As a sister and I sat eating ice-cream last weekend, a former man-about-town passed by, and we commented on his now almost-womanly figure, evidence of the good life he has enjoyed over the past 20 years or so. We got to reminiscing about how he used to be, and the talk turned to an ex-girlfriend whom he’d been hot to marry at the time. Thing is, at that time, she’d considered herself too hot to be married; she was young and beautiful and not ready to settle down. Two decades later, however, she finds herself prepared to settle – and for much less – in order to be married.
I read an article, a year or two ago, in which the author, a woman in her 40s, was urging younger women, especially professional women, to stop striving for the ideal – the A-list feller who is bright, ambitious, articulate, demonstrative, humorous, etc., etc. – and settle for “the one who will do.” She gave a number of reasons – some compelling, depending on where I was mentally at the time – and made quite a case for Mr Average, the strongest argument being that he is “there.”
It is a fact that for many young women, professional or not, their coupling is an exercise in lowered expectations. For the stark truth is that the man they want either is not yet made (and his mother already dead) or very much alive and kicking … with some other woman. And so, after waiting around, or knocking about, a few years for a feller who complements her; whose academic background or value system is similar to hers; whose goals and ambitions dovetail with her aspirations; and whose family will mesh seamlessly with hers in hyphenated-last-name bliss, a sister may simply sigh, if not sob; lower her gaze; and begin the practical exercise of separating the chaff from the lower grade of chaff in order to find one with some amount of wheat in him.
By this time her biological clock may be ticking so loudly that the woman might be unable to hear that his subject and verb do not always agree. Or, seeing the altar receding in the distance, her eyes begin to overlook the fact that he thinks it is okay to wear brown socks with black shoes; or drag his gold chain over his collar and drape it over his tie; or that his idea of a romantic dinner is take-out in front of the TV. In her bid to realise the dream of her own home and a family therein, a sister might ask herself what, really, is the big deal that he could stand to lose a good 15 pounds; or that he isn’t that tall for a man; or even that he has a little halitosis problem? For, now, finally, she understands her granny’s muttered quote about “time and tide waiting for no man,” since here she is with the waters receding and not even a chub – never mind a snapper – in her net.
And so dawns the realisation that, even with him not being a great, or even good catch, landing an average fish is good enough. She can work with what he has, and what he has can be parlayed into decent husband and fatherhood material. And what he might lacks in smarts, or looks, or polish, she realises, can be more than compensated for in good will. For while he might not be a prize, she is definitely the winner if he thinks she is. And so the sister moves quickly, so that she can squeeze in one – and, hopefully, two – of the three kids she’s always dreamed of having before she’s too old to run behind them.
Look: I’m not making this settling stuff up. I’ve seen it happen, up close, mostly when I lived abroad. I used to have a supervisor, an extremely bright, capable, brand-name, college-educated woman, who married a nurse’s aide; I also knew a Wall Street investment banker whose husband was a security guard. I know, for a fact, that neither woman was in love with her husband as we define “in love;” but each of them wanted a family and both men were “good with kids” and could, at least, hold a steady blue-collar job. And if you still don’t believe that this is enough reason for women to take it down a notch or two – or even three or four – next time you’re in London or Leicester, take a good look around and then explain to me the proliferation of mixed couples and brown babies that you see and tell me why a poor West Indian sister can hardly catch a break with a home grown feller…
Still, no matter how much a sister tells herself that she can sacrifice the “small things” for the big picture, it doesn’t stop her from wondering whether she’s done the right thing or made the right choice. For whereas, while the kids were small, she did not have the time to brood over the fact that her mister hadn’t picked up a book in nine years of marriage, now that the children have their own schedules, friends and pastimes, she can’t help but wonder what’s to become of her, the woman inside. And she feels like a person who has left her island for the metropolis might: She can eat apples and even learn to enjoy them; but it doesn’t stop her from hankering after the juice of a Julie mango running through her fingers and dripping down her elbow.
So how does a settling sister stop the niggling doubts? I’m not sure she can. I can only hope, with so much already committed and invested, that she can weigh what she has against what she thinks she might have had and have it come out on the heavier side. And that, looking around at all the A-list marriages and relationships that eluded her, she realises that she just might have fared, if not better, then certainly no worse than they, and that C is a passing grade, too.