October 25

Little Free Library Find: Marry Him

So I stopped at my nearest Little Free Library (do you have these where you live? They are fantastic) while on a walk with my son, and while there were no children’s books that day, there was a battered ex-library copy of the 2010 book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, by Lori Gottlieb. Reader, I took it home.

I tell myself what draws me to these popular self-help books is my interest in their (frequently appalling) gender politics, which make them so elegantly symptomatic of the culture at large, but I think the real reason is that with their many anecdotes and case studies, they’re so much like gossip. But guilt-free gossip because the names are changed!

Lori Gottlieb presents herself and her friends as a group of likable, if neurotic, women, the kind you’d enjoy having coffee with, and demographically it’s hard for me not to identify with them to some extent. If you are not a middle-class, first-world woman, on the other hand, you might well find the book nonsensical, and needless to say there’s a pervasive heteronormativity as well: I for one would like to know if lesbians searching for Ms. Right face the same quandaries. (I guess she figures that with a title like Marry Him, lesbians won’t be her core readership.)

To give an example of how well I can fall into relating to her world, I remember having the same conversation Gottlieb describes having with her friends several times while I was in my twenties. It would go something like this:

Friend: Sheldon is a wonderful man, but I just don’t know. The sparks aren’t there, you know? He’s a dear, and devoted to me. Should I stay with him?

Me: I dunno—I think you’ve got to have the sparks.

Because of the romantic in me, I would probably still give that advice today, but Gottlieb points out that for the long haul you’ll want someone who is steady, faithful, reliable, and (if you want kids) good parent material. And what are “sparks,” anyway? Usually they come from the same energy that can make a guy a jerk. Of course, ideally you would get both sparks and steadiness, and this is where Gottlieb’s main argument comes in: that if you have to choose between no sparks and no husband at all, you should go for the steady guy with no sparks.

This shirt is on sale at Iowa Book & Supply, FYI.

This shirt is on sale at Iowa Book & Supply, FYI.

She knows from hard experience: the narrative structure of the book comes from Gottlieb’s own quest, at forty-one, to find Mr. Right. But the reader will soon realize it isn’t solely a lack of sparks that has held her back from the married state she desires. She is also incredibly picky. She wants someone who is over 5 foot 10 but under six feet tall. She wants a full head of hair, but preferably not blond. She hesitates over a man because his name is Sheldon. The list goes on and on. So what she’s left with are a lot of regrets over men she’s passed over in the past, and even some regrets that play out in the course of the dating/research she does while writing the book, when dating experts are telling her over and over to her face that she’s being too picky.

There is a heart in this book—real feeling and real pain—but there is a lot of fluff as well. Is there a rule that books that are expanded Atlantic articles have to eventually break down into filler? See especially: a chapter that is little more than a Q and A with an interviewee and reads like raw notes, and a chapter called “How Feminism Fucked Up My Love Life.” (Unless “feminism” told you directly that you must date a man at least 5 foot 10, then no, I don’t think so—why not just blame Jane Austen for making us all want Mr. Darcy?)

These drawbacks put me off to such an extent that I swore off pop psych books after I was done, vowing to leave the next one I see in the Little Free Library and instead pick up that issue of One Story that has been sitting in there. But then I noticed in the acknowledgments section at the end of the book that Marry Him is going to be made into a movie.

I’d totally see that movie.