Why Do People Choose to Settle in Relationships?

Examining Settling vs. Comfort in Relationships

By Loren Trapanese

What drives people to settle in a relationship? How many people go through it? It’s hard to admit that you may be settling—especially, if you and your partner have been together for a long time.

I interviewed two males and two females—whose names will remain anonymous—and asked about their current and past relationships, curious to know about their views on settling and whether or not it played a role in their relationship.

How long was or is your relationship?

John (Age 20): “My girlfriend and I broke up the other day after being together for three years.”

Mike (Age 25): “My ex and I dated for two years.”

Suzie (Age 42): “We dated for four years, and got engaged.”

Mary (Age 22): “My boyfriend and I are currently going on five years.”

What are the reasons for the relationship ending?

John: “We broke up once before this, and then got back together two weeks later and I immediately regretted it. She wanted her own way, and thought she was better than everyone—it was a huge turn off. We wanted different things”

Mike: “We didn’t have enough time for each other. She was busy with pharmacy school and once I moved back to Staten Island, distance made it a lot harder.”

Suzie: “I wasn’t happy and realized I had to break up with him.”

Describe your relationship.

John: “She viewed me as her possession. I didn’t feel our relationship was strong because of that; we lacked friendship.”

Mike: “Very healthy, but we couldn’t make the distance work out.”

Suzie: “It was nice, but easy and safe. He was more like my friend.”

Mary: “We don’t fight really, at all, which is good, but we don’t really go anywhere. It’s boring, honestly, we are more friends rather than boyfriend and girlfriend.”

At what point did you realize you were settling (if you were)? 

John: “I was putting off breaking up with her for a year actually. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I had self-doubt. I was comfortable but I feel like I knew what I had to do for a while.”

Mike: “We both wanted to be with each other, but some people don’t like the idea of starting over with someone new. They get comfortable.”

Suzie: “After three years. One day I realized that I wanted to pursue someone else and I began separating myself from him. I wasn’t in love with him, and I knew I was in the relationship for the wrong reasons, we even got engaged. Plus, when you intermingle families and there [are] kids involved, it makes it harder.”

Mary: “When we got back together after a few months of being apart I hesitated, yet stayed because I was comfortable, and scared to start fresh. You get used to being with someone and it holds you back. I began looking outside of the relationship, but won’t end it. I am settling because I am comfortable, I know I shouldn’t be in this relationship, but I don’t think I am fully ready yet to let it go.”

Do you think that your settling affected intimacy in the relationship?

John: “Yes, I will admit I was looking outside of the relationship, but I didn’t act on it. I couldn’t get into sex because I wasn’t connecting to her anymore.”

Mike: “I didn’t want to cheat on her at any point of our relationship, even when distance caused issues. I looked, but never did anything.”

Suzie: “There was no intimacy. I did go outside of the relationship; I went on a date with another person before I ended it—which is usually what pulls you out of a relationship when you find yourself settling. I never looked back.”

Mary: “It definitely affects sex. I don’t feel any connection anymore. Sex is kind of lackluster, and that led to my cheating—and still does. I am not proud of it, and I know it’s seriously messed up but I don’t know how to approach the topic of “breaking up.”

Do you think settling and being comfortable are the same or does one lead to another? Why do people settle?

John: “Comfort and settling is not the same thing. I think comfort does lead to settling. Once you take the time to get to know a person, you become more comfortable with them, and it makes it easier to picture a future with them. It is a lot easier to settle with someone you are comfortable with, rather than establishing a new comfort and relationship with someone else. I wasn’t great with girls before my ex-girlfriend—she was my first girlfriend, I felt lucky to have her.”

Mike: “Settling and being comfortable are one in the same. A new start is intimidating.”

Suzie: “I think that they do in fact go together. People will settle for different reasons, maybe they don’t think they can do better—they’re comfortable.”

Mary: “I think that comfort leads to settling, they are linked. People stay in relationships that they don’t want to be in because of comfort though. Plus, the idea of starting over is scary to some. I know that I personally, I’m afraid to feel that empty feeling everyday, that something is missing.”

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