Over at Jezebel, Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of gender studies, explores the idea that it’s better to settle for someone who loves you more than you love them. To me, this sounds like light torture on par with a nocturnal neighbour who plays the saxophone tenaciously but atrociously. But I guess the argument is that being beloved provides a woman with an edge in power. And what are relationships if not a constant power struggle? Ha ha?
Anyway, for the record, Schwyzer disagrees with this premise and goes on to rebuff the idea that women drop their relationship aspirations and settle for something less than what they wanted for themselves just so their partner (who they’re lukewarm about anyhow) is less likely to cheat or leave. He also challenges the one-size-fits-all self-help narratives that alternatively encourage all women to settle or play incredibly hard. Of course, not all women want the same things. And what we need to ask ourselves – and keep asking ourselves – is a simple question that can be tough to answer: What do you need out a relationship in order to be happy?
I know plenty of women who just want to settle down with a nice, honest, decent guy with a stable job and a commitment to family life. He doesn’t have to feel like a “soul mate”; he just needs to be kind and dependable. I know other women who are perpetually chasing the intensity of dysfunctional love, completely content to watch yet another union go down in flames because there’s always someone else just around the corner. And I know other women – myself included – who can’t get comfortable without a pretty synchronized intellectual connection. It’s irrelevant to plenty of others, I know, but if we can’t compare notes on books, if he doesn’t have dozens of dog-eared paperbacks to exchange, then it’s not going to work for me beyond a few months.
Not to get all French about this, but it’s also worth exploring whether you really want a relationship to last forever. Isn’t it okay – and not at all a failure – to get a great 10 years together and then walk away without driving each other to the point of complete animosity? We’ve been so completely brainwashed into the idea that a relationship can only be happy if it’s going to go a 50-year distance that most of us forget there are other options – and that we might want something completely different, might need something completely different, in five or 10 or 20 years. Neither happiness nor relationships remain static over a lifetime, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep asking questions about what we need.