“A warm body in your bed isn’t enough. Wait for someone who knocks your knee-high socks off. Who makes you forget about time and who you used to be. Who understands and accepts you completely. Today. As you are. Where you are. Who you don’t have to convince.
Wait for someone who wants to hang the moon with you. Who believes in your story. Who chooses to stand by your side. Who doesn’t want anyone else. Wait. Because if you don’t, you’ll have to start all over. Don’t settle.”
I wrote this on my phone lying in bed, before going to sleep. I, like many, have a lot of thoughts before going to bed. This was a random one. I woke up the next morning to see over 1,000 likes and 500 shares. It wasn’t because the post was so brilliant. It was because so many resonated, and by resonated, I mean they have settled and learned the hard way.
No one purposely makes a decision to settle. No one says, “Okay, I’m going to settle with my next one because I don’t believe I can get what I really want.” Actually, scratch that: We do.
Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, a factor in our decision to be with someone has to do with our beliefs about ourselves. Many believe they do not have worth or deserve something better. Because of this belief, we “settle” with the first person who shows interest. Then suddenly, we’re in a relationship.
And, of course, since we settled, it’s short-lived. It fizzles. We get “bored.” There is no healthy fire. When we stuff attraction into our left brain (logic) only, it rarely works out.
Or we settle gradually. We set our bar in the beginning. Then feelings kick in. People start changing. And we start to settle by compromising ourselves. We allow the lacking in others and their unwillingness to change create holes in us. We believe that this is what it looks like to love. To give.
Because relationships are about compromise, right? Yes. But not compromising self. So let’s rewind a bit and define what settling means, the signs that you’re settling in your own relationship, and some relationship advice to remedy your situation.
Settling doesn’t mean letting go of preferences. We all have things we prefer but don’t always get, and that’s not enough to end a relationship. If someone loses their job, hair, or abs, that doesn’t mean you’re settling.
Settling means letting go of things that are important to who you are, what you believe in, how you would like to be treated and loved, and this other part called magic, which I’ll get into in a bit. We settle when we start compromising ourselves and our own needs.
When I look back at one short-lived relationship, I remember when I started settling. It was when I realized I wasn’t being treated the way I wanted to be, but more importantly, I allowed it (the action of settling), wondering what I could do to change myself so that she would treat me differently.
I owned someone else’s ambivalence and insecurities. I put up with her judgment. I settled. Until I realized it wasn’t a safe space. The relationship wasn’t promoting my growth or stretching my heart. It didn’t match my definition of love. It was making me criticize myself and question my ability to create a safe space for someone else. I felt less than.
Of course, you have to ask yourself how much of that is you and how much of that is them. And I did. And although I’m not perfect and have my own issues, I believed I settled.
The other piece of settling has to do with magic. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to use the word because it’s vague and sounds fairytale-ish, but there’s no other way to describe it. Magic differs for everyone. And let’s not mistake magic for the short-lived butterflies of excitement in the beginning when you meet someone new.
Magic is hard-wired into the connection. There is something about the dynamic of you and him or her that creates something rare and unexplainable. Also, magic differs in every connection, so you shouldn’t try to find the magic you had with someone else in this one.
But it’s important that some kind of magic, whatever your definition is, lives and breathes in the relationship. If you’re in something where you know in your heart it’s nonexistent, even if you’ve been trying to convince yourself otherwise, you are settling.
That being said, magic can appear later. Have you ever had a best friend who became a partner? Assuming it wasn’t a logical decision, most likely the magic kicked in later. Maybe after he crossed the friendship line and kissed you. Or maybe it was later than that after you guys became “official.” But once it’s there, it’s there. It may fluctuate, but it’s real and it’s there.
So what do we do when we’re in a relationship where we believe we’ve settled?
First, make sure the lack of the other person’s tools and the dynamic of the relationship (including the lack of magic) is making you break up with yourself. Meaning the relationship you have with you is changing for the worse because of your relationship with him or her. But you have to be honest and own what is yours and what is theirs. If you own what is yours and still feel the same way, it’s one of the signs that you’re settling.
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Second, before you make any decision, ask yourself what you can do to repair the relationship. If it’s the magic piece, maybe it’s at a low point. What can you do about that? But remember you’re only half of any relationship. Is there anything you can do to change the dynamic? What is in your control? And what is not? What can you change about yourself without compromising your truth?
Third, if you’ve done all you can, what we call “the work” in my field, and come to the conclusion that the relationship isn’t repairable and magic can’t be jump-started, then it may be time to consider leaving. That may sound drastic, but I don’t believe people should invest in each other if they feel like they’re settling. (How you leave is an entirely different conversation.)
What if you’re dating someone and want to know if you’re settling? Here are some red flags:
1. He doesn’t make you feel safe (emotionally or physically).
2. He continually tries to change/control you. (Remember: This will only grow.)
3. He assassinates your character.
4. He hides you. Doesn’t introduce you to his friends or her world.
5. He doesn’t support you, your story, or your dreams.
Relationships are hard enough when they’re not lopsided and people are not settling, even when there’s fire and it’s healthy.
There is still work to grit and push through to build anything sustainable. So if you are settling, the chances of your relationship having any legs are very slim. Don’t waste your and another human’s time.
John Kim LMFT (The Angry Therapist) pioneered the online life coaching movement seven years ago. Kim became known as an unconventional therapist who worked out of the box, and when he built out a coaching team of his own, launched an entire movement to change the way we change. Follow him on Instagram.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.