On Not Settling

My backup plan is that I will spend my life with ME, and I will only let in a person who can compete with that scenario.


When I was in college, I attended a Take Back the Night Rally where an adult survivor of child sexual abuse spoke about writing a list of everything she wanted in a partner, down to his height and eye color, and then finding that person. It was a story about healing from trauma and the recognition that she was deserving of the things she desired, so I hate that it sticks with me most as an example of a successful visualization exercise. But a few years later, I sat down and wrote my own list of what I was looking for, and a month later I found him. Over the next few years, he gradually turned out to be a different person, but I had proof that such an exercise could be successful, and that the exact person I was looking for might even be out there somewhere.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to replicate the success of the list I made when I was 23. It should be easier, because I’m older now, and therefore clearer on what I want. But I find that when I sit down to put pen to paper, I’m nearly always blocked by having a specific person in mind. Do I really want this list of attributes in a future partner, or do I want them simply because the person I want has them? Does it mean anything that the last three guys I’ve had serious feelings for have had green eyes? Do I really have better chemistry with guys who are around my height, versus the four-inch-taller guys I dated in college? Do I need to be with someone who loves to travel as much as I do, or is that a holdover from a man whose adventurous spirit I admired years ago? Which of these traits are must-haves, and which are simply an attempt to hoodwink the universe into delivering the person I can’t get out of my head to my apartment door?

I need to get clearer on what I want so I can be sure to find that exact person. I will make compromises elsewhere in my life but on this I am unyielding. I want to get married, but only if I meet the right person. I can see other lives for myself, and none of the potential outcomes makes me sad. I will travel, I will adopt a daughter, I will have a career where I can work from anywhere. I will learn to code, I will finally play “Panama” on my guitar, I will continue to develop the dynamic and complex female friendships I’ve built over the past couple of years. I will get a design degree and become fluent in Japanese. Or I will meet him and we will do some of the above together.

People write articles advising women that we are asking for too much, that we must lower our standards, or apply different standards, lest we end up alone. The thing about these pieces is that they seem to assume that being alone is somehow worse than waking up every day next to someone who doesn’t excite and challenge you, who doesn’t share your values or your vision for the future, who doesn’t make you want to be the best version of yourself. I get bored easily. Every day I seek out ways to grow and change, to broaden my perspective on the world, to better understand the future, to become more interesting and complex, to be a better version of the person I was yesterday, and I need to be with someone who does the same. I want to marry someone I can build something with, bounce ideas off of, talk to for hours and still not want to sleep for fear of missing out on something going on inside of his head. I love to be alone more than almost anything else and I want to find the one person I could be with all the time and feel equally at peace. I want someone whose brain moves faster than mine and in a million different directions so that I have to get smarter just to fucking keep up. I want someone who plans for the future — not just his own future but for what the world will look like 5, 10, 20 years out. Someone who ravenously devours information, who quietly analyzes everything he takes in but in a way where I can see the wheels turning in his eyes.

And if I don’t meet this person, my backup plan is that I will become her. My backup plan is that I will spend my life with ME, and I will only let in a person who can compete with that scenario. I won’t settle for someone who doesn’t make me feel ferociously alive just because he checks all the boxes. I will not force things with someone I’m lukewarm about and risk not being available to meet the guy I’d commit arson for. I don’t believe in slow burns, I don’t believe in settling, and I don’t believe in dating — or marrying —someone for the sake of not being alone. Insert Jeanette Winterson quote.