Settle THIS!

February 19, 2008 at 4:40 pm (Dating)

This makes me so angry I could stab someone.   Gottlieb’s analysis is so frustratingly idiotic, even her pop-culture references are wrong.  In Friends, Rachel’s ex-fiance, Barry, was NOT a “nice guy.”  He was a cheater.  Is this the type of man I should be settling for?  Gah. I think I’ve found the topic of my next lesson.

Here’s another reason not to take relationship advice from the “experts” on MSN.


TragicCrusade asked me to explain what makes me so angry about Gottlieb’s article, aside from the fact that I think she’s an idiot.  Here are my preliminary thoughts:

1) This article feeds on and reinforces the idea that ALL single women in their 30s and up are desperate for marriage: “every woman I know — no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure — feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.”
2) The author treats her readers with contempt.  Whereas she has built her argument on her own experience, she discounts the different perspectives her readers might bring to her article:  “And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.”
3) Her illustrative examples are all from television shows.  If a woman in her 30s is really letting tv define her ideas of love and/or marriage, then the advice in this article is not going to change her perspective.
4) What is “settling,” anyway?  Is it settling to acknowledge that looks and charisma are superficial characteristics that do not guarantee happiness?  Or is that just a mature outlook on relationships?  Is it settling to partner up with a man who has demonstrated he is meanspirited and disrespectful on the first date, just because you’re afraid to be alone?  Is it settling to marry a man who you know is gay?
5) The article is based on so many awful assumptions, first among them that women over 30 have diminished value: “After all, wouldn’t it have been wiser to settle for a higher caliber of “not Mr. Right” while my marital value was at its peak?”  It also assumes that single women and single mothers have no other emotional outlet or sources of support other than men.  No man=lonely, unfulfilled, and harried life. 
6) She never once mentions what these women are bringing to the relationship.  She advises women to lower their expectations regarding the mates they choose, but doesn’t talk about women’s expectations about their own roles in the relationship.  The only thing a woman in her 30s is bringing to the relationship is a face full of wrinkles and an aging womb, acc. to the article.  How dare she be choosy?
These are just off the top of my head.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I discuss this article in class next week.



  1. ashyknees said,

    Gimmicky books that promise easy fixes based on fictional examples and, in the case of the shamu book, the bleedin’ obvious in a scientific sauce.

    Thanks to the advice of Mama Ass, I manage to avoid all Women’s magazines and similar publications that are designed to take your money in exchange for wacky bits of pseudo psychology and information I could have figured out for myself.

  2. TragicCrusade said,

    Once again I find myself saying: What Ashy said. and adding I love the Greeks who said all things in moderation.

  3. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Well, Gottlieb’s audience is obviously desperate 30-somethings who feel the only worthwhile goal in life is marriage and children and all else is emptiness. And you know what? If that is indeed your only goal in life, and you are in your 30s, you should settle. Because then the rest of us wouldn’t have to hear you whinge about how you need to find a man and settle down.

    As for the other article, the version the author wrote for MSN isn’t very descriptive. The one she wrote for the Times,, gives a little more detail. And while its joking tone, “Oh, just treat your husband like Shamu!” is silly, the article makes some interesting points. The author doesn’t suggest that people to stop having mature, rational discussions with their spouses, especially about the important stuff. She does acknowledge, though, that there are annoying behaviors and habits that everyone has and wants to change but that resist conscious discussion and negotiation because they are so ingrained. The author talks about her experiment in trying strategies other than constant argument and confrontation to deal with these in her spouse–techniques such as positive reinforcement, or changing one’s environment or patterns such that the constellation of events that usually cause the behaviors in question do not occur, etc. Techniques that simply happened to be inspired by the work of wild animal trainers. I think her insights could actually be useful.

  4. Quiconque said,

    I wish I could see the NYTimes article. I’ll try to call it up on the work server. I’m not saying that operant conditioning doesn’t work in many situations. It’s how we teach small children, after all. But your husband is not a child. Nor is he some exotic animal. I have issues with the idea that one’s husband is in need of training. Furthermore, the examples of human behavior Sutherland offers reinforce stereotyped gender roles within the family.

  5. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Whoops. Remove the comma from the end of the URL. I think that’s what’s doing it.

    What you say is true, and I’m not saying she’s a feminist paragon. Her humor is definitely bound by conventional gender expectations and is annoying. But the article in The Times is a personal essay and not a “how-to” article.

    At any rate, my point is more about the approach. Not every disagreement between two people can be solved using the kinds of negotiation and communication techniques you’d use at a business meeting or at a legal arbitration. And while a husband or wife (her article eventually goes both ways) isn’t a wild animal or a child, he or she is also never a 100% rational human being whose actions are always within the control of his or her rational mind.

    I think that many people expect that the human adult is automatically a fully rational being in complete control of him- or herself who does everything with conscious intent. To believe that is to set oneself up for a lot of frustration or even failure in a relationship, in my opinion. In less conventional hands, the idea of being inspired by wild animal training techniques would be clever. And, as all of my married friends and my parents would agree, spouses are often in need of something very akin to training–training for a communal life with another human being, which does not seem to be something one can just wing on native intelligence and good will.

    Of course, one expects a partner to ultimately accept and take agency for his or her actions. But things on the scale of leaving the dishes in the sink, picking up one’s clothes, getting pissed off and frustrated about little things–well, let’s just say that I’m not so sure how successful I’d be in changing my own behaviors in this regard, even if I sincerely wished to do so to make a partner feel more comfortable. For a partner to take every incidence of such behavior as a deliberate offense might on some metaphysical level be correct–at some point, some decision-making would have to be involved that results in leaving a dirty dish on the kitchen table while I go over to see what sounds so interesting on the TV–it ignores the way such actions actually come about (subconsciously, through an absence of “willpower”, etc.).

    If the article were written from a more gender-neutral viewpoint, it would be a far better one, of course, and that is the reason why it would make a good article for your course. It’s true that the language used in the following line is stupid: “But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.”

    But the underlying strategy–not for winning a gender war, but for coping with the unpleasant idiosyncrasies of one’s spouse–is a good one, in its place. In some sense, everyone has her animalistic behavior patterns that do not submit to human rational control (or barely and poorly submit to human rational control), and to recognize that quality when needed in loved ones–i.e., not to always think of one’s spouse as an “exotic species” but to acknowledge the strangeness of other human beings and their more than occasional resistance to logic and reason–would probably be an invaluable tool in something like a marriage.

    I think Sutherland’s points come across better in The Times, which has a readership that is far more likely to err on the side of the sentiment that every conflict in a relationship can be solved through talking and reasoning. It’s good to occasionally have a reminder that some points of conflict, once hashed to un-death verbally, require either resignation, alternate tactics, or a combination of both, unless one is willing to turn them into “deal”-breakers.

  6. ashyknees said,

    I have two shocking confessions to make.

    1. I did buy a copy of Marie Claire late last year in preparation for Christmas travel. Sorry, Mama Ass.

    2. I still throw my belongings on the floor when I enter a room and leave the dishes in the sink for at least 24 hours after using them. Sorry, former roommates (especially, Mama Ass). If anyone wants to take this confession as an invitation to recount my college housekeeping failures, she can go suck on Shamu.

  7. zantimisfit said,

  8. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Yeah, I think the article sucks, but it doesn’t make me want to stab anyone. I figure that the women who will be receptive to such a message are better off following the advice in the Gottlieb article.

    Correction: I figure I will be better off if the women who are more receptive to such a message follow the advice in it.

    But then again, maybe not. If there’s one thing more annoying than listening to desperate, reactionary, man-obsessed single women, it’s listening to people who are in the process of a tedious divorce after an ill-considered marriage.

  9. TragicCrusade said,

    I feel I must add that no self respecting male really ever wants to be the object of a “settled” arrangement. “Oh Darling I am so glad you settled Now we can be happy err miserable err mediocre together forever…” that said, I still feel sad for her and anyone who really feels as she does because seems to be an empty existence.

    As my friend Angela says “Ill pray for you barring any other useful options”

    For Ten Feet, yeah you would be surprised how well rolled up newspapers and garden hoses work as boyfriend training aids. But like all such things reinforcement must be swift and consistant!

  10. Quiconque said,

    Thank you, Zanti!

  11. ashyknees said,

    I believe my parents have a successful marriage, and training played a large roll in it. No doubt about it.

    There were a lot of things my dad just didn’t know how to do when I was little, like shop for groceries. I watched my mom train him how to do this, and by the time I was in jr. high, he could do it by himself. Mom had 3 choices: do all the piddly family chores herself (and get burnt out and bitter), let Dad do them incorrectly, or train him. Now, if Dad could only train Mom on computer file naming, they would be an unstoppable team.

    People come into adult relationships with different skills and expectations about time management, sharing, ways of expressing themselves, etc. and standards have to be negotiated and renegotiated using various means. Training is just one of them.

    I have no problem with training adults. I do not hesitate to train the young adults I supervise in things that are often filed under “common sense.” Training supervisors –aka managing expectations– can make being an administrative assistant almost bearable. Lately, I’ve been training myself.

    If you prefer to call it education or communication instead of training, go ahead if that gets you through the night.

  12. ashyknees said,

    That Feministing link was awesome, Zanti.

  13. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Uh, TC, you do know that rolled-up newspapers and water bombardment are actually not considered humane or effective dog training techniques these days, right?

    Besides, your comparison to dog training is simple and a poor analogy. I fail to see where it’s demeaning–given that the alternate choice is a partner who feels forced to suck up your bad habits and negative personal issues and so becomes either resentful or resigned–to have that partner try more roundabout strategies to influence your behavior. Yes, being married or being long-term romantic partners is a kind of contract and requires clear communication, fundamental honesty, etc. But it’s also the kind of contract where you have to deal with a person’s farts, watch him/her floss, and confront the kinds of personal issues and ingrained flaws that you might never have to glimpse in a business partner, a co-worker, a visiting head of state, etc.

    You can’t come to a workable state of compromise and mutual awareness solely by decree, and you can’t found a successful relationship on the assumption that people will ever behave like Star Trek characters, in line with an idealized version of rational, compassionate Humanity. If you do–and a lot of us smarty-pants liberals do–you’ll end up with disappointment all around.

    This is separate from the issue of Sutherland’s humor and personal point of view, which are colored by traditional gender stereotypes, which I agree are generally objectionable. However, I find them less of an affront within the confines of a personal essay. This is in contrast to Gottlieb, who makes sweeping (and very wrong) generalizations about and recommendations to all women.

  14. ashyknees said,

    “Besides, your comparison to dog training is simple and a poor analogy”

    “This is separate from the issue of Sutherland’s humor and personal point of view, which are colored by traditional gender stereotypes, which I agree are generally objectionable.”

    Aw, geez! Do we have to be so strict in this discussion? If I wanted this much “unpacking,” I’d actually read the books that my employer publishes.

    Also, since we do not live in a Star Trek episode (not the one with Kirk, but maybe the one with that robot woman and captain Janewhatever), it’s nearly impossible to talk about the specific realities of personal relationships without describing situations that might reinforce gender stereotypes.

  15. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Yeah, Ashy, it’s true. One can almost never discuss people, period, without trading in some gender stereotype or other. Which is why personal essays that reflect stereotypes aren’t really the worst thing–I may personally find the particular stereotypes invoked objectionable, but, hey, if that’s how the author experiences the gender of his or her mate and his or her self… meh.

    I’m just saying that I see Qui’s reasons for objecting to the essay’s gender typing, but I don’t quite get her objection–or TC’s objection–to the idea of training one’s mate (in certain situations), and I think they’re separate issues. That’s all.

  16. Quiconque said,

    Regarding MSN’s treatment of Sutherland’s article: Consider the headline, “Done right, even your man can learn new tricks,” and the tagline at the top of the page, “Train your man as you would your dog.” Whoo hoo. That’s funny. Now, replace “man” with “woman” in each phrase. Is it still cute and funny?

  17. TragicCrusade said,

    Um Ten Feet you do know that I was NOT being sarcastic nor was I refering to dogs.

    honestly operant conditioning does work well on me. hoses less so.

  18. TragicCrusade said,

    For the record I DONt have an objection to mate training. Actually none whatsoever I was being ironic NOT sarcastic.

  19. TragicCrusade said,

    But I find your assumption that I WAS sarcastic highly flattering as it assumes that I am somehow enlightened; thank you. I am afraid comrade that I am probably not so enlightened as to be offended.

  20. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Sure, MSN’s treatment of the article is atrocious. It’s also wrong–training wild animals is not at all like training a dog, which is one of the reasons why the topic would warrant a book. I never meant to imply that whatever MSN was doing was either cute or funny or even remotely interesting. I pretty much think that reading relationship-oriented content anywhere (except maybe for Savage Love) is like poking myself in the eye, and wading into the morning show / talk show / human interest story morass is a surefire way to end up with a bad case of disgust.

    Instead, I was saying that Sutherland’s original essay used a clever analogy, wild animal training, to make some good points about getting along with a significant other, and that, her rather conventional and sometimes annoying take on her relationship with her husband notwithstanding, I found the article neither useless nor infuriating.

    As for Gottlieb, she’s strikes me as an idiot writing inflammatory crap to get attention from the media, which is why I guess she doesn’t evoke rage in me so much as disdain. In her writing voice (her lackluster, unremarkable voice), all I hear is her desperation to stir up controversy for publicity. It’s been a while since I’ve read an article trying to make a case for something that was so unpersuasive. More than anything, she demonstrates how she’s a pathetic victim herself of society’s gender and romance myths. Get me a so-called scientist who publishes a so-called study that “proves” women should settle young, and I’ll get pissed off. Or maybe just a writer whose name I actually knew last week.

    (And, TC–my bad. It read like sarcasm to me, but it’s hard to tell online.)

  21. Ten Feet of Steel said,

  22. Dixie said,

    Well, it sounds to me like she woke up in a sweat after watching too many “Mary Tyler Moore Show” reruns. I’m 35, happily divorced, and as of now I don’t plan on marrying again. I call it FREE WILL.

    And plus I love my dog more than most men because he doesn’t talk.

  23. Quiconque said,

  24. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Wait… this is the cartoon I meant to link to earlier. I somehow got the wrong link. Yes, of course I thought of you when I saw it.

  25. Ten Feet of Steel said,


    My romantic dreams don’t really involve prince charming or true love either. If I aspire to anything, it’s to one day be a hot cougar…but I feel I really need to wait until I’m at least 40 to really work on that. Seriously, when I was a dreamy teenager, I wanted to be grow up and become a ruthless femme d’un certain âge who had lots of scandalous affairs. Little did I know how hard it would actually be to be scandalous in this day and age.

    I may or may not have a child, (don’t actively want one, but I can certainly see the appeal), but the presence of a steady man in my life is only one of many factors I’d take into consideration before making such a decision–and it’s not the most important one.

    As the kind of woman who finds it rather irritating to have to graciously accept a man’s insistence on picking up the tab on a first date (I do understand that most men who weren’t raised by wolves feel they have no choice, so I try to be sincere with my thanks), I’m pretty much an alien to women like Gottlieb, and her point of view has all of nothing in common with how I personally construct romance or relationships. So her claims to know how I “really” feel or what would make me happy just make her seem more the idiot.

  26. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    You know what infuriates me? All of the conflation and nonsense going on in this article:,0,7810608,full.story

  27. TragicCrusade said,

    At least its op ed. But man… holy fraking crap I thought they got rid of ppl like her when they abandoned the rule of thumb.

    This is actually DANGEROUS. I dont like it it puts my friends at risk for bad things. This also makes me VERY Angry as a guy. And I know I did rail against Qui for not elucidating her objections to the articles for the edification of the clueless. So forgive me while I take a few days to calm down. Then respond to this steaming pile of…

    Also it will be from a guys point of view.

    Though ten feet I guess if we didnt know it was out there we wouldnt know we still had to fight it.

    Qui maybe you should start a gender politics blog since this thread seems to keep going.

    or something. Clearly ppl have things to say and are looking for a forum. I know its passe to speak about gender on the net, but its also passe to talk about race and I dont think ppl get honest real discourse about either.

    I would start one but… I dont have project space or you know weighty academic credentials 🙂

    Topics I’d like to see discussed: Are you superwoman and is that OK?

  28. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    TC, I think Feministing, Pandagon, and others cover that turf pretty well. I think this thread is more about friends having different reactions to the whole marriageability-scare trend in the media lately. I don’t really see it as a sign that any of us are in need of a forum to discuss feminism. We all started doing lots of that in college and never really stopped. But maybe Qui feels differently.

  29. TragicCrusade said,

    I have to say, I am not sure a blog to discuss gender is completely the same as a forum to discuss feminism. I am not sure they serve the same needs And also I was in NO WAY suggesting that thsi blog become either of those things. I was actually suggesting in light what I thought was a fairly open discussion of racial politics on “things white ppl like” that a similar OPEN and thoughtful forum on gender in general be useful. I also have a profound respect for Qui’s wisdom, scholarship, and sense of humor and perspective and thus felt that she would make a bang up moderator for such a blog. I wasnt suggesting that any of the posters here except possibly myself were in need of a forum on feminism. I wouldnt be so presumptuous.

    I think covering feminism is not something Id be equipped to contribute too. Other than as a cheerleader and again I agree NOT the topic of this blog though obviously topics tend to converge when ppl talk.

    Further I am NOT as convinced that Feministing and or Pandagon specifically cover the ground I think needs coverage well. Granted I have not seen all gender blogs on the internet. But my limited experience with those blogs left me wanting. They serve an important audience and purpose that is still crucial to discourse but I think that Feministing specifically does alot of choir preaching. In that thier audience tend to already understand and generally grok the problem. I was looking for something more open, or atleast that felt more open. I apologize to the rest of the audience for personalizingthis exchange. I also apologize ten feet if something in my post piqued your ire. As usual I should have been more explicit as to why I was suggesting what I was. I was actually thinking of a way (outloud) to encourage an open discussion between ppl of disparate views on gender beyond those of us educated in the north Eastern United States.

    With out engaging in a paean to qui I think this is something she could do well.

  30. Quiconque said,

    Thank you, TragicCrusade, for your huge vote of confidence. I’m not sure about starting a new blog specifically dedicated to gender issues, but I will definitely consider writing more about the topic here.

  31. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    TC, there was no offense taken at your statement, and I’m sorry if what I wrote sounded like there was. It was just that the conclusion I drew from this discussion wasn’t that there should be another blog about gender out there, though if there were, yes, Qui would be more than able to moderate/run such a forum.

    On a side note, I have to say that, for myself, there is no discussion about gender without the framework of feminism.

  32. Eva said,

    Well, things though could be very different if gender discussions would employ primarily and above all the concept of democracy. You see. no man can say in that case “you are just a democratic…”

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