I recently read an article in which the author, Lori Gottlieb, believes that many women are too fussy in their choice of a life partner. In her opinion, they should settle for Mr Good Enough rather than holding out for a romantic fantasy. She advises her reader: “Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theatres. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”
And she makes a valid point. We’re fed such a steady diet of Hollywood romances on TV – in fact, her article draws heavily on television characters – that it’s easy to compare real people with celluloid people who’ve had powder dusted on their blemishes, whose words and actions are backed by stirring music, and who’ve had to re-state their lines until the Director is satisfied. So, yep, if you want to be happy in a relationship, you need a decent sense of reality.
But ‘settling’? Ugh! The word ‘settling’ travels with the words ‘for less’. And who wants to be viewed as ‘less’? We’ve all got bad habits. There isn’t a single perfect person on the planet. The nature of life in this 3D world is that everything comes in polarity: up/down, in/out, hot/cold, male/female… And, as philosopher, speaker and author, Dr John Demartini teaches, every human being possesses every trait, positive and negative, in one form or another. You can’t avoid some unpleasant personal characteristics – they go with the territory of being human.
But you don’t have to ‘settle for less’, with all that that infers. Settling for less drags the settler down while it demeans the ‘settlee’. Our thoughts and attitudes have a direct bearing on our emotions and subsequently on our approach to life, so viewing your partner as ‘less’ is hardly going to enhance your relationship.
In fact, words are terrifically important. Language is actually the thing we use to engender our experience of the world - we name and describe our experiences in words, we respond to our words with feelings, and then we act on our feelings out in the world. (There’s a clue about this in the Bible: “And the Word was made flesh...” John 1:14, King James version.)
Since language is the cornerstone of our experience, it makes sense to use it constructively. You can’t walk around saying ‘I feel awful, nothing good happens to me, things never work out for me…’ and expect to feel wonderful or create a stunning life. The thing is, if you want to have a great life, you’ve got to be conscious of what you’re saying about your life and use the words you’d like to experience. This is not just some dandy idea called ‘positive thinking’, it’s plain common sense.
For example, the word ‘can’t’ is just a cover for ‘won’t’ - after all, where there’s a will, there’s a way. ‘Try’ is equally weak – if you hear, ‘I’ll try to do better’, you know they’re stalling. On the other hand, if they say, “I’ll do better’, you hear commitment. ‘I have to get this done’ applies pressure and stress to the doer; ‘I choose to get this done’ is a centered, strong statement.
Here’s a goodie: ‘I need love’. We all need love, it’s a human pre-requisite for flourishing, but if we’ve got an ‘I need love’ refrain happening in the backs of our minds, we’re probably setting ourselves up for disaster. ‘I choose love’, ‘I desire love’ – design your own statement; just pay attention to the feeling that it creates.
So if language has such a huge bearing on attitude and experience, the way we think about our (potential) partners is paramount. To be honest, I’d hate to be married to someone who ‘settled’ for me. And I can talk, because that experience was part of my relationship story. Was. Thank God I woke up, but way back when I had only a centimetre or two of self-esteem, my partner gave up on his dreams of the go-getter career woman and ‘settled’ for me, the big-dreams-small-results-girlfriend. And when he settled, he lost his spark; became depressed; just mooched around. Meanwhile I felt awful because I knew I didn’t inspire him. The negative connotations of settling go both ways, right? The fact is, when we don’t think we’re worth much, we ‘don’t deserve much’, so we’re unlikely to attract a really gorgeous, self-actualised mate.
Fortunately the doldrums of life are really gifts wrapped in brown paper. If you can get the deceptive wrapping off, you’ll find the gift. My partner’s lack of interest in me bothered me and festered until I hit the wall of no return. We headed into counselling and by the end of the year the wrapping was in shreds: we had a transformed relationship and I was a new woman.
Here’s how language came into it: I changed ‘I’m sick of this’ and ‘I can’t bear this anymore’ into ‘I deserve better’. As the self-talk changed, so did the self-image and self-esteem. I coached myself into a new headspace. Instead of ‘settling’, try ‘choosing’. It gives way to a much better feeling - and a better attitude. The mind-body connection is alive and well. You simply can’t use negative language and expect to see positive results or feel fabulous.
Lori Gottlieb is right when she observes that hanging out for Mr Right (= Mr Perfect) isn’t the smartest of moves. Some years ago I wrote an article called ‘The Perfect Partner – Perfect for What?’ (Whole Person Issue #44, Sept/Oct 1995) in which I made the point that the purpose of marriage was not necessarily happiness, but growth. So while I agree with Ms Gottlieb that a flawless partner is a fallacy, I don’t believe we need to surrender our dreams. Instead of settling, try engaging with your partner until he’s the man of your dreams.
Gottlieb says “…you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is short and has an unfortunate nose, but he ‘gets’ you.” Why the emphasis on the nose? Why the ‘but’? I would have thought that finding someone who ‘gets’ you is wonderful, is what it’s all about! The whole point of relationship is to hook up with someone who values enough of the same things as you so that you are heading in the same direction. Usually when we do, we don’t notice the nose. (Now, the nose, in fact, is an important piece in the whole picture. When we’re infatuated we only see the lovely things, and the nose-things turn up later. If, in the early glow of love, one can notice the nose, accept the nose, and keep building relationship, that’s a great thing. On the other hand, if we’re enjoying the connection but discounting it because of the nose, well that, to me, is a pity.) Inevitably, the person who ‘get us’ will also value some things that are in direct opposition to what we find valuable – that’s where the growth comes into it. And it’s not a concept that seems to turn up in her article anywhere. What if the drab or irritating bits are there on purpose? What if they’re gifts wrapped in brown paper?
I suspect that if you sat down and made a list of all your partner’s pros and cons, you’d find heaps to appreciate (the pros) and plenty of opportunity for enormous growth! (the cons). Forget the static Mr Right idea –it’s an illusion. Forget about settling for Mr Less – that’s demeaning for both of you. Instead, consider deliberately co-creating your relationship. Tackle the unmentionable things. Dive into honesty and open communication. Take responsibility for being the person you want to have in your life. Instead of wishing he or she would change, you change.
This sort of approach is messy and uncomfortable and things don’t necessarily transform overnight, but when they do, it can be magical. I went from a stuck relationship with a depressed partner to a committed, conscious relationship with a man who is deeply in love with me. It’s not all perfect. In fact, in the midst of all that wonderment we are dealing with a fairly sizable ‘next challenge’. But hey, that’s life. It’s about growth and development, not ‘finding’ or ‘settling’. Our potential partners are not robots sitting in factories waiting to be collected; they are living breathing human beings who deserve to be appreciated, honoured with honesty, and challenged.
Anything can be transformed. A little irritating habit or a relationship gestalt. So long as we are willing to communicate, listen, and value ourselves and the other.
Here’s a story for you about how I came to grips with one of my partner’s less attractive qualities. When I first met him he had the habit of chewing the inside of his lip when he was thinking. I found it really irritating. One day, when we were on a long drive in the country and he was chewing, I decided to do it too to see what he got out of it. So he drove and chewed and, unbeknownst to him, I chewed too. And discovered that it made me feel thoughtful and inward and reflective. Quite a nice feeling. Funnily enough, that was enough to dissolve the charge I had on his chewing behaviour. I never even noticed him do it again. To be honest, I don’t know if he has, and I’m talking twenty years.
Where the big issues are concerned, strap on your seatbelts for some deep conversation. Call in a counsellor to support you in hearing each other. Take risks. I chose to risk my whole relationship because my growth as a person was more important to me than keeping a stuck relationship intact, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Asking my man to be more rather than less, and upgrading my own behaviours, has been transformational.
Gottlieb is regretting not having settled. (She conceived with donor sperm.) If she had settled, she reckons, she’d have someone to share the parenting journey (and the load). Maybe. Or she’d have someone to separate from down the track because she settled and then regretted settling. In the ecology of relationships, diversity is queen: some people are going to parent solo, some are going to create blended families, some are going to go for a traditional arrangement, some are going to set up gay households, some are going to leave the child-raising to grandparents, some are going to opt for a sperm donor (whether via an IVF arrangement or via settling for Mr Less in order to have babies)…
I believe we each choose the journey that offers us the most growth. Don’t settle; instead, embrace the brown paper parcels and start unwrapping.
The biggest temptation is to settle for too little. - Thomas Merton
Liliane Grace is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and speaker, and author of The Mastery Club – See the Invisible, Hear the Silent, Do the Impossible. www.themasteryclub.com.au
“Marry Him!” – Lori Gottlieb argues the case for settling for Mr Good Enough; Australian Financial Review, March 20-24, 2008.
© Liliane Grace 2008