To Settle Or Not To Settle?

There is that scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary, where, Bridge (as she’s called) lies on her couch, pajama-clad, bottle of vodka clutched tightly in hand, bemoaning the fate of an untimely death for a single person. She worries that if she were to die, alone in her apartment, it is likely that someone would find her decomposing body three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.

I too fear the fate of an untimely “single” death. I imagine my distraught mother, overcome with grief, forced to go through my things. Her sadness only magnified as she discovers the true, mind-blowing total of my credit card debt, and then the small stash of “emergency” illicit prescription drugs in my bedside table. I can see her coming to the realization that I’m not the daughter she imagined, but her image of me will truly be shattered when she opens the drawer that I use to store both my vibrators and my financial statements. I can just see the horror pass over her face, as she realizes that her daughter was not only a bit too sexually adventurous, but also was unfamiliar with exactly what a 401K is.

I overlooked all I could, but sadly, I overlooked how I really felt — which was bored and uninspired.

What my filing system says about both my sex life and my financial health will not be addressed here, but ending up alone will. Author Lori Gottlieb recently released the controversial (almost apocalyptic) book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (check out Jessica’s awesome Q&A with the author), in which she implores women everywhere to forgo deep, passionate connections in favor of companionship. In other words, overlook halitosis for someone’s hand to clutch on your deathbed.

Her doom-and-gloom outlook has spawned outrage in many. But it got me thinking that perhaps what she’s saying is that as we get older the things we crave change. And the things that seemed so far away in our 20s (like marriage and child-bearing and rearing) become realities in our 30s. So the question remains: Do we break up with guys in our 20s for reasons that we would be comfortable overlooking in our 30s? Are we just too superficial, too myopic in our 20s to realize that companionship trumps bad shoes or a lack of an adventurous streak?

Interestingly, I once found myself attempting to “overlook” a great deal in a man. I, at the ripe old age of 25, had been single for three years, and when a guy came along whom I wouldn’t normally consider dating, I figured perhaps I had been doing something wrong all along. I was going to throw caution to the wind and date (let’s call him) Hal.

I wasn’t super attracted to Hal, but no matter! At least I wasn’t physically repulsed. I’m adventurous and like the outdoors. Hal didn’t. In fact, the outdoors spawned complaining. A lot of it. I hoped that financial success would one day allow me to travel the world, learn languages, see great things. Hal, on the other hand, just wanted a pool. To be fair, he knew what kind of pool (kidney-shaped, dark bottom). But the point is, his dreams were dug firmly into the ground while mine flitted about somewhere between earth and outer space.

I overlooked all I could, but sadly, I overlooked how I really felt — which was bored and uninspired.

I found other friends of mine (also in their 20s) overlooking as well. One girlfriend dated a guy whose (unsavory) reputation preceded him. Another dated a man who she knew was really just a friend, but tried to overlook the lack of chemistry.

It all brings me back to Lori Gottlieb’s mantra — “Marry him!” — but at what cost? When does compromise and understanding turn into settling?

Do you want the vows on your wedding day to read “Being with you is better than being alone”? I mean, do you really want to close your eyes during sex, not by choice, but because you’re not attracted to him?

I’d like to posit a new theory, which is perhaps naive, and perhaps too optimistic. But maybe we date men in our 20s that we just wouldn’t consider in our 30s. Maybe in our 30s we no longer believe that we can change the a-hole, or reform the philanderer. Maybe by our 30s, we know ourselves well enough not to date the guys we would in our 20s. Maybe by then, we can see past the halitosis to a good heart. Moreover, I’d like to continue to believe that passion can turn into companionship, and we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

Of course, the real question that I continue to struggle with is not when to get rid of someone, but rather when to keep him. And that, my friends, seems to be the most difficult one of all to answer.