Ten years ago, a guy friend that I've known since the third grade declared that I would end up "settling." I didn't really know how to react to that. Maybe it was partly because his tone was dripping with schadenfreude, but I took offense at his prediction. What did that say about me, what did that say about how he viewed me, and what did that say about how he thought I viewed myself? If he thought I was going to "settle," to me he was implying one of five things:
(1) There is no guy out there that is good enough for me.
(2) There is no guy out there that my friend thinks is good enough for me.
(3) There is no guy out there that I will think is good enough for me.
(4) There is no guy out there that my friend thinks I will think is good enough for me.
(5) I am going to get so tired of looking for the guy out there that is good enough for me that I am going to give up altogether.
These are all pretty grim options, except for maybe #2 if I was secretly in love with my friend (which I wasn't). We weren't even that good of friends, and yet his words still haunt me to this day. Every time I decide not to go on a second date after having gone on a mediocre first date, I can hear him saying in his creepily triumphant tone, "YOU are going to end up settling."
I thought about it again when a friend sent me an article with an interview of Lori Gottlieb about her new book entitled Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which I can only imagine is just a longer, sadder version of this 2008 article. In that article, Gottlieb wrote, "I don’t mean to say that settling is ideal. I’m simply saying that it might have gotten an undeservedly bad rap." When I first read this article in 2008, I thought, ha! See, Old High School Friend? You may not be wrong about me settling but you sure were wrong to think settling would make me miserable! Gottlieb's article expressed a stance that I had already been gravitating towards in my early 20s. These were questions I was grappling with myself. Why are we women always looking for perfection? Why are we always thinking that something better will come along? I grew up believing that I deserved nothing but the best in all areas of my life, including love. I was definitely ready to blame society, sappy rom coms, my overly optimistic girlfriends, my parents and anyone else for instilling and reinforcing my sense of entitlement.
By 2008, when that article came out, I had started to realize that sometimes, having low expectations can be a wonderfully good thing. If you're expecting something to be terrible, then you'll be pleasantly surprised when you enjoy it. I appropriately adjusted my expectations, not necessarily meaning that I lowered them, but I tempered them. I had no delusions about meeting some perfect guy and falling instantly in love. There was nothing that I deemed an instant dealbreaker anymore (okay fine, maybe "occupation: terrorist" is still a dealbreaker). In sum, I no longer thought of ending up with a guy who was less than perfect as "settling." I became healthily realistic, and having that attitude meant that I ended up dating a wide array of guys in 2009.
But when that article resurfaced this year, I couldn't help but resent the concept of "settling" altogether. Take Ms. Gottlieb, for example. She looks back and regrets breaking up with boyfriends who she might otherwise have ended up marrying. Am I supposed to feel sorry for her? I think she should be damn happy that she even had a boyfriend who was willing to marry her and who she could have seen herself marrying. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right?
Which then begs the question, is the whole idea of "settling" just a way to make women feel better that they had the option of marriage at all? It's much easier to say, "Well, I could've married him, but I decided I could do better" than to say "I've never met someone who I could spend the rest of my life with." Sure, it's easy for Ms. Gottlieb to turn to us 20- and 30-somethings and say, "Listen up ladies, settle for that one." But what if even "that one" doesn't turn up?
I've long concluded that it's not "settling" if I end up with someone who is less than perfect. If I find someone who I can spend the rest of my life with, well, then that would be just lovely. I'm not worried so much about "settling" anymore. I am worried that I might never find someone with whom I could settle down at all.