Sunday, December 17, 2006
Dismaying Story #94: Is It Wrong to Settle?
I wonder how many women out there have 'settled,' meaning they are not in love and never were with their partner, but because of finances or some other reason have settled. Is that why there are a lot of women out there that lose themselves in Harlequin Romances? Is that why they find themselves in chat rooms on the Internet, or worse, at dating sites?
I have two sons of 30 and 32. Both of them have been dating a special girl for several years. I know they are not happy, and when I had a chance to talk to them alone I told them how I felt. I said, son, don't settle! If you're not absolutely in love with this woman, keep going. If your eyes don't light up when she enters the room, keep going. If she is gone for three days and you don't miss her and yearn for her return, keep going. Don't settle! Not only are you being unfair to yourself, you're also doing her an injustice.
That's the advice I gave them.
Sadly, I haven't taken my own advice. For the past 10 years I've been living with a man who has made my life easier. I met him when I began bringing up my own grandkids. He just made it much easier for me to do this. By bringing home a steady paycheck, it enabled me to stay home and bring up these kids. We meet each other's needs and respect each other. He wants someone to come home to at night, cook his meals, and I need someone to help me bring up these kids of 8 and 11.
Our daily talk is of the weather and the kids and bills. He is no great thinker. He's a very simple man with very simple needs. We are opposites; while I need intellectual stimulation, he doesn't. He's content to sit on the couch and watch sci-fi movies.
I know I'm not the only one, and I believe if we did wait for this 'great love' in our life, many of us would be alone.
It could be that because at 21, I met and married a very abusive man and got divorced six years later. Perhaps that has led me to believe there is no such thing as the perfect love, the perfect soul-mate. After that disaster, I decided to be alone. Then at 46 I took on the responsibility of my grandson and met this guy. I was unemployed at the time. We dated, but I broke off the relationship four times. I felt suffocated. Finally I gave in. He just made it so easy and my life was easier knowing that I could handle this responsibility.
I read stories in the Oprah magazine about great marriages and couples who still love each other passionately after twenty or thirty years. A part of me is jealous and the other part doesn't believe it.
I personally don't know any couple that I can say without a doubt are deeply in love and have been for years.
Signed, Taking the Easier Road
Dear Taking the Easier Road,
It would be easy for me to sit here and preach about how no one should settle, and how a deep and abiding love is this sacred thing that everyone can have if they only have faith and are willing to work at it and...
...and I'm not going to do that. Like most of the issues that get thrashed around on this site, this one can be viewed from different directions. Here are a couple (and I'm sure the readers can offer others).
Most everyone would love to be perfectly fit, in wonderful health, have a worry-free supply of well-managed finances, be in a rewarding career that fits your interests and doesn't over-burden your life, have plenty of time to enjoy fulfilling hobbies and interests, and so on. Life has many dimensions and unfortunately not everyone succeeds equally well in all of them.
Some people have a knack for creating wealth, while others scrape by from paycheck to paycheck. Success may come from skill and daring, while happenstance and good fortune seem to smile more on some people than on others.
The same is true for love. Building a relationship works best when people feel good about themselves, are willing to compromise, are compassionate and empathetic, share some commonalities, find each other physically attractive, and on and on. Some part of this is skill -- the ability to get along with people, to communicate clearly, to interpret the intentions of others correctly, etc. -- and there is also luck involved: for example, the people you happen to meet, and whether you feel that zing of attraction when you do.
Many people have negative experiences that inhibit their ability to succeed in this area; they have extra emotional hurdles to overcome because of rape, abuse, or a variety of other types of prior life trauma. In terms of interpersonal skills, some people are simply stronger than others. It is little wonder, then, that not everyone develops a love worthy of a Harlequin romance.
This is not necessarily an excuse to settle, though. For example, your finances might have always been horrid, but you can still decide to hone your money management skills and improve your situation. The same is true for your relationship skills (though I think relationships are more complex than checkbooks, so the learning path is not always as clearly defined).
Your letter implies he is inherently the wrong guy and your choices are (a) stay and settle, or (b) leave and in all likelihood be alone. There are actually more options than that. You could put some work into developing common activities for the two of you to enjoy. Maybe you could entice him into horseback riding, golf, biking, or ballroom dance lessons. Find ways to cheer and giggle together and you just might be surprised what this will do for your attitude toward each other.
Try pretending that he is the love of your life, and act that way for a week or two. You might be amazed what this does to your mind-set and to his behavior toward you. It's highly likely that he is well aware of your ambivalence about him, which makes him less likely to show affection for you, which feeds your negative feelings, and the negative spiral is on. Put a conscious effort into reversing the emotional vibes for a while and the spiral now has a chance to move in the other direction.
Like the old saying goes, if you can't be with the one you love (that is, someone who matches your vision), then love the one you're with.
Here is another way to think of this issue. What if you were alone with a guy on a desert island? Assume there is no chance of ever escaping. Chances are he wouldn't be the guy you would pick if you had thousands to choose from, but he's the one who happened to survive the shipwreck. Isolation is the overriding factor here, which I believe would drive most couples in this situation together.
Many of us become partially isolated for a variety of reasons. Your personal desert island is defined by your abusive prior relationship and the hardships of raising two grandchildren with little or no income. I wouldn't wonder if your current partner has had life challenges of his own (e.g. loneliness). These factors drive the two you together, and ignoring them for some ideal vision of love would be unrealistic.
Does this mean those with hardships should just accept whatever partner they can get? Of course not; we all have our own threshold for when a relationship is not worth keeping. But neither should we beat ourselves up if our love life is partially driven by pragmatic factors.
And for the record, my wife and I have been married for 22 years and we're still crazy about each other. (Is she crazy to put up with me that long? You decide.) What about the rest of you out there? Can you offer a hopeful story to Taking the Easier Road?
All the best,