Settling and the Happiness Paradox

You are not Beyoncé. And it's fine.


I recently had a conversation with my best friend, who I don’t see very often thanks to the distance that separates us. We catch up here and there, with longer catch-up sessions every few months. During our chat, on a rare occasion when we both had the time to really talk, I asked her how things were and she confessed, tentatively, “I am… not as happy in my marriage as I sometimes think I could be.”

“I’m not as happy in my marriage as I sometimes think I could be.” She backed into this statement so uncomfortably, and I don’t blame her. Admitting you’re unhappy is hard.

Because if you aren’t happy, then, well… you’re sad. Pathetic. There’s a perception that if you’re not having the time of your life, loving your job, surrounded by friends, and building a life with someone awesome, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not trying hard enough. Or, worse: you’re settling.

Could I do better?

When Lori Gottlieb wrote, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, women were (understandably) not pleased. But as much as I dislike Gottleib’s overall approach, I don’t hate the basic idea. That she framed her argument as “all women want to get married and have babies and if you say otherwise, you’re lying,” sucks. But I loved that she called out the concept of settling, writing in The Atlantic:

It’s not only politically incorrect to get behind settling, it’s downright un-American. Our culture tells us to keep our eyes on the prize (while our mothers, who know better, tell us not to be so picky), and the theme of holding out for true love (whatever that is—look at the divorce rate) permeates our collective mentality.

Ostensibly, the desire for others to never settle for less than they deserve is a good thing. “I just want her to be happy”—really, who can argue with that? The problem arises when it becomes just one more thing to worry about. Not only are we expected to be beautiful, talented, and smart… successful careerists, good friends, amazing wives, and loving mothers. Now we must be happy too. We need to relax and enjoy the moment. And if we’re not happy, if we can’t seem to relax, well, then we better do something about it.

Self-help texts have existed for thousands of years; Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, author of Promise Land: My Journey through America’s Self-Help Culture writes that forms of self-help existed in ancient Egypt and Greece, and that the genre isn’t going anywhere. Forbes reported in 2009 that self-help was an $11 billion industry. Americans are big on self-improvement, and so much of that improvement is tied to our personal happiness. If you could just be better, you would be happier. If you were happier, everything in your life would be better. Being happy is the new goal, and the new way to win. As Ruth Whippman wrote in The New York Times:

As soon as an American baby is born, its parents enter into an implicit contractual obligation to answer any question about their hopes for their tiny offspring’s future with the words: “I don’t care, as long as he’s happy” (the mental suffix “at Harvard” must remain unspoken).

And so after seeing so many others’ personal happiness questioned and dissected, analyzed in essays and op-eds, we begin, without really thinking about it, to ask ourselves whether we’re as happy as we could be. We ask ourselves because we know others are thinking it, and we want to have an answer prepared if they ask (or accuse, as the case may be). Is my partner good enough for me? Do I love my job? Could I do better? Am I giving up on what I always wanted? Am I settling down? Am I settling?

Fear of missing out

If happiness is the goal in every facet of our lives, “settling” is a particularly taboo word when it comes to engagement and marriage. But the truth is, it’s perfectly normal to have moments when our partners let us down in ways big and small, when we say to ourselves, “No he/she isn’t perfect. But he/she is good enough.”

And then we pause. Because: Did I really just think that? Did I really just describe my life partner as “good enough”? 

For many Millenials, the idea of accepting good enough, of being not totally happy when that truer happiness seems within reach, is unnerving. And the idea that you aren’t one hundred percent thrilled with a part of your life and not actively trying to change the situation is even worse. Because so many of us grew up believing we would have the best of everything as adults. And what happens if we don’t have it? If we have a partner who disappoints us sometimes, if we have a shitty job, if we never left our hometown? Even if our life didn’t go as planned for completely legitimate reasons—like, say, the goals we made at age eleven aren’t necessarily the most informed—there’s still a sense of shame there.

And this feeling that we let everyone down gets reinforced by those closest to us. There’s the well-meaning relative who asks you at the holidays how the acting thing is going, if you’ve gotten that Oscar yet… even though you realized a decade ago that you were better suited to teach high school English. There’s your close friend who is encouraging you to not to accept the frustrating things about your partner, because there are so many people out there and is this person really the one? These moments when others’ hopes for us butt up against the reality we’re pretty cool with (and that’s totally normal) can make us feel defensive and insecure. And so we take to Facebook, to our Tumblrs, or just go to our friends and family and do our best to remind everyone we’re happy. And the thing is, we probably are. Or we were, until we started overthinking it.

To talk about this openly is scary. It’s why my best friend of two decades was afraid to tell me that she wasn’t happy. But even then, she wasn’t sure. Was her marriage actually making her unhappy? Or was her fear that she she could be happier in her marriage the real issue? Is the paradox of choice rearing its ugly head? Are we all on anxiety meds because of fucking FOMO?

In either case, it’s unsurprising that my friend was worried about her happiness, and about how I’d receive the information. The sheer amount of self-help titles available on Amazon sends a clear message that our culture isn’t very accepting of those who are unhappy for too long. If you’re single, you better be single and LOVING IT!!! (While also saying yes to every single date.) If you’ve put on some weight, you must aggressively love your new body and snap a selfie in your underwear that will then go viral. If you’re laid off, you should start a blog, take up CrossFit, and never, ever complain about (or even talk about) the soul-crushing days you spend sending resumes but mostly feeling sorry for yourself as you watch Golden Girls in sweatpants.

There is a perfect amount of happy to be. It is not so happy that you get complacent, but it’s not so unhappy that you make the barbecue awkward. Basically: your happiness level mustn’t ever make others uncomfortable.

how to be perfectly happy

If you’re a woman, there’s even more pressure to be the “right” amount of happy. Perhaps it’s because if we subtly imply that a woman isn’t completely happy, we can throw her off her game for days. It’s hard for women to get ahead (of us) if they’re filling all their time with eating/praying/loving and trying to fix themselves. When was the last time you heard a man described as “frazzled”? Why are women the main consumers of self-help?

This pressure for women to be happy is less about us actually being happy, and more about what that happiness proves. Being happy isn’t the end goal; being happy sends a message to others that you have the best of everything—job, partner, home, friends—because you are the best. That is why we want to be happy, and that’s why questioning another woman’s happiness is such an effective way of cutting her down. As Whippman wrote in The New York Times:

Happiness in America has become the overachiever’s ultimate trophy. A vicious trump card, it outranks professional achievement and social success, family, friendship and even love. Its invocation can deftly minimize others’ achievements (“Well, I suppose she has the perfect job and a gorgeous husband, but is she really happy?”) and take the shine off our own.

When writing this article, I Googled “how to be happy,” and the suggestions that came up repeatedly were exercise, spend more time with friends/family, and volunteer. Oh, and smile! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these activities are tied to existing female expectations. Be attractive. Be well-liked. Be selfless. If you can just woman a little harder, you’ll be happy.

Are you happy? Probably. Have you settled? Surely. The real question is… does it matter?

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  • Brittany

    Nailed it.

  • Kelly Mine-His


    I just had dinner with my mentor last night, and was talking about how hard it has been stepping off the treadmill while all my friends are still there, and the overwhelming push my generation feels to continue to overachieve well past school… she was like, “Stop. No one is going to give you the A. Just do you.”

    No one is going to give you the A.

    • Related to “no one is going to give you the A,” here’s a really great read on the “stay hungry” advice that gets piled onto young creatives (or, at this point, most younger people, in my opinion).

      • SuperDaintyKate

        Thank you for posting that article. What an excellent portrait of the unending hunger of the modern overachiever.

        I am one of those overachievers amongst overachievers who recently stepped off the treadmill. I have the luxury of a prestigious job, doing interesting work, with 9-5 hours (so rare as a lawyer). My life has a completely new pace, but sometimes I struggle to enjoy it. My peers are still working 16 hour days, and I worry that I am not being ambitious enough. When I start overthinking it, the constant comparison – the FOMO – robs me of some of my happiness.

        It is taking some time, but I am learning to just do me. I may not get an A for Ambition anymore, but I do get to see my partner again, and have weekend days at the beach, and home-cooked meals and exercise and all the other things that are part of a normal, healthy life. And I am thankful for them. If we learn to be grateful for the small, lovely things we do have, we can achieve the contentment that is so much more valuable than the outward markers of overachieving “happiness”.

      • writer

        As a young creative, as someone who is constantly hungry, I don’t wholly agree with the article. Yes, just staying hungry for the sake of hunger and achievement is not necessarily a good thing; however, if you have a goal and a passion to which you’re truly committed, I would say the opposite…to stay hungry.

        I LOVE writing, but all the rejection towards representation and publication by a major house for as many books as I can write can be draining. If I hadn’t stayed hungry for my ultimate goal, I wouldn’t be working on my third novel, still slogging towards that goal. I love my day job, acquiring projects for a film production company, but my ultimate goal in this segment of my career is to produce films. Right now, I’m doing my job as best as I can and soaking up as much knowledge as I can, but I’m not satisfied (and it’s not about “letting myself” feel that way; I’m not where I want to be). If I allowed myself to remain complacent and not seek opportunity, I wouldn’t be pitching myself to write an episode of a TV show that a branch of my company is producing.

        In my career, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel satisfied, and if I don’t, I will be happy about that. It’s not that I don’t take time to celebrate the little victories — I do, every day — but there’s always something else I can do, can learn, can achieve. If I’m not hungry for that, I’ll feel like I’ve given up on life. So I look forward to the days I win an Oscar and/or a Pulitzer, not just for the glory, but because my first thought, after the daze of happiness and champagne wears off will be, “Let’s get started on adding to that collection.”

        This article advocates taking it slower, which is nice, but it’s not a panacea and it’s not for everyone.

    • Alyssa M

      I desperately wish someone much more wise abd mentorly than I would say that to a few of my friends. It’s ok to just be sometimes. You don’t have to “have it all” especially if trying to, or expecting to, is making you miserable.

      But what do I know, I’m just settling.

  • LBH

    Ohhh this is good stuff.

  • Liz

    Oh my God, THANK YOU.

  • AMK

    Oh, my. Something about this hit a nerve. An already frazzled one, I might add. A few thoughts …

    About why women are more focused on self-help: I think that with all the pressures of society to be a certain way (and whatever that way is depends on where you are in this country), women DO tend to feel less free to make choices that actually suit them. Add in some caretaker gene, and it’s sometimes hard to remember what we actually want for ourselves. So it makes sense that we’d want some self-help. At the same time, will there come a point when we feel less of a need for it? Where we don’t think, well, my mom didn’t have this choice, and I’m glad I do, so I should make sure I take full advantage of it? Or, I don’t have a model of how to work and balance chores and dog and maybe some day a kid, too? I sure hope so. I hope that we can own what we do. (Dear world, these are my choices, so back off. Like that!)

    The bit about anxiety meds: Sure, there is a decent bit of societal pressure that fucks with the head. But real, clinical anxiety is about more than just that. And a part of me resents the suggestion that it’s all cultural/societal. Yes, I’m sensitive about the subject, but that sentence is definitely an exaggeration–one that might make other people mad, too.

    I get that on one extreme we have pure, unadulterated happiness and on the other sadness, settling, etc. But what about a middle ground of contentment? Can we agree to be content with what we have and our current mental state? Like, no, not everything is perfect and it isn’t going to be but I am grateful for what I’ve done with my life, who I’ve met, who I’ve married, and I’m proud of myself for making the best of it. How about that?

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART: “Being happy isn’t the end goal; being happy sends a message to others that you have the best of everything—job, partner, home, friends—because you are the best.”

    Brilliant. Thank you for writing this.

    • Erin

      I love what you said about contentment. That’s spot on. Thank you for articulating that sentiment.

    • Sparkles

      Contentment. Yes. Except that I worry that contentment might become the new “happiness”. But for now, it’s what I’m working with.

      I was in an awful job I quit a couple months ago. Even in the midst of that, when I don’t think I could have been defined as happy (does crying every morning because you’re dreading going to work count as happy?) I felt content. Because I was supported in other ways, I was living with my partner full time for the first time in six years. I was living on a farm, and every time I look out the window I see cows and green fields and sky. I was healthy and surrounded by people eager to help out with my wedding and show how much they loved me. Content I most certainly was, happy, probably not.

      • Jules

        As someone who has been fluctuating between “Fuck this place” and “I can hang on here for another year or so”, what made your decision finally? What’d you DO?

        My job itself is a great opportunity and interesting enough, pays well enough….but I realized I need a manager with direction who will interact with me and give me clear goals, a company with structure and transparency, and none of those things will ever come here. I’ve done numerous things to try and get those things from him, but there’s always going to be something that I miss and I feel like I just won’t be happy here at all. 7/10 days are a five, 3/10 days are a one….

    • rys

      “I get that on one extreme we have pure, unadulterated happiness and on
      the other sadness, settling, etc. But what about a middle ground of
      contentment? Can we agree to be content with what we have and our
      current mental state? Like, no, not everything is perfect and it isn’t
      going to be but I am grateful for what I’ve done with my life, who I’ve
      met, who I’ve married, and I’m proud of myself for making the best of

      I like the idea of striving for contentment, but I don’t think if it as the middle ground. Rather, I think of a different middle space, one in which multiple emotions can co-exist. I can be thrilled to achieve a milestone and be sad that important people aren’t there to share it. I can be excited for family and friends getting married and experience a tinge of sadness for myself. I can be happy to get the job I want and worry about moving to a new place. Stability, it seems to me, requires accepting that any given event or experience or news can bring on a multitude of feelings, all of which can be legitimate even if they seem to operate at cross-purposes.

      • Sarah E

        Yes, yes yes. I share your view- contentment is a completely different state, independent of our emotional status. It’s finding the intrinsic value of ourselves, the peace in your heart, vs. the peace of “If only I had a beautiful, all white, sunlit living room, I’d feel peaceful.” You can be happy, sad, angry, whatever, but those emotions exist on a different plane of our selves.

      • I so agree that there can be a multitude of feelings in a moment or choice or phase of life. Life can be so layered…

    • Meg Keene

      Oh, sorry on that! I (well, everyone in this house who’s an adult) is on depression and anxiety meds, and I edited the piece, and found the line funny. I’m sort of super not sensitive about it at this point because meds have been part of our life for so long that I guess I’m pretty comfortable making jokes about it, because the show must go on, right? It normalizes it for me, it’s how I cope. Sorry that hit a nerve for you, it obviously wasn’t intended to belittle the experience of depression and anxiety, which I obviously, sadly, REALLY understand.

      As for whether part of anxiety is cultural/societal… I don’t know. We could debate that for weeks and still not figure it out. I think part of it is, though it’s obviously medical and tied to brain chemicals. I just think it can probably be both? Anyway, that’s not exactly the point, but I’m not sure I even fully know what I think on that.

  • Bee

    I’ve been really struggling with this. My boyfriend of 5 years is a great guy. We live together and get along really well. We’re very kind to each other, easygoing, and almost never argue. He’s smart and funny and helps out around the house (when I ask him to) and cooks a lot and has a good job. And he’s totally crazy about me. He’s pretty much a dream boyfriend. But… I feel like something is missing. We don’t share any passions, and I do most fun/social activities by myself. I feel like we don’t connect on a deeper level…. I care deeply about things that he doesn’t care about at all. He likes to sit around and read the internet, while I like to… live and have adventures and DO things. I feel like I am crazy lucky and need to appreciate what I have, but I can’t help it, the thought of marrying him does not fill me with joy at all. It makes me feel panicky. But I’m already 31, and I am not very good-looking, nor do I have a good job or really any prospects for that improving. Am I dumb for not settling? I feel like I’ve got a golden handcuffs thing going on. But maybe it’s just FOMO and I need to get over it.

    • Not Sarah

      My boyfriend and I have been together just over a year, but friends for over six, since college. We don’t share a lot of passions either (other than our degrees), but we enjoy hanging out with each other no matter what we’re doing. So sometimes we try interesting new things together or he does something I like or I do something he likes. But we’re also both introverts and need a lot of alone time :) Sometimes I struggle with the fact that we have very different schedules, but I love him in the time that we DO have together that it’s worth it.

      This is his first relationship and I’ve been surprised at how much he understands that you’re not always on, sometimes things are harder, and you don’t have to do everything together! I guess that’s something that having happily married parents as a model helps with! (Mine are too, but I tend to worry a lot more than he does.)

    • LM

      A few months before we got engaged, I found myself incredibly angsty over my relationship in what sounds like similar ways to you. Something I found helpful was talking to my b/f about it since I also felt horribly guilty about how I was feeling. It wasn’t fun, but he was reassuring in ways I hadn’t expected and then I didn’t have to feel as guilty, and had the space to look at some of my other feelings. I think a lot of your questions are good to ask since only you can figure out what things are most important in a relationship, i.e. do you want someone who will come do social things with you, or does it not matter. I often find it hard to ask those questions without judgment and anxiety, but if you can do it, it’s helpful.

      I remember talking to my sister about it also and hearing her tell me that I was way happier than she’d ever seen was reassuring. I think part of me was afraid of committing to my b/f and then realizing I’d made a wrong choice and would be stuck. Of course the reality is, I wouldn’t be stuck even if it all fell apart, but the fear of feeling stuck made it worse. Somehow, all of those things helped me figure out that I wanted to be in my relationship with him, and marry him, but it was a really stressful time, and I really feel for you. Best of luck.

      • I think this is a common experience, and not talked about enough. The shadow in our choices..

    • Amy March

      I think that’s a very different situation. I take the “settle” advice to mean that if the answer to “do I love him and the idea of growing old with him?” is “yes” then don’t worry so much about the other stuff. If you’ve found someone you like the idea of going through life with, it’s okay to just settle into that instead of holding out for Prince Harry.

      But you look at your relationship and don’t like what you see or what the future holds. I’m 31, overweight, hate my job, and am newly very unhappily single. By you logic I should be telling you to cling to this guy with all your might. But the notion I keep coming back to is that you are never farther from meeting the right person than when you are with the wrong one. “Crazy lucky” isn’t someone who doesn’t bring you joy. I’m sad and lonely most of the time right now, and worried I’ll never get married or have kids and die alone with my (non-existant) cats. But I’d rather be embracing the possibility of something wonderful coming along than making a lifelong commitment to a relationship that already makes me sad.

      • anonymous

        Just wanted to tell you I know how you feel, non-existant cats included.

      • Hi Amy March, I just wanted to say I agree with what you say. And I am sorry you are “newly very unhappily single.” Sending you healing thoughts with wishes for a much better future ahead…

        • Amy March

          Thank you so much. This really touched me.

    • E

      My husband and I don’t share many interests, and this article helped me understand it immensely.

      Sometimes I feel weird going to a wedding without him, but knowing that he wouldn’t have a good time there (nor would I, knowing that he wasn’t having a good time), it makes sense that I attend alone. I think now other people have a harder time of understanding it than I do, but it works for us.

    • jas

      “He likes to sit around and read the internet, while I like to… live and have adventures and DO things.”

      I feel like this is a red flag. Not only because you have different agendas, but b/c of the way you’re describing what he’s doing vs what you’re doing. Introverts & Extroverts can be wildly successful couples, as can Adventuresome people & Homebodies. But I think you need to accept & respect the differences, not feel limited by them.

      • Jules

        “But I think you need to accept & respect the differences, not feel limited by them.”

        AMEN. If there’s an implied “….and I wish he would live and have adventures and do things WITH me”, then it’s not a good sign. When differences cause emptiness, rather than just being differences, that’s no bueno.

        I’m an adventurer extravert and I needed someone like that, but my friend who’s bubbly and outgoing has the quietest hubby I’ve ever met. And it works for them.

      • Sarah E

        I’m a Doer and my partner is more of a Homebody. Sometimes I wish he would spontaneously accompany me on social excursions, but my realizations have been thus: Often I wish for his company because I’m scared and nervous about making new friends; I usually just want ANY company, and he becomes de facto first choice; if I ever really really want him along and ask him, he’s generally game; doing everything together all the time would not really satisfy me either, and I wouldn’t be pleased if he expected me to give up my interests in order to conform to his, so I need to respect that even though *I* don’t see the entertainment value in computer games, he does and that’s okay.

        Whenever I get a “woe is me” thought about not having a partner who wakes up early on Saturday mornings and suggests an Excursion, I have to re-focus. HE is not the reason I can’t go. I can still go on my own excursion, call a friend, make my own plans, invite his sleepy self if I want, or just re-hash it later and he’ll be happy to hear the tale.

        • writer

          THANK YOU!!! We are both in basically the same relationship and it’s so nice to hear I’m not alone (I’ve felt like it). My partner is a homebody to almost an extreme, but he’s actually more social than me on the daily (texts with a lot of friends, plays video games with them over the internet)…he just doesn’t want to go out.

          “HE is not the reason I can’t go. I can still go on my own excursion, call a friend, make my own plans, invite his sleepy self if I want, or just re-hash it later and he’ll be happy to hear the tale.”

          Is something I’ve been struggling with since we became serious, especially because my friends are all doers and have all partnered with doers. They don’t understand that dynamic in my relationship and at times can be very judgmental about it (“Why doesn’t he come around all that often?” “Are you guys okay?”). I’m fine being a 5th or 7th or 9th wheel around my friends, but I wish I could find a way to explain that this is just how things are and I’m cool without them giving me sympathetic looks.

          Also, it’s fun having excursions and then getting to come home to someone who is excited to see me and hear about what happened and who also has his own tales to tell.

          • Sarah E

            Yes, for sure. It also took me a while to realize what his recharge cycle was (as he is quick to remind me). He needs time by himself, usually playing games or whathaveyou to recharge after work/school or active social time. So if we spend all day together out and about, I have to realize then when we get home, he needs to be left alone for an hour or more, not just jump into contented couch snuggles. If I spend all day out and about and he spends his day chillaxing at home, at the end of the day we’re BOTH feeling great and ready to spend lots of time together.

            My partner is the same- chatting with people online often, plenty of great friends in his department, able to chat with just about anybody we meet- he just gets his energy staying home, and often prefers to do so.

    • Amanda

      I’m struggling on whether or not to weigh in here because, of course, everyone’s situation is different and you really have to dig deep inside yourself to figure out what your situation is but…

      I was very, very, very much in your position. I was with my boyfriend for almost 6, very happy, years (from 20-26). We were definitely not your most typical couple — he was a kind of introvert who liked to spend most of his time reading on the internet and I was an extrovert that liked to go on adventures and DO things — but we were great together. We both liked very different things but we always had fun when we did things together. We were very close and would have the best conversations and we very rarely argued. We transitioned really well from college to post-college life and loved each other through all of the weird transitions and growing pains, and everything was just….really, really good.

      But……….it just wasn’t it. I don’t know why, I never could really explain it or understand it but it just wasn’t it. And I felt it deep down inside of me and what was worse was that I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted it to be it so I fought that feeling forever.

      The tipping point for us really came when I saw many of my friends, who had been together for less time than us, start to get engaged. All of a sudden I realized that if he asked me to marry him I didn’t think I could say yes. I tried to convince myself I *would* say yes but then I sat around thinking of all the ways I could possibly get out of it if I did say yes. Obviously, not a good sign. Eventually, after really mulling it over on a deep level for several months I ended it. It was hard, hard, hard…..but it felt right. It felt like THANK GOD I DON’T HAVE TO THINK ANYMORE ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT WE SHOULD BREAK UP! It was SO hard but a huge relief and absolutely the best decision I ever made.

      Anyways, my point is that, your relationship doesn’t necessarily need to be the BEST THING EVER but I also think there is an instinctual part of a relationship and if deep down your gut is telling you, I just don’t feel like this is right. You should at least consider listening. I know that sometimes those feelings are just nervousness about commitment or how long you’ve been together or whatever but sometimes those feelings are based on something else and they are real. Many people who get divorced say, they had a gut-feeling when they got married and they should have listened. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and there are plenty of people who get married and feel kind of odd about it for whatever reason but their marriage is great and the feelings can be dismissed. But there are people on the other side as well and I’d encourage you to at least explore that….allow yourself to think and feel the things you need to in order to resolve how you really feel about this.

    • enfp

      When I was in a similar situation, I kept trying to assess my partner’s various qualities, put them a balance sheet of positives and negatives. That approach didn’t get me closer to deciding whether to stay or go. A friend advised me to stop trying to analyse HIM, and to start paying more attention to ME, and how I felt. Did I like myself when I was with him? Was I happy when I spent time with him? Not sure if that advice will be of any use to you, but for me, it was easier to analyse my own feelings than it was to try to evaluate someone else. In my case, it became clear that it wasn’t the right relationship, and I left it. It was a horrible lonely time in my life, but I survived it and ended up in a much better place. Keeping the focus on how I felt also helped me decide to commit to the man that I ended up marrying. There’s some negatives on the balance sheet and some interests we don’t share (he’s human, after all), but I realized that being with him made me feel like a better, happier version of myself, and I wanted the life we were building together. The things we didn’t share didn’t seem important, in light of what we did share. Wishing you the best, whatever you decide!

    • jas

      Oh, and being 31 sucks! That was the most uncomfortable-in-my-own-skin year of my life and many of my friends’ lives. Nobody felt like they were at the right place in their life – the singles wished they were married, the marrieds were wondering about kids or divorce or both, and everyone imploded in some fashion. Very best of luck to you.

      • Jules

        “…everyone imploded in some fashion…”

        Maybe you didn’t mean to be funny but you just gave me one of those, “Oh God, life isn’t perfect for ANYONE!” laughs of the morning :-)

        • jas

          I know what you mean!

          That’s why contentment is so important to me now. I’m not HAPPY that my husband leaves his shoes in a giant pile, but I’m content that I live with someone who values my security enough to make sure the giant pile is out of my walking path. Silly example, of course, but capital H Happiness as a goal is overrated, IMO. Being content with what you do have in life is not a very American attitude, but it’s so important.

          *off soapbox* :)

    • Jules

      Just to give you a variety of responses:

      I think of settling as having “enough but not perfect”, but the way you talk about him doesn’t sound like he IS enough….and particularly not if the idea of marrying him doesn’t fill you with joy. This is a gut-level thing.

      There are “imperfections” you can live with for the next 50 years and those you can’t. If it’s important to you to have him by your side during the fun/social stuff, to have him care about the same things, you have your answer. Some couples do great as opposites, some don’t. I needed an extravert and I had said for 3 years that was something I wanted. A girlfriend made me realize I was still hung up on it and therefore it WAS important to me, so I encourage you to think about how long you’ve had this feeling. Often we hang onto good people we care about hoping they will someday magically become enough, and they don’t.

      I stand by that it’s better to NOT commit to someone you KNOW you’re unhappy with, simply because it’s “not bad” right now. Because down the line, if these things are important, it will be a massive mistake.

    • anonymous for this

      Interesting … eastside bride had a post recently from someone going through something pretty similar. For what it’s worth, I’m going to leave the same response here that I left there —
      I went through something like this with my now-husband back when we were still dating (also about 5 years into our relationship. I think it’s pretty natural to question your relationship at that point – especially when everything else in your life is ostensibly “perfect” … i.e., boring. It’s very difficult to pull yourself out of that headspace. For me it took a half-year living and working abroad, going through a really emotionally exhausting flirtation (that didn’t amount to much) with a handsome Norwegian, and lots of drunk conversations at the hostel bar with the only other American around (instant best friend) to really figure out why I loved my partner and why I wanted our relationship to work. It was a really messy, ugly time in my life, but I’m glad I went through it. I think it’s what made me ready to marry him …

      Obviously, I can’t say whether you’ll reach the same decisions about your relationship. But maybe try to shake your life up a little? Get some space from him and see if how things feel with a little distance?

  • Lauren

    “Basically: your happiness level mustn’t ever make others uncomfortable.”

    You’re onto something here. People definitely seem to question if you’re “truly happy” if you seem truly happy. Although, I have to admit that often when I see people on Facebook making posts about how happy they are, how great their lives are, how wonderful their spouses are and how fulfilling their jobs are, I sometimes find myself calling bullshit. The worst part? I’m usually right. It’s not that their potential for happiness is making me uncomfortable – it’s their struggle with not being “truly happy” that makes me uncomfortable. I just want to tell them its okay, that you don’t have to be insanely happy all the time to be a successful or worthy person. I think maybe we need to tell each other that more often.

    • Erin

      Plus, it just seems like if a person is “truly happy,” they don’t need to advertise. There is something a little questionable (sad/terrifying/discomforting/suspicious) about somebody yelling “I AM SO HAPPY!” It seems like a happy person, or maybe just a person experiencing a moment of happiness, is kind of lost in the enjoyment of the moment – not analyzing their current emotional or spiritual state.

      • KC

        I think they don’t need to advertise, but may want to share. Think about how excited people are to share about engagements and other happy things (and, well, how enthused they are to complain about bad days). It can be a legitimate I-want-to-tell-people social behavior.

        (but that’s different from “if I tell people I’m happy, then I’ll trick them into thinking I’m happy, and then I’ll be pleased with how people see me and I’ll be happy” and other similar mind-games. I’m just talking about the bubbling-over of “I just ran into my favorite actress in the *supermarket* and SQUEEE!” or even “this little thing made my day better” or whatever)

        • Erin

          I thought about that when I posted, and am glad you made the point- totally agree! Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch shouting, “I love this woman!” about Katie Holmes? Yes, please! That sort of exuberant joy is so uplifting. (Really, say what you want about Tom Cruise, but being in love to the point of wanting to shout it off the roof tops is and oddly, I never/rarely question those displays of emotion)

          But, sometimes I wonder if when we do things to show others how happy we are, (outside of exuberance) we might also be trying to convince ourselves, a little bit. It might be a bit cynical – who am I to judge the inner state of another human being? Maybe it’s a question of language – joy vs. happiness. Where happiness is something a big fleeting – saw favorite celebrity in the produce aisle, vs. joy – spent the day inter tubing down the river, froze my a** off, but feel more connected to nature, myself, loved ones etc.

      • macrain

        I have a friend who told me that there were points in her life where she felt she had to downplay how happy she was because of fear over how people would respond to her.
        I tend to agree with you about “happy advertising,” but when I hear a friend tell me something like that it definitely gives me pause.

        • Erin

          Ouch. I would never want to be responsible for making somebody else feel like they have to downplay their happiness. Perhaps I should have paused another moment before hitting the big white arrow? :)

        • Heather

          This has happened to me. It stinks, and is super awkward to have to downplay happiness. Hard to bounce back from, too- to let yourself fully experience it after you don’t have to downplay anymore.

    • macrain

      I struggle with this too. I have a dear friend who became a mom recently, and she seems to be so ecstatic over her life, so happy, that it’s unnerving. I’m just like wait- what’s the catch here?
      On the plus side, her happiness has allowed her to be just as over the moon happy for me now that I’m getting married.

    • Alyssa M

      Honestly, I think I come off like that on Facebook, but it isn’t overcompensating. I just don’t like airing my dirty laundry on Facebook, so unless it’s positive or neutral I don’t post. And lately neutral seems way too uninteresting to publish. So I’ll bet I sound like “yay! Happiness abd rainbows! My life is so awesome! “

  • I read about this new study recently ( that found that people who believed in soul mates/one true love/etc didn’t handle it well when they fought with their partners because they had sort of built the relationship up so much in their head, that to feel like they were wrong was actually sort of devastating. I wonder if that’s part of the problem with some of my generation. Like we were told we could have/do/be everything, so when we’re not 100% happy, it’s CRUSHING. Whereas if happiness wasn’t the major goal (maybe just contentment, like someone said below) we could handle it a little better when things don’t go the way we had convinced ourselves/been told they would.

    • Jules

      In my experience, those types of people also don’t open up to their friends because they’re SO insecure about having relationship problems at all, even though every relationship has its hurdles.

      Goes hand-in-hand with the “I can’t admit my life isn’t perfect” theme.

    • Sarah E

      I agree with your point. I’d shy away from framing it as “just” contentment, though. I understand contentment as being accepting of what you have and where you are– without giving up on improvements. The hard part of contentment is finding the balance. Being happy/okay/at peace internally, while still pursuing the better job, improving one’s health, searching for a relationship, etc.

      I’d turn that phrasing around and “rank” contentment higher. Making contentment my purpose instead of “just” happiness, if you will.

  • Meg

    I really like this. I am newly happily married and have a great career, but sometimes people will ask me “when are you going to get back into improv comedy”. There is that pressure among people I went to school with not just to get by and do well in a job and family but to have some kind of DREAM. (I guess my friends assume since I’m a blonde who did improv for a few years I want to be the next amy poehler). I’m kind of ok with “just” focusing on my job I love and getting used to being married to an awesome guy.

    • Erin

      I like that – “getting used to being married to an awesome guy” Cheers to that :)

    • msditz

      I get this too! I was huge into acting/writing/comedy in my younger years and now I am a teacher, and even though I have been teaching for almost 6 years now I still get the sense that some of my friends are sad for me that I gave up on The Dream and am now, *just* a teacher. But the reality is I don’t feel like I gave up anything. I love my job and my life. I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes imagine what my life would look like had I pursued comedy further, but not enough to give up the life I currently have. Not everyone on the planet can be an actor/singer/writer/CEO/senator/WHATEVER and I’m cool with that.

      • Meg

        Good for you!! you have an awesome profession and you should be proud :)

  • macrain

    Just YES to all this. So spot on. Did you guys see this post from Cup of Jo? It really relates-
    I related to this on so many levels-and I feel like embracing what is presented in this post has actually helped boost my own happiness. The idea that we should always be striving for happiness can be so damaging, so heartbreaking.
    I live in NYC, so the idea that you should have your dream job is pretty pervasive. But- I know people who landed their dream job, only to find that their dream job in reality made them miserable. It doesn’t have to be about the dream job. I like my job more or less, I love my Brooklyn neighborhood, and my fiance makes me laugh. I have time to take piano lessons. I still have struggles of course, but letting go of this ideal of the dream job and the perfect, passionate relationship, is so freeing and wonderful. And, interestingly- has made me happier.

    • macrain
    • Wholeness. I love it.

    • Oh, the point about the fear of sadness is interesting. I think many or most people do fear sadness or pain or loss. And when losses happen, people try to get over them quickly, to try to move on quickly to experience more happiness. My own feeling is that loss and grief and sadness deserve exploration, in a healthy way. Last year was a year of grieving for me, and I just decided to embrace it and let myself feel the depths of the pain. And I survived. And I am even generally pretty happy these days. I feel like being told that there was no way to avoid the pain and that I had to go through it freed me from feeling pressure to get over it quickly, and somehow because I allowed myself to deeply feel the pain and sadness, I have been able to move through it quicker than if I had tried to escape it. Not intuitive necessarily, but that’s how it worked for me.

  • Sara

    I tend to be a little commitment phobic – in jobs, in relationships, in apartment leases. And a lot of that stems from my overwhelming fear of settling into a life that’s ‘easy’. I have a new job, but I’m always keeping an eye out for the next one. I always need to know what’s out there – is it better? Could I have been doing/seeing/being something better? The strange part is, its not an everyday kind of realization. It sneaks up on me when I’m having a good week. “Is this what you want to do FOREVER?” I try to stay grounded in the idea that a good today doesn’t mean forever – tons of people have found their passions, their partners, their callings late in life. I can take a few more tries to get it right.

    My family has a long running joke that our family motto is “Its never good enough”. Why get a B when you could have had an A? Why take an unpaid internship when you could have gotten paid? Why didn’t you buy the fit-bit with THREE bands instead of paying the same amount for just one? I don’t think my mother even knows she does it until we tease her.

  • Katie

    I totally agree with Rose. Why do we need to be The Most Amazing at everything in order to be considered “happy”?? I think this is why I have a visceral reaction to that whole “lean in” business… I mean, on the one hand I agree: push hard for the things you want, but GOOD LORD, you don’t have to push for EVERYTHING. We spread ourselves so thin trying to perfect every area of our lives, that we can’t be present enough in any one thing to appreciate it.

  • CH

    “There’s your close friend who is encouraging you to not to accept the frustrating things about your partner, because there are so many people out there and is this person really the one?”

    I’ve been struggling for 20 minutes now to write how I feel about this line. This is essentially the advice I got from my former best friend when my first marriage was struggling. My ex-husband and I weren’t at a point of no return where divorce was inevitable; we were just hitting a bump in the road. Having my best friend shrug and say, “Just leave, then. You deserve to be happy,” was not what I expected to near, nor what I really needed to hear.

    Yet… ex-husband and I *did* end up getting divorced, and I truly *am* so much happier now in my life — with the woman I’ve become, the values I hold dear, the accomplishments I’ve achieved, and the new husband I’ve married.

    Looking at my story, someone might be tempted to say, “Your former best friend’s advice was right, then.” But it wasn’t, not really — it wasn’t what I needed to hear at the time, and it drove me further into depression and unhappiness, and I really didn’t *want* to leave my ex-husband (and ultimately he ended up leaving *me,* which crushed me). I just wanted someone to say, “This is marriage, and it’ll be okay. You guys can work this out. And if for some reason you can’t, I’ll still be here for you.”

    Sorry, my thoughts on this are really scattered. I’m not even sure what I’m saying makes sense.

    • Alyssa M

      <3 I've definitely seen friendships end in those situations. Because it doesn't matter if what she said was right or wrong (hindsight is 20/20), it wasn't supporting you the way you needed at that time. I think it's a healthy policy for everybody to follow that unless there is suspected abuse, you never tell a friend to leave their partner, "I'll be there for you no matter what happens" is the only thing it's a friend's place to say.

      • Jules

        YES. Friends are great for insight and bouncing off opinions, but NOT for telling us a course of action.

        Also, @CH it sounds like although her advice may have been how the cookie crumbled, the INTENT behind it wasn’t really spot-on. “You deserve to be happy” is way different than “on occasion, you’re unhappy and that’s OK”. One is more about not being able to accept imperfections while the other acknowledges that they’ll come up and that’s part of life.

        • Yes, “you deserve to be happy” is way different, especially if “deserving” it means completely disregarding the emotions and well-being of others while on the quest for happiness…

  • Sparkles

    I think you’re spot on with a lot of what you’re saying in this article. I’ve actually seriously tried to stop measuring my self worth and my opinion of others based on “happiness” for many of the reasons you’ve discussed. It’s such an elusive concept, and so hard to define and measure.

    I do want to say, that I don’t agree with your point at the end. Exercising, spending time with family and friends and volunteering are not intrisincally female. I think there is actually good solid research that links each of these activities to improved mood (whether or not that’s happiness is a different story). And from that perspective, even just taking a walk once a day, whether you’re a man or a woman, improves your mood. Same with hanging out with people you like, or volunteering/giving. There’s research that suggests that people prefer giving gifts or time over receiving. And I don’t really agree that any of those things are intrinsically linked to traditional male or female identities.

    • Amy March

      I don’t think it’s so much that men don’t do these activities or wouldn’t also benefit from them. It’s the idea that women have always been told to spend time with their friends and family, take care to make themselves attractive, and work selflessly for no pay. Those have been the ways women have been told to get happy for generations, and many women of my mothers generation found that actually getting cash money for work , spending more time on themselves and less time catering to their families, made them much happier.

      • KC

        I suspect that exercise, social time with people you care about, and volunteering/giving are more like vitamins – if you’re not “getting enough” of them (work in a cubicle, go home via a car commute to a sofa, repeat), then doses of them are likely to make you feel better. If they’re all you’re eating, though, then your problems are gonna be Different.

      • Sparkles

        I agree that the cultural narrative maybe encourages women to do these things in their traditional roles. But I think it’s a leap to say that research that suggests exercise, hanging out with friends, and volunteering will make your mood better is inherently targeted at women, and is fuelling that cultural narrative. Exercise is actually pretty universally acknowledged to be good for everyone, and the goal (from a health perspective at least) isn’t usually to end up looking better, it’s to be healthier. Hanging out with friends and family, I would also say, is not an inherently gendered activity. Nor really is volunteering, or smiling for that matter.

        Please note I think there’s a difference between happiness and mood, mood I think is a more measurable concept than happiness, which is notoriously hard to define. People with depression, for example, have chronically low mood, which could be measured with some standardized assessments. Happiness, on the other hand, is extremely hard to pin down. Which I think is part of the problem with the whole idea of “happiness”. I don’t think that any of these activities will make you a happier person. I do, however think it’s easier to be happy when you’re not always depressed.

    • Kate

      I agree with this – especially the exercise thing. I don’t think that (until recently perhaps) women have been told to exercise much at all, actually, they’re just supposed to magically look good. Exercise makes you feel good when you’ve got all sweaty and look horrible. It’s not the knowledge that you’ve lost weight!

  • laddibugg

    eh, with the rumors surrounding Beyonce and her alleged troubled marriage…idk about that tagline ;-)….(not the I believe rumors about famous or non-famous folks).

    Am I as happy as I feel I could be? I wish I had a better paying job. I wish *he* had a better paying job. I wish we were living together officially NOW, not just making plans to do so. There are little things that irk the sh*t out of me about my SO, but, I realized that he is the one that I really do want to work things out with, and that he is not just a warm body to lie next to at night.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      You know, your comment just made me realize how pervasive this conversation really is. If my marital issues ended up on the front page of a newspaper every time we were going through a rough patch, I mean, that would be a lot of newspapers. I would like for it to be more normalized that a couple (especially one with crazy, hectic schedules), might go through some rough times. Because lord knows we ALL do.

      • Meg Keene

        Jesus Christ, those two need some sort of award for staying together relatively happily thus far. I mean, our professional lives are busy but NOTHING LIKE THAT, and we get snippy as shit sometimes because of it. I mean, seriously, I have a lotta respect there.

  • Jenna

    This is an unrelated thing, but the tab on the left side for Facebook, twitter, mail, print and the plus sign…on my computer it obscures the text so I can’t read the first few letters of anything within it. As it usually falls in the middle of a “page” (a screen of text that I’d read before I scroll down for more) it’s really annoying as I can only read from the bottom, one paragraph at a time.

    I use Chrome on a Mac if it matters.

    • macrain

      Jenna, I have had the same issue!

      • Kelly Mine-His

        I have the same problem – you can hide it with the little arrow below it, but it drives me crazy, too.

        • kcaudad

          now, I can’t hide it when i look at it on my phone, which is usally where I read apw.

    • Weddash

      Yes, there is a little arrow beneath the orange plus box that minimizes this very annoying floating bar! Took me a few weeks to discover it!

    • Sarah E

      I’ve fixed that issue in the past just by widening my browser window.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Good to know! Most of us on staff are working on super wide screens, so I didn’t realize that was ever an issue. We’re actually planning on removing this feature very soon. It’s on our developer’s to-do list, so hopefully it should be out of the way soon!

    • This happens to me (chrome), I usually just widen the window.

  • andee

    I feel like this is the difference between happiness and contentment. Being content has such a bad connotation now. I feel like happiness is derived from outside sources so it is constantly measured and compared to other’s like Rose argues in the piece. But contentment comes from within and can’t be compared or measure, it just exists. I would argue contentment is based in acceptance.

    • Erin E

      I think this is a really good point. Contentment IS given a bad rap these days because in our society, you must constantly be STRIVING for something. We should always be improving ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our relationships. Contentment almost equals laziness, because our culture seems obsessed with being proactive about everything.

      I feel like, in reality, contentment is awesome. It is a form of happiness, it is zen and it can be blissful.

  • rys

    I don’t know, I’m coming at the angle of settling from a very different place: being single, in my 30s, and getting a lot of (cultural and interpersonal) messages that if I want to be partnered I need to and should settle. A good (single) friend and I were discussing this last weekend and resolved (yet again) that we don’t want to settle, that it’s not worth it to us to just take what comes along, to try and make a good-enough-but-not-awesome date into something more. Now this isn’t the same as being in a marriage and deciding to work with what you have, but I think it’s important to parse out the realms in which the discourse of settling operates and to distinguish where it might be helpful to accept it and where it might be helpful to push against it.

    It took me a long time to be comfortable with being single in my 30s (something that I have to continually work on because, truth be told, I’m often very unhappy with–albeit now reasonably accepting of–this state of affairs). One of the things that helped me not hate myself for remaining super single was recognizing and owning that I have no interest in settling. Some of the things this means include: I don’t want to take the next guy in line and make a date into a relationship just to be in a relationship; online dating is mentally unhealthy for me to do for long periods of time no matter what everyone exclaims about it being the key to my relationship future; abandoning my gut instincts because well-meaning friends and family tell me I need to give men more second chances is a bad move. In my case, being happy actually depends on not settling and holding myself to that as a decision I’ve committed myself to.

    • Sarah E

      I think you’ve hit on an important point though- you’re following your gut instincts about what’s right for you. To me, the author is pointing out how things get screwed up when we listen to what we’re *supposed* to want, rather than to our own guts. Or when we must find the objectively “perfect” partner, rather than listening to our hearts and intuitions about when something is good.

    • macrain

      I think you have the right idea about settling. When I met my now fiance, it definitely wasn’t fireworks and talking until 2am (although that does happen for some), but it WAS like- oh he’s cute and smart and funny, and I definitely want to get to know him more. And then things grew from there. If I had felt like I was forcing something it wouldn’t have worked.
      I am probably guilty of telling my single friends to give guys second chances. I will stop doing that. :)

      • KC

        Some guys shouldn’t get second chances. Some guys should. Some friends are more inclined to give All The Guys too many second chances. Some friends are more likely to ditch things entirely at the first sign of any possible “meh”-ness. So I understand the urge. But I think it’s only useful if it’s an informed urge – if it really sounds like the reason this one “flunked” is something that is reasonably likely to be clarified with a second date – and with some friends, it’s not useful at all. (and for the “well, he mentioned he just got out of prison for a child porn conviction, but maybe he’s not interested in that stuff anymore even though he didn’t say he wasn’t…” sort of too-many-second-chances friends, I have not yet figured out what to say, because auuuuugh.)

        • rys

          I probably fall into the frustrating friend camp of not wanting to pursue things with men who seem just meh (even if they theoretically meet other criteria), but for me it really comes down to: did I enjoy spending time with X or was I mentally checked out and wishing I was home watching Netflix? If the former, I’m game for more dates even if there were no fireworks because, who knows, things could develop. With the latter, it’s just not worth my time, and I’m finally owning that as who I am, since it makes me crabby otherwise :)

          • Daisy6564

            Werd, I think your criteria is spot-on. You’re a grown ass woman and you ain’t got time for that sh*t if you don’t find a guy interesting.

            I wrote a much longer post above about settling and not settling with a partner. Basically I think that we should settle for most superficial checklist criteria but not settle for how someone treats us or makes us feel.

          • Sounds like you have a good perspective. If they don’t beat out the prospect of a night of Netflix, I wouldn’t want a second date either. :)

      • vegankitchendiaries

        When I met MY fiancé I thought “well, this is flattering and everything but no way…”

        Famous last words.

        There was never that KA POW! We just had a little flame that grew. It’s awesome.

        I think the distinction is there wasn’t anything between us that I was trying to ignore, as I had done in previous (wrong) relationships. I would ignore things about other partners because all of the “relationships are hard work” talk I’d heard since the beginning of time. The good thing about ‘gut instincts’ is that they get a lot easier to follow when you’re older…

        • L R

          “When I met MY fiancé I thought “well, this is flattering and everything but no way…”

          Famous last words.

          There was never that KA POW! We just had a little flame that grew. It’s awesome.”

          This is also what happened to me – exactly. We just got engaged a few days ago, and had I written him off because it wasn’t “love at first sight,” I would have missed out. I too searched for red flags, for something that was “wrong.” But from the beginning, it was just…..right. I’m so glad I stuck with it. (So is he.)

        • Not Sarah

          THIS. My boyfriend was a quiet guy in my Operating Systems class in third year (CS nerds!) and we hardly talked until I referred him to my company when he meanderingly graduated and then we hung out a lot and a couple years after he moved here, we started hanging out more and one day, I realized I had fallen in love with him. We have SUCH different personalities, but we are great partners and he is so important to me.

          • rys

            This sounds ideal to me!

        • vegankitchendiaries

          Why did I say fiancé? HUSBAND. :)

    • Glen

      I think there’s a difference between settling for any random person and settling for the perfect person for you even though the person isn’t perfect and may not meet all the criteria on your checklist. I agree you shouldn’t give second chances to men who just aren’t right for you at the deepest level. I spent way too much of my time giving second chances to people who superficially were right for me (same interests, seemed to want the same things in life) but were so wrong at the deepest level (values and priorities so very, very different). The superficial stuff annoys both my husband and I from time to time (me with his obliviousness while online poker playing; him with my obliviousness while reading), but the deeper stuff (family, patience, equality, laughter, learning) keeps us together.

      • Not Sarah

        This is so true. I remember crushing on someone when I was 16 because we both liked the same type of pop. What was I thinking?!? My boyfriend and I both agree on not wanting to move out of our city, saving vs spending, housing priorities, views on debt and investing, feminism, family, etc. and make each other smile so easily even when we’re upset. Sure, we have different hobbies, but we accept and prioritize each other.

      • rys

        I like the distinction between perfect and perfect for you. I think it’s pretty easy for an outsider (even a good friend) to deem someone perfect (goodness knows, I’m guilty of this) but sometimes you just know that someone may meet the checkboxes but isn’t perfect for you. And, of course, the reverse: the perfect person for you (me) might not meet all the checkboxes, but it just feels right.

      • Daisy6564

        I am guilty of telling my younger sister to give guys another change definitely although I always felt personally that I should never settle. I think the key is what you are settling for.

        I was single my whole life up through my late 20s (no high school boyfriends, nothing). What I learned from going on lots of first dates is that mental checklists are useless when it comes to determining compatibility with someone. I did follow the “everybody gets a first date,” rule because I did not want to rule out someone before I knew them. I found that usually the disinterest was mutual. I never once failed to hear from a guy that I actually wanted to see again.

        My sister had a very serious boyfriend for 5 years who met a lot of check boxes (good college, in law school, same religion, close family). He treated her well until the end when he dumped her in a very mean way. She was already mentally headed for marriage and felt like a failure when she was suddenly single at 25. In her tentative “learning to date again” period she flat out dismissed any man who did not meet the same check list as her previous bf, plus she wanted more: “loves to exercise, ambitious,” etc.

        I finally told her that she needed to scrap that list because it probably meant that she was missing out on a lot of nice guys while dating some jerks who looked good on paper. My only non-negotiable, which I emphasized, was how he treats you. If a guy treats you in a way that shows her has the utmost respect for you and values you as a partner (and treats others with respect too), then it is worth over-looking nearly everything else.

        I ended up marrying a slightly chubby introvert with a mediocre job and less education than me. She just moved in with a divorced man who has no college education and is totally awkward. Neither of our beaus look particularly good on paper. The thought has crossed my mind that our parents may be disappointed and feel that we settled. I think that you would be hard pressed to find a lot of men who are kinder, more loving, or more feminist than these two though.

        So I guess “Hold out for the man who treats you well but settle for everything else,” would be my advice!

  • AmyN17

    Thank you for writing about this, yes, yes, yes!

  • enfp

    Great reflections. I can be a bit commitment phobic and I went through some anxiety about whether I was settling (and what does that even mean anyways) when I got engaged. But my thinking about happiness has been shifting a bit since finding out that I’m pregnant. There’s a ton of research showing that happiness goes down and marriages tend to suffer after a baby. I’m excited about becoming a parent but I’m also scared about all the ways that it’s probably going to make me less happy, at least in the short run. I’m pretty sure when I’m barely sleeping, not seeing friends much, and spend my days changing diapers and trying to sooth a crying baby I’ll be questioning whether this is making me happy! And hopefully that will be okay, and happiness just won’t be the goal for this phase of my life.

    • macrain

      I’m completely with you! I fear that kids will change what we have right now.

    • I think we need to understand that happiness is a feeling that comes and goes like any other feeling. It’s not an end goal or a destination. I would strive for more of a “sense that my life is aligned with my core self” instead of the feeling “happy”.

      • I love this

      • enfp

        Oh that’s good! When I wrote my comment I wanted to end by saying something about what I was striving for, instead of happiness, but I couldn’t find the right words, so I just left it. I was thinking about striving towards a meaningful life, rather than a happy life, but that didn’t seem quite right either. Thanks to your comment, I’ve got some good language to think about!

  • macrain

    I was thinking a lot about how this relates back to an idea that Brene Brown refers to as “scarcity.” This is from “Daring Greatly”- “Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem. Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety to love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.”
    Surely this relates to happiness too!

    • fucking love Brene Brown.

      • Me too

      • I can say without a trace of irony that “Daring-Greatly” was the thing that allowed me to get engaged. It is life changing.

        • Daring Greatly helped me survive divorce. :) (And I’m completely serious…)

          • Amirite! It read it when I was trying figure out how to get married again without doing it breaking me in two. Learning to lean into the vulnerability ity and conquer my shame of failure was huge. I feel like I should invite her to the wedding.

            Btw, how are you? I think about you periodically and hope you’re doing well.

          • Hi Addie! I totally think it would be awesome to invite her to the wedding, kinda like inviting the President. :) Seriously though, you could do it with a letter explaining how the book and her work has made a difference in your life. If I had written a book and ever received a letter like that (and a wedding invite!), I would be super touched to hear how my work made a difference in someone’s life…

            Thanks for thinking of me and checking in…that is really so kind. I too have been working on learning to lean into vulnerability and to continue to trust others and be open, despite everything. I am infinitely better than I was a year ago; life has found a new normal. (Thankfully!) It feels so trite to say, but time really, really helps. Time plus being surrounded by good, caring people during the long healing and rebuilding process, which is still going on, I guess. Does one ever completely heal 100%? I wonder…?

            I am happy you are getting married again. Hearing stories of second marriages gives me hope that it’s possible to find love again.

  • Sarah E

    This reminds me of John Oliver’s segment on Income Equality, because he made the point of how our optimism can work against us when it blindly disregards our reality. It’s wonderful to believe there’s always something better out there, but at some point, you need to bring your awareness to the present reality. Not to say you can’t work to improve your station, but to see it in small steps and realize that even just getting a couple steps further down the road is okay, even if you don’t reach the pot of gold at the end.

    I loved this piece and was unsurprised to see that the author is a yoga instructor, as contentment is a major part of Yogic philosophy. This is one of the things that I’ve struggled with recently. I have zero interest in attending any high school reunion (which is another two years off anyway), for many valid reasons. Amidst all my healthy reasons is the thought buried in my brain that I cannot cope with answering for other people’s expectations of me all night, and any judgement (overt or implied) about my choices that may have run counter to those expectations. While it’s good for me to realize that it would be damaging to my head space, I also realize that the reason it’s damaging is because I judge myself the same way. I hearken back to those 11-year-old’s dreams that the author mentioned, and though I objectively know that I have grown and learned about myself and my needs since then, I still measure myself by those standards. No honors in college?! No instant successful career?! No graduate school resulting in prestigious letters behind my name?! Those are things I’ve wrestled with for a long time. On good days, I know that I’m where I need to be right now, and I’m excited for and glad of where I’m headed. On bad days, I question whether I’ve “given up” or “settled” because a different path was too hard, as though making a choice based on my personal desires and with my weaknesses/aversions in mind is wrong, and I should only choose the most demanding path my raw abilities can handle. What?! Nonsense, I have to remind myself. I am okay where I am, and other peoples’ choices have ZERO to do with whether mine were right.

  • I can’t even get started on this subject because I find it so infuriating and sad. Our culture will continue to never feel “enough” as long as our consumer-driven, instant-gratification, “sell sell sell” society perpetuates the notion that happiness is on the outside, that it is “acquired”, like fucking land ownership or something. That is not happiness. We cannot chase on the outside what comes from the inside. If we are constantly projecting out into the world, looking for the next thing, the next innocent, flawed person (because our partners are people too – flawed beings that are worthy of love) to fill us up and “make” us happy, it’s like a dog chasing it’s tail. I really, really HATE the messages about love that permeate our culture. When instead, when the phrase “is my partner good enough” pops into our heads, that should be a signal that our ego-self is doing the talking, and that we are looking through a lens of judgement and can then call it back to say “Hm, what is behind this judgement? What am I not wanting to feel inside of ME right now that is resulting in this projection? how am I abandoning MYSELF right now and what am I needing? What am I not listening to?” I could seriously go on and fucking on about this topic, and so glad it’s a post because I’m sure it will bring about some awesome conversation!

    • Oh, and to add, in that turning inward and pulling the projection off the outside world, we actually take responsibility for our feelings, which our culture does anything but encourage or teach us the tools to do.

    • Wow, so sorry, told you I couldn’t get started….BUT this also brings up the belief in our culture that struggle is bad. That struggle means something is wrong or misaligned or that you aren’t happy. When in reality, struggle is where the growth is. Rumi is my favorite for all of his quotes on this topic..sigh. But our culture is in such denial of the natural world. We aren’t taught to embrace both the shadow and the light equally, which is heartbreaking to me.

      • writer

        “Struggle is where the growth is” is now being printed out and taped to my desk at work as part of my inspirational quotes collection I have going

      • Yes! I just wriote about this further up the thread…embracing pain…

    • macrain

      Right on, Catherine.

    • vegankitchendiaries
      • hahahahahahahahha I literally just laughed out loud at that. And no, I’m not, I’ve just been through the hell of the dark night of the soul that hit me in Feb 2013 and plunged me into a hurricane of self-awareness of growth. it was by far the scariest time in my life but i wouldn’t trade it for a thing because I was forced to learn so much and become conscious of so much and establish a relationship with myself that I didn’t have before…

        • yes, to the dark night of the soul. mine hit July 2013.

          • So glad you can relate!! It’s comforting to know someone else was in the trenches with me, even though I didn’t know it at the time ;)

          • :) Last summer, I realized in my heart/soul (not just mentally) that we never know what the person walking by us on the sidewalk is going through. Their world could have fallen apart, and they are just doing their best to get out of bed and make it to work and not collapse in tears (or to at least try to make it to the bathroom before collapsing in tears). I think my experience opened me up to an understanding of what it’s like to be, as you say, in the trenches. I guess it’s easy to feel alone in those times because we may not know anyone going through the same type of thing…but I will say that I have talked openly about my situation (probably with too many people…like the stranger at the vegan grocery store!), but I have been surprised that I have met quite a few people who have been through the same thing (like that stranger at the vegan grocery store). :)

    • macaroni

      THIS. A thousand, million times yes. A few years ago I had a friend who was thinking about breaking up with her boyfriend. He was wonderful – kind, generous, her “best friend” – but she wasn’t happy because it wasn’t like it was in the movies. (Not kidding.) I attempted to help by relaying advice my mom gave me years ago – you may go months, even years, where you’re not necessarily “happy”, but if you genuinely LIKE the person you married/are with, you’ll turn out fine. I’ve never seen someone so upset. I even tried to relate it to friendship – you’re not always happy with your friends, but it works out. She didn’t get it, and she broke up with him. It makes me sad for people that think that way. Because like Miss Dolly said, “If you want a rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

      • Yes! Movies end when the stars end up together – and then the credits roll. The whole movie is the drama, the games, the back and forth, etc- there are very few movies that portray what real love is – once you’ve established commitment and are then forced to deal with the real things inside of yourself that were lying dormant during the fog of new relationship feelings…

    • KC/E

      My ex-husband actually told me at one point that it was part of my job to “make him happy.” RED FLAG here people. No one can make anyone else happy. Happiness is something that happens internally. He never understood that and would argue with me about it. One of the many, many reasons he’s an EX.

      • Yes, it’s so sad to me that “taking responsibility for your feelings”is not mainstream in our culture. It’s so detrimental to relationships!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    The flip side of this is we don’t recognize the hard stuff. About a year ago when I had a bad job and money seemed tight, my husband tried to console me. I’m sure he felt a bit of inadequacy that he, as a new husband, wasn’t enough to make me happy. I had to push back and say that financial insecurity and cobbled-together living arrangements were legitimate things to be upset about.

    And it flows outside our personal relationships into work, too. I was reading the typical job interview advice yesterday about never saying anything negative about your present or past employer and thinking, “How ridiculously messed up and passive-aggressive all around! If you’re looking for a new job, obviously something’s wrong with the old one. Wouldn’t it be better to be open about that, or to have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, than to evaluate people on how good they are at spin?”

  • Megera

    I find the discussion about ‘settling’ very frustrating. I choose to stay with my partner because I think being with him adds value to my life. Sure, sometimes he disappoints me, but I don’t feel like I’ve settled — I think about staying and going, and some of the choices in between, and decide that staying is most likely to help me reach my goals.

    How can happiness be measured anyways? Dan Gilbert ( talks about how people are terrible at estimating what is going to make themselves happy, and that people can be just as happy when they get what they *didn’t* want, as when they do. So I’m pretty comfortable discounting ‘happiness’ as a factor making decisions. In the long run, I will likely be happy with whatever I end up doing, even if it’s a difficult along the way.

  • Kayjayoh

    “Basically: your happiness level mustn’t ever make others uncomfortable.”


  • ASimmons
  • Anon

    What if you discover, after the wedding, that you were the one who was settled for? I had hoped someone else would talk about that, but you are all awesome, ass-kicking, happiness gurus!
    Seriously though, how do you move forward knowing that the person you love most in the world cannot love you passionately or doesn’t think of you as the love of his life?

    • Hm, what do you mean “cannot love you passionately” – what does that look like for you? I see plenty of women on here talk all the time about how their spouse isn’t the “hottest” sex of their lives…Committed relationships, I’d argue especially marriage, stirs up all sorts of inner resistance in the face of true vulnerability. Are there specific issues the two of you are working through? Have you thought of counseling? If he doesn’t think of you as the love of his life, what does he think of you as? He chose you to love for the rest of his life. That’s something. Perhaps something about the wording or even the notion “love of the my life” is off-putting for him, like the word “soul mate” is for so many, because love, at the end of the day and at the end of years upon years, is a choice. I hope this helps – and if I am so far off then feel free to dismiss :) But I’m here if you want to chat.

  • Brenda F

    Great article! One of the best realizations for me in my married life came from the other end of this – I caught up briefly with a mentor of mine a few years after our wedding. The one question he asked was “Are you happy?”

    My answer was “yes” and that kind of surprised me. Because the way this mentor asked I didn’t think about those things in my situation I was struggling with – my mind went to how deep inside, regardless of troublesome circumstances… I was happy and that was all I needed. At times I have to remind myself of this experience in order to ignore that paradox

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  • Its not that I HAVE settled, its that I AM settled.
    And being settled is its own sense of peace.
    After a year of PND, I am finally back to feeling settled, in place, challenged. And, yes, happy.
    And I think the key thing for me was that single switch – from feeling like I had settled for something, to finding that I feel settled in my current life. Even as things are going through massive upheval. I am where I am meant to be for now.
    Its really peaceful here :)

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  • DMC

    “Hell is wanting to be somewhere different from where you are” Stephen Levine, Buddhist teacher.

  • Hope

    I went to a leadership conference and one speaker gave statistics for the employees in his organization who feel value in their job/look forward to going to work each day. They had changed their structure to raise this number to around 80% and he contrasted it to the rest of America where the figure was around 50% and then to the rest of the world which came in at 15%. What the speaker extrapolated from that data was that it was terrible that people don’t love their work. What I, as a European, extrapolated was that the rest of the world doesn’t see their job as being what brings value to their life.
    I am lucky that I do love what I make money doing but I also consider myself lucky to come from a culture that thinks it’s ok to work any reasonable job that provides you with the time and money to enjoy the rest of your life.
    There is now an added pressure that your job should fulfill you and make you happy.

    • Meg Keene

      SUPER interesting takeaway.

  • This post was very well-written and thought-provoking! Thanks so much for writing it and sharing it.