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Worrying About “Settling” Will Destroy Your Love Life

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Nathan Congleton
Nathan Congleton

There’s a common trope in romantic advice that you shouldn’t make someone a priority if they only make you an option. Put another way, don’t give someone more than they give you. To do anything less is to settle for less than you are giving, for less than you deserve. It feels empowering, at first, to assert that you will only be with someone who works for your love in the same way you will work to give it to them, but there’s no surer path to lifelong romantic unhappiness than adopting this kind of philosophy.

When you say “I will only love someone who gives me as much love as I give them” you are instituting a scoreboard, and once a relationship has a scoreboard you will never be happy with it again. Think about it — does it sound at all pleasurable to spend your relationship tallying the number of nice things you have done for them versus what they have done for you? Thinking in terms of “enough” is a poison to any relationship because nothing is ever enough or permanent enough to stop thinking about the scoreboard.

The whole point of love is that we don’t deserve it. We are flawed human beings running around and making mistakes. We are, and will always be, imperfect. It’s not good or bad, that’s just the way things are. We don’t need to become perfect in order to love and be loved. No one needs to be good enough to be loved because the act of loving someone has nothing to do with this. Love has nothing to do with measuring up, we don’t sit around with a clipboard and start (or stop) loving someone based on how many good or bad acts and characteristics we can check off. Love is a gift, not a purchase.

Here is one of my favorite descriptions of real-life love, by Dennis Lehane wrote in Mystic River:

The person you love is rarely worthy of how big your love is. Because no one is worthy of that and maybe no one deserves that burden of it, either. You’ll be let down. You’ll be disappointed and have your trust broken and have a lot of real sucky days. You lose more than you win. You hate the person you love as much as you love him. But you roll up your sleeves and work – at everything – because that’s what growing older is.

Of course we don’t love people arbitrarily, we pick and choose because someone is attractive and we get to know them and we think they have good character or they make us laugh or they are familiar or interesting or fun to be around. But then you love them and decide to do the work of loving them forever (and it is work) and then you just do it. We cannot judge others harshly without judging ourselves by the same measuring stick and when we constantly go on about someone being enough for us, we can’t help but internalize the same judgement (even if it’s just our own) that we need to always be enough for someone else. Do you see how this kills relationships?

Fight hard against the voice that tells you to tally, to keep score, to moan about spending more time and energy on someone than they spend on you. Don’t let your love be so little that someone can barter for it with the “correct” amount of texts or by remembering the right set of details. Let your love be so big that no scoreboard can keep track of it, that no little imbalance can harm it. TC mark

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