A hypnotist re: The feminist who tells women to settle.

A peculiar newsworthy item, which I will write about with the understanding that this blog post is not aimed at any of my unmarried female friends, or divorced friends, or anybody at all.  The topic, the culture around mate selection strategies, interests me.

This woman writer, who wasn’t on my radar before, but who I’ve probably heard on NPR, has a book out that advises single women who hit 30 to settle.  Marry Him:  The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, by  Lori Gottlieb.

More interestingly, she has a gruesome-funny blog article, quite catty, arguing against a rival author.  This rival apparently contacted her saying, hey, we wrote similarly-themed books; take a look at mine; she said, no thanks; Rival Author wrote Slandarous Lies about her book on Rival Blog; and drama drama drama.

But there’s a hole in her thinking that I find disconcerting.

Her argument is sound.  Basically, she says when you hit 30, stop acting like a teenager who wants to step into a romantic comedy -or- resign yourself to a life of dating.  If you want to get married, get over the idea that love is a “passion fest.”

She sez:

…if you haven’t found The One, go with the guy who’s nice and smart and interesting, and would be a good husband and father and a person you’d enjoy eating dinner with every night, even if he doesn’t make your stomach get all jittery with butterflies whenever you see him, because the “zing” isn’t the thing most long-married couples talk about anyway when asked about what makes their marriages work.

–Well, duh.

There’s a very prevalent basic confusion in America about what love is.  That “zing,” which is packaged and sold (and found to be mostly packaging) by the romance industry is attraction.  And, it’s attraction in a certain kind of case:  Usually it’s felt toward a potential partner, who you feel you could successfully land, but who you fear you might not.

So, that potential partner takes on a kind of a magical glow, with your bod going through these fear-excitement-victory cycles.  But this is your body’s way of propelling you into overcoming social obstacles and getting you talking to each other.  It has nothing to do with stability. 

(True of men and women, generally.  And, heck, that’s just a physical sensation.  A competent hypnotist can have a half-way cooperative subject turning that on and off on cue in one session.  Tip:  chronically single women will probably not be cooperative in this context.  If they were, they wouldn’t be chronically single.)

But, while Gottlieb’s argument is sound, her perspective seems really to have a flaw in it.  She has a rational, almost mathematical, way of breaking down the best moves and contingencies of single 30-something women.  It boils down to, “listen to what your Mom told you — don’t be so picky.”

But that’s the problem.  Even in telling her readership not to be picky, to settle, she’s still caught up in the tarbaby that is Romance Literture and its weird hold on the female psyche.  It’s not the mentality of a grown-up.

There’s no hint in there that she has ever made the attempt to relate to the guys she dates.  I assume she has done, and isn’t writing about it because she feels it’s not relevant.  But it is relevant; it’s the mindset that leads to real relationships with people.

Post-feminist society hammers this message into men every chance it gets:  Learn to ask, who is she as a person?  — And it’s a good lesson, not just in dating but in general.

The idea is, a guy sees a girl who has a certain type of body, of face, of voice, a certain way she carries herself, a way of being that attracts him, and he pursues her.  And let’s say he can express himself decently, has good grooming, and he gets her.  Great — now what?

Now what is that the person she is surfaces.  Those needs and desires that she held in check while she was looking to impress him all come back.  And the same for him.  Now they really have to deal with each other.

Sometimes, people come to hypnotists with their questions the way they would generally do to a shrink or priest.  The difference is that, if the thing is answerable, they usually get a very focused answer.

One young man wrote in to a hypnosis group saying he had worked so hard to become cool, to get good at dating, and now he had a girlfriend he really liked — “but it’s as if, because she’s so important to me, I almost don’t want to express myself to her.  It’s like I feel there’s a kind of risk there.”

Play the game ahead.  Start expressing yourself and wondering who’s on the other end of the line early.  When you start expecting them to follow your script, you’ll fail.  When you start trying to win, you’ll fail.  When they tell you something about themselves and you wonder, “Where’d that come from?  — I didn’t order that.” — that’s the wrong mindset.

That’s the preachy bit.  It’s how I tend to do things.  Now the bit of social license, which I reserve judgment on:

40 year old American women in Lori Gottlieb’s position are increasingly going to Nepal for “mail-order husbands.”  Why Nepal specifically, I don’t know; maybe they’ve got nice-guy genes or something.

I haven’t been to Nepal, but I’ve met one woman in Cambodia who had picked up with a native guy.  She was in her mid-40s and he’s around 20.  Usually we think of men doing this for wives, but it seems that the basis of the pattern is just in economics:  the payoff to busting butt and getting your carreer under way is status and money. 

Those might not buy love in the States, but they could buy a chance with an attractive partner in a poor culture with more practical attitudes about “settling.”

In Cambodia, a wife goes for $500-$2,000.  $2,000 if you’re a Westerner, $500 if you’re a Khmer peasant.  Upwards of $2,000 if she’s high status or if they think they can get it.  A creepy teacher who I lived near said his fiancee absconded with his $2,000, so take care.

Women get husbands free.  In fact, she might be able to make him pay, although it would likely be in the $500 range.

Disclosure:  I haven’t read the book, despite what my blog categories tell you.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Drama drama drama”, huh?

    Sorry, but that seems a little hypocritical coming from Mister “Oooohhhh noooooooo, someone was being MEAN TO ME in their IF-Comp reviews wwwaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!! cry cry sob sob!!! I’m going to go over to their blogs and write about strawmen and about human decency to bitch and whine about how mean they were wwwwwwwwwaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”

    “I mean waaaahhhhh we can’t have people being MEAN in their reviews cause then I’m gonna just cry and whine about it!! wahhh!!!”

    Seriously? Like, seriously, YOU of all people in the world, are gonna criticize someone else for drama? Mister Drama-Queen? Mister I-can’t-take-any-criticism-standing-up, I gotta facepalm the ground and kick and blubber and bawl about it?

    Oh boo-hoo, you loser, someone criticizes you and you practically piss all over yourself in your crying and self-pitying, trying to make it into some big “about the new IF authors” issue, when in reality all you want to do is lash out at the ones who spoke against you. But now you’re the one criticizing. Yeah, big man!!! All tough and stuff! Suure. Pathetic.

  2. Ah, but if you read the mouseover text you’ll see it says, “Well, we’ve all been there.”

    Drama, conflict, gossip, having opinions about each other — all of these are what humans do.


  3. @Enry:

    Get a grip, dude.

  4. Given your take on the situation, you might be interested in The Last Psychiatrist’s read on the whole thing — he’s also pretty virulently hostile to Gottlieb’s thesis, seeing her as a prime example of narcissism. Essentially he’s saying that if you consciously “settle”, what you’re doing is saying that you want someone to fulfill certain roles in your life but you don’t want them to be someone that’s “good enough” to inflict a narcissistic injury on you — to threaten your self-image.

    That’s something you hit right on the head with your anecdote about the guy with the hot girlfriend: “but it’s as if, because she’s so important to me, I almost don’t want to express myself to her. It’s like I feel there’s a kind of risk there.”

    If he’s not willing to let her understand _him_ because of narcissistic fear, how will he ever be able to understand _her_?

  5. Sorry, meant to link TLP: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/02/dont_settle_for_the_man_you_wa.html

  6. @Enry:

    Overreact much? Sounded more to me like he was appreciating the drama rather than criticizing it.

  7. Yeah, Enry’s pretty cleverly gotten me: I can’t knock his drama and be consistent in claiming I’m not dissing Gottlieb for her drama. So I’m now claiming that I was being secretly ironic.

    Matt, I’m really not hostile to Gottlieb’s thesis; I think she’s correct. But I think she’s correct in a way that’s unhelpful to her goals.

    You don’t analyze your way through human relationships. It doesn’t work. You’ve got to feel your way through.

    Being analytical can certainly help, but the kind of analytical thinking you need to go for is, “Ok, what am I feeling and what does it mean?” or, “What is my friend feeling and what brought it on?”

    Not, “Okay, he’s bald but he’s in my tax bracket and–” Men will objectify women in this way too, but we usually know we’re doing it (because we get called on it so often), and I think we also know it’s not relationship-shape thinking.

    I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone’s mental health, and I believe that people who are qualified to aren’t legally permitted to publically. But my sense is that this kind of thing isn’t brought on really by egregious self-love.

    Rather, people who are in the habit of thinking their way through things try to think their way through things that don’t reward intellectual grappling. Some domains of interaction require emotional or social intelligence rather than intellectual intelligence.

    Not everyone has invested the time and energy in understanding people in that way. And then, when the guidance they’ve gotten is counter-productive, as Gottlieb has concluded the guidance she’s gotten has been…


  8. Yeah, that’s an interesting site, Matt. Thanks for the link.

    Another link, this one to an interview with Gottlieb’s ex:



  9. Fascinating article. I now know much much more about Lori Gottlieb than I really wanted or needed to know… :)

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