Why so many people “settle” in their romantic relationships

In a crowded bar/restaurant you see him/her checking you out with an appraising eye. Then the bartender walks over with a drink and says, “The gentleman/woman over there bought you a drink.” You wander over to the person who gifted you and fall into a fabulous, open and fun conversation, decide to get together on some future occasion, at which time a marriage proposal comes up because you are oh so perfect for each other …..or so the stories about supposed “happily ever after” sometimes play out in the movies.

We all have templates in our heads for “perfect” (or even close enough to perfect) partners, people we would like to meet that we believe will “make our lives complete.” We might have a general blueprint we carry around for how we think our relationships should progress (straight to the bedroom, or to cohabitation, or marriage). All of these ideas and hopes often come about because of the (what I see as rather unrealistic) depictions of “perfect” relationships we see in the movies or on TV shows.

These are all good and fine in theory but in real life, “perfection” is a myth. Some of us wouldn’t recognize a “healthy relationship” (which is more based in down-to-earth reality) if one bit us on the nose, or came along holding a neon sign.

Those of you who have been swimming in the dating pool for a while (as I have) know what I’m talking about. All that brainwashing in our youth by Disney movies (with, for example, the sleeping princess who awakes to her “true love,” who rescues her, and they go off into the sunset to persumably live happily ever after). We wait for our Prince(ss), eagerly look for someone who fits our template, keep our fingers crossed for the “right” person who will “take care of us” (seriously, does anyone ever “take care” of a partner now like they used to in the olden days? Asking for a friend ….)

After many years of looking and hoping for the “ideal” partner, a person tends to lose hope and become jaded and bitter. Certain relational behavior patterns on the part of one or both partners (because it does take two to tango, you know) can prove to be dysfunctional and maybe even toxic, and the hoped-for wonderful relationship idea is dashed on the rocks …. again, and again, and again.

So after years of looking and not finding, we might just go with the flow and choose people who come into our orbit — sometimes people who are far removed from the template of “perfect mate” — and settle into a relationship with this person who isn’t exactly right for us. We settle for less than we want, what we deserve, what we “should” have (as in, we settle for being an occasional booty call when we really are wishing for a long-term relationship)

The popular saying is “Love is blind, deaf and dumb” and I disagree with it. I prefer to word it this way: “We only see and hear what we want to see and hear with our selective perceptions that fit our inner outlines/wishes/agendas.” In other words, say I was looking for a nice committed relationship that might lead to marriage. So one day I meet a man who really tickles my fancy and after knowing him for a while I start mentally trying on my commitment clothes (or as I wrote many years ago, mentally pictured the man wearing the tuxedo already, to see if it fit. Often, as it were, it didn’t).

Every time this man that I thought had long-term potential said something that indicated that he did NOT want an exclusive relationship, I just did not hear it. Every time he behaved in ways that were not very healthy, respectful or kind, I “failed” to notice because it didn’t fit into my expectations. I’m sure many of us have done that. I once told a guy I dated that “heartbreaks happen often because the individuals in a couple have differing expectations about the relationships, and the heartbreak is the result of actually seeing/hearing the truths that the other people has been saying all along. We were just blind/deaf to those words and behaviors because we really want to believe we’ve found our idea partner.

So why do we settle? Here are a few reasons to ponder on this point.

  1. Hopelessness. After years of not quite achieving the “perfect” partner/relationship, we lose heart and faith that it’ll ever happen and just latch on to the next person who comes into our lives and want to become “involved”. Most of you probably know people who stay together for years, even decades, because they are afraid there’s nobody else out there for them, so they stay in an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship. People’s low self esteem has a lot to do with this. It makes us think we’re “not worthy” for a truly healthy, loving relationship, so we stay the course in a non-health, superficial partnership. Fear also helps keep us stuck in the “settling” mode and makes us rationalize our decision to stay.
  2. For the “pay off.” A therapist I was seeing some years ago talked about how people stay in relationships that might not quite hit the mark because they are getting some kind of pay off from them. Sometimes the pay off is literal; the other person is helping you with your bills, so you stay thinking you “can’t afford” to be without that person. Sometimes the pay off is sex (because you’ve found the best you’ve ever had in your life) and sometimes it’s because someone gives you a feeling (which might actually just be an illusion) of an intimate connection.
  3. Because the other person we’re settling for is “safe.” Being involved with that person can be a deflector for anyone else who might be interested in us. Simply having a relationship, no matter how unfulfilling it might be, is “enough” for us (because we are getting whatever pay off we want) and wards off other people from trying to become part of our lives (even though it’s possible that you might meet a mate closer to your hoped-for ideal, but you dash the possibility of involvement with the said better other person because you are hanging on, settling, for someone else.
  4. To “have” someone. Many people have, for whatever reason, this incorrect mindset that they “need” a partner in order to feel “whole” (you know, “my better half”) when the truth is we are already whole. We just don’t believe it in our heart of hearts. Society urges everyone to be part of a couple, as if that’s the only ideal way for everyone to live. The truth is not everyone is good at relationships, not everyone necessarily wants to put in the work of having one, not everyone wants to have someone they have to take care of, or else to just “have” someone. Some people are fine with doing life alone and others should just leave these people alone and not push their relational expectations upon them.

Those of you out there who find that reading my words is giving them an “Aha!!” “lightbulb above the head” moment might want to get with a therapist to discuss reasons why you are settling in the romance department. Self discovery should lead you toward putting aside the not-quite-fulfilling relationship, which will open you up to (hopefully) more appropriate, satisfying relationships. Please, don’t lose hope, and don’t settle. And if you recognize yourself as one who is “doing life just fine as a singleton,” (and it is indeed true that you are satisfactorily secure in your singleness) congratulations. The world needs more “whole” people rather than broken people looking for their missing pieces. Again, therapy can help get you to tha state.

Experienced professional writer/freelancer and former newspaper reporter-turned-online writer/blogger. Thinker. “Old soul”, young hippie, empath.

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