This is a controversial cover.
Settling has an incredibly negative connotation. The very idea is contrary to the ending of every Disney movie. (Ironically, the brothers Grimm seemed to have some understanding of the concept that grit and greatness are woven together in life, and the fantastic has equal odds of being terrifying as it has of being wonderful.)
When I heard Lori Gottlieb being interviewed on NPR in 2008, I knew that I wanted to read this book. I’m a drastically idealistic person, with fierce ideas of what is “right” in a relationship, and I impose expectations that I may or may not communicate on the people in my life. Naturally, I’m frequently disappointed. This book is a dialogue about the concept of soul-mates. Most of us have been told that we are princesses so repeatedly that we actually believe that we have our own Prince Charming out there, waiting to swoop us off to some magical kingdom where the laundry never piles up and people don’t have to go to the bathroom. In my experience so far, meaningful glances happen more often when you dry the dishes together than when you go to balls (I’ve never been to a ball, so this seems like a sound conclusion).
So what is settling, really? I think it’s the opposite of this:
Lisa had been dating Ryan for a year. He was a 33-year-old lawyer, and she was smitten. They had a lot of fun together, they shared the same goals for a family, and they seemed compatible as friends and lovers. In fact, Ryan had been making comments about marriage. But something didn’t feel right.
“He just doesn’t fuss over me,” Lisa said toward the end of that first year together. “It’s not the way I’m used to being treated in a relationship.”
At the time, I completely understood what she meant: She didn’t feel adored by her boyfriend. He told her he loved her, but he never said that he was the luckiest guy in the world to have found her. He said she was pretty, but not the most beautiful woman he had ever met. He bought her Tylenol when she had the flu, but not flowers for no reason. He was consistently sweet and loving toward her, but he wasn’t demonstrative. He didn’t put her on a pedestal the way her other boyfriends had. Never mind that she didn’t put him on a pedestal, either. That was the guy’s role. He was supposed to court her, right?
One day, after another marriage comment, Lisa shared her doubts with her boyfriend. “I just don’t feel that you’re totally in love with me,” she said.
“But I am!” he insisted. He couldn’t understand why she felt that way, and Lisa couldn’t explain it-it was just a feeling, but one she couldn’t let go of. Each time she brought it up, he would seem perplexed, and she would feel rejected. He would then attempt all kinds of romantic gestures to prove his love – leaving a chocolate kiss with a sweet note on her pillow in the morning, calling in the middle of the day just to say he loved her. Lisa was charmed by these gestures, but she also didn’t trust them: “I want him to want to do these things,” she’d said at the time. “But now he’s only doing them because I asked for them.”
Still, Lisa tried to feel reassured because even if the gestures felt forced, it was sweet of Ryan to make the effort. But then, two months later, Lisa and Ryan were at an engagement party and the groom-to-be said in a toast to his bride-to-be that he could never love anyone as much as he loved her. That got Lisa thinking, and when she and Ryan were in the car on the way home, she asked him a question: “If something happened to me and I died young, do you think you could love another woman as much as you love me?”
He thought about it for a minute. “Well, it would be different from the love I have for you,” Ryan replied.
“Different, as in you loved me more?” Lisa asked.
“Different as in…different,” her boyfriend said. As he reached for her hand, he asked, “Why does it matter? I want to be with you, not some hypothetical other woman. I don’t want to think about you dying. I love you. It would be hard to meet someone I love as much. But if I died, I’d expect that you’d fall in love again and it would be different from our relationship, but that you’d go on and live your life.”
Three weeks later, Lisa broke up with him.
Ouch, right? This might as well have been the story of my last relationship. “I want to be the most” I always said. “The most what?” was invariably his perplexed response. Judging by my relationship history, I don’t think the what mattered; I just wanted to be the most. So far I’ve been the most depressed, the most disgusted, the most mistreated… The one person that loved me “most” out of any of my partners ended up being repeatedly slighted because he could never fill ambiguous wishes to be important to him. The irony of that is that my previous husband had been abusive and downright cruel, but said the right things from time to time, whereas this guy was beyond loving – practically a king of kindness – but I constantly feared he wasn’t that into me. What’s wrong with this picture?
According to this book, there are basically two categories of folks in relationships: maximizers, the picky perfectionists on the dating aisle, and satisfiscers, who have reasonable expectations and are content with having their expectations reasonably met. Clearly, Lisa and I are both maximizers.
The problem with that is that no one can live up to a fantasy. If you have an imaginary scenario in your head, odds are pretty good that reality won’t fulfill your every wish. The only thing that lives up to fantasy is fantasy. This means that the second things go south, the first potential of something better becomes a consideration. Not totally fulfilled and happy in the relationship? Maybe you would be in a different one. This kind of thinking perpetuates a vicious cycle of serial monogamy. The solution? Go from Maximizer to Satisfiscer by avoiding consideration of unrealistic possibilities. Make a careful analysis, and choose to be happy with what’s practically possible, instead of some fictional composite from every RomCom you’ve ever seen. At least, that’s what I think the solution is. Putting it into practice is still something I haven’t gotten down. On the back end of the story, I’d much rather have cooled my expectations to a reasonable level than push myself out of a good relationship with a great person. Guessing from the multiple stories in this book, that’s a lesson that’s all-too-often learned too late.
That’s the point that makes this book so valuable, and so controversial. Most of us just aren’t ready to give up our idealized dreams for a real life; and those of us that are don’t need to be told how to do that.
Lest you think that there’s no backlash among the menfolk of the world, here’s another little nugget from the book:
“I have boatloads of eligible men as clients,” he said, “but many of them have told me that they’re ready to write off dating entirely. They say that the modern American woman brings nothing to the relationship except this deep-seated hunger for him to be her everything — unless something better comes along.”
Again, ouch. If you haven’t read the book and want to, you can grab it here.
NOTE: I bought my copy of the book for my own personal use. I have not been paid to promote this product, although I may receive a small commission if you choose to buy the book through my link. I only promote products I believe in, and I have no affiliation with the author or publisher.