Do I Have to “settle” for someone in a relationship?

That’s a question I ponder often. When the time comes to get married, will I end up settling for a life partner that is “OK” versus the “love of my life”? Likewise, will my partner feel as if she has settled for me (ouch 🙁 , even with the BPD), perhaps for no other reason than the fact that I was 30ish, single, and available to marry? Is settling for someone instead of your true ideal partner a matter of living in reality, or is it just giving up in a way that could possibly make your existence rather pathetic? I actually believe this is a rather interesting question.

First, let’s look at it from the rational, statistical point of view. Even though there are billions of people on earth of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, and cultural backgrounds, the reality is that you’ll probably spend most of your life floating inside a relatively small social circle. Most people can count the number of “true, bona fide” friends on one hand, and in many cases perhaps less than 3 fingers. Furthermore, most people spend at least the first 18-20 years of their life in some sort of family setting, which is limiting in and of itself if you are truly looking to meet your soul mate. If you’re spending a third of your day eating, sleeping, and being around family, you’re obviously not in prime position to meet a life partner.

There is one other parameter to consider: how many unique people can you actually meet in your lifetime, up until the point of actually getting married? Again, the reality is that you’ll probably only introduce yourself to someone new perhaps 3 or 4 thousand times, and of that number, actually be acquainted – enough to recognize each other in the supermarket and chat – with about 400 or less. Then, of that 400 well acquainted group, you of course have your closest friends and family, which mostly remain the same in total. For example, if one relationship with a friend goes sour, it’s likely you’ll fill that position with another new friend later on, keeping your true friends very limited in terms of numbers and relatively constant. Anyone who tells you they have 20 best friends is exaggerating. There isn’t enough time in a day to manage 20 truly beneficial friend relationships.

Thus, the pool of people from which to choose a life partner is actually fairly limited, unless you are constantly meeting new people on a daily basis, which is not a typical behavior for the average person.

Now let’s consider the emotional reality of meeting people and selecting a life partner. Ask yourself, right now, if you’re emotionally ready to risk love and start a relationship with someone new. For some people, getting into serious relationships is easy because they are very good looking, extremely social, or overtly confident (bordering on arrogant). For most others, however, you go through periods in your life when your emotional energy is being expended by other needs, such as keeping close family relationships, making up with friends after an argument, or dealing with the death of loved ones as you get older. Think about it: if a dearly loved grandparent died 2 weeks ago, chances are you’re not going to be emotionally available to meet a true life partner. Instead, your energy will be sapped away with the grieving process.

One also has to consider mental illness in this equation, in part because this blog is about Borderline Personality Disorder. Anyone with BPD knows the intense emotions experienced on a daily basis, the depression and despair, and the emptiness that is nearly fathomless. With so many of your thoughts, emotions, and daily routine tied up in managing your Borderline Personality, are your truly open to meeting the love of your life? Similarly, will a potential partner who senses that you’re a BPD emotional train wreck even bother introducing himself/herself and taking a chance on you? The number is few and far between.

So, given that the number of people we can actually meet is limited, and that we also have to consider the emotional component of our lives, the reality of “settling” on someone for marriage is a likely possibility, even if we’d like to think otherwise.

Such a notion actually troubles me a bit. I believe I have a picture of an ideal partner: beautiful, intelligent, caring, understanding etc., but where and when am I supposed to meet this person? Furthermore, would they be ready to deal with my BPD emotional turmoil, which is nearly always responsible for turning people away, not closer? How do I meet my soul mate with everything going on in my life? Do I constantly introduce myself to attractive women every change I get, or do I settle on the first one that comes my way?

It’s a bit of a conundrum, because you’re potentially committing yourself to this person for the rest of your life (if you believe in the general definition of marriage). Also, if you want to have children, you’re REALLY committing yourself to this person for life, because the reality of raising children is in fact more permanent than marriage. As a result, the mere thought of settling presents a number of unique challenges, all of which could be negated if you found someone better.

I have only one solution to this problem, with three unique components. First, you can’t continually go through life turning people down until you meet the perfect Mr./Miss Right for marriage, because you could literally spend a lifetime trying to find the right person. Second, the notion of meeting a beautiful, sexy, caring, perfect person is just not possible. In many ways, it is a bit of an adolescent fable, an immature view of others that limits you from meeting others.

Finally, given these two components, the idea of marriage has to be redefined. Instead of viewing marriage as riding off into the sunset with a Brad Pitt or Angelia Jolie, you have to realize that marriage is a constant work in progress, not a final destination. In essence, a mature view of marriage involves accepting the fact that no one is perfect, not even your life partner, but that you can forge a productive life together if you’re willing to meet each other’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.

Therefore, marriage is really a commitment between two people to better each other and themselves, not necessarily the final result from searching the world for the most attractive person you could find.

If you truly believe marriage is a work in progress, the notion of “settling” is moot. You’re not settling. Instead, you’re embarking on a new challenge with someone who has come into your life that is somewhat – not necessarily completely – compatible with you. Your relationship will change and evolve, but the binding commitment on your wedding day is not because you settled, but because you’re mature enough to realize that there are many people outside your dreamworld notion of a perfect partner who are worth getting to know.