Weighing between loneliness and ‘settling’ for any partner
Are there letter-writers you wonder about to this day? While I’m away, readers nominate some who stayed in mind.
“This one spoke so much to me.”
April 30, 2011
DEAR CAROLYN: I feel I’m at the very edge of what is survivable as far as loneliness. I’ve always thought it preferable to be on my own than to settle for someone and thought that leading a generally fulfilling life should be enough.
I have a fulfilling career. I travel. I make time for friends. I pursue my interests and hobbies. But even on the best day filled with interesting people and activities, it’s a rare night that I don’t cry myself to sleep over this.
My parents died several years ago and, for various reasons, I have no contact with siblings.
I also feel like every few years, I have to make new friends, as the older ones settle into long-term relationships. These friends still make time for me, but they just have less time to give while I have all the time in the world.
So, in my worst, feeling-sorriest-for-myself moments, I think I’m not the most important person in anyone’s life, and no amount of self-help clichés can convince me there’s any other solution than finding a trustworthy partner, even if he’s not really what I want.
At what point can I give myself permission to say that overwhelming loneliness is worse than a low level of dissatisfaction with the wrong person?
DEAR ALONE: At 5, you wanted someone who’d play with you. At 11, you had a crush on a guy’s hair. At 19, a nice butt was a bonus you felt entitled to seek out. At 26, wow, an educated, employed guy who felt the same way as you about kids?
When you updated these standards by which you once judged men, did you need “permission” to do it?
You’ve evolved, your life has evolved, your desires have evolved, and your family has dissolved. Please don’t apologize for rewriting your definition of attractiveness to reflect a basic desire for steady companionship.
As long as you don’t force yourself to keep seeing someone whose company you don’t enjoy or who mistreats you, your “low level of dissatisfaction” is likely to be with mannerisms, resume items or beliefs that used to be important but don’t seem so anymore — all facts of life companionship.
And when someone’s companionship brings more pleasure to you than your life does now, will you still be able to say, “He’s not really what I want"? You’re not comparing men with a fear of being alone — i.e., settling — you’re comparing them with a fresh knowledge of it.
Also: The words you use, “trustworthy partner,” are hardly license to throw a bag over the first man you see. You’ll have to be as selective as ever to find this person, since trust requires two quality people plus time, and partnership requires those things plus mutual commitment and compatibility.
Given your vulnerability, in fact, please be pickier than ever. Just be picky about different things: Don’t budge an inch on the way someone treats you (or the usual bellwethers: exes, waiters and pets). Sobbing in bed alone may seem like hitting bottom, but imagine sobbing while an uncaring other watches TV two rooms away.