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Settling Versus Settling Down

Tuesday’s blog seemed to strike a chord with some readers. “Why do you hold so firmly to the belief that single 32-year-olds have a hang-up or two?” one poster queried. Another asked, “What’s so bad about ’settling’ at this point in the game?”

As cited in a previous post, 51 percent of American women are single now, so mine may be the generation that continues slashing the divorce rate-which is the lowest it’s been since 1970, according to a recent AP article-by not settling.

To answer the first question: I believe that people who remain single past a certain age-I said 32-do so by choice. Many girls I know look for something specific in a guy, whether it’s a particular height, a full head of hair, or financial success. That’s not to say everyone feels this way, but, as we get older, most of us are more in tune with what we want-and don’t want-in a partner. Call it hang-ups, or just call it knowing ourselves a little better than we did in our 20s.

Others say 32 is a bit young to start worrying about hang-ups. “As you approach your late 20s or early 30s, I think [your priorities change], and you begin looking for someone to be with for life,” says 33-year-old friend Lucy [I’ve used here aliases to protect my friends’ privacy], who’s getting married this summer. “I’d say it’s more like 34 or so when there could be some judgment made on that person for not being able to find someone to settle down with.”

I have never believed in settling, to answer the second poster’s question. Maybe that’s my hang-up, but I’m holding out for him, the proverbial One. Whoever he is-and wherever he’s hiding-I believe he’s out there. And no, I don’t have a specific checklist like the one above. I’ll know him when I see him; it’s all about chemistry for me. I’ve dated guys with and without hair; I’ve dated guys with financial stability and guys in serious debt. And if waiting for the right guy means remaining single well into my 30s and beyond, then so be it. That’s my conscious choice, I guess. Like most women I know my age, I’m not looking for a casual fling anymore, so if I’m going to put in the time with someone, it’s going to be for the right reasons.

I polled a few 30-something single friends to find out where they stand on the great settling-versus-settling-down debate. Here’s what they said:

Melanie, 33, a marketing executive, thinks settling is always a mistake, even though the unknown can be scary. “I think too many people are hung up on the idea of marriage, children, and that ‘perfect life,’ and that they often settle for the ‘best thing now’ rather than what is best for forever,” she says. “I would rather be alone for the rest of my life-which, hopefully, will not happen-than be with someone and wonder what my life would have been like had I not made that decision.”

Regarding the idea that hang-ups prevent us from settling down, Melanie says: “We are different people than we were at 25, when a lot of our married friends met. We know more about who we are, what we want, what we like, what we don’t like. It is not a matter of being picky, so much as it is a matter of not wasting our or someone else’s time with something we know is not right for us.” Melanie is a successful, smart, financially independent woman who owns her own home. “I do not need to be with someone, but I want to be with someone because that person makes me happy and makes my life more enjoyable,” she says.

That’s not to say singletons living fabulous lives don’t envy their married friends. But the grass is always greener. “Perception is not always reality,” Melanie says. “More than a handful of friends my age who got married in their mid-20s are now going through divorces. Can you imagine being married to someone for five-plus years and having to start over?”

“Absolutely no settling,” says Jeremy, a 31-year-old attorney. “I’m over thirty and single because I live in a vibrant city where, as opposed to the suburbs, it is more difficult to establish that balance between work and play. The ones who settle are the ones who force the balance and wind up being divorced five years later.”

Julie is in her mid-30s and single, but has a totally different perspective: “I don’t think that people really settle; some just meet their match earlier than others,” she says, optimistically.

And then there’s Lissa, a 30-year-old who oozes confidence and says she’s not only comfortable being single, she’s happy. “For me, [still being single] is a combination of timing, immaturity, fickleness, stubbornness, pickiness, fear, and luck,” she says. “Divorce terrifies me. I get sick of shoes after one season. Do I think I have a hang-up? I have way more than one hang-up. All smart and interesting people do. I’m a complex person; I question things.”

Readers, what do you think? Where do you fall along the settling-versus-settling-down divide?

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