Why Do We Settle For Less?
For the last decade, I have hopped from city to city, tiny apartment to tiny apartment, and dated a lot of people during it all. I’ve worked in bars and in coffee shops. I’ve sold greetings cards and clothing I couldn’t afford to buy for myself. I’ve dated men who thought I would be better if I had slept with fewer people and didn’t think I was “artistic” enough. I’ve sold myself short and settled for things I knew I didn’t want, all because somewhere along the way, I was told, sold and made to believe I just couldn’t have what I really wanted. I was told that what I wanted was for someone else, someone better and more deserving than me. And I listened to that nonsense for the better part of my life.
Settling can be mysteriously poisonous because once the initial disappointment sets in, we realize that not only do we not have what we want, we also have to maintain something we don’t genuinely care about. It’s a progressive poison that only gets worse the more we settle. Once you’ve settled for one thing, settling becomes easier and easier, and eventually becomes normal.
The easy thing to assume is that we just have low self-esteem. I certainly thought that if I was willing to be involved with so many underwhelming situations, people and things that held me back, somewhere deep down I must not think that highly of myself. But that wasn’t entirely true. I stood up for myself a lot, bravely tackled new projects and obstacles and had no problem breaking up with dudes I knew didn’t respect me or deserve my time. Why, then, was I still settling?
Fear. It’s simple and plain. I settled for things that didn’t fulfill me, not because I was insecure, but because the idea of having something I really wanted sounded scary. What if I tried and it didn’t work? What if I tried and everyone laughed? What if I failed and everyone said “I told you so?” It was so much easier keeping things “simple” and achieving small goals that were easy to manage and easy to forget if they didn’t work out like I had hoped. And what happened to my spirit and heart in the process of being afraid was the darkest spot of my life.
Soon, the small goals grew uninspiring. I met them quickly and was still hungry. It wasn’t enough to just get by with the approval of strangers, a handful of dates with people who would never honor who I really was and a nice studio apartment. All the energy I was spending in pretending to be fulfilled by my choices started diminishing the wonder and magic I had felt in my heart all my life, and I felt resentful towards people and myself. I wasn’t happy and I couldn’t figure out how to be. It got worse before it got better, and I nearly lost my sense of self entirely, all because I was afraid to lose something I hadn’t even tried to accomplish.
As women, we are constantly told from birth to not be “ungrateful.” Industries continuously remind us to be provocative but “pure” and to always say “thank you,” even when we don’t want what we were just given and didn’t ask for it, either. When I dated a verbally abusive and emotionally violent man, I was told by a coworker, “at least he doesn’t hit you.” What?! Instead of feeling in physical danger due to constant threats and beaten down emotionally and spiritually, I should instead be thankful he wasn’t physically abusing me, too? Being a victim of abuse is not an issue of settling, but the societal push to be complacent and “humble,” no matter how dangerous or absurd. We are encouraged to just act like nice girls and settle for what’s given to us, because only “crazy” and “damaged” women refuse to be in relationships or jobs that harm us and hold us back.
In my article What Happens When You Start Saying No, I talked about the importance of establishing boundaries. Boundaries are an integral part of learning not to settle because they remind us of what we are and aren’t comfortable with in life. They help us discard relationships that are toxic to us and reinforce the notion that we have the right to not want to be part of something for any reason we feel necessary. It isn’t an issue of being cold; it is an issue of self-respect and honorableness.
I’ve watched so many of my female friends settle for things they didn’t want because they genuinely thought what they wanted was out of reach. I’ve also watched many of my female friends take the risk, be brave and set out for something they really, really want. And guess what? They got it. It might have taken several tries, scared them down to their bones and tested every tender spot of their spirit, but they kept on, and eventually found what they had set out to find. Their determination is endlessly powerful and inspiring, not only because it reminds me to never give up, but also because it fundamentally breaks down oppressive class structures and gender inequalities.
I am really proud to be part of a community of women who are refusing to accept the centuries long rules not created by women. I am proud to watch my mom stand up for herself when she feels intimidated by bullies. I am proud that I stopped settling and started fighting for what I believed in, and I’ve watched my life completely turn around. I am proud that students at Columbia University are helping Emma Sulkowicz physically carry the weight of her mattress, because they refuse to settle for the administrative dismissal of sexual assault survivors. I am proud that so many of our readers at HelloGiggles refuse to give up on themselves, continue to heal their hearts and keep trying to be better and live happier, braver lives. I am so proud, of all of us, all the time, for all the painful and rewarding work we do on a daily basis to say we deserve better.
You are the captain of your own ship. You make your own rules about your life. You deserve good things. You don’t need to settle.