One of the more frequent areas of discussion/debate in the ‘sphere as far is marriage is concerned is “settling.” While the subject rarely is the chief topic of any post, it does seem to come up an awful lot (One example of this phenomenon can be found here). Usually, although not always, it is a question that drives this. Some of the most common include:
– Should someone “settle” when they marry?
– When is “settling” acceptable in marriage?
– Is “settling” better than the alternative?
All of these are good questions, and worth thinking over. I think it is about time that I addressed this topic on my blog; actually, I’m surprised I haven’t really covered it directly before.
But rather than addressing those questions, I would like to direct my readers to this post by Denise over at Love the Possibility (which I have recently added to my blogroll). The post, “Singles- What’s Your BATNA?” examines the question of “settling” in terms of a business negotiation, and I think really helps to frame how the issue should be addressed. The previous questions fold into her analysis and so don’t need to be answered separately. Here is a sample:
“BATNA” is a concept used by legal and business negotiators to figure out the point at which they will no longer compromise and will walk away from the table. It stands for “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.” Essentially, different parties face one another at the table with an idea of what they want the outcome of their negotiation to be. They need something from the other and know that they might have to compromise to get it, but don’t want to compromise too much. They want to get as much as they can without giving up more than they’d like. To figure out the point at which they will no longer compromise, they think about what their best alternative would be if no agreement were reached and everyone went home with empty hands. Then, they compare the other side’s offer to that alternative.
I encourage everyone to read the whole post. Denise has provided the best compact yet comprehensive take on the issue that I have seen to date. I would simply re-blog it, except I have a few ideas of my own that I want to contribute in the next section. Since it was her idea, any thoughts specifically on the BATNA model should probably be left over at her blog.
After I read Denise’s post, and thinking back to the post at Hearthie‘s blog which I linked earlier, something clicked. The discussion over at Hearthie’s had swirled around what was “ideal” and whether people strove for it or not. The framework that Denise has provided has helped me see that “ideal” in the context of what people are looking for, what they can get and what they think they can get. A model formed in my mind over how such a “negotiation” might work inside someone’s head. All of the terms I have below are my own. I’m sure that there is some technical or professional language which covers the same thing, but I decided to keep it simple (and on my own terms). Here is how I see it:
At the top you have the Ideal. This is what someone secretly hopes for, the potential spouse they would ask for if the stars and moon aligned to give them everything and anything they wanted. Of course, while this is what everyone wants, they also know that it isn’t realistic to shoot for. So its mostly just hopes and dreams.
Below this you have the Goal. This is the best potential spouse that someone believes is attainable for them. It is based on what the individual person believes that they can realistically attract/gain commitment from. The Goal is something that a person will actually aim for and actively try to achieve. A person who finds a potential spouse at the Goal “point” is likely to either offer or accept commitment from them, knowing that they will find better.
Even lower than that you have the Break. This is the point where someone starts to question the value of the deal. They might hesitate before going lower than this point, and will certainly investigate other options. I suspect that when most people talk about “settling” here in the ‘sphere, they mean accepting as a spouse someone lower than the Break.
At the bottom you have the Limit, or BATNA point that Denise talks about. This is the absolute lowest “value” in a spouse that someone is willing to accept. If they can’t find anything above this, they are likely to “opt out” of marriage.
Also, between the Goal and the Break is an area I call the Standard. This is where Denise’s explanation on material alternatives is helpful. Potential spouses who fall in this region point are neither immediate acceptances or immediate rejections. Instead, they are evaluated against what is actually available as an alternative, what might be available as an alternative, and the perceived value of the potential candidate.
Here is an model I made a while ago to represent the 1-10 system of female SMV, although I think it can be applied (number wise) to MMV as well. I’m using it as an example of how this model might play out.
The Ideal would be the 10, which is, as this model points out, “out of my league” or unattainable save in fantasy. At 9 we have the Goal, which is a value that a man might feel is attainable for him. Should he attract a 9 that would accept his proposal, a rational man would “wife her up” knowing that he couldn’t do any better. All of the women from 9 down to 6, the “attractive” range, would fall in the Standard region. At the boundary between 6 and 5 we have the Break, where a man would hesitate before going lower. And finally at the 4/3 boundary you have the Limit.
Before I wrap up, there are a couple of ideas I want to throw around.
The first is that hypergamy creates much higher Goals and Limits for women than is the case for men (yes, I know, obvious). What seems to be one of the more common complaints, especially in the Christian part of the ‘sphere, is that many of the “Daughter of the King” types elevate their Goals and Limits to stratospheric levels, with the Limit often being the same as the Goal.
The second is that both men and women have trouble with the Limit. Some men really do have too high of a Limit, just like women. However, another problem that often comes up around here is that some men have too low of a Limit, and will “wife up” women they should have nothing to do with.
Third, everyone probably has a clear idea of what their Limit is. And it is something that, with some discernment, can be realistic. But a Goal involves a lot of guesswork, as it is difficult to estimate the best spouse you can get, and so people risk setting it too high or too low.
I’m sure that folks have their own observations and thoughts to add, so feel free to mention them in the comments. I will be around infrequently over the next few days, so don’t expect to see me comment or reply to anyone (although I will try and keep an eye on things to mod as needed).