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January 22, 2010

A Response to Jezebel Readers

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Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Jupiter Images

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Well, when I first moved out here from Tucson I wanted a guy with looks, security, caring. Someone with their own place. Someone who said ‘Bless you’ or ‘Gesundheit’ when I sneezed. Someone who liked the same things as me, but not exactly. And someone who loves me.
—Janet Livermore (Bridget Fonda) in Singles

After Marie Claire ran a Q&A with Lori Gottlieb, polemicizing author of the new book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, Jezebel did a rehash that inspired a lively debate among hundreds of commenters about whether women actually have checklists of the qualities they’re looking for in a man. Far be it from me (the writer of the original Q&A) to bow out of some good banter, so here’s what I think, having read the book, spoken to Lori for an hour, read the comments on the Jezebel story, and taken an informal office poll at Marie Claire.

Do women carry unattainable lists that prevent them from finding a real human person to love? Or, as a male friend of mine likes to say, “Is there anything you women don’t have a checklist for?”

Um, yes. Love.

Because it’s not really a list. It’s a series of scars, reminders of past romances from which we’d escaped by the skin of our teeth. Janet’s quote in Singles nails it. (Remember when Cameron Crowe was an oracle?) She doesn’t specify a salary range. She doesn’t say he has to look precisely like a taller, younger Elvis Costello. He doesn’t even have to “own” his own place — renting’s fine. She’s vague, open, because she’s simply learning from her own past misadventures, as we all do. Any inkling of a familiar flaw in the guy across the table, we pay our half and scram.

So, yes, the longer we go without settling down, the longer our so-called list, as Gottlieb argues. But I don’t agree that it means we’re less likely to find love. Maybe I’m a fool (not to mention a 35-year-old divorcée), but I think it’s a crapshoot at any age. It’s undoubtedly a compromise. And it should be, unless you’re looking for a Stepford husband, who meets your every requirement. (Yawn.)

Gottlieb does make a good point about our misplaced pickiness. Plenty of us go for the qualities that make a guy perfect for a spontaneous, sex-filled long weekend at Bonnaroo, when what most of us really want is someone who’ll help with the recycling, pay half the rent, stab our ass with a hormone-filled syringe, be a bath-to-bedtime hero, and, eventually, remind us to take our dentures out. (For those of you out there not looking to have a family, good for you. But you’re outnumbered.)

But no matter what your list looks like, shorter is better. Even Singles’ Janet Livermore, after a few years of dating in Seattle, narrowed hers to just one quality: “Someone who says ‘Gesundheit.’ Although I prefer ‘Bless you.’ It's nicer.”

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