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Who Says It's Settling?

Most people who end up married to non-stars don't view themselves as settling, even if that is what it looks like towriter Lori Gottlieb.
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A few weeks ago, The Atlantic published an intriguing essay by memoir writer Lori Gottlieb. Titled "Just Settle: The Case for Marrying Mr. Good Enough," Gottlieb used her own example as evidence that maybe, just maybe, a woman shouldn't hold out for the guy who earns seven figures annually, looks like Brad Pitt, and promises to make her heart go pitter-pat for the next 50 years. Instead, if a woman approaching 40 wants a life partner, she might have to learn to lower her standards. She might have to -- gasp -- settle. After all, many of Gottlieb's friends have done just that, at least according to Gottlieb.

That's right: Gottlieb's friends apparently married Mr. or Ms. Just-OK so they could get on with the business of making babies, scheduling cocktail parties, and opening joint stock accounts. Not surprisingly, the blogosphere went wild, and commenters accused Gottlieb of everything from denigrating the single life to suffering from rampant immaturity.

We'd argue that Gottlieb's mistake was in thinking any female who marries someone who isn't a combination of Romeo and Prince Charming had given up on romantic love. See, most people who end up married to such non-stars don't view themselves as settling, even if that is what it looks like to Gottlieb.

We recently published a book on workplace romance. We discovered that most of the women we interviewed for the book who ended up married or otherwise romantically committed to the guy in the next cubicle had known the guy for months -- if not years -- before they became intimately involved. Over and over again, we heard the refrain "I would not have married/dated this person if we had not worked together first." Why? At first glance, the dude just wasn't their type. Not Romeo. Not Prince Charming. Not even Brad.

So how did these pairings come to be? It turns out our workplace couples enjoyed the luxury of time. They got past first impressions to see how well this non-Romeo performed day after day under pressure. How he treated his colleagues, his bosses, the administrative assistants -- and how he was viewed by them. Time gave women the perspective not to prioritize the guy's poor taste in clothes, or propensity for bad jokes, or excessively obnoxious favorite rock band. In short, they got the chance to determine what qualities really mattered to them in a life mate.

It's easy to see how Gottlieb and others could think such couples are settling. After all, our culture teaches us to call it true love only if it's the product of instant chemistry, whether the spark happens while viewing someone's witty write-up on or nectarine choice at Whole Foods. The fact that a potential life partner could slowly grow on you ... well, that's so unromantic. That some folks might understand better than others how lovely a life you can make with a non-perfect human who is only a soul mate 75 percent of the time apparently isn't in Gottlieb's world view.

Can a gal be happy staying single, as many of Gottlieb's critics have argued? Sure. But the fact is few of us want to spend our days alone. It was not wrong of Gottlieb to point that out, no matter how incorrect such desires and needs are in certain feminist circles. So here's our advice for the single and searching: Give the guy some time. Agree to go out on two or three dates before dismissing him. And Lori -- consider getting out of the house, giving up the freelance life, and getting a job. You never know who you might meet...