I know what you’re thinking.
You think I’m talking about pioneer families traversing the rough and tumble Cumberland Trail in Conestoga wagons who are crying about the difficult nature of their journey.
You might be thinking that I’m referring to members of the struggling Donner Party lamenting about eating their family-sized (literally speaking) frozen dinner from the night before.
Again, you’d be wrong.
I’m talking about women who intelligently relinquish hopes of ever applying a death grip on that completely non-existent solid brass ring.
These smart, emotionally enterprising women are the ones who’ve lived enough life to understand that very often a nice, brass plated ring works just as well.
A few years ago, I happened upon an article penend by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic. “La Gottlieb” wrote about turning 40 and her search for love and marriage that have eluded her for 39 of her 40 years on this planet. I read her article, made a few faces, referenced a few colorful metaphors then decided to write a post of my own. What you’re about to read is the product of all that.
Now, I specifically wanted to rehash this post because A) I love my own damn writing and B) it deals with the rubric of relationship udnerstanding and in the current place I find myself in, going back and rereading my own sage wisdom might be just what the doctor ordered. So, join me, won’t you?
Let’s start at the start…..settling.
Ah, I really loathe the term. It implies reluctant acceptance of second best or not good enough and frankly, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Well, it isn’t all the time. There are many exceptions.
To me, the word should be tossed aside and “acceptance” should be used instead. Acceptance can mean you accept changes in your life. The ones you can’t do anything about–like aging. This acceptance marks an important paradigm shift in your thinking with regard to you, your relationships and yes, it applies to both genders.
I am a 51 year old woman who never married…never been engaged and have never had a child. There was never a burning, yearning in me to conceive. I am convinced that some women aren’t cut out for motherhood. In my case, my ability to conceive was compromised significantly after a very serious car accident in 1991. In many ways, that made my decision easier. And more difficult.
I always wanted the option to have a baby or not. To be told that I might not have a choice; no say in this part of my life as a woman wasn’t easy to hear. But I had to make emotional adjustments.
Remember that sentence.
OK, that covers motherhood, but why did I never marry?
Well, suffice it to say I made horrific choices in relationships.
And really, that’s enough.
But I will tell you this: if I were to dissect every relationship I’ve ever had, they would be perfectly reflective of who and what I was at the time. If I didn’t like myself, I had this ridiculous, destructive pattern–I partnered with horrible men who were self-centered losers. And what’s really interesting, is that during periods in which I really liked myself, I remained single. And beyond that, I had to accept responsibility. For the most part, I was mostly the reason why I was miserable. I had to come to terms with my complicity in my own unhappiness. I failed at every relationship because I had failed me.
After years of of painful introspection, I was able to reconcile this. I forgave myself and made it my life’s ambition to rectify all my mistakes and quell my anger.
The result? Incredible acuity. I started seeing people and things diferently.
So many friends would call me, literally crying and they’d ask me–of all people–where was their perfect Mr. Man? I would tell them that right man for them is out there. He’s in the library…shopping for cucumbers at Kroger’s….he’s driving down the Interstate….sitting as his computer reading Drudge or Huffington (depending on her politics–I’m delightfully “cadgy” that way) and I’d finish strong by telling them that maybe, just maybe, he was wondering where she was.
And then they’d spoil the moment for both us by asking if I thought Mr. Wonderful “would be cute”.
This still infuriates me. Looks are grossly overrated.
LOOKS ARE GROSSLY OVERRATED.
The perception of “cute” is also idiosyncratic. One woman’s George Clooney is another woman’s Steve Buscemi. Besides, looks fade.
I once read or maybe even wrote myself that because of Hollywood’s celluloid interpretation of what love is….and isn’t…. many women have this idea of marrying handsome hunky men and men will fall in love with gorgeous, physical specimens of femalia.
On certain occasions, yeah, that happens, but most of the time it doesn’t. We love who we love.
I knew a guy in college who was by definition, gorgeous. He went for gorgeous women. I had no doubt that this man with Hollywood good looks would eventually marry a model…or two…and life would be pretty for them both. We both graduated and he went his way and I went mine and I didn’t hear from him for about seven years. He called me one evening to tell me that he was finally getting married. He sent me her photo. She was, compared to the women I’d always seen him with in college, quite plain and rather pudgy, but he told me that she was the love of his life and the most beautiful women he’d ever known.
I cried when he told me that.
See? He didn’t settle. He celebrated the paradigm shift in his life by marrying the woman who filled as many emotional quadrant requirements as possible…the four corners of his happiness. Sure, she might not have been Helen of Troy where looks are conerned, but she was nice and giving and sweet and loved him to death and learned to love his hobby of fly fishing and tooko lessons to learn how to cook the same Lebanese foods that he grew up with. She made it a point to be kind to strangers, she learned aspects of his religion and culture. And he made the same concessions for her.
And in spite of their differences, they shared so many similarities, such as core values and all of those things made her beautiful to him. And he could never have fallen in love so fully, so authentically without making necessary emotional adjustments in his life.
So, Lori Gottlieb…listen up: quit fretting. Relax. Enjoy the fourth decade of your life. Quit coordinating certain life benchmarks with specific life deadlines. You won’t turn into a yenta just because you’re 40 and not married. And don’t settle; just learn to “love right” for the woman you are; the woman you’ve become. You’re not who you were ten years ago, you aren’t who you’ll become ten years from now. Don’t change what you want in a man, just change the way you view what you want. Just change your perspective. Separate society’s preconceived notions of love and allow your heart to speak for itself. Do this and I assure you, THEE relationship will appear, almost out of thin air and it’ll come when you least expect it and when you really need it.
But just remember this: compromising isn’t settling and comprise happens when one cares enough to willingly make the necessary emotional adjustments to improve the overall situation. In baseball terms, it’s a sacrifice. In real life terms, it keeps relationships whole. It’s taking one for the team.
It’s like this: Look at the pretty Lamborghini and admire it’s sleek lines. Ogle it’s power, imagine it’s performance, but fall in love with the solid, dependability of the Honda Civic. It’s pretty, too–just in a different, more practical way and it takes less to maintain and it always gets you where you need to go. It is a wonderfully comfortable ride.
And if you take care of a car like this, it will take care of you. All it takes is a little effort.
Learn to replace spark plugs yourself. Change the oil, buy a new air filter from time to time and fine tune the engine every six thousand miles to always “keep it humming”; learn to listen to the motor; it’ll let you know when there’s a problem and when there’s a problem, fix it. Plain and simple. But you can eliminate so many future problems with simple maintenance; maintenance that’s routine ONLY if you allow it to be.
And finally…never, ever settle. Get the car you want and the one you really need. Wait for the best deal, if you have to. Waiting is okay. Patience can be a virtue in love and car buying. I’m finally learning all of this at 51 and I relish every lesson.
Why? Because it’s now ridiculously clear that if you accept anything less, and you can end up with a car you’ll never drive.
Or a love you’ll never know.