We in the marriage-promoting world have been all atwitter about an article in The Atlantic recently, Lori Gottlieb's "Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough." Gottlieb, a liberal feminist writer who had in the past written against settling, decided to have a child on her own before 40. Now, she wishes she had married when she was younger. She held out for Mr. Right, and now she is alone and regrets it.
I mostly applaud Ms. Gottlieb's sentiment. I think most young people have a distorted view of marriage. They think it is about someone who will make you happy. The core of marriage as a social institution, though, is to form a partnership that is good for your children. (And yes, of course, there are many fine and socially useful childless marriages. I am talking about marriage as a social institution, the marriages that most people have.) I think it is healthy for women to look to marry the fathers of their children before they think about finding their own soulmate.
What disturbs me a bit in all this talk of "settling" is that is leaves out how marriage transforms people -- especially men. Marriage reliably makes people more responsible. Very often, it also makes us better people -- more concerned about others, more interested in how the big world affects our own, even more loving.
Moreover, it is helpful and humbling to remember that our spouse settled in marrying us. We are all imperfect. Knowing that your mate settled in marrying you can be a strong motivator be the person she or he deserved to marry.