The short answer to this is you manage your expectations better and you, as the greatest spin machine unto yourself, will be able to justify to yourself you’re in a great situation despite what things may seem. The important things are great and the other stuff doesn’t matter. In the ideal situation, you can only claim things are great (at best), but fell short of your ideals and admit you will have to settle for that. That’s settling as in later rather than at the time of marriage.
The long answer involves a not too complicated, but hard to swallow, explanation.
I’m writing this based on some common beliefs I share with happiness psychologist Daniel Gilbert and choice/wisdom psychologist Barry Schwartz. The relevant bits of their works are summarized in the 20 minute videos below. You would probably appreciate my views better if you watched them first, or just watch them if you have happened to have landed here and have not seen them. They are far more fascinating than this post! Otherwise, accept what I claim they say as truths for now and judge the evidence later. I will reference their work only in the sense of stating some of these hard to accept beliefs about human nature, without a lot of jargon. If you were not familiar with these beliefs below, then, please, really, watch the videos. You will learn a lot about yourself… if you were human.
First one is people have trouble accepting the truth, especially if it were about them. We’re humans. We kind of know ourselves, don’t we? Maybe not the entire species, but definitely ourselves. Sure [sarcastically], that’s why the sign outside the Oracle at Delphi read “Know thyself” as a warning before you choose what to ask to know.
Second is that humans are the greatest spin machines ever. We can justify anything to ourselves, and not only that, but probably within 3 months! It is among our greatest asset and flaws. Dan shows how new paraplegics were just as happy as lottery winners a year later, for instance. On other hand, we don’t need anybody to show we have justified how killing entire ethnic groups betters the world, then convince others to do it, too. The monks were right, you know. It is all in mind over matter. Problem is, we don’t accept this too well. That’s why we specifically pray for the strength to accept the things we cannot change. You don’t need to ask for strength to do it. The strength required is within you. You just need to decide whether or not you’re up to it. A lot of people don’t, though.
Third is that too many choices means marginal difference among them that you would not be able to easily distinguish, so it would be easier to second guess another similar choice that might not have had some tiny flaw. Barry did this with the ridiculous number of salad dressings available at the supermarket, but consider this. You married the clear best guy out of a loser, an average guy and someone lots of people admired. Of course, there are some minor flaws about him because nobody is perfect. How would you feel about your choice of mates? Pretty good, considering there was no way the flaws could make him average or a loser. But what if, let’s switch genders, you had a choice of the 50 Miss USA contestants one year. You picked one and she has minor flaws to the same degree as the guy example. How easy would it be to second guess that maybe you should have taken Miss California over Miss Florida, then be disappointed for it because you probably didn’t have to pick one that had whatever flaws Miss Florida did? You had 50 fabulous candidates from which it was hard to choose because the differences were so minimal. There are fresh and easy substitutes in your mind should you ever hesitated about your choice.
Stumbling On Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert
At the end of Dan’s video, he correctly states that we should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. However, that should be done in a bounded framework. When our ambition is unbounded, like in the Miss USA situation above or what our imagination allows us to do, especially when imagining ideal situations, we place ourselves at risk for being driven too hard by what we want and anything could be justified for it. He concludes with “our longings and worries are both, to some degree, overblown we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience”.
So putting it together for a theory a bit larger than just applicable to marriage, here’s a concept I live by.
Be a practical dreamer.
Shoot high, but not to reach the sky. Aim for a goal that will make you reasonably happy, not the absolute happiest guaranteed for a long time. The “guarantee”, which is supposed to remove risk like divorce or a change of mind on anything, ironically, becomes your biggest risk with that blind ambition about which Dan talked. I’ve seen this with enough people I’ve known (not well) over the years who married for the “prize”, with a few envious qualities that turned out was all too temporary. Then their flaws became magnified with the higher initial expectations set (aka Obama Syndrome). Their “guarantee” of an unmatchable mate was now either average, or worse, or even a great catch, but a disappointment from “perfection”.
Now, when applied to love, and marriage for those willing, find someone who makes you sufficiently happy. To risk being too unidealistic, I’d almost recommend setting your target as someone who meets your minimum happiness requirements. If they exceed, bonus! And they’re likely to exceed because you’ll never find someone to exact specifications, good or bad. You’re accepting there might be better people right away, but maybe not after you forge your relationship into a tighter bond. Still, if there were someone better, that’s fine. You’ve got enough happiness. Wanting more is a natural human desire so save them for your desires.
If you’re seeking someone, though, I would highly recommend you not tell him or her, it or them, this is your mate selection theory! Try giving them one of my more idealistic declaration of love poems.
So in this theory, I have to fess up that the “settling” in the title wasn’t “settling” for second rate as many probably attributed said connotation of the word. Rather, it is settling for “good enough” or “settling” for pretty good rather than aspiring for best or greatest. Like anyone could prove that anyway. However, it made for a catchy title!
There’s another example of what unbounded ambition can cause you to do, lose your writing integrity. Why should I have cared? It’s only words on a blog! Note the self-justification I just accepted.
Now, I do know people change over time and that is a big cause of broken relationships. However, I also believe this is also amplified if the starting point chosen was based on poor judgment to start with, like a common flaw on a good guy is far less acceptable on a perfect guy. Dan talked about that, too!
But seeing as the divorce rate is about 50% going on idealistic mate selection, wouldn’t settling be at least worth a try by half the people? It can’t fail them all, which means the divorce rate has to decrease!
Oh, yes. The blindness of love. People don’t generally marry thinking they’ll divorce.
Be a practical dreamer…
Which is why I’m going to start settling with regards to women I date starting tomorrow! Hahaha! 😉
Now, if you think a lot of this is hypocritical, refer to Life Philosphy #12:
One should be self-contradictory to attain balance, but only like an opposable thumb to four fingers.
The opposable thumb is what sets us apart from other primates in evolution, if you don’t know, allowing us to grasp things easier. Here it is used as metaphor that self-contradiction is only acceptable to serve a higher purpose.
Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? Why aren’t we happy?
Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.7