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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. 13th, 2008 12:45 am (UTC)
the social gender distinction is between "do I say yes?" and "can I ask?"

"Settle" is a description of an outlook for answering "do I say yes?" when the question has become immediate; the meta-question behind it is "will someone better ask?" and the viewpoint behind "settle" is "probably not" or "be realistic about what is tangibly possible" or something like that.

"Can I ask?" (and its diverse relatives, along the lines of "do I want to ask?" and "will she laugh?" and "am I good enough to expect a yes?" for a plethora of varieties of "good") can't be answered with "settle", as an outlook; this is the sort of question which produces "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" and the various myths of the efficacy of love and boldness. (Most romantic stories from the guy side are "if you are brave enough, she'll say yes" if you boil them down far enough.)

So there's no male structural equivalent, in the sense of "should I say yes?" not being a culturally male question quite yet; in the sense of there being an equivalent question, I think that's "can I ask?", and I've certainly heard that one discussed in male social contexts.

Generally elliptically and cryptically, but, well. That was hardly unique to the specific emotional subject.

-- Graydon
Mar. 13th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
Re: traditionally
I think you're onto something here.

This dynamic comes down to a "women are selling it, men are buying it" arrangement. Looked at that way, women want to command the best price, but if the offers are few, they'll "settle" for a lower bid. Men, conversely, are looking for the best bargain and consequently might feel they've "settled" for the cheaper item, when they might have been able to afford better.

But all this more or less requires that people be selling/shopping in the first place. I think women more often feel they've "settled" because many women feel pressure to find a husband and start having babies. They don't care who they marry--they just need to marry someone! When the pressure gets high, the seller will take whatever price she can get.

I think the original article correctly identified that common phenomenon. However, the author assumes that (a) this feeling is universal, and (b) it is right and should be encouraged rather than thoughtfully addressed.
Mar. 13th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
Re: traditionally
By the way. I read the first sentence of this post and said "This person sounds a lot like Graydon."

And thank you, because for some reason, I didn't think of this; I didn't equate "settling" with "saying yes" in the wider social context, and, well, it's not really the way I interact conversationally when issues are important (this would cover things like marriage, etc.), although you have probably not failed to notice this.

Sometimes I can be perceptive, but sometimes I am trapped inside my own head.