Waiting for Mr Right or taking Mr He’ll do?

Women who have failed to find their perfect partner by the age of 30 should give up their search for Mr Right and settle instead for Mr Right Now, an American author has claimed.

Older, single women often deny themselves any chance of finding happiness by failing to downgrade their expectations, says author Lori Gottlieb. (SMH 28.1.10)

She blames things like Jane Austen and romatic movies for making women feel that Mr Right is out there and obtainable. She obviously hasn’t read her Jane Austen that closely. Only heroines who have the good fortune to fall in love with men who are independently wealthy enough to marry whom they choose, rather than for property or money or status, get to marry for love. Witness Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice marrying Mr Collins because he was her only chance of a husband, and numerous other women settling on matches that were considered good, rather than marrying for love. Jane Austen is more often a cautionary tale. I would also hope that the author would credit women with more intelligence than believing that just because something happens in a movie it’s true to life. I wonder if she would counsel Lily Allen to marry her boyfriend who is so good to her except that he is completely selfish in bed. Is it better to be married and unsatisfied than single at 30?

Of course, this has immediately been panned by a number of critics, including Becky Pugh who has written We must never stop searching for Mr Right. There are many good reasons given for why 30 is a bad cut off age for finding and marrying Mr Right or settling or less. One woman didn’t meet her Mr Right until she was 40 and doesn’t regret a moment of the search, another questions whether being alone is really the big bad thing it’s made out to be.

But it’s not which side of the debate you are on which is really interesting, what is most interesting is the insistence upon marriage in a heterosexual relationship whether with Mr Right or Mr He’ll do being the only way to happiness and avoiding the apparently dreaded ‘older single woman’ (older than 30) syndrome.  I’m saddened but not surprised by how lesbian and de-facto relationships are erased or indeed any relationship that isn’t exclusively between an man and a woman, and how the capacity for women to be happy regardless of their marital status is ignored. The insult to women’s intelligence, well what’s new. Why do we need so many books about when and who to marry, instead of thoughtful articles about the pressure on women to commit. After all, unmarried women seem to live longer.

Categories: gender & feminism, media, relationships

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24 replies

  1. There’s a little fly in the ointment here. Without reproductive plans, for Mr Right is perfectly reasonable. However, if the source of reproductive sperm is over 35, epigenetics starts playing Mr Nasty (for a range of psychiatric issues, paternal age is more of a problem than maternal age, see this I wrote a while back)… so, given most sperm banks won’t use for reproduction any guy over 35… (and I reckon younger is better, glad I was 26)…. do the age-difference-between-partners-maths.
    (I’d love to quote in full Kate Hepburn’s “It’s possible … How old is Daddy then…what sort of spindly…” needling as Eleanor in “The Lion In Winter”, but you can look it up)
    Bottom line, for reproductive use, Mr Right is definitely under 35.

  2. Assuming of course that the woman in question wants children, and isn’t prepared to go it alone and wait for Mr Right to turn up later. 😉

  3. Mindy, agree with you wholeheartedly… as I said in the first few words “Without reproductive plans….perfectly reasonable”, and “for reproductive use… under 35″.
    Mind you, wait for Mr Non-Reproductive-Right, and time-permitting, THRN make temporary use of a Mr Non-Epigenomically-Screwed Right. You needn’t have constrained the sequences of things. 😉
    (Disclosure: Past my reproductive use-by date long ago… when Mr-Too-Busy-Single-Parenting, and now Mr Too-Exhausted-by-Grandson).

  4. I just love the assumption that OF COURSE all women want to settle down in a two-person relationship, and OF COURSE all women are heterosexual, and OF COURSE if you’re over thirty you’re On The Shelf. Oh, and OF COURSE if you’re female you automagically need to be married in order to become a Real Person. Because yeah, things have clearly moved on so much since the eighteenth century…
    Excuse me, I’ll just be over here, beating my head against a post.

  5. Thank-you for firing up your time machine and retrieving this essay from the 1950s. It will be a valuable resource on the alien mindset of those distant times. I’m so glad I live in the Future when things like this aren’t written any more.

  6. That’d make interesting threat – “have babies now, or your children will be ‘crazy’!*”‘
    *That’s how I’d imagine some people would use such information. Ableism and all.

  7. ”Bottom line, for reproductive use, Mr Right is definitely under 35.”
    Only if your prime or sole criterion for choosing a reproductive partner is “may carry a tiny reduction in risk for certain disabilities in the potential child”.
    There are a whole lot of us out here for whom absolutely maximising the chance of a child who will be considered abled by this society isn’t an overriding priority.

  8. I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but I just cannot get my head around the idea that the inherent unhappiness of being single is, without any qualification, automatically and invariably more terrible a fate than whatever unhappiness might/will ensue from “settling” on a partner (and presumably sticking with them for eternity) out of fear of continuing single-ness.

  9. Ugh. I love how they don’t even consider a woman might have “any chance of finding happiness” somewhere other than in her romantic relationships.
    Anyway, bollocks to “Mr Right”. The phrase suggests that one man is perfect, everyone else is wrong, there’s only one correct way for your life to turn out, and your only real freedom is the freedom to get it wrong. It makes women’s lives into a multiple choice question.

  10. This article is clearly written because many men can’t find women to marry them…so people have to convince women that being alone or not being married is the worst horror you can live through.

  11. Ms. Gottleib’s essay is the kind of advice/discussion/shaming that is necessary to the Patriarchy because otherwise too many of us would realize that being not-married-to-a man frequently means being very happy and doesn’t mean being alone. It’s men that benefit the most from marriage but we’re not supposed to notice that, or if we notice it, we’re not supposed to talk about it.

  12. I only bumped into Mr. Right after I finally dumped Mr. Second Best just beforw 30 … go figure I say to Lori Gottlieb.

  13. A couple of minor problems to do with blokes which I have experienced, being 28 and single, which haven’t been mentioned above in all the focus and flurry on what women are doing wrong or what women want.
    I was in a relationship which I thought was good and was heading towards marriage (and wanted it to)… and then was dumped very suddenly when the other person decided he was, actually, not interested in kids or marriage or anything now, despite having previously asked me about it all, but was actually a commitment phobe. (He’s with someone else now, natch.)
    So, there is the commitment phobe thing – where men pretend they want a relationship that leads somewhere, but actually don’t.
    There is also the tiny problem of, now I am single, hardly ever meeting any single, eligible men. Someone you can have a conversation with, even. Not an Adonis. Not with amazing finances. Not a wildly successful political wit. Just a nice normal thinking kind of bloke. It is my default status to assume every single man I meet is taken because it saves so much time.
    It’s been very weird being single again because somehow there was a very short period in my life between the point where it was easy to meet nice blokes (up to age 25) but I was just a bit too young for marriage and so were most of the blokes I went out with, and now, where at 28, I am considered past it in my town, with people shaking their heads and suggesting a good way to meet nice, intelligent men in the right age group is to LEAVE TOWN! and OMG you are so old now, it will be really hard for you to find ANYONE single to have a decent relationship with, let alone someone you’d LIKE!
    I’m not just fighting the internet’s expectations here – this is my real life, every day, with friends making pitying faces at me. It’s hard to take when you simultaneously have to say, hey, it’s ok if people are single, but actually would also eventually like to have a good relationship. Even the :chance: of it.
    In conclusion: I am not too goddamn picky!!! How about men step up to the challenge (or even just be available! geez!)!!!

  14. I realise I sound a tad over-the-top, but I find that adding a feminist outlook into the process adds another layer to the frustration of it all when I read articles blaming women and telling us it’s all our own fault we’re single so stop whinging!!

  15. Great post Mindy, really enjoyed it.

  16. Man. I couldn’t stand having someone around I wasn’t wholly in love with. I was with a guy for four months I wasn’t wholly in love with and I was sniping at him by month 4. I hated who I was becoming.
    So Miss Gottlieb is full of shit as far as I’m concerned. What’s important? That a woman is doing what’s important to her, that she has a good support network as she needs it, and that she is fulfilled and satisfied.

  17. What’s important? That a woman is doing what’s important to her, that she has a good support network as she needs it, and that she is fulfilled and satisfied.
    A-Friggin’- MEN. (The etymology of that is interesting – heh!) And if the above involves a relationship, well and good, and if it doesn’t, it’s no one else’s business.

  18. Both the settle-for-less and the always-keep-looking schools of thought annoy me, as they both centre a monogamous, permanent, heterosexual relationship as the focus of a woman’s life, and her only path to fulfillment. Gah! None of the four (five, really, if you look at heterosexual as specifying both straight and sexual) are necessarily the right option for any woman, never mind all five being the right option for ALL women.
    @Dave, if you’re looking at sperm supply (only), and feel that getting younger sperm is a worthwhile qualification, that *STILL* doesn’t mean that a woman needs to start settling at 30. The question of sperm quality affects the age of the man involved, not the woman.

  19. Caitlin@18 misread me I think saying “The question of sperm quality affects the age of the man”
    Um. Yep. That’s the only possible implication, ain’t it? (Although methylation over time seems to result in other patterns when imprinted through the mother).
    I’ll remind you all I’m ONLY addressing reproduction here. As I see it, the trend to much older parents is at least in part pushed by society and the demands of peers on people to climb the greasy pole before having kids, missing more optimal biological ages of becoming a parent, another work/life balance issue that I feel is under-recognized. I don’t blame individuals, but the systems that skews things this way.
    Apart from advocating (by information provision) reproduction in the goldilocks years, not too young, not too old, … why should anybody be telling anybody when to be in a relationship or not, other than perhaps, pull out stats tables.
    I /can/ say, categorically however, that I’m glad I reproduced earlier than my peers, and quite happy having been single, for more than 2 decades, able to invest in kids I care about (mainly, but not just, mine), not having a partner to distract me from what I think is right. (If I settled down again, there’d be a fair chance I couldn’t spend a quarter of my time out of town, down with my daughter and grandson.) I’ve been very fulfilled by that.
    I’ve seen friends accept the conventional wisdom they need to be paired up, at great cost to them, and to kids from earlier relationships. Some people don’t need kids in their lives at all.
    Why should anyone mind what your life choices are, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else? If it works for you, go for it.

  20. Gottlieb makes a good point. It’s not just about women though. Both/and/or/ all genders play this game in their heads where they hold out because “the grass might be greener on the other side”. But what if she’s right. I know some guys that want porn-star looking air-brushed wives when there are very few if any real women that look like that. Holding out for the unrealistically impossible could actually to more harm than good.

  21. Nearing the big 7 0, I feel like an expert on love and marriage. I had a child with my first husband. We met via someone I was acquainted with; he only called because she said I was funny (as in humor). I saw him come in the door and said, in my head only, “He’d make beautiful children.”. It was the early-to mid-1960s. I thought one had to get married…I was 23 and we did. I said, “If I fall in love with you, you’ll have to marry me.”. I really did. At 11 months, I said, “marry or split”. It worked for 11 years and one child. Single again, I decided (it was the mid1970s, I was an artist since age 25, with support from spouse, altho I worked outside jobs while doing art) I didn’t need a man.
    And that’s when I met Prince Charming. I was 39, and he some months older.
    We were together for almost 14 years before we married. It’s a 30year plus conversation: we still fight for who will talk. We bicker. We have the same values. Love is not always easy. Once I saved his life (heart), and he was so great when I had escalated CFS/ME and asked to go to hospital, that I said,
    “Let’s get married.”- after I caught up on some sleep in the hospital. We did. I insist on an equal relationship. I like marriage, probably my age. I did read Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” when it was published in 1964, in paperback. I learned after giving birth, decades ago, that I was not “liberated” since the US doesn’t have family supports. Wait for Mr. Right. I have married friends and many more friends, women who are single and happy. Do what makes you feel good. Feminism means choice. You know what that old English guy said about being true to ones self… Old women can be a bit sentimental near Valentine’s Day. I send my Valentine to all women. Women are wonderful. All women. Lesbian, bi, transgender, straight. We keep the world steady….

    • Sanda, I know what you mean about a 30 year conversation – mr tog and I are only coming up on 20, but that’s exactly how it is for us too.

  22. Sanda – I was having a rather awful weekend with the love thing, feeling rather sorry for myself. Your story and your words bring me hope. Thank you. 🙂

  23. Nacey – thank you very much. There’s a blizzard in NYC right now. Prince Charming got the day off (teaches in a community college) and saw your comment just now. We are about to look at a free movie online.
    Two things: there was an old saying in Brooklyn, NY where spouse aka Prince
    Charming and I grew up long ago, “Men are like streetcars and another one will come along.”. My mother’s name was Nancy.
    Last night, when I was thinking about this article, I remembered that a colleague’s daughter has just had her second child, and is not married. She’s well educated and working, has a boyfriend and doesn’t want to get married.
    So one need not get married to have children. And it’s OK to not have kids,too.
    And Prince Charming says, “Yay to that – the last part.”. But he was great with mine.

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