Okay, I’m starting to get a little concerned. The Alphabet Dating Game seemed like a good idea when I started out. But here I am a few months in, and I’m getting dangerously close to Z, without a good prospect in sight. I remember breezily declaring that I’d at least have to get to S is for Stefan before I found a keeper, but here I am at “P is for Peter” and things are not looking promising. I am a mere ten dates away from the end of the alphabet! What happens if I get to “Z is for Zach” and I’m still playing catch and release? Then what?
I suppose I could start on the Cyrillic alphabet, though I’d have to figure out how to meet men living in Bulgaria and Belarus. And of course there are all those Japanese and Chinese characters. But what an awful lot of effort just to document my dates! Really, I should just have given them numbers. There is beauty in the infinite.
The real issue here is that I haven’t met anyone who feels right for me. They’ve all been nice enough. I haven’t gone out with a single man who is crazy. Every one of them has seemed reasonably well adjusted. Actually, many of them have seemed to be remarkably together, responsible and respectful people. They’ve all been gainfully employed; indeed, many have been very successful, driving luxury vehicles, or owning toys like sailboats. I’ve dated a number of very good looking, athletic men, men who I’d be delighted to be seen with. I’ve met a number who have impressed me with their commitment to living their dreams, who are climbing mountains and traveling to remote corners of the world and completing advanced degrees, who are living Carpe Diem every day. I’ve met a number who seem like wonderful, thoroughly decent, happy individuals, men who I know would be really good partners. But I haven’t met anybody yet that both my head and my heart can agree on.
And what I’m starting to wonder is what’s wrong with me? Have I become the choosiest woman on earth? Have I developed a dangerously over-inflated sense of myself? Have I begun to discard men without giving them a fair chance, secure in the knowledge that there are plenty more out there? I think it’s one of the dangers of online dating sites like Plenty of Fish. It’s easy to become cavalier, to rule men out, to move on to the next promising profile without taking the time to get to know the last person at all. And I don’t think that it’s just women who are doing this, though I suspect we may be the guiltier sex.
And so, when I recently saw Lori Gottlieb’s book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, I picked up a copy. I remember reading an excerpt from the book in The Atlantic, and hearing an interview with Ms. Gottlieb when her book first came out. In both instances, I was horrified by her message. I’m simplifying here, but she argues that because we are too picky, some of us miss out on love, and that the older we get, the harder it is to find a partner; the good ones have all been taken by the women who haven’t been quite so choosy. When I first came across Gottlieb’s writing, I was a couple of years out of a marriage in which I had most definitely settled, and I was happy to be out of it; in addition, I was involved with Griff, and was completely swept away. I wanted to write to her and say, “Stop! Don’t you dare lead one more unsuspecting woman down a path that will ultimately lead to misery.” I wasn’t just horrified by her ideas. I was angry too.
But now, back on the dating scene, I thought that perhaps I’d be more receptive to her message. I wondered whether she actually had something to teach me. And it turns out that she does raise some interesting issues in her book. For example, we often keep a mental list of deal breakers in our heads, and rule out all kinds of potential partners because they’re too short, or too old, or not well enough educated, or not successful enough. Or blond. We have to be far more open about who might make a potentially good partner, Gottlieb argues. If I met an attractive man in a coffee shop, I wouldn’t be worrying about whether he fell within my age range. But if he were older than my arbitrarily imposed age limit, I wouldn’t even consider him online.
Another interesting idea she brings up is that online dating often provides us with too much information up front, and it becomes too easy to rule somebody out because they like, to use an example from my own dating experience, country music, and we don’t. If we actually meet this person and get to know him, the country music might not matter at all. But we don’t even give Mr. Country Music a chance. Again, Gottlieb argues, stay open, and don’t build up an entire story about a person based on his profile and a few email messages. She also argues for taking more time to get to know somebody before sending out the “Thanks, but No Thanks” message. We cannot get a good handle on a person after one hour-long coffee date. Stay open! Stay open!
For me, the most eye opening part of her book was her examination of the alpha male dating complex. I have a serious weakness for alpha males. I love a man who exudes confidence and success. I love a man who is really good at and passionate about what he does. I have had a long string of alpha males in my life. But the thing about alpha males is, in the end, they never really have enough time for me. They’re always racing off to the next important meeting, or starting up the next successful business. Alpha males are not, in my experience, available males. Certainly I need to meditate on this idea a while.
Ultimately, though, I think Gottlieb’s thesis comes from a place of fear, from a scarcity mentality that I am not prepared to accept. Yes, the good men get scooped up in their thirties and forties, and perhaps if I were in my twenties or thirties, and looking for a man with whom to have a family, I’d be more inclined to subscribe to Gottlieb’s message. But in my mid-foties, things look a little different. Have you looked at the divorce statistics in North America? A lot of those good men, married for ten or fifteen years, end up single again in mid-life. My ex-husband was not the right man for me, but there is much good in him, and I’m sure his current girlfriend is happy to have found him.
So I’ll continue on my journey through the alphabet, optimistic that perhaps Q or R or S will be a keeper. I’m not going to settle, Ms. Gottlieb, not until my head and my heart can agree on the same man. I’m not going to settle, not even if I have to work my way through a second alphabet, through 26 Bulgarian men, from A is for Atanas, all the way to Z is for Zhivko. I’m not going to settle for Mr. Good Enough. I’m holding out for Mr. Right. Or at least for Mr. Right for Me.