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I'm still chewing over the issue of 'settling'.

My mother, and my aunts, understand what the word "settle" means, but the colloquial phrase, as used by Gottlieb, and understood by both me and the people who posted on this thread here, was not familiar to them. They were, of course, expected to marry; they were, of course, expected not to have sex until they were married; they were expected to be good girls, and they had the usual contemptible and completely enraging words for the not good girls.

(My mother and I had a number of arguments, debates, and all-out screaming fights when I was a young teenager because she'd raised me to be relatively practical and relatively logical, and some of those phrases struck me as sexist, hugely gender-biased, and entirely unfair. My father would very quietly pick up the newspaper and head out to the living room when we talked about these things because a) he had no opinions to offer and b) the words could easily become incendiary.)

But my mother's generation didn't use the term "settling" in the same way. And it occurs to me that there are reasons for that, one being that women were not considered capable of their own upkeep away from their parent's house; marriage wasn't a matter of romantic love; it was a matter of necessity, like finding a job. This, by the way, is not the way it was ever presented to me; this is hindsight. It was important to my mother that we all marry for love.

Yes, that was a digression.

What I am still wondering, however, is why "settling" has no real male counterpart. I asked my husband about it, and he understands and recognizes the term -- but it's a term that women use, and they apply it to other women. So I asked him what the male equivalent was. There was some silence and some thought, and then he admitted that no male equivalent came to mind.

So I asked him why.

He said that men in general don't talk to each other about relationships or relationship issues; they don't talk about their marriages, their wives, or, once they're no longer teenage boys, their sex life. If they're talking about relationship issues, they're almost always talking to women.

So... why is this? Is it just the cultural context, that leftover conditioning that still requires women to be in relationships to be happy? Men are often lonely; is it just the social pressure not to talk about these things that prevents them from entering the same types of conversations, or are these conversations inherently pointless or boring?


Mar. 12th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
Alex, continued
I don't believe conversations about relationships, or about this concept of settling and all the ensuing thoughts, are boring, but I also recognize I'm not exactly Joe Everyman. I know other guys I could easily have these conversations with who would also not find them boring. But I definitely know MORE women who I HAVE had conversations like this with, who are much more interested in the topic, and in analyzing the whys/hows/wherefores.

On the whole concept of relatinships = happiness, I do believe we are all -- men and women alike -- conditioned to think that coupledom is the be-all, end-all, and that the definition of coupledom that we are handed is often incredibly damaging. I think men are less likely to ADMIT that they believe coupledom = happiness, although here I do see a significant difference between gay and straight men. My gay friends are much more frank than my straight friends about wanting a relationship. And men are certainly offered a much larger variety of ways to define themselves in our patriarchal society than by their relationship status. I do believe women disproportionately suffer from the relationship-mania.

But when the truth bubbles up, even my straight friends are really expecting to find someone some day. And in all cases, I've heard discussion about settling versus waiting for The One. I read Gottleib's article when you linked it, and I read the ensuing conversation. I admit I did not read the interview, although I had planned to, but after reading the article I just found myself not liking Gottleib and not wanting to read the interview with her. I think your discussion of what she was saying was very close to my thoughts on finishing the article. Because while I dislike the societally-supported idea that all people must be in a relationship to be happy, I COMPLETELY believe that the human animal is a social animal, who functions best when in regular contact with supportive, affectional other human animals. Do I think we all need to be married or in romantic bliss to be happy? Absolutely not. Do I think a lot of people are lonely, and long for companionship? Absolutely.

I hated Gottleib's tone, although I think your husband is correct in his assessment that she was "trying to be funny." She wasn't. She was aiming for something, and she completely missed, imo. But I read her article and came away thinking "at the heart of it, when she's making those horrific statements about how all women want to married, what she's talking about is the human impulse to share our lives." And that's not only NOT a bad thing, it is certainly not something that is confined to women. Even the biggest introverts around (read... me) have the impulse and desire to be in contact with supportive, affectional humans. We thrive under human contact, and we often fade and wither without it. In no way shape or form should a high value on relationships be seen as a weakness, but so often it becomes narrowly focused down to "A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP" which again, I think has been twisted out of all recognition by our society/culture, and yes, by popular culture, however much I adore it.

I think the idea of reevaluating how we choose the people we surround ourselves with, and the relationships we form with them, is fantastic, and that it's way past time more people talked about it. I think that *may* be some of what Gottleib was trying to get at. The offensive and demeaning way she presented settling almost completely obscured it, however. I could read it between the lines in places, but her tone and style really got in the way.
Mar. 13th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Alex, continued
My point of view is from a similar perspective to savvyjack, and I have to agree with him that I don't think that it's necessarily the case that that men don't have to settle.

Instead of "settle" for an imperfect relationship, men typically have to "settle down" and "grow up," and find the one woman that he will spend the rest of his life with. Based on my understanding of my parents generation, by the time a man finished college or soon thereafter he was expected to marry and stop sleeping around.

It's possible that this differentiation is driven by a biological difference: that men are biologically compelled to have sex with multiple partners while women are looking for stability and support.

In that sense, both sexes have to settle for different things based on their drives.

Interestingly, from my perspective as a gay male, this would certainly explain the skew that I see in male same sex couples that skew toward "open" relationships and lots of promiscuity in the younger years and female same sex couples that skew toward instant commitment to the point of sexual dissatisfaction.
Mar. 13th, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Alex, continued
Wow, Alex :D.

Thank you for this, and I have no issues at all with your version of rambling. I did think that the Gottlieb article was going to offend far more people than it enlightened, and that the offense would discourage discussion about some of the things that she obliquely brought up, and in general I've assumed it's a human impulse to want to be social, to have support and understanding, and to build partnerships.

But it occurred to me that the target audience Gottlieb appeared to be writing for were women, and yes, that made me start to think, and I'm happy that you stopped to post what is a very thoughtful and helpful comment.