Time after time, day after day, generation after generation, the relationship refrain of “don’t settle” is rehearsed in splendor over and over. It’s at the point where story after story enters the eardrums with hope of a fresh lesson, and engenders a sigh like a sitcom rerun that loses its comedic value.

There are generally two main mindsets when it comes to the world of intimate relationships. One group finds contentment with being single and self-sufficient. On one end of the spectrum of this group, a relationship is anathema to their personal space. Get ’em outta here. I’m enjoying myself in this moment.

On the other end, being single is cool and a bonus. If someone special enters, bet. All good. Let’s roll with it.

The second group is those who pine for a relationship. They are by all intents and purposes miserable and a nuisance to be around. Their life is full of lamentations and lachrymose tales. That’s on one extreme end. On the other end lies those who are reflective of their past failures and confront the task of finding a new companion (or letting a companion find them).

In all cases, a new relationship is what they feel like is needed to fill a vacuum.

A third group (minority) are those who just want to fulfill their carnal desires. Nothing more, nothing less. One might say this is the most tenuous group because it’s illusory: People who start out with sex on the brain tend to end up in one of the two above groups.

For purposes of this piece, we’re going to disregard the first and third group. Why? Because in a culture of relationships and marriages and general attempts at monogamy, everybody at one point or another roams to the second group.

Consciously or unconsciously, having one person to be the one to talk you to sleep, put you to sleep, wake you up, cook your breakfast, hear your bad and good and random news, spend the holidays with, read with, build with, smoke with, drink wine with and cry with becomes a real desire.

Is this desire a result of social conditioning or an innate need? Nobody really knows. “No man is an island” and “We are all One” ring loudly in the collective chorus, but there are certainly things to be said about private time. Periods to withdraw for “island” time and being along with your own thoughts.

I’ve seen couples who spend all of their time together. I’ve seen couples who spend nary a moment together. Misery can exist in both. Beyond the lack of balance present in each example, there is a factor that tends to get glossed over in the pursuit of relationship happiness.

The Plan B factor. Simply put, many people aren’t with their first — or preferred — choice. It bugs. It stings. And it’s something you will absolutely never admit to your mate. It isn’t necessarily his fault; he just got caught in the crossfire of indecision and expedience.

Settling can be an overt decision, which in some minds is interchangeable with “maturing.” A man who has played the field and avoided monogamous relationships for years decides to “settle down.” Is he maturing or settling? Depends on the relationship, right? But say he “settles” with a woman who doesn’t look as good or exhibit the personality strengths of any of the women he played to the left.

Is he “settling down” or settling?

Excusing the subjective nature of the question — after all, who is to say who is beautiful and what personality is desirable — it’s imperative to consider how settling is loaded with different explosives in certain temperatures. If a hazardous or ineffective lifestyle was eliminated through a conscious decision to mature with a singular woman, what does it matter if the woman in question is “pretty enough” or has the spirit of Mother Theresa?

That’s because in many cases, settling takes on a negative connotation. For a long time in the most powerful countries, the ability of citizens to choose their own husbands and wives was a wonder. Even today in many countries, relationships are arranged. There’s no such talk of Plan B. Plan A is whoever daddy choose.

A culture supports that paradigm. That’s what it is. But today, being that the United States is the land of the free, protector of individual rights and all, built on the premise that individuals can make their own decisions, choices are abundant. From purchasing Reese’s to choosing a copulation partner, we are bombarded with “market place” decisions .

With choices comes the cost of opportunity: what you lose when you choose. When the thought of loss comes into play, it’s easy to second guess. Heartache and regret are natural risks of letting somebody in your life, yet we do this everyday. Knowing (or maybe not knowing) the stakes, we gamble on the hope that this next one will be what we want. A supplement. Complement. Lover-friend. Whatever.

Three relationships later, what we thought we wanted was turned on its head and put in a blender. Months past until the next one comes along, when the choice of whether to indulge is presented again.

Naw. I’ll wait, you say. But you’re attractive and single. A viable option has to come along right? And sure enough he does. This option becomes a convenient date night partner, a willing warm body (or smile) and an excellent conversant. Time speeds on. Ben has proven dependable. Responsible. Arousing. Even fun. You are fed up with horror stories and disappointment. You just want stability. Ben is here.

You grow to love Ben, and vice versa. Eventually, y’all talk engagement.

Yet, your heart is titillated when the name of longtime “friend” Ron is brought up. And when you happen to see him? Let’s just say those thoughts would make Samantha Jones blush. Ben calls, but you silence it to take Ron’s number. You had it before, but you deleted it after that last embarrassment. He said he had a woman and you took it to heart.  Screw it. I’m moving on, you thought.

But you didn’t. You just let time move. Then it hits you: Ben isn’t the first choice. A good man, great even. As the weeks move forward, you start answering Ron’s texts with astounding quickness and frequency. Slowly Ben’s faults start to become stark, and he fades in favor.

The dangerous part about settling is it can happen without conscious realization. Of course you didn’t mean to hurt Ben. But in the crossfire of indecision and expediency, another life is snared. All too often.

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