by Neil Rosenthal
Dear Neil: I am in a seven month relationship with a man who just proposed to me. Contrary to what you may think, this is not a comfortable choice for me. On one hand, he is financially well to do, and I would be able to quit my job. On the other hand, I fear he’s a workaholic and won’t give me a lot of his time. I would not need to scrimp and chintz, I could see the world and I could live a lot more comfortably. But, I’m not that attracted to him physically, and I don’t find him very sexually appealing. I could live in his elegant country estate and have a maid service help with the cleaning, but I’m far more a city girl than a country girl, and he is often anxious, unsettled within himself and uncomfortable around others. I like him, but I’m unclear if I love him. What would you recommend I do? - Stuck in Great Britain
Dear Great Britain: There is a difference between compromising and settling. To compromise is to acknowledge that another person may feel differently than I do, that s/he may have different tastes, goals, dreams and lifestyles that I would need to accommodate to and blend with. Two people compromising with each other feels relational. The end result is that we are both attempting to further a relationship by accepting the differences between the two of us, hopefully without giving up ourselves in the process.
To settle does not feel relational, and it does not feel warm and fuzzy. In my heart of hearts, I know you’re not the right one, but I have grown tired of searching, I fear time is going to pass me by, and I don’t think I’m likely to do any better
Needless to say, settling makes me unhappy – with you and with myself. With you because you’re not what I really want, but you’re the best I think I can get. I am also unhappy with me, because I inwardly feel that I’ve sold out, that I gave myself up, that I allowed my fears, low self-esteem or insecurity about how appealing I am to win out over my dream of finding the perfect match for me.
So what would I recommend that you do? Some of the dilemmas you described can be negotiated, such as the amount of time the two of you spend together verses the amount of time that he spends working. But some can’t be, like whether you love him and find him attractive. So do an internal gut-check about whether you are compromising in order to get some of what you want, or whether you are settling. Overall, is the entire package positive and good for you, or will you be angry at yourself later on?
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com.