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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 01:25 am (UTC)
I understand exactly what "settling" means, and it's a term that I not only grew up with but saw taking place in real life.

I think the reason that there isn't a male equivalent of "settling" is because of social conditioning which holds that the man isn't the party who comes to the marriage table with their hat in their hand, taking what they can get. There is an idea that a woman is under a deadline, both biologically and socially, so she needs the marriage. Where as the man should get married, but he's got no time constraints.

I also think that there's this myth that women are looking for Mr. Right, but men aren't, in the same token, looking for Ms. Right. I think we have this idea that women need a man who's perfectly suited to them and tailored to their needs, but men can just make do. Because men aren't as "picky" as women. I hate that, because it makes it sound like women are fussy and petty when choosing partners, but there is a very practical (and evolutionary) intelligence to being discriminating and not "settling".

Evolutionarily speaking, men have no need to find a "perfect woman", because the investment they make in the conception of a child is minimal and they can do it several times a week, even. See also: every episode of Maury Povich ever. Where as a woman puts years and years and risks her own life for each and every child, so she better make sure it's worth it. She better make sure she picks the biggest, strongest, smartest, most worthy mate because if she's going to potentially die or be injured in the conception, gestating, birthing, and rearing of this kid, it had better be for the sake of a kid who's going to be able to make lots and lots more of themselves, thus replicating the genes.

Which means that a man is lucky if any woman deigns to give him the chance to pass on his genes. Where as a woman is being stupid if she goes for the first guy who's willing to lay down with her.

Of course, this is all evolutionary biology and since we're not just sex organs on legs, there are a lot of social and psychological components - and we can overcome our programming.

You also have to remember that we're the heirs of a society that, once upon a time, brokered marriages like we broker stock deals. Because marriage was once upon a time were just as much economic affairs as anything else. So there is an idea that a woman better take the bargain that's on the table.