Is There Really a Mr Right?

Worrying about whether you’ll find Mr Right is a concern that can consume many of us who wish to hang up our dating heels in search of deeper commitment. But in women’s quest to find ‘the one’ are our expectations in romantic relationships too high? Or, in the interest of remaining attached, are we willing to settle for Mr Good Enough?

Originally written for Women’s Health SA.

It’s not uncommon: you’re out having drinks, when your friend starts in on the dirty weekend away her partner organised, complete with a spa day and romantic dinner. Suddenly, that massage your guy gave you last night doesn’t seem as sweet, which gets you thinking: Do I deserve better?

Whether you’re the one doubting your relationship, or your friends are putting pressure on you to find someone they think is more suitable, the idea of settling for an “imperfect” guy doesn’t sit well with most of us. Much like the newest tech leads you to believe you need the latest, “better” model, settling down with a partner gets you thinking of the future – and whether you can actually be with him for the rest of your life.

“We’re getting more accustomed to a culture where things are disposable” says Dr. Elna Rudolph, WH sexpert and clinical head of MySexualHealth.co.za. “We don’t believe in fixing it because it’s harder work than buying something new, and we do the same with people.” She points out that in a world where women no longer rely as heavily on their men for financial and social security, we have come to expect a lot more from our relationships: “Women are becoming more and more assertive and know how to ask for what they want and deserve,” she adds.

The explosion of social media has also resulted in a change in dating behaviour – but could social networks and dating sites be making our intolerance for “real” men even worse? Yes, says Dr. Elna Rudolph Social networks are known to be used to create false realities.  People over-inflate positive attributes and exciting experiences to impress their followers and if you are not careful, you might think that the real-world is like that for most people.  Far from it!” And with the popularity of matchmaking apps like Tinder, now you can simply “window shop” for a potential love interest.

So why then are women so fixated on finding the “perfect guy”? Turns out, when it comes to romantic relationships, women behave differently: research from the University of Toronto found that women who fear the single life were willing to settle down with partners who they wouldn’t have ordinarily dated, and would also be more dependent on them – even if they weren’t completely happy. Yet for others, high expectations mean they are unwilling to settle for less. Which type are you?

 

When friends think you’re settling

“I recently got engaged after a year of dating my fiancé”, says Jenny Roe*, 32. “I didn’t want to be ‘left on the shelf’ in my thirties and our history as friends meant that we were ready, probably before our friends were!” Her girlfriends couldn’t help feeling that it was too soon. She had been unhappy with his drunken behaviour on nights out and complained to her friends, but, as long as she fulfilled her life’s milestones at the ages she planned, she was happy.

And then there’s Lerato Maboe*, 31, who hoped that having a baby would get her relationship back on track. “We met overseas and were in a temperamental long-distance situation. When I fell pregnant I knew I wanted to go through with it, even though he had hurt me in the past.” Now, when friends ask Lerato how she is coping, she enthuses that everything is great, reluctant to reveal any discontent with her position.

“Issues in a relationship don’t magically disappear upon falling pregnant or saying, ‘I do,’” says clinical psychologist Liane Lurie. “In fact, they intensify.” Same goes for having kids; although many couples think a child will be their relationship-healer, usually, it just deepens the cracks already present. Imagine fast-forwarding 20 years down the line and seriously consider whether you can imagine a stable, content life with him.

While we all dream of a fairytale relationship and happy ending (Sleeping Beauty-style, not Maleficent), for some individuals the reality can be hard to come to terms with. Before you become resentful, be honest about what your individual needs and expectations are, as and clarify the way forward. Couple’s counselling can help assess issues that can be resolved and those that will remain problematic.

On the other end of the scale is Amy*, 33, a fun-loving singleton who is adored for her self-deprecating nature. “My last relationship lasted a few months. I was gutted, but he didn’t want to commit,” she says. Amusing friends with stories from her weekend antics, Amy gives off the impression that she is happy with her independence, yet often uses humour as a defence mechanism. Although steadfastly hopeful, in recent months friends have noticed her lowering her standards. “If this sounds like you, you may not realise your true worth,” says Lurie. “You may be attracting the same type of guy because deep down you don’t believe you deserve more.” She suggests creating a list of boundaries, and if these are crossed, let him know.

Adamant you’re not settling? Consider this: being unwilling to discuss your friends’ concerns is often an attempt at preserving the status of your relationship.

 

When you think you’re settling

“John* has most of the qualities I’m looking for in a partner,” says Nothumba Mbuli*, 38. “I just wish he would spoil me with date nights and romantic presents like my ex used to – I don’t feel like a princess anymore.”

Everyone expresses how they feel in a different way, and while he may not buy you gifts, his way of showing you adoration may be through his words, his affection or the things he does for you. Is the lack of gifts or dates the only things that unsettle you about your relationship? “Comparisons can be dangerous and allow you to idealise what was, while devaluing what you currently have,” says Lurie. Remember: your previous relationship ended for a reason.

Once you emerge from the heady thrill of a new relationship, the things you want often change as your priorities shift and your relationship evolves. Kirstin Clark*, 32, recalls a time when her and her boyfriend were loved-up high school sweethearts but disputes about work, money and family pressures have left her feeling increasingly frustrated. “He can be reactive and unpredictable. We’ve dealt with our issues in counselling but we’re at the point where we’re just cohabiting. I love him but I’m tired of explaining why I’m unhappy – and he refuses to change his ways.”

Although Kirstin knows she has been settling for less, she says it’s difficult to simply throw in the towel.

Yet when you continue in these types of relationships with the hope that one day your partner will become the man he promises to, it’s important to acknowledge when things start shifting in your relationship. “We’re usually scared to see the truth,” says Lurie. “You’re used to being with him, and your identity is inextricably tied up in this idea of being his partner.” Although it’s difficult to imagine yourself with someone else, know that co-dependent patterns like this create a destructive cycle that can destroy not only yourself but also the person you once treasured.

So, if we’re aware that we’re settling, why do so many women find it hard to leave? According to Lurie, “You feel stuck and so prevent yourself from living the best life you can.”

Keen to throw your partner a lifeline? “Give him a chance to be a good partner, man and lover. But if the original reasons why you chose to be in a relationship no longer fulfill you, you need to re-evaluate,” says Lurie.

 

When you fear settling

Sadie Jones*, 41, married young, had a child and divorced soon after. Since then, the self-confessed serial dater refuses to settle for less: “I’ve had serious relationships, but I’m strong-willed and have certain conditions that I’m not willing to compromise on.”

“Women who feel this way may be protecting themselves from feeling fragile and vulnerable again. A break-up can be traumatic, as the life you imagined is over” says Rudolph. “The thought of allowing someone new into your life, albeit even a date, can feel like you are handing over or losing some control.  That can be pretty scary, especially since it took so much to pick yourself up from the floor and take care of yourself after the last break-up.  It is normal to be careful after you got hurt, but don’t let that hold you back from finding happiness again.