Thursday, 28 January 2010

A Husband at Any Price...

The other morning while dawdling over my tea and toast, and flicking absent-mindedly through a copy of Sundays Observer, the following headline jumped out at me: 'Find Mr Right before age 30 or settle for second best'. The article, written by Amelia Hill, described a book entitled, 'Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough'. The author is an American woman named Lori Gottlieb. Her book has apparently caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, and the inevitable plans to produce a film are well under way.

Gottliebs argument in essence, is that despite what feminists might tell you, all any woman truly longs for is to be married and happily ensconced in a traditional nuclear family. Romantic notions of finding 'the one' and the myth that women can have it all, have made women far too fussy. Any marriage is frankly better than no marriage at all, so unless he's a violent criminal/chronic alcoholic/only has two weeks to live, marry him quick or risk being left on the shelf, which as we all know girls is the worst thing that could possibly befall us. Oh, and any woman who insists that she does not feel this way and prefers her independence, is self-delusional or just plain lying.

I see.

I was hoping that this would all turn out to be some sort of post modern piss take. Sadly not. My problem is not so much that Gottlieb advocates settling for a partner for whom you may not have intense romantic feelings; I would concede that she has a point when she states that these passionate emotions are often not sustainable in the long term. If women wish to take a more pragmatic approach to their relationships - fine - that's their business. It's her assertion that all women down the ages have ever truly wanted to do is to get married and have babies, and that it's better to do these things with just about anyone who might do, rather than risk not doing them at all, which I find so hard to swallow.

I wonder has it not occurred to Gottlieb that throughout most of history women have had no choice but to get married. That untill fairly recently we could not own property, or vote, and being unmarried meant being a huge burden on our families and having to endure horrendous stigma. The only option open to the vast majority of us was to be dependent on a husband. And although a lot of modern marriages tend to lean towards the more egalitarian, we are still, even now, ruthlessly conditioned to believe that marriage and children is the natural path for a womans life to take. Single, childless women over the age of thirty five are still often viewed by society with a mixture of suspicion and pity.

I do not deny that the urge to have children can be very strong for some, but women have far more options open to them these days - and they're taking them. Indeed Gottlieb herself conceived her own child using donor sperm. Unfortunately she now uses her subsequent regret at choosing to go it alone, to base a whole theory on:

'As the only single woman in my son’s mommy-and-me group, I used to listen each week to a litany of unrelenting complaints about people’s husbands and feel pretty good about my decision to hold out for the right guy, only to realize that these women wouldn’t trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband. They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

In fact the evidence seems to point in another direction entirely. Many studies have shown that women in long term marriages tend to lose out in terms of mental health when compared to their husbands, who report far less depression than their wives. I wonder how many women throughout history would have chosen to forge their own paths, and follow their own dreams, had the option been truly open to them.

I am a single woman. And I can state categorically that having a partner you do not love is in no way better than not having one at all. Being alone is infinitely preferable to that peculiar feeling of loneliness that comes from being in an unfulfilling, uninspiring relationship. I could have settled had I been so inclined. But ultimately I was not prepared to, and I see more and more women who are also not prepared to - more and more women who are striking out on their own, and treasuring their autonomy and independence, knowing that they can parent effectively without a partner, and that their children are healthier for not having an unhappy relationship providing the model for how adults should relate to each other. Of course this trend was only ever going to precipitate a backlash, for which Gottlieb has (perhaps unwittingly) become a poster girl. As a fellow single mother I can empathise with her to an extent. It's not always easy being the sole carer. But that is no reason to lose ones nerve and gratefully snap up the first man who shows willing.

Far more important to teach our children the value of self respect, and to show them that healthy relationships are built on mutual high esteem, not desperation and convenience, or a belief that women can not cope alone.

There is another post (which I wholeheartedly recommend you read) on this subject, at the brilliant Hoyden about town.


  1. I bumped into Mr. Right when I finally dumped Mr. Second Best ... just before 30.

    Go figure I say to Lori Gottlieb.

  2. I'd like to second your penultimate paragraph! I have no problem being a single parent, as long as I don't let societal prejudices get to me which at times can be a problem.