Recently I met up with a couple of friends for brunch. One of them, K, said she started seeing someone–but with a face that looked half-embarrassed for some reason. They had met at a party through a mutual friend which, as you know, is like the gold standard of meeting someone; he worked in publishing; was “smart” and “really nice” and “interesting to talk to,” but K’s face was telling me a whole different story. I pressed her and more honest assessment came out: he was short at around her height, and (close your eyes, kid dumplings!) not great in bed.
“But your ex was short!” I pointed out. “Yeah, I know…but I don’t like short guys,” she answered. This actually surprised me because I’d assumed she didn’t mind short men–she had dated her ex for over 2 years (!). Now she was moaning about not knowing how to let this new guy down gently. And then it struck me that despite being in all different states in our love lives, most of my friends go through the issue of settling for less. It happens to people just starting to hang out, to people who’re in that delicate boundary between “hanging out” and “dating” (a whole another subject, I’m sure), to people who are in full-fledged, committed relationships. Heck, it even happens when you chat up a stranger at a bar only because you’re bored, or don’t really feel the spark but swipe to the right anyway, just to see what happens. (amiright?) We settle all. the. time.
Of course, part of attaining/being in a functional, adult relationship is understanding that no one is perfect. But in a good relationship, you accept the imperfection in your partner and still feel completely in love with him/her–much like you know your own flaws and love yourself anyway. Settling, on the other hand, makes you feel unshakably dissatisfied, which is why it’s not good (understatement of the year).
So what’s the fine line between mature acceptance and unhealthy resignation? Here are the signs that you’re settling for less.
1. Your free-thinking about this person usually brings up this sentence: “I don’t want to hurt him/her.”
Of course, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings can be a sign that you care about that person. But in a healthy relationship, you’re not constantly worried that your feelings–or lack thereof–might hurt the other person. Always thinking back to the reluctance to hurt this person means you know deep down that you need to break up. Here’s something important to remember: your feelings are valid whether or not they have the potential to hurt the other person, and you owe it to yourself to be acknowledge them, and not conceal or suppress them.
2. You feel like you’re giving up something by being with this person.
In all relationships, there is compromise and give-and-take. You can’t, for instance, do single-girl things like eat a pint of blueberries and chocolate for dinner (no dishes!), watch all your girly shows or go out on whim, just because. (Insert whatever men wish they could do here). But being together with someone shouldn’t make you feel like you’re giving up something significant to your happiness or your identity.
3. You are not sure if there is a spark.
In the past I’ve asked my friends about their first dates or meetings, and they’ll say things like he was “nice,” “medium cute,” “easy to talk to,” but that they’re not sure if there was a spark. They usually end by saying they’d give it time and see what happens, meaning more dates, more deciphering of texts, etc. At this point it feels like the open-minded, “putting yourself out there” thing to do, but in reality–this is also a form of early-stage settling, because if you have spark, you know it.
Spark is a feeling that you’re seeing someone special and unique, and knowing that you’re also being regarded as such. As Frida Kahlo would say, “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you’re magic.” This is something instinctive and immediate, and doesn’t improve upon better acquaintance. Put another way: would you like to drag on with someone who thinks you’re nice, medium cute, and easy to talk to? (And not amazing, gorgeous, incredible?) No.
4. One of you likes the other one way more.
If you’re with someone who puts much more into the relationship than you, you’re giving up the chance to meet someone else you might truly love. On the other hand, if you are giving a lot of love to someone who gives only a little back, you’re settling for someone less than you deserve.
5. You keep thinking that he/she is so perfect on paper.
You meet someone who fits your idea of who you’re supposed to be with, but again, you’re “not sure.” When you tell (okay, brag) to your friends about this person, what you emphasize are the qualities that are extrinsic to your relationship such as: “she went to Yale Law and is a corporate lawyer,” or “he is really close with his family, calls his mom twice a week and has the world’s most perfect dog.” But at the end of the day, being good on paper is just a distraction to being good in person. If being with this person doesn’t make time run faster (or stand still, depending), make your heart beat faster and your smile brighter, then you’re just settling.
Have you or your friends ever noticed any of these? (The one I see most often is #3 and #5). And, out of curiosity, do women settle more than men?
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Photo:Oleh Slobodeniuk via Flickr