What Does It Mean To Settle As A Single Woman? Is That Bad


There was an article by Lori Gottlieb in the Atlantic that caused a big stir about what it means to settle. What the discussion was missing, though, was a definition of “settling.” In fact, the definition is purely personal.

To fully understand the complexity of settling, you have to consider a woman’s age, dating experience, and her desire for children. It is misleading and harmful to ignore these differences and talk about settling as if it’s the same for everyone.

If you are in your 30s, you have a different lens than a woman in her 50s.

And, a woman who has been single for a long time and has dated a number of different men may have a different thought about what it means to settle than a woman who is newly returned to being single with limited dating experience.

And, then there’s the issue of wanting children. For women who rule out having a child on their own, they may feel greater pressure to find a father for their child – within a legal marriage – than a husband who can provide emotional intimacy.

Let me tell you about three different 38 years old women I’ve seen in my clinical practice.

Maureen is an always single vivacious woman who says, “I have so little free time, I only want to be with someone I can really connect with. I need emotional intimacy. I’ve been with enough men to know what’s important to me. I’d rather be alone than with a really nice man with whom I feel so empty.”

Ronnie has a different viewpoint. “In my divorce, I got a small time-limited alimony. I dated a bit and when I met Paul, I felt safe. He wasn’t exciting and he wasn’t comfortable with feelings – his or mine.  But he was solid and he loved me.  I knew he’d be faithful, unlike my first husband.  Paul provided companionship and financial security. These were more important to me than emotions.  I’ve got my girlfriends for that.”

Leanne has yet another lens. “I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but I knew

I wouldn’t do it on my own. I dated thousands of men over the years. Then one day I asked myself: What’s more important, being a wife or a mother?

It was an easy answer. I changed what I was looking for in a man because my priority had changed; it is easier to find a good father than a soul mate husband.”

If you are honest and acknowledge you can’t get everything you want in a man, “settling” just means taking charge of the areas in which you are willing to compromise. Maureen wouldn’t compromise her need for emotional intimacy; Ronnie wouldn’t compromise her need for faithful companionship, and Leanne wouldn’t compromise her need for a child within marriage. None of them “settled”; they made good decisions for themselves.

The real issue is being clear about your needs – what you need from a man.

Remember, though, one way is no better or worse than another. If being single did not carry a negative connotation, we wouldn’t be devoting any time to the word “settle.”

If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

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