I know a woman who’s exhausted with her life. She’s unhappy. She’s sort of numb. She told me tonight that everything in her life went downhill after she had two children with the wrong man.
I jokingly asked this 42-year-old why she would choose the wrong man to get stuck with, but she took it as a serious question.
“He seemed good enough at the time,” she said. “I didn’t expect much and I thought maybe he would get better. I never really loved him, but I thought he was better than nothing at all. That was stupid. He was a terrible husband and a complete dud as a father.”
I felt sorry for her, but there was also a smug little part of me which thought, “I’d never allow myself to get stuck with someone I didn’t love.”
And then I remembered something. I almost did the same thing.
Nobody ever plans to get stuck with the wrong person. Nobody tells himself or herself that it’ll be just fine to end up with a partner who’s “good enough.” Someone who you can stay with as long as he or she isn’t really abusive. Someone you can live with and have children with — even if you don’t love the person.
About 15 years ago, I had been single for awhile. I met a lot of women. I went on a lot of dates. I had quite a few with whom there were three or four dates. Even a few dozen. But nobody held my interest long. And I really missed having a long-term partner.
When the next woman came along, she was just another in a long line of women who seemed interesting and attractive and intelligent — but not quite right for me. Still, I didn’t have anything else going on at the moment. She was interesting enough to spend time with. She was “good enough.”
I don’t know how to describe what I felt for her. I was attracted to her. I sometimes enjoyed spending time with her. We seemed to want some of the same things in life. And, eventually, she was crazy in love with me.
We had a complicated relationship. I’m not sure how to characterize it. I ended the relationship several times, but I came back to her several times, too, all because there wasn’t anybody else at the moment. There wasn’t anybody I really loved.
And then one day, there was someone I loved.
This “good enough” relationship made it difficult — it felt impossible at times — to do anything about the woman I wanted to pursue.
One of the worst things about sticking with someone who you know is wrong for you is that you’re not really available when the right one comes along. That inevitably happens, at least in my experience. And in my case, the long-term conflict — the equivocation and then the guilt — caused me to lose the one I wanted.
In the end, I was fortunate enough to lose the one with whom I never should have been involved. If a few minor things had happened differently, I would have married her. I would have been miserable. I think she would have been miserable, too. And we each would have blamed the other.
One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I always fall in love with a woman from the beginning — or else I never will. With this “good enough” woman who I’ve described, I kept hoping I’d love her. I was fond of her. I cared about her. But was it ever really love? No, I don’t think so, even though I tried.
In every other case in which I’ve fallen in love, I knew from the first moment that I would love this woman. How? I have no idea. In some cases, it’s been something I’ve experienced in person. In other cases, it’s been a photograph or a voice or … something which I can’t rationally put into words.
Somehow, I’ve just always known who I’d fall in love with — even though there have been times when a woman didn’t care enough to choose me in return.
I think most people settle for “good enough.” I think most of us do it because it seems better than being alone. We stay with that person for terrible reasons. We believe we’ve invested too much time to give it up now. We think that since we’ve had a child with that person, we need to stick with an unhappy relationship for the next 20 years — as though children don’t know what’s going on and then unconsciously model that behavior in their own relationships.
I’m not happy as a single person. I’ve made that clear, but I hope I’ve also made it clear that I won’t settle for someone who’s “good enough.” Even if such a person could be a decent companion and good mother and all of the outwardly good things, that’s not enough for me.
If I don’t fall hopelessly in love with a woman from the beginning — for reasons which are beyond my rational understanding — it will never happen. And no matter what she is otherwise, such a woman will always be simply “good enough.”
I need love, not good enough. And that’s probably true for you, too. Don’t settle.