On Settling


“Grab life and find somebody who wants to grab it with you, the way you want to, and live it. Incredibly. Or in Rob Thomas’ words, Live out loud. I think that’s what’s missing for so many of us. We settle.”

King Midget made this comment recently on my blog and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What does it mean to settle? Why do we do it? And is it such a bad thing anyway?

I’ve been guilty of saying that I settled in my marriage. In some important ways I did. It became clear early on that I wasn’t going to get the kind of deep emotional intimacy I craved in that relationship. And yet, we clicked intellectually. We both loved the outdoors, and traveling, and the Globe and Mail newspaper on Saturday morning. In the 17 years that my ex and I were married, we traveled widely, exploring Europe and Africa, parts of Canada and the U.S.; we hiked mountains, canoed lakes and rafted rivers. We backpacked in the wilderness and camped all across BC.  We supported each other as we each pursued a master degree. We had three beautiful boys. There’s no question that there was loneliness, that there were important elements in our relationship that were missing. But there was richness too. There’s no question that he and I grabbed life together. Did I settle? I’m not so sure. I don’t regret our time together, but I also know now what I was missing.

picketfence2Because I got the deep emotional and physical intimacy in my relationship with Griff. And it was amazing. For those years, I experienced a level of devotion and attentiveness that everyone should get at least once in their lives. I absolutely know that I want to feel that way again. But my relationship with Griff wasn’t perfect either. I lived with a near constant sense of anxiety, never quite sure how long he’d be around. And eventually he did leave. Did I settle? I don’t know. Do I regret the time I had with Griff? Not a minute of it.

And so I’m struggling with the concept of settling, because I’m pretty sure that we all settle at one level or another in relationships. We’re not going to get everything on the shopping list. And so I think I need to get really clear about what is non-negotiable for me, what I know I absolutely must have. It may be that I need both deep intimacy and an adventurous life. I want to live “out loud.” But I might not also get the guy with the sailboat, or the guy with the great wardrobe, or the guy who is equally comfortable hanging out with my family and with my various circles of friends.

picketfenceWhen we were talking about settling, Babe Darla, from I Do Blather On weighed in, defining the word settle.  To settle is to stop moving, to come to rest, to become quiet or orderly, to establish on a permanent basis. When I think about settling in those terms, I kind of like the idea.

Babe Darla says, “In all of this, there is only ONE definition I could find that means ‘accept despite lack of complete satisfaction’ so why is THAT the one we always think of? Maybe, just maybe we should think of the OTHER definitions when we ‘settle’!”

At the same time, I also think of the words another wise friend who says, “We’re not looking for lateral transfers here.” She’s right. I have a life that is rich and happy already. I’m looking for a relationship that will enrich my life, not narrow it. But do I need perfect? No. And do I like the idea of coming to rest, of establishing permanency? Absolutely.


What do you think? Weigh in with your wisdom, your experience, your two cents worth…



About Sally

Poet, seeker, author, mom. Celebrating the beauty and mystery that surrounds us and learning to trust in the journey.
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21 Responses to On Settling

  1. Just finished reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain…about Hadley and Ernest Hemingway. I mention that because it’s worth time spent and most likely as true as any assumptions about someone else’s life can be. Anyhow, I respect other people’s wisdom…yet it’s just that…its their wisdom from their own experience of life, not mine. That said, you seem to be very wise, Sally.

  2. Settle..I think we live in the real world, with real choices. We can choose to wait till we meet perfect – but we may not meet perfect. So we’re going to have to put up with less than complete satisfaction on all counts – or choose not to bother with romance at all. I guess one needs to think through what one wants – do you REALLY want a relationship? What for? without magical thinking – and then think, so what are you prepared to pay for it? That’s the unromantic view!

  3. i think we all settle, but like anything else we hopefully settle in a way that makes us happy. maybe i’m settling – but i don’t think one person can do or be everything.. so yeah. i think it sounds like you had a really good relationship with your ex, but you were settling obviously in an area that you couldn’t.. it’s all a compromise.. i think..

    • When I read your blog. I think “there’s a woman who’s got it all figured out.” You’ve signed on for what makes you happy and you’re letting go of the rest. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  4. kingmidget says:

    Yes, perfection is impossible and we shouldn’t week it. It’s interesting reading your description of your marriage. I have some of the same issues with mine. My wife is a good, decent person, but we are different in some fundamental ways that have made happiness or even satisfaction impossible for me. One of the key differences has to do with what you describe as emotional intimacy. She’s incapable of it. An incapability I fought for years but have given up on. Incapable means incapable. No amount of pushing or prodding will help. So, I struggle with that void. I, too, had another relationship that showed me filling that void was possible. I wonder if having had and lost a relationship like that is what makes it so difficult to see that something different could be just as good. Just as fulfilling. It’s a puzzle. Do you need every piece to see the picture?
    Regarding Babe Darla’s definition … I think to stop moving isn’t settling, it’s dying. 🙂
    I do like the other comment … you should want more than a lateral transfer. That’s not settling, that’s not the end of movement, it’s the continuation of moving forward.
    Great conversation.

    • “…do you need every piece of the puzzle to see the picture?” Isn’t that the crux of it? That we can’t be sure, and don’t really know what exactly it is that will bring fulfilment and happiness.

  5. “I’m settling.” > Flat, lifeless. > “I’m giving up.”
    “I’m settling down/in.” > Comfort, nesting. > “I’m blooming where I’m planted.”

    You and friend Deb are in a very similar place, it sounds like. You’re both happy with and enriched by your current solo gig, and would like to share that with someone special. Deb has chosen to step back from looking for love, because she’s not finding what she wants. She’s decided to “let it be” – not to give up, but to let go of her expectation and anticipation and even impatience while settling into a place of remaining open and vulnerable to the possibility. I believe that context will lead her from possibility to probability in a most satisfactory way. Peace.

  6. #1: There are always trade offs. The thing you love the most about a person is going to be the same trait that drives you crazy. You will never be able to have your cake and eat it too. Being realistic about this fact is not settling.

    #2: Many women have a laundry list of “must haves” that are based on black and white thinking. My greatest frustration with online dating has been women who keep closed minds in the name of “not settling”. It is very self defeating.

    From the outside looking in, you seem to keep an open mind. You are willing to meet people and give them a chance. You do not seem to jump to conclusions based on your initial reaction to a checkbox label on their online profile…

    I think it is good to think about your non-negotiable “show-stoppers”. It should be a very short list, based on deeper, more substantive things than checkboxes or labels. For example, having uncut, dirty fingernails is a show-stopper. But the dirty fingernails is the symptom, not the deeper reason why the guy isn’t a good fit.

    You are doing it the right way. Keep looking for the diamond in the rough Delicious…

  7. Can’t offer anything right now, but this will send me into deep thought for sure! For Janet and I she was literally the girl next door and we’ve always just “clicked”….

  8. words4jp says:

    I understand the settled concept. I did that. i certainly do not believe in perfection – i suppose this is why i am still hung up on this person i still love deeply. i do not know anymore – nothing. and at this moment i do not wish to find someone – i do not want to try – all i see is a lot of pain and disappointment.

  9. kp says:

    Hi Sally…great post; you have all of us thinking. I think sometimes I get confused about what I want materially and emotionally from a relationship. Maybe there are times in our lives, when we want adventure and travel and maybe there are times when we want someone who meets us emotionally and spiritually. Maybe it is being clear about what we really want in our lives at any given time? Kim

  10. Diane C says:

    My first marriage wasn’t settling. Settling would have been far superior. What I did was to make a very dangerous decision. I knew that marrying my ex was a mistake even before I walked down the aisle. I even tried to break up with him but he wore me down. So, I married a man that was abusive in every way except that he never hit me. Does this diminish his abusiveness? Nope, in someways it made it worse because it made it more hidden. It left me (and my daughter) damaged in a way that has taken me years to get past and from which I will likely never completely recover. It sure made things clear for me when, after 11 years, I decided that I was ready to look for another relationship. I knew exactly what I wanted and what I didn’t want. And when I met Nick, it was clear he fit my criteria and then some. I feel pretty blessed.

  11. turtlegrl says:

    I struggle with this all the time. What are deal breakers for me? Where do you draw the line between what you can and can’t handle? Everyone has their shit, but when is it something that you can’t live with? I don’t have any good answers, but I try to take it on a case by case basis. I spend a lot of time using my girlfriends as sounding boards. The other thing that’s hard is being in the middle of the situation and seeing it for what it really is. Really great blog! I know this is the question in the back of my mind every time I date someone!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I’m trying hard in my dating life to stay open to the possibilities, but I also know there are things I am just not prepared to accept, largely because of previous relationships. I can’t do angry, can’t do bitter, don’t want insecure. I know from experience that distance doesn’t work… Sadly there’s quite a list 🙂

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