I read this book nearly a year ago and it continues to haunt me, mostly in positive ways. Basically the author didn’t “settle” and in her late thirties had a child on her own because she hadn’t found the one yet. She wrote this book as a kind of public retrospection and now feels that she passed up many great partners. She does extensive interviews and research throughout the book as she tries to figure out what went wrong in her own case and how it might apply to other people too. Let me be clear though, the book isn’t about “settling” for someone you will hate, be profoundly unhappy with or that you genuinely dislike. It is about changing your expectations to fit reality so that you don’t end up by yourself and angrily married to your own fantasies. This book is a total departure from most other things you’ll read about getting married. In fact, that is why I picked it off the shelf. It wasn’t as romantic as the other books next to it (which promised tips for finding a blissfully perfect spouse) but something in me sensed that this woman had something real to say. Ultimately, I found the book useful. I will summarize some of the key points here that might help someone else. In varying degrees, I see myself in all of these–
REAL VERSES IMAGINED
Many people are looking for something better or different. She discusses how anyone you are with becomes less desirable simply by knowing them better. For example, when you first met them they seemed like a 9 but after six months they seem like a 7. She suggests that anyone you know well always goes down a couple notches because they are real and not a fantasy. Yet, it is easy to start noticing other people and determine that they are better than who you are with. But the new person will ultimately become a 7 as well.
Whether it is poets, drunkards, intellectuals, body builders, tall, etc. we all have a “type” that we prefer. She talks a lot about how it is important to let go of your type. If you have been unlucky in love perhaps your type isn’t really the right type (for you). Letting go of your specific expectations may open the door to meet someone who you can actually live with. She goes back and interviews men who she thought were not her type in the past (who she refused to date) and discovered that they were all really cool people with stable and happy lives. She also tracks down one guy who was her type and who she yearned for and he was, essentially, an asshole.
Some couples have an instant chemistry with each other and this is not a bad sign. What you don’t hear about is that many couples do not have any instant chemistry and that is not a bad sign either. They may dislike each other, not notice each other, or have some other early judgment that makes dating hard. Many people won’t go on a second date with someone if there aren’t fireworks. She suggests that we give the person a real chance, just like they are giving us a chance–and don’t end the story before it even begins.
DO THE MATH
She talks about how many people have a list of traits they want that are unreasonable mathematically. For example, if you will only date someone who is a certain height (weight, attractiveness, income bracket) you have eliminated most people. And then you are assuming that the top 1% wants to date you. She suggests being flexible (within reason) when it comes to height, appearance, income, religion and age. Of course, each of those categories is different for each person. If you want children then age is more static. If you are extremely religious then religion is more static. But if you are a casual Catholic and will only date Catholics….let it go. If you eliminate 99% of the dating pool with a wide range of unusual expectations the numbers are not in your favor.
YOU AREN’T PERFECT
She suggests that many people empower themselves out of a relationship. Their self-esteem becomes so high that no one is good enough. She tells stories of young women whose sense of self is so inflated that they won’t date the people who are interested in them….and only set their sights on the “best” candidates. The best candidates also think they are too good for everyone. So it is an upward spiral of misery. Empowerment and self esteem are good yet remember what the other person is overlooking in you before you judge them too harshly. None of us have perfect bodies, perfect careers, perfect personalities, etc. She suggests really thinking about some of the difficult things about you (neurotic, emotional, etc.) not to make yourself feel bad but to put things in perspective when you are searching for the perfect partner.
A LIST OF EXPECTATIONS
Whether we write it down or not most of us have a list of traits that our ideal partner will have. This list is made up of all of our past relationships. The result is a bizarre mixture of impossible traits. She talks about how many of the traits are incompatible. For example, we want someone who is spontaneous and stable, charismatic and trustworthy, rich with lots of free time….. She suggests choosing about three key things you really want in a partner and then letting go of the rest. If someone meets your key three areas, give them a chance. Another critique of the list is that we don’t prioritize or weight any of the traits. The list may have fifty things on it but if one of them is unmet it can suddenly become THE trait we need. The person you are dating is kind, honest, caring, funny, stable…. but not spontaneous. Of course you can have some basic expectations, or basic deal breakers (addition, abuse, etc) beyond the three traits.
PERSON A AND PERSON B
She tells many stories of people who left one relationship for another. They went something like this: Joe was kind and considerate but we really didn’t have a strong sexual chemistry. Then I left him for Dave. Dave and I have an amazing sexual chemistry but he isn’t very kind. So that is a simple example–but the point is: everyone is something and isn’t something else. When you swap partners you are swapping strengths and weaknesses. But you are not ever going to find a magic person who doesn’t have strengths and weaknesses. She goes on to say that ever relationship has about ten permanent areas of disagreement (even if you switch partners).
A GOOD DATE VERSES A GOOD SPOUSE
The traits we look for in a boyfriend or girlfriend may not be the same traits that make a good spouse. The things that are most important while you date may even become irrelevant during the marriage. She uses the example that most single people are looking for their ideal vacation partner when what we really need is a partner for the other 360 days of the year.
The impact that romantic movies have on us is amazing. She gives tons of examples of women who almost left perfectly good partners because they were comparing their partner to a romantic film. Not a specific film, but something like, “I don’t know, I just thought I would feel different. It isn’t like I was imagining it to be. It isn’t like what I always pictured. I know he loves me but, I don’t know, it just isn’t what I imagined….” Statements like that point to media indoctrination. It is easy to imagine that movies are real and perhaps our brains can’t tell the difference. At any rate, many people feel disappointed by the reality of love and yearn for the fantasy of it. If you need more convincing–would we pay money to watch something that we already have? We watch the movies because they speak to our fantasies….not to our realities. Sure, we can have some moments that are film-worthy…but life as a whole can never be choreographed at the level of a romantic film. I think this one is huge for people raised in a media generation (which, I suppose is almost everyone now). From the time you can walk you are bombarded with films that portray love stories. It is no wonder that when your love story comes along you might be waiting for music, soft lighting and the perfect line. When that doesn’t happen, when all of those feelings you always projected onto the screen don’t materialize as imagined…it can create a sense of confusion to the point where we abandon a real partner for an imagined partner.
ISSUES WITH INTIMACY
People who are impossibly picky, one match maker says, are typically those with an underlying intimacy issue. To protect themselves from even having a relationship they create impossible standards which will never be met and will always leave them alone. To these people, I believe the match maker said, “They will have a long term relationship with their fantasies.”
WHAT IS ENOUGH?
She interviews a lot of married people who candidly talked about their relationships. They all had traits they wished their partner had but were able to note the traits their partners wished they had. The gave examples of how the needs that weren’t met within their relationship could be met elsewhere (work, friends, etc) and that it is unreasonable to expect one person to satisfy all of your needs. The people who were able to commit to a real relationship were all willing to accept a person as “enough” and to stop searching for the “best” or someone “better.” So, Mr. Good Enough isn’t a loser. He is a real person and so are you.
So, there are some highlights. I certainly didn’t do or follow most of this. I read this book when I was already in a relationship. What it did for me, though, was nudge me toward reality. Many of these traits were brewing in me and could have become serious patterns for me. It was really helpful to hear story after story of people (in this book, it is always women) who were bypassing perfectly good spouses for ridiculous reasons. I could see myself doing that. I could see myself saying this person has traits 1-78 but does not have trait 79 therefore I am leaving. It sounds dumb but because I find commitment scary (issues with intimacy) I can easily see how my mind could isolate a problem and make it central.