Thursday, February 14, 2008

you're a part-time lover and a full-time friend

My sister sent me this article tonight: "The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough," and asked, "What do you think?" Good question. The author, writer Lori Gottlieb, a single mom by choice, makes an argument for settling - marrying someone good enough, but not perfect. She concludes by saying that although she truly believes her own argument, she hasn't been able to convince herself to do it yet.

So, what do I think? Hmm.

First off, I can tell you for sure I wouldn't elect to be a single mom. Could I handle it if I had to (read: in the short interim between Josh being taken out by a runaway train and finding my trophy husband)? Sure. Would I want to - JUST because of the logistical, emotional, and financial burdens? Hell no. Josh has been traveling a lot in the past year, and I realize every time he's gone how lucky I am to have him here. It's a lot of work, raising kids! And it's exhausting, frankly. And it's overwhelmingly joyous, heartbreaking, and fun. So in the interest of having another body to share all that, would settling be an option? Maybe.

Twice this week, I've seen marriage described as running a not-very-exciting non-profit organization. While not the most romantic view, there's something to it, particularly for parents. We do spend an inordinate amount of time performing synchronized handoffs: juggling pickups and dropoffs, moving through the routine that is our day, keeping one kid company at dinner while the other kid gets bathed. It's definitely a partnership, and hopefully one that we navigate more and more smoothly as time goes by. I think the difference is that I CHOSE to get married because I loved Josh, wanted to be with him, and thought he would be an ideal partner for me. I HOPED a family would follow. We both wanted children, and I wouldn't have married someone who didn't share that value and that dream. But I married Josh for Josh, not so I'd have a regular date at parties, or someone to take out the trash, or a father for my children.

Maybe it's the romantic in me, but I can't see settling for someone who doesn't provide you with all of the essentials you need in a partner, whatever those are. Of course you might need to overlook some annoyances. Even the most perfect union of the most besotted pair would probably eventually lose a little of its luster... she'd snore, he'd fart under the covers... she'd be baffled by the appeal of Xbox, he'd refuse to answer the phone at night... But in my mind, even with kids as the fabulous result of a marriage, the reason for getting married is to be with each other. And while I think there's probably more than just one "the one," I wouldn't cheat myself out of an opportunity to find a partner who really wows me: one who loves me, respects me, makes me laugh, supports me - and for whom I do the same.

Even still, there's comfort in companionship. There's comfort in knowing yours isn't the only salary going toward the mortgage. There's comfort in coming home to a warm house with the lights on. I totally get the appeal of that. I feel like I got off easy, marrying this guy I didn't have to work hard to meet. He was already in my life when I realized I might be a little bit in love with him. (I also spent much of college and my pre-Josh life NOT dating anyone fabulous. More Valentine's Days eating chocolate, wearing black, and watching Thelma & Louise than I'd care to count.) And I'm not underestimating how hard it is to meet someone. If I were still trying to find "the right" guy, I might be tempted to settle for someone "good enough."

I'm 36 now, and I was married at 28. I know that then, in my idealized notion of what marriage was, I wouldn't have been capable of settling. Even now, when I can understand the appeal, it still makes me uncomfortable. You're theoretically going into this 'til death, and I have an idealistic notion that it should be with someone you really feel strongly about. The way I read Gottlieb's article, someone about whom you feel lukewarm might be good enough. As we get older, date more, have more of an idea of what and whom are important to us, perhaps we find that the prince looks more like a frog than what we would've settled for at age 23. I'm good with that. And I certainly don't begrudge anyone the right to make the choice that meets her needs (because let's face it, men don't deal with this issue the same way) - settle for the first guy who buys you roses, or wait until you're 38 for true love. But to answer your question, Mer, no, I don't think I could settle.

Anyone else?


Josh said...

Hey!!! Its not like I ONLY fart under the covers.

jami said...

Maybe I was speaking generically. Of generic husbands. Who generically pass gas.

Hilary said...

My mom forwarded me this article, with a note that said, "Something to think about..." Umm.

I think part of what people like Lori and my mom are saying is that the older you get, the slimmer the pickings, and you don't want to find yourself with no one to choose from. However, I feel confident when I say that I don't think I would have been happy, I mean really truly happy, marrying anyone I dated in the past. (Not sure what that says about my taste in previous boyfriends.)

Hopefully I will find my husband before I'm 38 though. I can't imagine having to wait another five years.

p.s. Every guy farts under the covers. What's up with that?

The Nix Family said...

Two things come to my mind: The Grass Is Always Greener and the whole arranged-marriage deals of yonder years.
Whether you settle or not, you're always wondering if there's something better. However, although it's hard to have a real good perspective from over here where I feel like I didn't settle and am generally happy in my marriage, I do realize a lot of what marriage/parenting is just getting through the day. Hopefully, we're doing that with some smiles. But, if I were in a single place then, yeah, I think settling would be an OK option.
As far as whether "settling" makes for a successful marriage, think of all the people who used to get married young to someone they barely knew cause their families ordered it. Whether or not those people fell "in love," I think most would say they grew to love their spouse and were happy to have a family, someone to drive the horse-drawn buggy and read by candlelight with. Many of those marriages lasted 50-75 years.
But, then again, how many of those people were truly, genuinely happy in their family life?
So, yeah. It took me all this type to say, "I don't know."

Nanette said...

I enjoyed your analysis, Jami, and I feel the same way.

I had two, maybe more, opportunities to "settle" before I met Brent and I thank the stars every day for guiding me in the directions they did.

Leah said...

Okay, so as someone who met her future spouse at 20 and has been happily married for 2.5 years at 30, my perspective might also be a little skewed.

Even so, I think that I can say objectively that part of the issue for people looking for life partners is that society (whatever that is) gives us a really skewed notion of the meaning of "LOVE." Love is and can be all of the great, wonderful things captured by myriad cliches, but it can't be that all of the time. If it is, well, then, the person experiencing that probably doesn't have a checkbook to balance or recycling to take out.

I think there's really something to be said for simply finding someone who you can be around for long periods of time who doesn't irritate the crap out of you. And someone who makes you laugh is also a plus. But I don’t think having those two items as key requirements is necessarily settling.

Because in my observations of friends who have gone through the meeting-dating-marrying process, I think a lot of them have met people who meet the latter description first and then it slowly dawns on them that they also happen to be in love. And I think it’s important that people be open to the idea that that may turn out to be the natural order in which things happen, especially as they get older.

At least, those are the things I was saying out loud to my computer as I listened to Ms. Gottleib on Talk of the Nation the other day. Which reminds me: finding someone who doesn’t mind when you talk to yourself--also important.