Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 7, 2010

Resolution #2: Don’t Settle

I know I have not yet posted the whole story as to how Penny and I got back together after our big break-up. But, as I know I have mentioned, I have long felt that Penny came back to me (and agreed to marry me) because, well, she saw me as being probably a decent father to the children she longed to have. It’s not that she wanted me, specifically. Rather, she settled.

And I realize that may be harsh, and if she were to ever see these words, she might wince at the notion. I don’t think she was necessarily as mercenary in intention as this makes her sound… but, nonetheless, she settled.

And I think I knew that at the time, too. But I didn’t care; I wanted her back. I wanted to prove I was a stand-up guy. A guy who could follow through on his commitments.

We did okay, at first. With the exception of our noticeably broken sex life. We enjoyed each other’s company, we successfully put together a decent financial house, a decent living space, and an all-in-all pleasant lifestyle. We did end up having those children — three of them, anyway — and they were (and are) amazing and beautiful and smart and fun.

But, as you know from reading the rest of this blog, that’s not enough. No love. No affection. No sex. No connection. I never anticipated how much of a toll that would take on my confidence, my happiness, or my mood. And I can’t imagine the situation has done wonders for Penny’s confidence, happiness, or mood, either.

—–

There’s a concept in economic theory called ‘opportunity cost.’ If you take the bus to work rather than buy a car, your out-of-pocket cost can be measured by the amount of money you spent on the bus versus the amount of money you would have spent on car payments. But the opportunity cost includes what you missed by not taking the other option: sure the car is more expensive, but it saves you time. It gives you more flexibility, both in terms of your schedule and also in terms of your available destinations. It may prove to be a more enjoyable (or, for that matter, less enjoyable) ride. There’s the potential aggravation of standing on a crowded bus versus the potential joy of driving on an open highway. Or visa versa.

The notion of opportunity cost acknowledges the idea that when you choose one path of life over another, you not only pay the real cost of the path you chose, you also pay the cost of *not* experiencing the path you avoided.

This is all by way of saying… if I had chosen not to take Penny back after our break-up, I would have ended up in a different relationship. Would the next relationship have been better? Maybe. Would it have been worse? Not likely, or if so, not for long. My relationship with Penny was bad, but just barely not bad enough for me to leave. Any relationship even a little bit worse, and I wouldn’t have lasted long in it.

But what if I had made a point of waiting until I was in a relationship that was truly worthwhile, before I made that commitment that marriage entails? What if I hadn’t settled, or allowed my self to be settled upon?

By accepting a second-rate relationship, I did not make myself available for a first-rate relationship.

That was the opportunity cost of staying in a loveless, affection-less relationship for over fourteen years: all those kisses I didn’t taste; all that love I didn’t receive.

—–

During those days of strife and reconciliation, there were other things going on in my life. After I left the successful business I had helped to build (long story), I took some time off from high tech. I became a school teacher, filling in as a replacement math teacher at a public middle school that had already run through two other math teachers before I got the job.

At the end of the school year, I was offered a full-time position going forward. By teacher’s salary standards, it was a generous deal. You see, there are union rules regarding what is allowed to be paid to whom and when, and the school district wanted me bad enough to bend every rule they could. My masters degree (in Political Science) would not normally count, for example, but they chose to count it. They got the union to agree to adjust how they interpret some other considerations, as well, and thereby offered me a salary that was well beyond what would be typical for a first-year middle school teacher.

The offer was also about, oh, half what I had been making in high tech.

Half.

I did the math. (Har, har.) I couldn’t afford to keep my apartment and my modest car payment and buy groceries at that salary level without taking on a roommate. And, as you may recall from previous posts, I had reason to not be favorably disposed to roommates at the time.

I agonized. I didn’t have anything else lined up, but that salary was just so… low.

Now, then. At the same time as this was all happening, I was reading a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the strongest concepts she discusses in that book is this notion:

Leap, and the net will appear.

I could go on for thousands of words describing what that phrase means to me. Ultimately, it’s all about faith, and about taking risks on yourself. After a lot of agonizing and self-reflection, I realized that the issue with the job wasn’t just about money. It was about stress — if you care at all about your students, the stress level of being a teacher can be very high. And for me, it was. It was about opportunity costs. It was about stretching myself too thin when I was already emotionally devastated from Penny’s and my break-up. Taking this job would bankrupt me financially and emotionally.

And so, even without any other job prospects on the horizon, I phoned my department head and regretfully declined the offer. And in the back of my mind, I kept saying: Leap, and the net will appear. Leap, and the net will appear.

I leapt.

Two days later, I got a phone call from a previous employer. They wanted to hire me at a director level position (marketing director, not technical director. My resume is rather eccentric.) Would I be interested?

Well… okay.

I went in for an interview the next day. They were in a bit of a hurry. And it turns out that they obviously liked what I had to say. They said that the position would pay $X per year. Then I did something I’d not expected to do: I said, well, I appreciate that, but I am looking for a position that would pay $10,000 more per year than that.

I had the offer, at my price, in writing, the next day.

I had leapt, and the net appeared.

Now, I’m not particularly into woo. I recognize that this is a lovely coincidence. But that doesn’t mean I have any reason to sneer at it, either. My point is this:

Had I accepted the job that would have been high stress for low pay, I would not have felt morally free to take the interview with my former employer. Had I settled upon the problematic option, I’d have had no room in my life for the first-rate option.

As luck would have it, that high-paying job had problems of its own (another long story). But it led directly to me getting a job that I liked, that paid well, and that moved me to Seattle, where I’d known for a while I wanted to live. Everything worked out well on that front because I didn’t settle.

—–

An aside: Public School teachers really should be paid more than they are. I doubled my salary by returning to industry after turning down the full time offer for teaching math. Math! We need good math teachers in our schools, and they get paid DIRT!

A week after I’d turned down the job (and a day or two after I’d accepted the high tech job), my department head called back. She twisted a few more union arms in order to make me a better offer. They added another three or four thousand dollars to my proposed annual salary. I was very, very touched that she went to such lengths. She and I were kindred spirits in terms of our passion for the kids and the importance of teaching math well. I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that while those three or four thousand dollars were huge in terms of teacher pay scales… they were barely a drop in the bucket in industry. I was touched. And sad to have to turn her down.

—–

So, the Good Mummy who blogs at ‘Bad Mummy, No Cookie’ posted a list of personal resolutions that I think are really quite elegant. The last one on her list was:

* Don’t settle.

I wrote a comment there that I’ll repeat here, because it sums up everything I’ve been trying to express in this post:

When you don’t settle, when you don’t accept second rate into your life, you save room in your life for what you do want. For first rate. And you deserve a first rate life.

Good Mummy does deserve a first rate life. So do you, Kathy-soon-to-be-L (a commenter who recently made a hard decision). And so do you, my dear readers. And what’s hardest of all for me to come to terms with, after all these years of allowing myself to stay ‘settled,’ is: so do I.

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Responses

  1. Great post, Seattle..

    I can relate. I definitely settled… and stayed settled a lot longer than I should have.

    The sad part is, I think, I realized that early on but, didn’t really want to believe it. I realized I was doing it in other aspects of my life first. Like, I remember thinking how I had done that with my career… just took whatever came along and ran with it, rather than really going after something *I* wanted to do. Always revolving my schedule and job around other people. Their dreams were always the priority. My goals didn’t really matter. And, I let that happen… Just accepted it… Figured, I’d make due with what I had.. and I always did pretty good in whatever job I took on.

    But, it made me wonder.. if I had done the same thing in my relationship to my husband. Did I just settle for the first guy that came along that treated me half way decent? Rather than waiting for someone who I really really conected with? I didn’t think I had initially, but, later on, I realized I had.

    It’s not like I think he’s a terrible person. Like you said, if he had been worse, I would’ve left a long time ago without any second thoughts. But, we really never connected like we should’ve. He was never like my best friend.. or someone I could pour my heart out too.. I don’t know that I believed, at that time, that you COULD even have a boyfriend/husband who was also a “best friend”. The older I got.. the more clear our differences and just how bad the lack of intimacy was….

    I also wonder about the path I missed.. but, I also feel like I can’t complain too much, because I chose this path… I chose to “settle”.. and, I do have some great kids out of the deal so, no, I can’t complain too much… but, I also can’t stay like that anymore. I’m no longer feeling very “settled”…

    Best of luck to you…

  2. Fascinating post with so much wisdom. Like most of the posts I’ve read of yours, I’m basically speechless. (A miracle if you ask any one who knows me.) Don’t settle. It makes for a great life philosophy.

  3. I love this post. Since you will be entering the dating scene, and won ‘t want to settle, I’ll share this with you:

    I was in a relationship with a man who had almost everything I wanted. The things I wanted that he didn’t have seemed like things I was either crazy or selfish to want. My female friends said, “Can nothing please you?”
    But deep down I knew I could not just “SETTLE”. One thing I needed that he could not provide (to ME anyway) was a GREAT KISSER. Oh, he was hot in bed…but only if he didn’t kiss me. (LOL….I know. Don’t say it.)

    So…. we parted ways. Or as you would say, I leapt!
    Not into another relationship, mind you, but into being alone. Yep….I wanted to make love that included kisses that made my toes curl, or I wanted no love at all.

    A few months later, in the strangest of ways, I met the man I am with now. On our first date, there was obvious chemistry, but when he kissed me, (midway though the date, in a parking structure…going from one restaurant to another), I thought I must have died and gone to heaven.
    (Everything else about him has proved to be just as good!)

    When I look back at how long I stayed in the other relationship, part of me wants to kick myself. Why did I do it? But the answer is simple:
    1) A part of me felt that no man would ever kiss me exactly the way I wanted, and
    2) There was so much I DID like about the first guy

    It wasn’t until I was willing to do without ANY of it, that I created a space for what I truly desired to enter my life.

    This will be the case with you. I can feel it in my bones. You won’t ever settle again. This is SUCH good news for you!

    But, when you are, finally, out of breathe and laying in the arms of the lover you always wanted, don’t ask yourself why you wasted so much time with Penny. If you do, you’ll miss the NOW. And the “now” will be so much better than the past.

    All you have to do is remember to LEAP. Because the net really will be there. And you will come to find out that it was there all along.

  4. Great post, I loved this! As time goes on, I think I was probably settling in some in ways with Hunky, and I’m also starting to understand why (you may have inspired a post yourself, here!). I think I am almost a bit grateful that he pulled the plug in that sense. Now I have the chance to meet someone I’ll be truly happy with.

  5. I also settled. I selected my mate expressly because I knew that she would be a much better mother for our kids than mine was to me. I’ve been paying for it ever since. Why stay? Because that is the only way I have any relationship with our kids.

    I also know about the leap and the net. I’ve done it a few times myself. Most of the time, it was certainly the right thing to do. For those other times, it eventually led to the right thing.

    Lastly, I want to address your observation regarding teacher pay. I live in California, where the infamous Prop 13 gutted the state education budget. This movement was led primarily by people who either had no children, or whose children were grown and gone. They refused to see that paying taxes for schools and teachers was really an investment in the future of their community. Now -only now- are people here beginning to realize what Prop 13 had done. Our formerly-world class university system is now being gutted, and some of those huge endowments from the private sector are going to other universities deemed more up to date. Maybe the state’s taxpayers should have had faith and taken the leap. It would be paying off now when we really need it. Instead, they settled.

    I guess this shows not settling can apply to many things, not just relationships.

  6. It was the perfect post for me to read today. I’m trying to decide if I’m settling or getting what I want and finding it to be not what I hoped for or…any number of things. Why don’t I have a crystal ball? I hate figuring out my future blind.

    Oh…this is where I’m supposed to leap, right? Okay. And I’ll do it with my eyes wide open, otherwise I might just miss the net.

  7. Well written, Liked it. Every girlfriend I have had since my divorce has gotten “progressively bettr” since my divorce. And I did date good women before the marriage too! This only means I have become a bit more discriminating when engaging in long term relationships, when to leave them, and more importantly when NOT to start them.

    My post divorce ex girlfriends were superb women but neither of us were in the business of wasting each others times. Perhaps because of this we still have a deep respect for each other and remain good friends [helped in a good way by the fact that I have truly moved on].

    The “net” ability to catch bigger fish is amazing and as we would say in engineering “directly proportional to the distance leapt” …so make sure your jump with gusto and full of faith and grab that net!

    I belonged to a high tech R&D organization for a long time, but the corporation was keen on rolling products out of the door like clockwork, it was more like “r&D” with the emphasis on development of things that would enable our products.

    So when convincing upper management to let go of their pet projects and listen to us the technologist and developers we literally had to pry their hands off the concept of “but we put so much effort into it”. A quick reminder that “sunk costs” are pasts cost [money or efforts already spent that cannot be recovered]

    Your post reminded me of this, here is Wikipedia’s definition of the “sunk cost dilemma”:

    “A sunk cost dilemma is a dilemma of having to choose between continuing a project of uncertain prospects already involving considerable sunk costs, or discontinuing the project. Given this choice between the certain loss of the sunk costs when stopping the project versus possible – even if unlikely – long-term profitability when going on, policy makers tend to favour uncertain success over certain loss.[1]

    As long as the project is neither completed nor stopped, the dilemma will keep presenting itself.”

    of course Upper management had the responsibility, but I was accountable, every year! So Working on pet projects did not help my employability if in the end my work was not tied in to products being sold in the short term.

    It is eery to think relationships must be evaluated the same way….but it helps, as long as you don’t check your heart and feelings at the door!

    I read somewhere that when it comes to love “you threat others with your heart, and your own heart with your head.”

    You have a good head on your shoulders Neverrains!

  8. Wow, what a post. I don’t know where to start 😉 I will say, I relate heavily to you in terms of your relationship with Penny as more of a friendship that worked well in a companionship way vs. an in-love way. That’s what brought Pete and I down…though I never realized that until the decision was handed to me (for the better).

  9. Good post kid:) I’m not planning on settling at all. You can hear your heart sing in this one. You know what you are doing.

  10. You and Leah made me realize I want *that*. Thanks, both of you.

  11. I understand about not settling. But what about the work that a relationship takes? Don’t I need to first give my partner the option of trying to work with me before I pull the plug because he/she doesn’t do something I want..or does something I don’t? I don’t want to settle, but I don’t want to be unreasonable either.

    Maybe Mr. Bad Kisser could be encouraged to change his technique… Maybe he wants to please you but didn’t realize his kissing was a turn-off?

    I’m not suggesting that I know the answer and I do know that not settling is important on some level. But so is working on a relationship. They don’t just happen.

    I guess I’d like a relationship with someone who is willing to work..to compromise…to communicate. I have my doubts that it actually exists.

  12. […] love of my life A couple of days ago, I read a superb post over at It Never Rains in Seattle about settling – being with someone who ticks a lot of the boxes but who you’re not […]

  13. This was an excellent read. I am definitely a champion of the “Don’t settle” philosophy, and it does boil down to what you miss out on. But with regards to opportunity cost, there is another business term that may apply: time value of money. Or in this case, time value of happiness. This would imply that happiness now is worth more than happiness down the road, because the probability that you’ll enjoy that happiness decreases over time (i.e. between now and 5 minutes from now, you could get hit by a bus). That is probably an implicit motivation to settle, to grab whatever is within reach, in our present, rather than face the uncertainty of the future.

  14. I agree with both. Leap and the net will appear and Don’t settle. Now I just need to incorporate them into my life. I too deserve it.

  15. Hey, Seattle. Just found your site…via QT Mama’s blog, I think (a comment you left there or something or other).

    I enjoyed reading your posts. And I can certainly identify with the settling thing. It led to a marriage of 10 years, and then a divorce, but an amicable post-divorce relationship (we had a daughter so are still in contact). We also ended things at the beginning of a year (6 years ago) and in similar fashion to what you describe.

    Anyway, I wish you well, and your journey…well, you’re starting a new one, in a way. And there are many things you have already learned.

  16. Well this is a thought provoker… Have I settled?

    I don’t think so. Certainly not in relationships (I could have, many times!), but a topic on my mind lately has been my career. I haven’t settled, but I’m not sure if I took the right path.

    I guess, the good thing is that we have time to figure it out, right?


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