Beauty, Dysmorphism, Love and NOT “Settling for Good Enough”

I have finally found some time to read a variety of posts from fellow bloggers, and through three different posts, something strikes me. First, was at Little Big Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy who writes about a new book by Lori Gottlieb, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. She is irked by the title, by the idea that women are being told to “Settle” for something that is not excellent, or perfect, but “good enough.” Along a similar vein, a friend, Shafeen, in his blog ~synthesis~ discusses the idea of barriers in schools, whereby we, as a society are setting the bar too low in schools, thus ensuring the failure of our kids. In an opposing view, Dad’s House praises the book, saying the book will help women consider more carefully their real requirements in a partner. Over at Better Now, Kristin writes about being criticized for trying to be healthy, for being tall and skinny, for having (and writing about) her hot boyfriend. She is accused of being dysmorphic and self conscious for simply learning to be at one with herself, for raising the bar for herself. And finally my friend Lindsay at Dispatches on Writing, Art, Music discusses the meaning of beauty with relation to teaching a Rilke poem. When she asks one of her students what they think the meaning of beauty is, one whispers “that I’m ugly.” She writes, “Beauty reminds us of our inadequacies, of our mortality, of our limits. Beauty tells us of our short-comings, but also of what is possible.”

Lately I have been aware of my own indifference to beauty. At risk of being accused of being dysmorphic like Kristin, here is the truth: when people tell me I am beautiful and I don’t see it. When I look in the mirror I see eyes, nose, mouth, hair, but I fail to see whatever it was that lead them to that conclusion.  I suppose when I see beauty in someone, it is not about the components, its about the overall effect. A gesture, a twinkle in someone’s eye, the way a certain light plays in someone’s hair. I might find beauty in a hand (as I did Arron’s), but it has more to do with what the hand can do, its touch against mine. These are things one rarely sees in a mirror.

Lindsay writes in her post: “Love, like Beauty, is supposed to take you somewhere. It has the possibility (the promise?) of taking you closer to yourself, closer to God, closer to life, to Spirit, to Mystery. No matter what you are loving… The lover, takes you, “in the gathering out-leap” beyond who you were, so that you can be at one with yourself, with the world.”

Tall order.

I don’t know what is in the book, though clearly the author believes that women are setting the bar too high, thus not achieving their unrealistic goals. We expect love to take us beyond who we are. But isn’t that always the challenge? I don’t think I am willing to “settle” in any aspect of my life. I guess I will have to read the book to be convinced otherwise.

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  1. January 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Ah, the "settling" question. I think it is on par with the "grass is always greener" syndrome.

    When I first met my husband Rob, he was considering making one of the lists that people make of qualities and must haves. I told him (we were just friends at the time) that I felt people used those lists to limit themselves and keep themselves from having relationships b/c no one can ever be perfect enough to live up to them. In the meantime, perfectly wonderful prospects are being ignored or discounted.

    There are deal breakers, naturally, but I learned over the long span of my life as a single girl, that it was better to give a potential date the right to stand or fall on his own merit rather than simply reject him based on a checklist that might be unduly influenced by peers, the media and my own silly notions of what would make me happy as opposed to what I really needed.

    If I hadn't tossed aside the notion of that it was "settling" to give a chance to someone sweet but not perfect, I wouldn't have fallen in love with and married my late husband and consequently wouldn't have met my second husband Rob.

    Settling is a word that should be banned from the dating lexicon.

  2. Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I think marriage in contemporary society is outmoded…it's pretty rare for someone to hot all the right notes. I think that it's better to ask yourself what you're honestly needing from a relationship/partner and go from there. One person cannot fulfill our every need.
    Arron was a hard act to follow. He set the bar high – so perhaps it's best not to use him as your "bar" but rather, consider where you are in your life and where you're headed, and go from there. Easier said than done.
    Settling does seem derogatory. Sometimes it's about being realistic.

  3. Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I am almost 7 years into widowhood.. having joined this club with a 3 and 1 year old. I had many 'settling' opportunities… men who loved me, and with whom I could resume much of my "life' as a suburban mom. It just didn't work for me. I also bristled against the 'divorced man' drama of shared custody and failed relationships. I eventually accepted that and began to cultivate a dating/relationship life that was very separate from my home life. I was completely taken aback last Spring when a man literally walked into my house and swept me off my feet. I never thought a fellow suburbanite-much less A DIVORCED MAN – would connect on such a deep level. We have parenting in common, we are in love with each other. I remember this love. It feels familiar and it was good.
    Settling never sets as well as we think.

  4. BigLittleWolf January 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    My issue is with both the language we use (without considering its full weight and impact) and the concept – though I suspect if we dig more deeply into Ms. Gottlieb's premise, there is significant meat and common sense, certainly in a number of areas that I myself have experienced.

    My concern in the language (which I've been addressing in a number of posts, for the days prior to the "Mr. Good Enough" article) is that we subtly and unknowingly disparage ourselves, project less powerful reality through language. And language does indeed influence self-image, external perception, effectiveness, and so much more.

    Re accepting compromise – that is a necessary part of all areas of life, in ourselves, our work, our daily living, our partners, our empty places. It is different from "settling."

    As for beauty – it is a potent motivator and fluid goal – if such a thing can be structured as a goal. Billions are poured into encouraging us (women, mostly) to seek and attain "beauty," while other interests thrive on encouraging our search for inner beauty. The standards for either? Elusive, mutable, cultural. Pointless? Another discussion.

    I think about character, integrity, laughter, sexual play, curiosity, spirit, tolerance – these aspects of any person are – to me – worthy and beautiful. I think of times I've lived in Europe, with such a broad spectrum of "acceptable" beauty that is a more total package – interior + exterior + time.

    Musings, on all of the above. Language, beauty, culture, pop culture, our susceptibility to seek out the quick-fix, and actually expect it to endure.

  5. dadshouse January 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I happily place myself in the category of "good enough". I actually think I'm a better catch than that, but no matter how great a catch I might portray myself to be, women will always (always!) find someone better. Someone handsomer, or with google millions (or billions), or without kids, or whatever criteria is keeping them from dating me. It's true for anyone. (And I know it's two-sided – I sometimes hold myself back from dating a woman because I think there's someone better out there, somewhere)

    And so I have stopped portraying myself as a great catch. I'm just a guy, a single dad who takes care of his kids, a homeowner who mows his own lawn, a formerly successful high tech engineer who is working hard to make a mid-life career change to something I love.

    I'm just a guy. And I'm certainly good enough. Surely some day, some woman here in Silicon Valley will realize that good enough doesn't mean setting. A good enough man really can be a great catch.

  6. Abigail January 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I think the odd connotation with the word "settling" implies there is a lack of love. I don't think I would consider any relationship as "settling" if we were madly in love. Nor would anyone else. I will be curious to see what the book has to say about that. Perhaps love is just assumed. But I can't imagine walking away from someone I loved just because they didn't live up to some unrealistic expectation.

    That said, perhaps its about not allowing love to happen in the first place based on unrealistic expectations. Again, for me, it would come down to attraction and compatibility. If there is that, I would give a relationship a fighting chance.

    I wonder if the book was called "Marry Her, the Case for Settling for Ms. Right", whether it would contain similar arguments? Would that book even get written? Probably not. Men, it seems don't have this problem.

  7. Supa Dupa Fresh January 19, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Abby, I think I agree with BigLittleWolf's comments but of course I have not read the book yet. I think that both men and women have expectations about romance and love that (1) keep them from getting what they want and (2) have nothing to do with partnership.
    Evidence? Crazy high divorce rates.
    Honestly, as much as I hated being widowed I don't really think anyone should think it's okay to die alone. It's part of the mentality that being single forever is okay. I'm not sure that's true.
    I'm sure I'm saying it all wrong. Sounds like a good topic for an entire post of misstated strong opinions, as ever. 🙂
    Some days I think we just don't have enough words for different kinds of love.

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