Breaking Up, or Settling

So, everyone I know is breaking up.

Literally. As in, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that at least half of my closest girlfriends have, in the last couple of months, either left a relationship or begun to contemplate leaving one. (I should say, half my heterosexual girlfriends: as we’ve discussed, the lesbians are pondering babies, not separation.)

I have put off writing about this trend because, really, I have no insight to explain why this is happening–other than it is now the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which sounds vaguely appropriate. But then, most of these breakups were already underway. Go figure.

There is a striking pattern, though, among these splits, that has got me thinking. It’s that with all the short-term dissolutions, all the early-on flaking out and commitment-panicking, it’s the guys who are running away. No shock there. But with all the longer-term couples, the ones who’ve lived together or stayed together or even been married, the women are the ones breaking things off.

In almost every case, it is the woman’s first, or near-first big relationship. In almost every case, the men are a little bit older. And in almost every case, the men are certain they want to stick together and the women just aren’t.

It’s a tough thing: because, also in nearly every case, the men these women are leaving are good men. They’re lovable, smart and good-looking men. They’re men who adore them, and are ready to make a commitment. They aren’t easy to leave. But in most cases, I’ve helped to encourage my friends’ instincts to move on: not because I was, or am, absolutely certain that they couldn’t be happy with these men. But because I knew that they weren’t absolutely certain that they could.

Which brings us, at long last, to that toxic new book: “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” by NPR commentator Lori Gottlieb.

I won’t pretend I’ve read the book, but apparently she makes a case for settling down with someone who might be less than perfect, rather than follow her own path and wind up raising a child alone with a trail of rejected almost-good-enough men in her wake.

I have read, however, a brilliant response to this argument from Liesl Schillinger in the Daily Beast. “For anyone who dares order millions of people she doesn’t know to sell out their dreams, regret their accomplishments, fear their futures and ‘Marry him,’” whoever he is,” Schillinger writes, “I have two words: You first.”

Amen, sister. It’s not about settling for someone lesser than: I don’t think any of us are delusional enough to think we’re going to wind up with Mr. Absolutely Perfect With Whom We’ll Not Have to Compromise At All. As I’ve said before and everyone knows, there’s always compromise. But there’s a difference between compromising and settling. It’s not about whether someone is or isn’t good enough, whether they’re bald or handsome or rich or intellectual or whatever; it’s about whether they’ve got the most important things we need and want in a partner.

That’s a difficult thing to know for certain, and hey–maybe half these splitting couples I know will wind up back together. Honestly, I wouldn’t doubt if one or two did. But I don’t think it’s possible to find happiness by staying in a relationship when you’ve got significant doubts. And for right now, for whatever reason–whether its the Year of the Tiger or the location of the moon, or cause we were all raised to think that we should absolutely not settle in any part of our lives and are young enough to still take that sincerely–these women need to take a leap.

I can attest that it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But it’s easier now, while we’re still young, mostly unmarried and childless–than it will be twenty years down the road, when we may or may not realize that, actually, this isn’t the right thing.


Filed under Love Life

8 responses to “Breaking Up, or Settling

  1. Creative Writers at UNM

    well, in the words of my 80-something year-old friend Josephine Kirn, who told me “NO. Do. Not. Settle.” She waited until she was in her 50s to marry (when she told me this I didn’t think I’d be following her path exactly, but oh. well). She said it was worth the wait. She had 20 wonderful years with a wonderful man… and here’s the punch line… who left her really really wealthy.

    (My luck I’ll find an artist in his 50s who doesn’t have a fortune stashed away, but still the 20 wonderful years sounds good)

  2. jenny

    this may seem melodramatic, but i think the ideology behind this whole “case for settling” of Gottlieb’s (from what i’ve heard) is another manifestation of the culture of fear that keeps in place the status quo in our society…being driven or motivated by fear–whether it’s a fear of “winding up alone,” or of terrorism– is disempowering and limiting, and ultimately, i believe, destructive. Not to mention that it just straight up shows a lack of creativity. this is not to say that we should supress our fears or just pretend they don’t exist, or “focus on the positive”—but instead actually look at what is underneath our fears…as you say, it’s not about “settling”— maybe it’s just about being willing to shift our conceptions/perceptions of relationships/family/love, etc.???
    less articulately, this gottlieb woman pisses me off.

  3. Heather

    Lizzie, I’m devouring your blog, and all the comments, too! It makes me wish you were telling me all these thoughts while sitting next to me on the couch, eating popcorn, though. miss you

  4. Megan

    I haven’t read Gottlieb’s piece, though I think I remember reading an article she wrote previously about the same subject. While I’m not for settling I am for realistic expectations, which I think our culture doesn’t foster well. Many people seem to expect their potential mate to be everything–best friend, wonderful father, great husband, amazing lover, sparks flying, etc–and that just seems unrealistic. I like what you say about not comprising on the things that are most important, but what troubles me is that it often seems like people are looking for the perfect mate and that “perfect” mate doesn’t exist. I’m all for not settling, but I’m also for being realistic about your expectations. You might like A.V. Flox’s article about Gottlieb’s piece as well:

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Megan. Gilbert actually talks a lot about these outsized expectations we have of our partners in “Committed” and I think it’s one of the smartest and most important points she makes. I’ll check out this link, thanks for passing on!

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