Here comes another Valentine's Day, and oh, how I wish I could spend it with a husband. Not an Adonis with the humor of Jon Stewart and the bank account of Bill Gates; just a good-enough guy.
This might sound innocuous -- a single woman wishes she were married -- but apparently, it makes me a throwback, pathetic, desperate, needy, immature, creepy, weak. I know, because I've made this confession before.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for the Atlantic titled "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," in which I said that having found myself still single at 40, with a donor-conceived toddler, I'd reached an uncomfortable realization: Had I known when I was younger what would make me happy when it came to marriage and family, I would have made very different choices in my dating life.
My main message was simple and serious: Look for the important qualities in a partner, and let go of the stuff that won't matter five, 10 or 20 years down the line, when you're more concerned about child care and contented companionship than you are about height or hairlines.
Some readers got tripped up by the word "settle." The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be "settling." The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be "a catch."
It's no wonder, then, that while hundreds of married folks and single men backed me up with moving personal stories, many single women -- mostly those in their 20s -- went wild with rage and disdain for my confession that I'd happily take the 80 percent, if only it was as available to me as it had been when I was 30. Not because I'm desperate now that I'm older, but because I'm wiser. Suddenly I was "ageist," "sexist" and "anti-feminist."
Now I've written a book on this theme, in which I interviewed dozens of scientists in fields from psychology to neurobiology to behavioral economics on what makes for a happy marriage. But by merely reporting their findings, I'm still considered sexist, pathetic and all the rest.
I'll admit, just a few years earlier, I, too, felt that women should "have it all." Compromise? No way. That would mean not being true to myself.
A lot of women my age and younger grew up thinking this way. They're operating under the logic that women today aren't just supposed to be strong and independent -- we're also supposed to be happy about it.
It's no accident that once women adopted this "I don't need a man" attitude, many were left without men. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of never-married women ages 25 to 44 more than doubled between 1970 and 2006.
In a 2007 Time magazine article titled "Who Needs a Husband?", a 49-year-old single woman confided: "There was a point where I had men coming out of my ears. I don't think I was so nice to some of them. Every now and then I wonder if God is punishing me."
How lonely it was, before I had my son, to wake up in an empty house every morning, eat breakfast alone, read the paper alone, do the dishes alone, move to a new place alone -- to have nobody to talk to in those sleepy moments before bed except for girlfriends on the phone.
My loneliness after having a child wasn't diminished; it was different and compounded. It's both single-person loneliness and the loneliness of not sharing the little moments of my son's life with someone who cares about him as profoundly as I do.
Ultimately, what most of us are looking for isn't the guy who keeps us so intoxicatingly distracted that we're tingling in anticipation of his every phone call. It's the guy we feel completely comfortable with, the guy who "gets us," who has our backs and eventually sets his dentures on the counter next to ours. Do we need passion and physical attraction? Absolutely. But instead of chemistry of "9" and compatibility of "5," we'd be happier with a "7" who offers both.
I've never believed that we should stop looking for Mr. Right, but if I'm lucky enough to find my Mr. Good Enough, I'll be his Ms. Good Enough. After all, he's chosen to spend his entire life with me, despite my many less-than-ideal qualities. Sure sounds like love.
Recognizing that isn't settling. It's maturity. And if you figure that out at 30, you have a much better chance of finding your wonderfully imperfect mate than if it doesn't sink in until you're 40.
Am I lonely? Yes. Pathetic? No. Smarter about finding love? I think so.
Now all I need is a date for Valentine's Day.
Lori Gottlieb is a frequent commentator for National Public Radio. Her new book is "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." She wrote this article for the Washington Post.