Self perception is often flawed in our favor.

I’ll be honest, if I begin to genuinely like a woman and want more from her than to be some guy she is dating, I am going to ask myself: “Is this the best I can do?” It’s not a simple yes or no question. Like most people, when it comes to choosing one person I want to spend the rest of my life with, I don’t want to feel like I settled – whatever that means. This is where things get tricky.

It becomes an internal assessment of needs versus wants. What do I need in a woman versus what do I want in a woman? The need part is simple. All I need in a woman is someone to whom I am physically and emotionally attracted. Yes, that’s it. I could come up with a long impressive list but for me, being physically and emotionally attracted to a woman is the foundation for the start of a relationship.

I need to be attracted to you physically and I need to be attracted to your personality. I need both.  If you’re FINE but your personality is ugly we won’t work and if you’re ugly but your personality is FINE, we still won’t work.

When we start incorporating wants, along with needs, is when things get complicated. Wants, by definition, are unneeded. If a relationship were a home, wants would be the furniture within the house. Needs would be the walls and the roof. A home can exist without furniture; it will crumble without walls and a roof. Once I’ve established a strong foundation of physical and emotional attraction I need to determine how many wants I need to have versus how many wants I would like to have. While I have simplified everything here today, this is basically the cause for why my relationships have failed or succeeded.

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For example, let’s say I’ve found a woman who is physically and emotionally attractive. Great! That’s a good start but that’s all it is, a start. Now I have to figure out the wants, which are often scaled e.g. from 1 to 10. Then I must ask myself how important her strengths are relative to her weaknesses. Is she: educated, out-going, have kids, health conscious, a self-starter, mature, unselfish, communicative, willing to compromise, and did she answer the seven silent questions correctly? What are her: hopes, dreams, ambitions? Does what she want align with what I want? Finally, just because I desire all these qualities in her, does it mean I am worthy? What have I done to be with such a woman and in turn, would obtaining her mean that she has settled to be with me? In this instance, being the first to propose may not be the same as being her first choice.

I am not alone in my confusion on what constitutes settling. In 2010, Lori Gottlieb wrote an entire book about it. In 2011, Drake wrote a whole song about it. We all have friends, family, or perhaps even ourselves who are currently in (or were once in) relationships that made us say to ourselves, “I’m just sayin, you can do better. Tell me have you heard that lately?” On this very premise, the 42-yr old un-happily single mother turned author, Lori Gottlieb, wrote a post for the Atlantic Journal, which she then turned into a full book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. It was met with a firestorm of upheaval from a mostly female audience. An Oprah book club reviewer described it in the following manner:

Gottlieb’s piece polarized readers. Some said her argument was common sense, that women must confront the biological realities that suggest they’re most marriageable when they’re young and fertile. Other readers said she was telling women to sell out their dreams and shut down their hearts.

Maybe the protest was a result of the fact that women are primarily the ones instructed to settle to be in a relationship. Conversely, men are not only not encouraged to settle but are in fact expected to pursue the best. Ironically, this sentiment is often championed by both sexes. With men wondering why the guy with everything going for himself settled for the “regular girl” and women wondering the same even if it would benefit both to encourage it. In other words, men and especially women wonder why men pursue the typical trophy Stepford Wife, yet men and women chastise highly successful men who chose to buck this trend by settling for the average woman.

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Theoretically, on a timeline of forever, can’t you always do better? Won’t there always be someone more attractive? Younger? Smarter? Funnier? Richer? Maybe even more compatible than the one you’ve chosen to be with? Therefore, at what point (or age) do your standards or preferences equate to unreasonable expectations? What if you wait too late or equally heart-wrenching, realize that you settled too early when you finally meet “The One” only after you settled for some-one instead…

Is telling someone to settle, like Lori, or suggesting someone has settled, like Drake, truly an insult? Is choosing to be with some-one that meets all of your needs but not all of your wants worse than being without The One? Can you be content without being happy? How long do you continue to pass up the men/women in your life now for the man/woman in your dreams? Does settling for the former mean you’ve given up or simply accepted reality and which, if either, is a worse fate?