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Am I Settling … Or Just Being Realistic?

Am I SettlingStop being so picky. We first hear the phrase as children, usually in reference to our eating habits. Later in life, we may hear the same accusation in connection with who we choose (or refuse) to date.

Particularly if you are past a certain age, friends or family may caution you about being too selective. The pool of prospective mates, they are quick to remind you, will only get smaller as you get older.

The question of “pickiness” may also take the form of internal debate. You may reject a prospective partner because he or she isn’t attractive, ambitious or clever enough — only to find yourself alone on a Saturday night, second-guessing your decision. Did you judge him or her too harshly? Would it be “settling” to call him or her up and give it a try?

After rejecting a decent (if not entirely perfect) candidate, it can be tempting to console yourself with the words of your more indulgent friends: You deserve better. You are fabulous. Any man/woman would be lucky to have you. Your friends may be right — sometimes you really are too good for someone. If you consistently reject decent people, however, your friends may be enabling you in delusions. After all, these are your friends — they are unlikely to point out while the rejected guy or girl clearly has flaw X, you have flaw Y (and maybe flaw Z too).

So how do you know if are you settling … or just being realistic? It’s a difficult call to make — some people’s dating standards are too low; other people’s may be unreasonably high. To determine whether your expectations are off-base, first consider your outlook.

What’s Your Attitude toward Relationships?

The Jaded Cynic
You’ve been burned before. Or perhaps you’ve managed to go your entire life without being hurt by a mate. If so, this achievement likely came at a cost: by keeping people at a distance. To win you over, a potential mate must first pass a rigorous screening process. Even those who initially pass may face ongoing, relentless scrutiny. Chances are you aren’t giving love a chance — few, if any, mortals can live up to such grueling standards.

The Hopeless Romantic
Romantics can err on either side of the “settling” issue. Some may be holding out for a fantasy mate to come and sweep them off their feet, Hollywood style. Other romantics may be so easily enamored that they dismiss even serious relationship red flags. Romantics may need the insight of others to help them assess the true merits (and demerits) of a relationship. Be sure whoever provides you input is level-headed enough to help you look at the relationship objectively.

The Guarded Realist
You have fairly reasonable expectations for relationship. Being a realist, however, you naturally anticipate some hardships in your relationship. Accordingly, you may keep love at bay longer than needed. And even a realist can have a hard time sorting through what flaws they can — and can’t — live with.

Does your list of “must-have” qualities in a mate run into the double digits? If so, you may need to scrap that list and start another. Here’s a “short list” of truly non-negotiable traits in a relationship:

The “Short List”

  • Respect
    Mutual respect is foundational to any healthy relationship. You and your partner will no doubt experience conflict in your relationship. You should be able to navigate these conflicts, however, without cruel words or abusive behavior.
  • Chemistry
    Your dream partner may not look exactly like you thought he or she would. But you should still feel an undeniable attraction to them—even with a few physical defects. Attraction isn’t everything in a relationship. But the physical bond between a couple is important and can help hold them together during hard times.
  • Character
    If you could only pick three character traits in a partner, what would they be? Try to find somebody who embodies these three virtues, at least most of the time.
  • The Wild Card: Your One, Unique-to-You “Absolute”
    If you had to whittle down all your other preferences into a single requirement (other than those listed above), what would it be? For some, it might be intellect, earning power, or a sense of humor. For people with strong ideological positions, finding a mate with similar political or religious views may be top-priority.

We all have our relationship pet-peeves and “must haves.” The trick is to not allow our “list” to become so extensive that we rule out viable mates. If the thought of trimming your list makes you cringe, take heart: no one says you have to “settle.” If you have unrealistic expectations for love, however, and are unwilling to compromise on even your most superficial criteria — make sure you are prepared to accept the consequences. Love doesn’t always arrive in the package we expected — but if the gift itself is good, consider hanging on to it.


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