When you settle for an unhappy relationship, to avoid being single, you cheat yourself and your partner out of having the relationship you both used to dream about.
Serezniy /123RF Photo
I’m probably the only person in America who actually began the year on an economic “up” note. This had very little to do with my admittedly lackluster financial-planning skills and very much to do with the new job I started in January.
After a number of years navigating the treacherous waters of self- employment, I am, once again, a proud employee of The Man. As much as I miss the flexibility that comes with freelancing, there’s something very appealing about the concept of a paycheck, dental insurance and an actual (paid!) day off on national holidays.
But that’s not why I took the job.
Although many people have praised my latest detour into the bowels of corporate America as a smart move, given the current economy, I’m simply not that calculating. Rather, I am excited about the opportunity and I think it’s an ideal fit on both sides. I’m always happiest when I follow my heart, not my head, and I’ve pretty much found that as long as I’m honest — and true — to myself, things tend to work out in the long run.
This maxim has held true with regard to my relationships as well. I’ve always wondered why, with so much freedom and so many options available to single people these days, we’re all still so susceptible to that incessant drumbeat from Those Who Know Better urging us to “do the smart thing” and settle when it comes to choosing a mate.
Whether it’s well-meaning friends asking us to have more realistic (lower) expectations, family members pushing practicality over passion, or media pundits bemoaning our personal contribution to the demise of the traditional family (and, by extension, of society at large), the “shut up and stop being so picky” mentality is permanently baked into our culture. Pile on a healthy dose of economic insecurity, and it’s easy to fall victim to the idea that we must be crazy for holding out for someone whom we might, you know, love.
I try to take a longer view. After all, settling really isn’t all that practical when you think about it. If you want to get married because you think that’s the only way you’ll be truly happy, doesn’t marrying someone who doesn’t make you happy kind of defeat the purpose?
Trust me — spending the rest of your days stuck with someone you’re not that stuck on is a recipe for lifelong misery. For both of you.
There’s more to it, though.
Any type of downturn, particularly a prolonged, painful financial recession, takes a toll. There’s the obvious toll caused by the loss of a job, a home or retirement savings. But there’s a not-so-obvious toll as well: the fraying of our emotional well-being and, with it, our optimism and idealism. When times are good, we tend to be risk-takers.
We’re more likely to want to shake things up, we’re a little freer with our money, and we tend to be more open, positive and upbeat. When fear and insecurity crowd their way into the mix, we retreat. We’re far more likely to simply stay put — to settle for what we have rather than reach for what we want.
Regardless of our marital aspirations, we all have some idea of the type of person we’d be open to sharing our life with. There’s something very tragic about seeing that vision dashed to smithereens on the rocks of desperation simply because some “expert” in a magazine warned you that your clock is ticking and time is running out.
It begs the larger question: If you’re so willing to punt on one of the most important decisions of your life, is there anything you would be willing to fight for? And who is it you really want to be? Because the real problem with settling — the one nobody seems to ever want to address — is that it’s cheating. You’re cheating yourself out of the kind of relationship you used to dream about, and you’re cheating your partner out of that same dream. And no matter how hard you work at that relationship — and believe me, it will be hard work — it will always be missing that one core element, that spark, that makes it truly real and truly worthwhile.
It’s bad enough to deprive yourself of that kind of happiness. But it’s even worse to do it to someone else. Acknowledging this is scary and painful in the short term but absolutely vital for our long-term happiness. After all, if there’s one thing we should learn from our current financial disaster, it’s that kicking the can down the road only increases the pain when you finally run out of road.
Copyright © 2016 Leslie Talbot/Singular Communications, LLC.
Leslie Talbot is the author of Singular Existence – Because It’s Better to Be Alone Than Wish You Were, inspired by her website and popular blog. She’s discusses singles issues on numerous national radio and television talk shows and has been featured in Forbes magazine, The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and The Arizona Republic. Leslie lives in Boston with her cat and says, “I am single and living alone, so of course I have a cat. Isn’t it required?”