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While conducting a relationship seminar recently, I became amused by two thirty-something women who were insisting that being with a man who didn't fit every single criterion on their checklists was tantamount to "settling."
It was amusing for a number of reasons.
It was amusing because the checklists included a combination of qualities that would render their ideal man an impossible hybrid with Denzel Washington's face, Tyson Beckford's body and Dr. Cornell West's mind.
It was amusing because they refused to examine their own offerings. If they did so, they would find the stark absence of a few criteria such men would seek as priorities.
It was also amusing, finally, because after more than a decade of listening to women talk about not settling, the current trend is actually to settle. Quickly.
Why are we in the midst of such a trend? Simply because many women who set lofty, impossible goals began to find themselves slamming into the forties with no marriage, no children and no prospects.
"Girl don't settle" sounds cute at 27. It sounds empowering at 31. But, for many women, it sounds frightening and silly at 42.
"Girl don't settle" also sounds ignorant to women who are in the midst of marriages, realizing that the checklists of the single and searching are impractical, unfounded and mostly incapable of being reciprocated.
The deep dark secret that married women hold is that reality is not about a simple checklist, which doesn't take into account all of the qualities a man brings into a marriage and family.
The checklist also fails to account for the unfairness of growing older. As unfair as it may seem, it's easier for men to marry younger when midlife and gray hairs come aboard, which produces more options for men over forty. Unfortunately, younger men are simply not lining up to marry older women who are graying and beyond their child bearing years.
Today's older women can invent labels such as "Cougar" all day long and hold Demi Moore and Halle Berry up as icons all around the world, but real life just doesn't hold very much promise for so-called Cougars, unless they just want a romp in the hay. As long as men have been men and women have been women, May/December relationships have been the imminent domain of men.
There are a couple of problems with the May/December pursuit when it comes to the older woman in search of a younger man.
First, many of the women proclaiming loudly to be Cougars are neither Demi Moore nor Halle Berry. They are real life women who may still be attractive and desirable, but have real life aging issues that the typically only the divine of Hollywood can afford to diminish and so are rendered less than favorable marriage options for younger men.
The other essential problem is that many of today's women, for all the modernization and independence, still idealize marriage. After the feminist/womanist discussions, they still hold fast to fairy tales that have endured the progression of women's rights and the burning of bras.
Yes, many women still idealize marriage, even as they claim that they "don't need a man," and that they are "alone and happy."
And when it comes to relationships and marriage, don't most humans end up settling in one way or another? Don't most of us walk around with a list of qualities we want, but at some point become mature enough to realize which qualities are necessary and which qualities really make no sense to adults?
Yes, of course many of us dare to dream. But the problem comes in when any of us spend far too long turning real humans away in favor of a dream that never even existed.
And thanks to the fantasy movie and book industry, American women have been taught to hold on to a dream longer than practical.
This is why high school reunions and networking mixers take on new proportions for women dealing with being forty and alone. The short, nerdy non-athletic kid has grown taller and is still a bit paunchy, but is now the "nice guy" and is financially stable with a list that is skewed younger. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that many of the men who forty-something women would actually settle with have already settled in to a marriage and family of their own or have settled comfortably into bachelorhood.
And, honestly, many of the forty-something women who were once prize catches are struggling with changes in biology, physiology, mood and frightening problems such as the end of child bearing ability and hair growing where it once did not.
So, is it all doom and gloom for the career woman with the impossible list who never wanted to "settle?"
Of course not.
"Settling" as viewed by the aged and wizened is not the same as throwing dreams away.
As a relationship coach, I actually advocate for lists to be created by both men and women. However, my lists call for individuals to juxtapose what they want with what they actually have to offer. Such listing is sobering, but results in qualities that can be found in real live humans.
Frankly, a forty-something woman who has begun to soften around the edges would be wise to be open to a man who has done the same. She would also be wise to draw a few lines through items on her list that really ought to be ignored--mostly because they never worked out.
It will certainly make things a lot easier for her to "settle" into a relationship.
She will likely realize that the man she is settling for is also settling for her.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the new powerful anthology "Notes From The Edge." He released his first mini-movie, "Crack," and this year, will release his first full-length documentary. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at