(Arranged) Marriage and the Modern Girl

Talk about strange bedfellows.

My husband and I recently watched Arranged, the indie drama about two girls–one Muslim, one Orthodox Jew–who bond over their similar experiences as they each work with their parents to arrange their marriages.

Oddly, when we settled in to watch Arranged, I was halfway through Lori Gottlieb’s controversial book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.  Gottlieb is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, and she got her book deal after she made her argument for “settling” in its pages back in 2008.  (Where, oh where, did I recently read that this is why people write for The Atlantic–so that they can parlay their 4-page articles into book deals???)

Gottlieb tosses the word “settle” around like the fireball she knows it is, but her point is sound:  too many women are completely unrealistic when it comes to pursuing love, and they need a reality check before it’s too late.  (Because for women who want biological children, there is such a thing as “too late.”)

Gottlieb advocates “settling” because it gets our attention–don’t we all know that settling is bad?  But for Gottlieb, “settling” means not making do with a ho-hum husband, but realizing that the man of your dreams, the one who scores a perfect 10 in every category–including being super-hot and six-foot-four–exists only in your imagination.  But if you want a happy marriage, you’re going to have to find a man in the real world.

(The article’s tone is sensationalist and attention-getting:  it’s no wonder it remains one of the Atlantic’s most-commented articles.  And such comments!  But the tone of the book is thoughtful.  I recommend the book.)

Back to Arranged.  Per their custom, Rochel and Nasira are meeting eligible men, all selected by their parents.  The different religions have different courtship processes, but the basic idea is the same.  We see these women go on a lot of first dates–some of the guys aren’t terrible (but some are).  Awkward conversations, nervous laughter, and men who talk, and talk, and talk–about themselves.

Rochel gets this advice from the matchmaker:  she’s not looking for Mr. Perfect, because Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist.  She’s looking for someone who’s good enough:  a man who’s solid in the fundamentals, who she feels at ease with.  This is the kind of man with whom you can settle down, build a life, have children, grow old.

Which is exactly what Gottlieb–the areligious, liberal, feminist writer for The Atlantic–says.  You shouldn’t just settle for anybody–it’s not okay to settle for just anyone.  But if he’s thoughtful, kind and considerate–a good friend and companion–this is the kind of man you can build a life with.  Gottlieb discounts the fireworks, because that’s not what marriage is about:  “Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.”

And all the Jewish grandmothers said, Amen.

According to Gottlieb’s definition, I settled when I got married.  I married a great guy, but he’s not perfect.   In heels, I’m taller than he is–that was definitely not a trait on my list!   But he’s solid in the fundamentals, where it really counts.  He is thoughtful, and kind.  He’s a terrific father.  And there is no one else I’d rather run a mundane nonprofit with.  If this is settling, I’ll recommend it to anyone.

Take it from Gottlieb.  Or from the wise grandmothers.  Either way, the advice is the same:  don’t be picky, demanding and unrealistic.  Not when you’re dating, and definitely not after you’re married.  Look for a man who’s solid in the fundamentals–and if you’ve already found him, be grateful.

Because it’s far better to have a great guy in the real world than a perfect man only in your dreams.

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  1. I have a single friend, who recently started dating a really great guy. She’s 28 and has the longest list of “must haves” that I have ever seen. But, I think she’s starting to let go and realize marrying a guy with 10 of her must haves {things like, must have travelled to x amount of places} is not that likely and that marrying a guy with her “will not budge” {same religion/beliefs} is much more doable.

  2. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says:

    I wish I could have given this book to a few of my girlfriends who are currently married. But, sigh, I think if you get yourself in the “passion-fest” mindset, you might stay there. When I married my wonderful husband there were 3 rules we both agreed upon: 1) no cheating, 2) no hitting and 3) no addictions. Everything else we knew we would work through as it came. He is not perfect, but he is pretty darn close and I love every ounce of him! I feel sorry for women (and especially their poor husbands) who refuse to “settle” and instead constantly make their life unhappy with unrealitstic expectations.

  3. This is very facinating stuff. The greatest shocker in considering this article, wait for it . . . he might have “settled” for “good enough”! I know that I am not Miss Perfect either. I happen to be taller than him in heels, too Anne. I also get very cranky when I’m hungry. Despite my faults, my (also imperfect) hubby loves me like I’m the best thing going. For a wedding shower gift, someone gave us a little plaque with this advice, “A great marriage is where both spouses think they got the better end of the deal.” When I realize my imperfections and see that he loves me despite them, I know that I have the best deal going!

  4. Bethany says:

    I have been trying to articulate this to some of my single friends, and it always comes out sounding pathetic, so I am happy to see it written so well here! I know so many people who are looking for this perfect being, but what they should be looking for is someone who they can grow old with. I love the idea of looking for someone you can open a non profit with, so funny and appropriate.

    I know my husband doesn’t have some of the traits that were on my ‘list’, but he is an amazing person, and he makes me happier than I have ever been!

  5. TSS says:

    Any advice for single women who are around 35 years old and believers, who have exhausted the common advice of how to find eligible men (neither friends of friends, nor coworkers, nor men I know in church, have all 3 non-negotiable characteristics: 1) serious believer who lives like he believes; 2) single and not already in a relationship; 3) age in the 25-45 bracket)?

    I am not American, so please do not suggest catholicmatch.com (I tried, the number of men in my country there doesn’t fill one’s fingers…)

    Thanks in advance!

  6. Sarah says:

    I LOVED that movie. I loved the scene where she is listening to all the “suitors” and their ridiculous extremes! From so boring to totally obnoxious. And I loved the pressure given by the matchmaker and her mother. It was a great movie. 🙂 My husband’s Italian grandfather told him “While dating, keep your eyes open. In marriage, keep your mouth shut.” 🙂 Another great article, friend!!

    Have a wonderful day, Mrs. Darcy.

  7. Katie says:

    I feel so blessed when I think about my husband. Sometimes I feel like he may have “settled” more than I had to. After several relationships I had to re-evaluate my “must haves” and made it a lot more realistic. There were things on my list that were very important to me like moral and religious beliefs. We have now been married for almost 2 years and although I am taller than him with any kind of a heel on, I am very happy with the man I married. He has so many great qualities and I feel like I got the whole package, the love of my life, and a man I can live with.

  8. David says:


    Here’s some advice from a gratefully married man. You may find none of this advice useful, and you may find it all redundant, but I hope one or more of these bits of advice help:

    First, pray a novena to our Blessed Mother that God may give you the insight to see what His vocation is for you, and to confirm that vocation with joy.

    Second, if you believe God is calling you to marriage, pray a novena to St. Raphael to find a husband and to ask God for the patience while you’re waiting.

    Third, take action. Think hard–where would you find the kind of men you’re thinking of? What religious activities, group activities, etc. Make yourself available.

    Fourth, have confidence in yourself. God made you beautiful. Know that the average good guy finds the average woman very attractive–and rightly so. It’s just true, and alot of women despair far too easily.

    Fifth, more practical stuff. A friend of mine reported that one of her friends–whom she described as not terribly attractive nonetheless attracted lots of good men. When asked her secret, that other gal (whom I’ve never met) said she smiled, laughed, and baked…alot. I just laughed when I heard it. It works.

    In addition, of course, some moderate attention to your appearance, etc., but the vast majority of women already know that (or overdo it).

    Just remember your warmth, smile, confidence will be a delight to you and your future husband.

    God bless you!

    • Tss says:

      Thanks, David. Your comment is useful, both in confirming some ideas I already had (4th point is something I started believing when I converted 🙂 It’s interesting that as soon as I saw myself as a daughter of God I started seeing more of my beauty, and more of other people’s beauty as well) and in giving me new ideas (both novenas are probably ideas I should have had before 🙂 )

      Thanks again!

  9. Anna says:

    This is quite an interesting issue; it brings a number of ideas and questions to my mind.
    I’m going to check out the movie.
    Thanks, Anne, for another intriguing post.

  10. Patricia says:

    “too many women are completely unrealistic when it comes to pursuing love, and they need a reality check before it’s too late. (Because for women who want biological children, there is such a thing as “too late.”)”

    I completely agree with you here BUT,
    you ought to be on a dating website to see what it’s like. Both sexes are guilty of this to the point that it’s frustrating for all.

    Older men pursuing much younger women whom they would NEVER even have the gumption to approach in real life. We are talking 50+ men who won’t contact women their own age and who now believe the time is ripe for them to start the families they suddenly desperately desire. So they approach 20 and 30 somethings…..
    Men and women being extremely picky over appearances – forgetting that many people don’t photograph well.
    Men passing by women who wear pants, won’t have x number of children, won’t give up their job, won’t go to the Tridentine Mass etc. etc. etc.

    It may not be yet known by younger men but they too have a biological clock. New studies show older men are more likely to produce autistic children for example.

    You may have settled according to Gottlieb but I don’t think so either. Sounds like you got yourself a real man AND a keeper. Be good to one another! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Yes! Gottlieb talks about online dating a lot–including the really great guy she almost panned because he was wearing a bow tie in his profile pic!

      I had not heard that about the men’s biological clock. Yikes!

      As for my man, I’ll be good to him. I promise!

  11. Anne, I know I keep commenting a lot, but if you’re anything like me, seeing new comments is exciting. And I’m LOVING what I’m reading on your blog!!

    My husband’s and my story is kind of funny, and I don’t need to get into the whole thing. But I had a pretty firm list of things I was looking for in a man, things I wasn’t about to compromise on–he had to be a Lutheran Christian, we had to have similar political views, we needed similar opinions on “tough stuff” like abortion, homosexuality, other religions, etc. And lots of other things. Well, my husband and I certainly don’t agree on EVERYTHING, but we do agree on the most important things. He is, by God’s grace, pretty much everything I ever wanted in a man. I had met guys before him who were nice, but I wasn’t going to back down on those things that were important to me.

    So no, no guy is going to be PERFECT. But no woman should have to lower her standards for any guy, either. God gave me the man who he knew would be perfect for me–not a perfect man, but just the man for me. It’s not necessary to wait for the “perfect” man, but neither is it necessary to “settle” for one who’s less than perfect for YOU. 🙂

  12. AM says:

    I am a sensitive, good-looking, confident man with a doctoral degree and a great sense of humor, and proficient in four languages. All women I know have asked me how come I am not married yet. They have done it for the past ten years. They never want to hear my honest answer to the question: women do not care for men’s personal qualities, but just for their material resources. In other words, they want big money. That’s it. The rest is bullshit they cook up in order to look nice to the general public.

  13. I wrote a bit on this recently, how scary the absence of butterflies in the stomach can be for girls saturated in romantic notions (and there can be such peer pressure about it). There was an awesome essay in Passion and Purity on arranged marriage that really helped me through that time of uncertainty. Here’s my favorite quote: “What more do I want? Like a dog chasing his own tail, I went round and round trying to fix my need to be ‘turned on’ and shamefully it was a sure sign of ill health and danger. Stable and solid relationships were nurtured in the context of maturing love, not magical love that abandoned caution and wisdom” (257). Lucky for me, my dad kept giving subliminal messages saying, “Craig good. Craig good.” as I worked through all of my boy dramas, and eventually I made the right choice (and felt some butterflies along the way)…my little version of an arranged marriage. 😉

    • Anne says:

      Wow, Darcy, I haven’t heard about Passion and Purity in a long time! And that’s really saying something because I went to the Elliots’ alma mater and it was quite the popular book 🙂

      I love your description of your dad’s subliminal messages. Glad you made the right choice; hope to hear more of the story on August 10!

      • Oh, how to pick of all my juicy dramatic love stories to share on August 10?!! (So glad to be past the drama!) Jim Elliot’s journals were actually a big part in finally drawing me to my husband. And, our firstborn is named after him. 🙂

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