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Carolyn Hax: Settling accusation doesn't have to be unsettling to answer

Getting to the heart of friend's unsettling 'settling' comment

Q: A close friend of mine — single, accomplished and attractive, early 30s — observed that "most people settle." I'm confused as to what she means by this. I mean, technically I understand, but I'm wondering what she thinks all of these people should have held out for. With respect to our other close friends, all of them are in healthy relationships and/or are married to people who seem to be very good for them (educated, similar life goals, attracted to each other, loving).

I understand that she is not happy with her own situation, but doesn't the comment about "settling" seem to be a bit personal in the grand scheme of things? I'm in a relationship, but I try not to take these comments to heart.

What would you have said in response? (I said something to the effect of what I wrote above.)

D.C.

A: "All" of your close friends are in loving, healthy relationships with people who are still hot for them?

I wish I didn't find that hard to believe, but I do.

As for your friend — who isn't in a relationship, if I read you correctly — it's possible she's putting a self-congratulatory spin on her singularity: i.e., "No one has been as strong as I have in resisting society's pull." But if that's the case, then, like any spin, it sounds more defensive than proud — she feels bad so she's going to lift herself up by stepping on other people's relationships.

It's also possible she just has a different take on all the pairings you're describing here, and thinks you and your friends gave up too much in your various commitment transactions.

If she were in a relationship, then I'd say she might be rationalizing: "If I tell myself everyone's in a bad relationship, then I don't have to deal with the reality of my bad relationship."

Any one of these would be a dismissive generalization, and so a fair response would be: "I don't think it's fair to generalize."

Or you could just shrug her off, instead of getting defensive yourself: "Hey, whatever gets you through the day." The beauty of that one is that it can mean "Yes, settling gets us through the day" or "Yes, I guess lumping us all together gets you through the day," depending on how snarky you feel.

Or you could agree, since the alternative to settling is holding out for perfection, right? And perfection doesn't exist?

Now, we could also give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she didn't mean to target couples, and instead she believes that life is a slow-motion act of settling in every realm of human endeavor.

It would make sense: Since the occasions where we run up against our limits (daily? hourly?) vastly outnumber the occasions where we surprise ourselves with our own strength, beauty, endurance, wit, resourcefulness, courage, selflessness — seriously, which do you do more times per day, save a life, or belch? — there's no way to get through life without scaling back our idealized visions of self, and settling for doing our best.

How would I respond, in this case? "Hard to argue with that."

Carolyn Hax: Settling accusation doesn't have to be unsettling to answer 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 5:30am]
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