How To Tell If You’re Settling — So You Can Stop

Photographed By Savana Ogburn.
Back in college, a close friend was dating someone who treated her badly — and who she just didn’t seem to like that much. Eventually, whenever she complained about him, I started singing the Death Cab For Cutie song, “The Sound Of Settling.” Ba-da, this is the sound of settling. Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da. It took a while, but eventually, they broke up.
The question of settling is a controversial one — and no one can quite agree what it means. Is it “settling” if you fall for someone who isn’t your usual “type”? Someone who’s shorter, shyer, doesn't make as much money as you, or has different taste in music than you thought you'd end up with? Or is it "settling" when you decide to stay with someone you don’t really enjoy being with? I tend to go for the second definition.
So why do people settle? There are many reasons, but one common one is a wish to avoid being single. "I’d like to think I'm a pretty strong, independent woman, but I think I stayed with him because the thought of not having someone to spoon at night was too frightening," one anonymous former settler previously told Refinery29. "I knew I was settling, my friends knew I was settling, and worst of all, he knew I was settling. I went along with it and convinced myself that I loved him, but you can never really fool yourself for too long."
If you think you might be settling, here’s what to ask yourself:

Do I feel superior to my partner?

“You don’t want to choose a guy out of desperation and commit to a relationship where you have ‘settling’ worries more often than not,” writes Diana Kirschner, Ph.D. for Psychology Today. The first question Dr. Kirschner suggests you ask yourself about settling is, “Do I feel superior to my partner?” If the answer is yes, she writes, think about why. If it’s something fairly superficial — for example, you roll your eyes at your partner's love of Harry Potter — then thinking critically about why you feel superior could help you realize you’re settling. If it’s a real concern, however — for example, your partner treats others unkindly — then that can shed light on the relationship, too. 

How do I feel when I’m alone with my partner?

Do you feel content when you and your partner are spending one-on-one time together? Or do you get easily annoyed with them? Feelings of contempt are one of the biggest red flags that it’s time to break up, Angela Skurtu, M.Ed., LMFT, a couples therapist in Missouri, previously told Refinery29. “If you were to describe contempt, it's a resentment that's gone so deep that you don't even respect the person anymore. There's no love left and there's really just a sustained and deep bitterness," she said. "You'll hear it in the way they talk to each other. There's just a hatred in their voice and hatred in the way they look at each other." 

Is there a lack of chemistry with my partner?

Relationship coach Esther Perel previously told Refinery29 that while bad sex can get better with practice, a fundamental incompatibility usually isn’t going to go away. “If you have a fundamental lack of attraction to the person, you don’t like the way the person smells, that can be a problem,” she said.

What am I compromising on in this relationship?

Every relationship requires some amount of compromise, but if you’re changing your values or your life goals in a major way, you might be settling — for example, if you want children and your partner doesn’t. In a Reddit thread about how to know you’re settling, the top-voted answer reads, “When instead of making compromises with your partner to reach common ground, staying in the relationship requires you to compromise on your values/standards/dealbreakers.”

What do I like about this relationship?

Another popular answer was to take an honest look at your relationship. Ask yourself: What do you like about your relationship? If your answers would work for any partner — having a date to take to weddings, being able to snuggle someone at night — rather than your particular partner as an individual, then you might be settling. 

Am I scared to be single?

Let’s be real: there’s a lot of pressure for people, particularly women, to be in relationships. It can be really hard to be single. But if the only thing keep you and your partner together is a fear of being single, the relationship isn’t built on a strong foundation. 
If you think you might be settling, ask yourself these questions and really think about your answers. Talk about your concerns with a therapist or trusted friend. Then, decide whether you want to stay in the relationship — and if not, begin to think about how you’ll end it.

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