In the last month I have been involved in numerous discussions and one-on-one conversations about settling. Settling for an adequate partner in a relationship. Settling for a job in a career. Settling for a competent teacher for kids in the classroom.

The underlying context is settling equals failure.

Every situation and circumstance are different, of course. When we do agree to accept something less than our expectations, how do you let go of that feeling of defeat and be happy in your choice?

I feel as if this is too broad a generalization, yet in the situations I have observed and been involved with directly during the discussion process, it feels like any advocacy of “settling” is a betrayal, a situation in which I must be absolute Switzerland-ish neutral or risk the basklash that comes with either success or failure of the settled situation.

If we accept something that is just a job versus a solid step in our career ladder we fear missing out on that great opportunity to advance ourselves. But reality is basic life needs – food, shelter, transportation – must be met whether we are flipping burgers or ruling the world. Sometimes we must do what is necessary to keep a roof overhead and food on the table while waiting our opportunity to be supreme leader.

The discussion with my associate about her children’s teachers next year was a strange experience, but again, the “settling” terminology was liberally tossed about. She is upset that her kids did not land in the rising star teacher’s class, despite her being at school all the time and lobbying hard to get one or both placed with her. In her view this is a setback that could have lifelong implications for her twins.

Seriously. She said that. Helicopter parent much?

I asked what I felt were reasonable questions – was there any known deficits with the teachers and classes they had been assigned? No, both are tenured and highly competent, effective teachers. But neither have the rock star potential of her preferred classroom. Is the curriculum any different in that other classroom? No, but again … the teacher makes all the difference! Other than “you’re being ridiculous,” I could think of nothing to say. This is fifth grade we’re talking about, and she states the classes where he kids are assigned are competent and effective.

On a relationship front, the search for a compatible partner is a huge challenge. Both my kids are in serious relationships, and while I like and love their choices, the man and woman they are with might not have been *MY* first choice for them. Are they settling for something less than they deserve? Should their expectations be higher? From my view, perhaps. But from their own? They are very happy with their partners. I believe they are all doing their best to craft healthy and rewarding relationships. From conversations over the course of the last couple of years I believe they have similar values, share goals and visions for a future together. They are not so immature or inexperienced with life anymore, and my hope is they are and can be honest with themselves and each other as they move forward.

But for women friend in my age range, “settling” is a bad word when it comes to relationships, and honestly, I think men and women are smart to have a realistic list of minimum standard requirements for a suitable and stable partner. Whether it’s the position of the hairline or thickness of the wallet, whatever you feel is required for a partner is worth detailing and owning. The tricky part seems to be what happens when you are failing consistently to find and attract someone who has or meets those characteristics. What happens then? Do you expand your parameters? Relax and consider compromising on some or all of the “must have” options? Become less clinical and more emotionally involved (or vice versa) in your search?

I get into trouble fairly routinely because I sound judgmental. In fact, just yesterday I had a long-time friend tell me I had my “judgey bitch” tone going on in our conversation. And I did what I frequently do when labeled that way – I laughed. Thankfully we’ve known each other for more than 20 years and did not slam the text window in my face. Her list of must have and desireable qualities in men is very different than my own when I was dating years and year ago. We are completely different people, and her list is as unique to her as mine is to me. But she’s having trouble meeting suitable men and growing more and more frustrated in the process. My best advice was to give an “on the bubble” guy a chance and be open to what he might have to offer.

“Then I’m SETTLING,” she says to me in response to that. “Only if you marry him despite inadequacies that bother you,” was my reply.

And now I am wondering if I sound too flip on the subject. Because while I am a huge proponent of not wasting anyone’s time, I think of dating and getting to know other people as an experiment. If something is not working, i.e., she is not meeting men who appeal to her as well as meet all of her must-have characteristics, perhaps it’s time to tweak an element or two in the selection process and see if a more satisfactory result occurs. Be genuine, sincere, earnest in your efforts to put your best food forward, but even if someone meets our minimum standard requirements there is a chance that person is still uninterested in or compatible with the role we want for them in our lives.

Maybe that’s where I am failing her – I think of people I meet as temporary until they grow into a more significant role. Both parties have the option of backing away, saying “no thank you” at any time and without penalty. Take a little risk and be surprised once in awhile. That’s not settling. Settling would be suggesting completely tossing out your standards or accepting that your needs will never be met in a relationship. I would never say that. But lighten up and take a chance? Yeah, that’s probably me.

2 thoughts on “Settling

  1. I agree with you. I just dated some on the bubble guys and while it didn’t work out, it was an experiment that I’m glad I tried. My mother always have me the same advice. Yes I felt like I was settling but at least now I’m sure of certain things I think I have to have in a relationship even if some of those things are superficial. I would try again too. No harm, no foul.

    1. I’m so glad, M. Truly, I keep reminding my single friends that dating is just dating; it’s not a life sentence with some guy who misrepresented himself and has aged 15 years and gained 40 pounds since their profile picture was posted.

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