When I was a young girl, I used to write lists of what I wanted in a husband. It went something like this:
3.) Has a sense of humor
4.) Must like chocolate (what can I say, I was an intelligent 12 year old.)
All three were, in my little girl mind, non-negotiable. If Mr X didn’t have these traits, he wasn’t the man for me. Back in the present day, I recently had a conversation with a dear friend over what our ‘non-negotiables’ and ‘extras’ were. This is always an interesting conversation for me, simply because everyone has such different ideas of what they’re looking for in a partner. The list is always divided into non-negotiables and extras, and this got me thinking about the issue of settling.
Settling has pretty bad connotations. It’s the thing people whisper about a woman in her late 20s who turns up with her ‘import’ husband i.e. someone not from the Western country she was brought up in. It’s what people say about couples who have an obvious disparity in looks or status. One of them has definitely settled-what other explanation could there be for someone marrying a person so beneath them?
To define settling is to undertake the impossible, because it really does depend on the criteria of each person. For example, education is a huge deal to some people in the marriage stakes. For me, it was never a deal-breaker if the person didn’t have a university degree, but this is definitely not the case for some of my friends. Some of these friends had parents who would never accept a son-in-law without a degree, while some of them simply valued that piece of paper way too much to consider someone without it.
Physical attractiveness is also an interesting factor to consider when it comes to settling. I use this term both to refer to how objectively good-looking the person is, as well as how attracted the other person is to them. The two are separate things to consider; it’s possible to be very attracted to someone who isn’t objectively good-looking. For some, both are necessary, but for most people at least some level of physical attraction must be present. If it’s non-existent, that becomes a definite deal-breaker.
The examples I’ve mentioned are very black and white-they’re either there, or they’re not. But there are so many shades of grey when it comes to the issue of settling. What about when the person is 70% there, but is missing 30% of what was on the list? What about if they tick all the essential boxes but lack any of the extras? What about if they have plenty extras but miss some essentials?
Any of the above scenarios could constitute settling, but nearly all hypotheticals fall into one of two categories:
1.) Where it’s all there on paper, but the feelings are
Sometimes a person can have it all on paper, but ‘it’ is just not there, ‘it’ being a potent mix of attraction, chemistry and unspoken understanding. If this is the case, some will abandon ship, because to proceed without ‘it’ is unthinkable. Many others will hope that ‘it’ will come later. They may acknowledge on some level that they are settling, but they are confident that ‘it’ will grow over time. For some, settling never even comes into the equation. ‘It’ is simply not high on their priorities list, and so for them, they haven’t compromised much at all.
2.) Where the boxes aren’t ticked, but the feelings are there
Even careful, observant Muslims aren’t immune from being swept away under a tide of romantic love. But as they are being carried along, they realise that some of their key criteria are missing. A common one is financial stability. Many girls rate financial stability as a non-negotiable, but in practice they may not hold to this belief. Love makes people open to compromise and hope of better things to come. They tell themselves that while this person is missing some key things, they have ‘potential’. These people are also aware that they are settling to some extent, but they console themselves in the belief that their love is strong enough to overcome the empty boxes.
Settling also becomes more appealing to many people as they become older, and arguably, wiser. They’re aware that there’s no such thing as the perfect partner, and slowly, more and more points get eliminated from their list. The idea of being married becomes so appealing that the partner becomes almost a means to an end. But for some, settling becomes even less appealing as they get older. They think ‘if I’ve survived this long without a partner, I’m not going to compromise just to get one’.
At the end of the day, settling is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter if other people think you’ve settled as long as you don’t feel you have. But if you feel you have, it can eat you up inside, leaving you burning with your own cowardice. Settling is rooted in fear. It manifests itself as that little voice in your head which tells you ‘something better isn’t going to come along, take this one or die alone!’ It’s important to feel that you’ve landed a good deal in your partner, and if you can’t make yourself wholeheartedly believe this, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. You don’t have to think your partner is Miss Universe/Prince Charming, but you do need to believe that they add something to your life other than ensuring you’re spared from the horrors of singledom.
I always wonder if married people think they’ve settled. It’s not something you can really ask them, but I’m sure the answers would be interesting if they were open and honest about it. But even if they did feel they’d settled, I’m sure they comfort themselves in the knowledge that this was the will of Allah swt.
Would you ever settle? What do you think defines settling?