"Well, if you broke up you couldn't have been happy."
I was sitting with a group of friends at our neighborhood pub on a weekend night. My friend Dede had just broken up — somewhat unexpectedly — with her longtime boyfriend Rory.
"We probably weren't going to last forever," she shrugged. It was like she were swatting a fly away … but the 'fly' was her two-year relationship.
A palpable uncomfortableness hung in the air. It was like she had committed an unforgivable dating sin or said something unthinkable ... being in a relationship you knew was going nowhere?
"Anyway, it wasn't really like that. I was happy," she insisted. She went on to say that they were more than happy, they genuinely loved each other. It was that they were "incompatible" on the big picture life things, like having children, where to live, and when, if ever they would get married. To use her own words, it wasn't that they were unhappy, it was just that circumstances didn't seem right. He just wasn't what you would call Mr. Right. He was more like Mr. Right Now.
Mr. Right vs. Mr. Right Now
A few years ago, Lori Gottlieb wrote a controversial essay in The Atlantic, which turned into a book deal on this very idea: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.
Although a little extreme, and some might even say harsh, the premise of Gottlieb's book (backed by experts) was that women should stop being so picky in their pursuit to finding Mr. Right and settle for the real man sitting across from you at the dinner table. But she's missing an even bigger question: Who is to say you have to settle for someone at all? Who's to say you should settle for Mr. Right Now and not just date in the moment? Why is it that every relationship must have a "do or die" feel to it? Like my friend Dede, maybe we just want to date for the sake of dating, you know?
The Science Behind Why We Settle
Why is it so hard for us to date in the moment? Often, it's our own biology working against us, says Marla Martenson, a matchmaker and YourTango Expert, and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is the culprit. "Unfortunately, it is more of a challenge for a woman to hang out and just 'have a good time,'" she says. "Women become emotionally and physically attached to a man after she has had sex with him." It's hard to accept someone as a temporary companion with our love goggles on so to speak. And frankly, it's not as romantic.
And then, of course, there is the societal block. Common sense would follow that if you're dating someone, sends out the signal to other guys that you're taken and it blocks the right man to come into your life. So, oftentimes, we settle under the impression that we've found Mr. Right (or even, as Gottlieb put it, Mr. Good Enough) or we break it off with our eyes set on new, romanticized (if not delusional) dating horizons.
Why Are We (Really) Dating?
But we often forget that dating doesn't always have to be for the purpose of finding The One. In fact, it shouldn't. According to Laurel House, a dating coach and YourTango Expert, people usually have three reasons for dating: fun, self-exploration and finding The One. We get dissuaded from what (or rather whom) we really want — things like pressure from our friends and family and society at large often get in the way — and we forget to date with "purpose" as House says.
According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, one of the things couples crave is more independence from each other. Mr. Right comes with a heavy pressure of commitment whereas Mr. Right Now gives you a little more wiggle room to explore your own interests.
And dating is often more about discovering yourself than it is about finding another person. "Maybe you are in the self-exploration and growth phase, and your purpose is expanding yourself, experiencing different people, places and things so you can enjoy a more layered and dynamic life as you become more interesting and therefore irresistible?" she says. By dating Mr. Right Now, you're keeping yourself open to possibilities and as long as the other person understands that too, what could be wrong with that? Keep Reading ...
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