In 2014, I dated a man who said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Usually, a person in love would respond in kind. I just grimaced and tried to think of something to say. Finally, I came up with and semi-enthusiastic, “Cool!”
It turns out he was not cool with my lack of reciprocation. You know what else wasn’t cool? Allowing the relationship to go as far as it had while knowing in my gut that this was not a person I could love for the long haul. I don’t like the phrase, “Leading someone on,” but in this case, I was guilty of allowing the man to believe I was into him.
We went to dinners, house parties, game nights, and other events together, with me posing as the smitten partner. The smile pasted on my face belied my inner thoughts which scratched and clawed my brain, trying to make me see reason. They screamed, “He’s a good man, but he’s not right for you!”
There were so many signs that I wasn’t happy. Here are some ways to tell if you are settling for the wrong person.
1. You have to justify more than normal
Being able to compromise is the hallmark of a good partner. However, if you are justifying every little thing about that person, especially if it involves the way they treat you, you’re settling for something that won’t last. Or even if it does last past expectations, you’ll never be happy. Many fear they will end up alone and so they stay with someone who treats them like garbage. Don’t make excuses. Make your exit and find someone you won’t have to justify.
2. You’re daydreaming about other people, and not in an open relationship kind of way
It’s one thing to have a list of celebrities or unfairly attractive people you daydream about from time to time. That’s simply a part of being human with sexual desires. Some couples are actually pretty open about their fantasies and jokingly give each other cheating passes if the other person were to ever get a chance to sleep with an unattainable celebrity. But when you stop imagining just sex, and start imagining a relationship, with a real person who you know and see quite often, you’re pushing a boundary.
You’ve got one metaphorical foot out the door already, and that’s not a good sign. Sex is one thing, but dreaming of grocery shopping together or holidays in matching sweaters means there is something unfulfilling in your own relationship. Stop settling for a life of daydreams.
3. You feel weary when they text you something sweet
Another sign that you are settling is that you feel guilty when you receive a sweet text from that person. Instead of being overjoyed at their thoughtfulness, you are resentful. Now you have to send them something in return that is just as sweet and you really aren’t inspired to do so.
Once you lose the desire to make your partner’s day a little brighter with a kind message or two, you’ve lost the spark. While you can reignite it, there is a chance that the flame has died out for good and you’re simply on autopilot, sending scripted responses but not meaning them. Stop settling, and start finding what you really want.
4. Your relationship feels like a chore
Relationships take work. Everyone knows this. Yet at the end of the day, if you feel like it’s almost a full-time job to find reasons to love someone, you’re in the wrong relationship. Feeling tired and exhausted after a fight is normal. Having to work up the energy to spend time with someone and find things to talk about isn’t something you should be experiencing. True, it could just be a phase, and maybe there is something deeper going on that a needs addressing. Talking to a counselor can help you sort through this issue.
Do the work if you believe your relationship has a chance. Yet if you resent doing that work, you won’t magically stop feeling the anger at constantly needing to try harder. It’s difficult to admit when a relationship simply isn’t working, but everyone involved will be better off if you don’t settle for a lackluster love.
5. You feel like you can only be the OK version of yourself
The person you end up with should bring out the best part of you. They should inspire you to be better, go for your goals, and support your crazy dreams if you have them. Or at the very least within reason, because quitting your job to join a quilting community in the mountains may bring up questions about finances.
When we settle it’s often with someone who likes us as we are. They don’t want to upset the status quo. As a result, they keep us down and don’t want you to rock the boat for fear that you’ll change and stop loving them.
For every dream you have, they point out several possibilities of how you might fail. They insist they believe you can do whatever you set out to do, but maybe after you plan more, like in a year or so. Maybe they encourage you to skip working out, or they always make plans that interrupt the time you set aside for writing your screenplay.
For example — that guy I was dating in 2014, sweet as he was, constantly reminded me that most authors fail. His encouragement was tempered by ominous warnings that I’d be a starving artist if I quit my day job. This, combined with my own lack of desire to enjoy the small moments with him, resulted in our separation.
I don’t miss him. I had learned not to settle for my average self or an average relationship when I wanted so much more.
Previously Published on medium
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