Looking for Mr. Right? You’re probably doing it all wrong.
At least, this is Lori Gottlieb’s message in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. If the title sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you heard it back in February 2008, when Gottlieb’s identically titled article appeared in The Atlantic.
The controversial article documented Gottlieb’s loneliness and regret at entering her 40s a single mom with no inkling of romantic prospects. She addressed a message to single women everywhere: Stop looking for Mr. Perfect and settle for less while you still can.
Gottlieb’s message struck a nerve and prompted a firestorm of response. From The Today Show to CBS News to The Economist, it seemed everyone was writing in with an opinion. While some related to Gottlieb’s unsettling message, many found fault with her undeveloped argument. It didn’t help that the article’s caustic and sarcastic tone distanced the women it was meant to reach. People wondered: Was Gottlieb just desperate? Man-crazy? Completely off her rocker?
With a second chance (and 300+ pages) to plead her case, Gottlieb redeems herself.
Where Gottlieb’s article was harsh and incomplete, her book is friendly and persuasive. Where the former seemed bitter, the latter is endearing. (Even her wistful dedication is charming: “For my husband, whoever you are.”) As a book, “Marry Him” delves more deeply into Gottlieb’s search for love and clarifies her message: Women need to be more open-minded and realistic when it comes to love.
It seems that even after Gottlieb’s Atlantic article, she needed her own dose of realism. Her book starts with a list of the 61 characteristics she used to look for in a mate. (“Warm but not clingy,” “Over 5’10” but under 6’0”,” and “Not moody” all made the list.) For the most part, nothing on her list seems entirely unreasonable, but the number and inflexibility of her requirements worried Gottlieb. Wondering whether she’d been so insistent on “an instant spark and a checklist” that she forgotten what really mattered in a mate, Gottlieb set out to find the answer in “Marry Him.”
In her search, Gottlieb seems to cover everything, from her own issues (“I had a classic Cinderella complex”) to how feminism helped create unrealistic expectations (“Which is exactly how many of us empowered ourselves out of a good mate”) to where economics and business fit in to your love story (read: everywhere).
Gottlieb easily weaves these topics into her own experiences: from speed dating to online dating to dating coaches, she becomes our “dating guinea pig.”
Throughout “Marry Him,” she acts as the reader’s stand in – a devil’s advocate for her own argument. She shows that she understands settling for “Mr. Good Enough” in real life is not only a lot harder than it sounds on paper, but that it goes against the beliefs and attitudes most of us have been practicing throughout our lives.
In fact, Gottlieb cleverly structures “Marry Him” so that the reader gets on board the Good Enough train several chapters before she realizes that she has. Even though you may creep through the beginning of “Marry Him” with indignation, you’ll soon be wondering why Gottlieb is holding you up at the station. When she finally decides to (literally) let go of her 61-requirement list, we cheer her decision and smile as she contemplates sending it to a sorority “as a cautionary tale.”
It is not just Gottlieb’s tone and guinea pig status that make her so convincing. It is the seemingly endless list of studies, stats, and experts that she quotes.
Gottlieb’s Atlantic essay might have been hard to swallow when she seemed like the only dissenting voice at our raging girl-power party, but “Marry Him” makes room for many voices that support her claims. From matchmakers to psychiatrists to sociologists to economists to friends, family, and strangers, it’s this chorus that finally sways us.
That’s not to say that “Marry Him” doesn’t have its faults. As Gottlieb fights to answer the question, “How much compromise is too much compromise?” she repeats herself. And the many different ways that “Marry Him” manages to say, “Be more realistic!” might have you screaming “Okay! I get it!” Also, by the end of the book, it seems as if Gottlieb has written a few too many lists – although fortunately they are all far under the 61-characteristic limit. In addition, while almost all of “Marry Him” feels like a well-conceived and convincing argument on how to find a more realistic Mr. Right, its end is too preachy.
Yet despite its faults, “Marry Him” is worth your time. You might be skeptical, but if you’ve ever sought your own Prince Charming, nixed a guy because you didn’t feel an immediate spark, been attracted to the “bad boy,” or found yourself expecting perfection, this book is for you. After you read this honest and admittedly unsettling book, your love life will never be the same again. And that’s a good thing.
Kate Vander Wiede is a freelance writer in Boston.