Most people are terrified of 'settling' in their relationships. But don’t we all fall in love with imperfect partners in the end? Susan* is a 30-year-old Londoner who’s about to get engaged to someone who – on paper – probably wouldn’t meet half the criteria on her 'ideal partner' checklist, yet is the person she sees her future with. We asked her to tell us more about the fantasy of love, the reality of relationships, and why settling doesn’t always mean that you could do better. As told to Cristiana Bedei.
When I met my now soon-to-be fiancé, five years ago, I didn’t really think much of him – or us, as a thing. There was no magic or butterflies. We were in the same group of friends at uni and we had flirted a bit, but he was way more interested in me than I was in him. So I was just kind of messing around and seeing where that would go, when we ended up sleeping together.
He was not my usual type, to be honest. On a dating app, he wouldn’t have stood a chance, with his serious tone and all. Also, I was 25 and pretty much committed to finding a male version of myself to be with, picturing us listening to the same music, going to the same events and doing things together all the time – this person just wasn’t any of this. And to this day, we don’t have that much in common.
Somehow, what started as a casual one-night stand naturally progressed into a relationship that I was not sure about for a long time, with people around me asking: Do you think this could work? I didn’t know, then. And I was terrified of hurting him for not reciprocating his feelings.
It was pretty unsettling, the way all new and unexpected things are, but I was also over the highs and lows of my previous relationships and wanted to give this a chance. It felt comfortable, but it was also very ordinary. Where was the crazy, romantic head-over-heels passion? Was this what love was really 'supposed' to be like? I was questioning my feelings a lot, but not my expectations. I really stressed myself out for about a year, until I realised that maybe this was not the relationship I had imagined for myself, but it was the relationship I wanted, and still want today. I am not interested in looking for anything more, for anyone else, because even if it isn’t super exciting all the time, it is enough and we do really love each other.
It’s true, our life probably wouldn't make it into any romantic movie or TV series and I’m sure some people would call us boring, but we look after each other with love, respect and honesty. I’m okay with trading some passion for support, for showing up for someone who’s there for me when I need them. I’m done with the fantasy, with chasing a spark that would disappear anyway. I’m much more invested in building a sustainable future with someone who I trust and can come home to after a bad day and just be myself, even my tired-looking, annoying self. But I had to learn this, I had to rewire my brain into separating emotional rollercoasters and actual feelings.
A lot of relationships, even among my friends, seem to thrive on stormy arguments, break-ups and make-ups. And with dating apps and stuff, we’ve naturally become pickier – I mean, the whole point is to literally filter out people we don’t think would be a good match for us. I understand the thrill – been there, done that – but it’s not for me. I didn’t settle for the first person that came along, but I am so glad that in my 30s I’m not out there looking for someone, having to go on dates with strangers and so on. It’s not like I’m feeling the pressure of the 'biological clock' either, I don’t even want to have kids. I like going about my day, doing my thing in peace, then seeing my partner in the evening and going to bed together – I’m ready to do it over and over, for the rest of my life. Does this sound terribly average? Even unromantic, perhaps? We don’t do a lot of romantic things, anyway.
We don’t really plan dates or buy each other expensive gifts. He's bought me flowers once or twice, in five years. When it comes to birthdays and celebrations, I tell him what I want because it’s just easier. People may find it weird that, after such a long time together, he doesn’t know what to get me, but we have very different tastes and, honestly, I really don’t mind. I know he loves me and if you date anyone long enough, you’re going to see each other’s failings, that’s just how it is.
The question is: where do you draw the line? Do you know what you need and what makes you happy? I choose stability over fairy tale, but I’m with someone who feels like a best friend, where trust, honesty and respect are very strong, where there’s enough love and commitment to think of building a life together, and that’s where I’m meant to be, that’s who I’m meant to be with. And I wouldn’t settle for anything less.
*Name has been changed to protect the subject's identity