Whether you’re single and looking for a partner, or in a relationship and wondering whether you could do better, this week’s message is for you. I dive deep into the 6 mindsets that can make all the difference when it comes to “settling FOR” vs. “settling ON.”
This topic is for anyone looking for a meaningful relationship. What was your favorite takeaway? What’s been your experience? I look forward to reading your comments.
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Dating has, in a way that is so counterintuitive, become harder. It should, by all rights, be so much easier. We have technology on our side. We have so many tools to meet people. We can meet people without even leaving the house. Not only can we meet people, we can meet as many people as we like. There are thousands and thousands and thousands for us to swipe through and if you can’t find them on one app, just jump on another app and there you go again. And yet, it’s gotten so much harder.
Now, part of that is inevitably that when we are presented with so much choice, we get overwhelmed. Paradox of choice makes choosing so much more difficult and of course increases the likelihood that even once we have chosen, we’re just thinking about all of the things we didn’t choose and did we really make the right choice? So there’s a lack of decision there. I also believe strongly that the buffet-like nature of dating today, where you can access so many different options, creates lower investment because instead of meeting someone and thinking, “You know what? I rarely ever have the chance to meet anybody living on this small farm in Idaho. So this person’s the only prospect I’ve got right now, let’s see what it could be.” The extreme of that, of course, that’s institutionalized is arranged marriage. Arranged marriage is this is your person, now go for it.
Obviously, there are a whole bunch of philosophical problems and potentially ethical problems to debate about that. But the logic of “This is your person, now make it as good as you can be,” is one that is increasingly lost on us as we have seemingly endless choice. We are less inclined to truly invest in any one person because of the amount of options we now have. I’m divvying up my attention amongst all of these potentials until I find something that really works. And then that thing will get all of my attention.
By the way, you may or may not have noticed this is going to be a video very much aimed at both men and women. Some people may watch this video and decide that in parts it’s much more the men that need to hear the messages of this video. We can discuss this in the comments. Oliver Burkeman in his recent book 4000 Weeks, which is a beautiful book. I would encourage people to read, talks about time management as it relates to essentially a fear of death, existential dread. It’s not really a time management book. It’s more a book about how we live our lives and why we find it so hard to enjoy our life. With the amount of FOMO we have, the amount we try to cram into our lives and what he talks about is this idea that the reason we’re trying to cram so much into our lives is because we are living with the fantasy that we are going to do it all. And the fantasy that we’re going to do it all is a lack of acknowledgement of our own death, of how little time we have.
We are essentially not going to be able to do most things in life. Life is so insanely short that we are only going to do a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of what life has to offer. And that one of the things that allows us to enjoy life, maybe the biggest thing that allows us to enjoy life, is instead of trying to do it all, instead of cramming everything in, recognizing you’re not going to cram it all in. You’re not going to do most things. You’re going to have to pick a tiny handful of things to do in your life and then resolve to enjoy those as much as possible. And he talks about the fact that striving at something, investing in something is actually the thing that creates maximum enjoyment, not trying to do it all.
It was hard for me to read this book without drawing the obvious parallels for our love lives, the desire to experience it all in love, the desire to have it exactly our way, the desire to live as many different love lives over the course of our lives makes it so hard to make a decision to actually just go for something. And even if we say, no, I don’t want to live many different love lives, I just want one really magnificent love life. Even that emphasis creates a problem because it does raise the stakes of the decision so high
So now we find ourselves trying to optimize in the choosing process, but there comes a point where optimization in the choosing process becomes counterproductive. I look at it this way. There are certain fundamentals that makes someone a potentially wonderful partner to build a life with and we could break up what are the fundamentals into universal fundamentals and personal fundamentals. The universal fundamentals would be things like teamwork, kindness, compassion, the ability to argue well, the ability to communicate effectively, the showing up for each other in difficult times or the compassion to make space for each other’s flaws. These, it would be hard to argue aren’t just universally appealing in any relationship, despite the idiosyncrasies of different kinds of people.
But then there’s the personal fundamentals. So for me, for example, I grew up in a very affectionate family physically. Physical affection is extremely important to me. It’s just in my bones. I want to be close to the person that I’m with. Touch is really important to me. So I could never be in a relationship where that personal fundamental need for physical affection wasn’t met. That for me is not a “nice to have.” It’s a “must have” if I am to feel happy in a relationship. Now that’s not necessarily true of everybody else. For some people, physical affection isn’t that important. If two people like that find each other, it’s not going to be a thing that creates long-term unhappiness for them.
So our ideal relationship, or I have to lose that language even in the context of this video. The relationship that we have the potential to be incredibly happy in is going to be one that fulfills universal fundamentals and our personal fundamentals. The danger of course in life is that we can go through life mistaking nice to have things for our personal fundamentals. You might be a man going through this world looking for a woman with a very specific body shape thinking that, that’s going to be the thing. That’s the fundamental, or it’s at least one of the fundamentals you need. You might be a woman on a dating app consistently disqualifying men who aren’t quite the right height thinking that, that’s one of your personal fundamentals, when in fact that’s not going to be a thing that matters to you down the line.
What’s interesting is when we say down the line, we almost have to look at a before and an after of a long term relationship. There’s before you have a really deep bond with someone that goes beyond the superficial and there’s after that point. I think about it like this, a lot of things that we convince ourselves matter to us all the way up until that moment of that real deep bond, and love, and care, and kindness, and connection dissolve at that point and you move into a stage where these things . . . Look, it may not be that they never bother you again, but they’re not actually the things that occupy your thoughts about this person. What occupies your thoughts are the things you truly treasure about this relationship.
The danger for all of us is that we never reach the other side of that line because every time we get the chance to maybe invest in someone to the point of going beyond that, we find a way to disqualify them. So we never really know how we might feel about those things on the other side of that. And hopefully for a lot of us, part of evolving as people, part of growing is realizing what things I had convinced myself I couldn’t live without, what things I had convinced myself had to be a certain way were actually pretty superficial in the scheme of what would make me happy in a relationship.
To me, what this means is that optimization is only relevant at the front end of choosing someone to the extent that it secures the fundamentals for us. After that, optimization becomes a very dangerous game, because it’s no longer a point of leverage. If you take that Japanese term Kaizen, which is about never-ending improvement, something I learned back in business studies in high school. The idea of never-ending improvement in business, that is a wonderful principle as applied to a relationship. It’s a very dangerous principle as applied to the choosing process, the selection process. Because if you go for never-ending improvement in choosing someone, every time you meet someone that has a lot of things right with them, you look for the one thing that’s wrong. The one thing they don’t have and then you tell yourself, oh, an improvement would be if I could find the another person with all of these wonderful things that this person has, plus that one thing that’s missing.
So we go in search of the fantasy partner, not recognizing that we end up trading one suboptimal thing in this person for a different suboptimal thing in another person. Which is inevitably the case, because that ultimate fantasy of someone who on every level ticks every box we have does not exist. Incidentally, I do think part of the problem is us having a culture of having things exactly the way we like them. We have gotten used to that. That’s too hot. That’s too cold. I want it delivered exactly this way to my door. I want to travel in exactly this way. Even Burger King now, a multinational fast food chain has a slogan, “Tell us how you like it” about their burger. Jameson, have you ever realistically gone into a Burger King and thought you could tell them how you like your burger? It’s never been a realistic possibility, but that’s how they sell it because we have a culture obsessed with having things exactly to our tastes.
But people aren’t customizable in that way and that’s not where the rewards are going to come. The rewards are going to come from us being with a person and all of the small graces and spaces that we afford to allow for another human being, an autonomous human being in our life that we coexist with. The result being not just that we each bring value to each other, but our combined value is greater than each of us separate from each other.
Here’s what I’d like to offer as an idea today. When we find someone that has good fundamentals, not someone whose perfect, but someone who has good fundamentals, we change our paradigm about this decision from the idea that we are settling for someone to the notion that we are settling on someone. Settling for someone implies we have in some way short-changed ourselves, that we have made a suboptimal decision, that we’ve thrown in the towel, that we’ve gone for the easy result. That we’ve sold ourselves short, we have not self-actualized in this area. But to me, the choosing part is literally, it’s phase one. The real self-actualization and the combined self-actualization is two people realizing the true potential of a relationship by what they bring to it. That’s the part we should really put our pride in, what we make the relationship.
Don’t forget, one of the fundamentals is teamwork and finding a good teammate. So you can’t do this on your own. This video isn’t a mandate for those of you who are in a masochistic sense trying and trying and trying to make a relationship great with someone who isn’t trying. That’s not respecting the fundamentals you need, but settling for implies this horrible kind of I’ve given up. Settling on is about saying, as Burkeman says I’m going to do a very, very tiny amount of what is on offer in this life and my love life is no different. There may be many people with whom I could build a relationship. What imbues this relationship with so much meaning is not that this person is the one, but I have chosen to make them the one.
Of course, by investing in that relationship, and by cultivating it, and make it as beautiful as it can be, it brings into existence something that didn’t exist before. That’s alchemy, isn’t it? So I literally take something that didn’t exist and I make something beautiful and now that relationship exists and it is one of a kind. I can now retroactively say that this person is the one for me, but it’s not because they came as the one. It’s because we created that together. We made something that didn’t exist before and now you’re right, it couldn’t have been anyone else. That’s what it is to settle on.
And to think that we are just going to discover the perfect person is to disqualify and discount all of the investment that goes into creating something of value. We value what we invest in. Meaning and fulfillment flows where our investment goes. When we invest in something, we value it. And of course, history can only be made by something we spend time on. When we spend time with someone, we create history with them. That history now becomes part of the fabric, the value of the relationship.
I was on a delivery service the other day, Postmates is the one near me. I was ordering food and I was starving, starving hungry. I was grumpy. I couldn’t wait to eat and I was confronted, as we always are when we go on these apps, with 10 different cuisines that I enjoy. No, adore. All of them on some level, if someone just showed up with any one of those cuisines to my house, I would’ve been absolutely happy, but because I was confronted with all of them at the same time, I quickly made myself unhappy trying to figure out which was the perfect one for tonight. As if any of them were the perfect one.
Now, the point is any one of those cuisines could have made me really happy that night and within those cuisines, there are at least five different restaurants in every category that could have made me happy. But I was convinced in that moment that there was one that was going to be absolutely objectively the one that made me the happiest. That satisfied my hunger the best, but we can’t enjoy every meal on the same night. We can’t get full on 10 different cuisines in the same night. We have to choose something that’s going to satiate our hunger and enjoyment lies in focusing on that meal. Because as I said earlier, the danger is we go for that meal and then we still think about the ones we didn’t go for.
Now finding an attractive mate you might say is not as easy as finding a delicious pizza online to get to your house and that’s true. However, the idea of the FOMO associated with it is the same. This isn’t limited to people who are single. It extends to people who are in relationships, who are fantasizing about what life could be like with someone else. The moment there’s any dissatisfaction in the relationship, or someone does something to annoy them, upset them, something they don’t find very attractive, or they get bored of something they start imagining or can be prone to imagining what is on the outside of the relationship. But that doesn’t mean that anything better is on the outside of that relationship. There might be and again, I’m not talking about abusive situations or situations where genuinely two people have just gone very, very wrong and it’s not salvageable. But there are an enormous number of relationships that end because someone has simply convinced themselves that there’s some fantasy that’s going to come true on the outside of that relationship.
What they will find much of the time is that they don’t get an upgrade in person. All they get is a temporary change in state. They may get the short term excitement they’re looking for, just the change, just the energy of getting out of stasis. But of course in a new relationship, if they genuinely haven’t found something that’s more compatible with themselves, that stasis will come to meet them yet again. This is worth bearing in mind if you’re in a relationship right now and wondering if you have settled, which also I think gives us a recipe to say, OK, if I’m worried that the fundamentals in my long term relationship, aren’t there, reclassify what are the fundamentals to me and can I help bring them out in this relationship? At the very least, if you work on doing that with your partner and then they still aren’t there, you can have a bit more clarity about leaving.
If you’re single and watching this video, it may be worth looking at the way that you are going on dates right now and asking yourself, “On what basis am I disqualifying people?” Are my tests, are my disqualification criteria making it impossible for me to ever invest enough to care about anyone enough to where those things don’t actually matter to me? We should also have the humble awareness that we ourselves aren’t going to pass every single one of somebody else’s tests and we better hope that the person we’re sat across from on a date drops a few of their tests of their disqualification criteria. A few of their fundamentals that aren’t really fundamentals and would be disqualifying us for none other than a fairly superficial reason.
We only have to think of a friend we have that we know and love that we have history with that we see as this amazing, beautiful person. But we also kind of know that if we introduce that friend to somebody that other person might not get it. They might not get why we think this friend is so awesome. Have you ever had that experience? You’ve got a friend that you love to pieces, but if you introduce that friend to somebody else the somebody else is quite likely to be underwhelmed.
But you internally know, no, I love this friend so much. They’re so wonderful. You just don’t see them for all that they are. You don’t know their history. You don’t know where they’ve come from. You don’t know what’s made them who they are today, and just how much they’ve overcome, and what makes them a unique, and beautiful and rich person. You know that because that’s a friend you’ve invested in over time and what are our friends except human beings that we began investing in one day until the point where we genuinely began to see the beauty and richness in them and cared about them?
That’s what our love life can be too. I’m not advocating the idea that anybody could be someone worth settling on for you, but that many more people are capable of being the person that we can settle on and build something extraordinarily beautiful with. While some of the beauty to be found is in the simple discovery of that human being, the most profound beauty is to be created in what we built with that human being.
I hope you enjoyed this video. Leave me a comment. Let me know what you think. Add to it whatever wisdom you want to give to the rest of us as well. And if you like this video, check out this video, I think you’re really going to love it. If you want to check out my new website, we just launched a brand new website and if your love life is a priority, you’ll find lots of solutions there. That’s right here. And before you go, please like this video, share it, subscribe and click the notification bell if you want to be notified the next time I release a video. Thank you.