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Did they settle down, or all simply settle?

September 07, 2006|Shana Ting Lipton | Special to The Times

MANY of us singles have watched as our friends have given up on the epic quest for "the one" in favor of "the one who'll do our laundry." As the waiting game becomes unbearable for them, they seem to opt for security, and quite frankly a pulse, over the scary unknowns of single life.

Not that some of our other friends don't find great happiness in enduring and rewarding relationships. Such couples are, after all, our gods. We look up to them with a sense of awe -- worship at their midcentury modern rocking chair thrones as they set off for a lifelong adventure, together.

But what about the Early Settlers, who ended up shacking up with the first person who liked them after they grew weary of nuking their own meals and coming home to three shedding cats, with no one ever seeing their new underwear? Pairing up may have seemed like a sensible idea at the time, but is love ever sensible?

We all look forward to growing with a partner toward the "comfort zone" -- sporting our horn-rimmed glasses, uncoiffed, curled up on the couch on a Saturday night eating Chinese food out of to-go containers, MSG dribbling down our lips as we speak our minds. But if the only initial allure of a prospective partner is as a full-time resident of the comfort zone, is the real estate around these parts really worth all that much in the long run? I, for one, will always opt for an emotional buy.

Maybe I'm spooked by the tales from my friends and ex-boyfriends. It is especially fascinating to hear what prospective Early Settlers say when they are first dating someone. Even in the initial six to eight months -- allegedly that honeymoon period when they should be touting their partner's amazing qualities -- a mundane perspective has set in. Or, as an ex-boyfriend told me about his new lady friend during that magical period: "She's really obedient and will do anything for me but she's not as smart or motivated as I am." After two breakups, they married and had children.

Another guy I know, in a similarly (I would imagine) lackluster relationship, propositions me for an affair every few months. Then there's my friend's brother who once said of a woman who would become his wife and mother of his child, "She's all right." Another friend recounted the tale of a professor in graduate studies who said he had married his wife "because I didn't think anyone else would ever love me." When he got into his 40s, he ended up leaving her for one of his students because he was "in love for the first time." Midlife crisis and Early Settlements go together like divorce and Elizabeth Taylor.

Obviously, the polar opposite of settling isn't much better. Running away with a person with whom you have nothing in common but pheromones can be equally disastrous. However, this sort of torrid tryst often self-destructs before any long-lasting damage is done (provided all parties don't throw caution, and contraceptives, to the wind). But staying with someone you're not in love with -- that's a slow kind of death.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, or just a loner who wants someone to be worthy of the privilege of taking up my free time. I'd prefer it if, when asked what my significant other is like, that my answer not resemble a corporate performance evaluation ("very neat," "good multi-tasker," "gets along with others") or worse yet, a teenager's response to his/her parents asking, "How was your day?" ("OK," "fine," "all right.")

I think it's sad that in this day and age that some self-congratulating author like Sasha Cagen has to invent a sickeningly cutesy term like "Quirkyalone" to describe a minority of the population who would rather be alone than risk settling for an ambivalent relationship. Because what happens when the public celebration is over, the wedding presents have been opened and the laundry has been done is life -- a very long, slow, and torturously apathetic one.

Reach Shana Ting Lipton at

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