely to get hurt. Add in an “why should I both putting an investment in something that’s unlikely to yield a return?” attitude; and voila, you have this “pick someone who loves you more than you love them” mentality.

  5. @roentgenium enough men sneer at the plain looking women believe me I am one. But despite my plainness I want a man who gives me butterflies and I go for people my level looks wise, chemistry is about rapport and not about looks. Anyway I think men have the advantage they can make themselves more attractive by having a better job. The plain women with the makeup allergy however…

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