Settling down? When? How? Why?
February 29, 2008 6:41 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when it's time to "settle down"?

This is something I've been thinking about lately. I'm about to graduate from college and have no solid career plans. I have a job lined up teaching English on the East Coast for a year and then after that, I plan to travel and take odd jobs, wait tables, and basically explore for a few years.

The problem that's beginning to arise - I'm meeting all of these wonderful men on my trips, but it's impossible for me to keep them around because of the distance. I've always considered myself very independent and it's not the case of NEEDing a man so much as enjoying the company of someone that I grow to love.

Currently, I'm dating a great guy, but I know we will be separated by distance in a matter of months. The thought makes me at once sad and also relieved (my parents went through an ugly divorce with me as a witness at a young age so I'm very afraid of marriage). I guess the real question is - when do you know it's the right time to settle down with someone? And also, since I'm not really planning on "settling down" at all in the next few years, should I just give up on any kind of relationship?
posted by brynna to Human Relations (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When you're ready to settle down you will know. Oversimple, I know. But you will; it will feel different than it does now. You'll have developed a base of friends in one area. You'll have a job you pretty much like. You will have had some adventures. Then you'll be ready to think about settling down. Right now you're just starting your unsettled period. Enjoy this period! Date a bunch of guys, get a sense of what works for you and what doesn't in relationships. Get a sense of what it's like to live on your own for a while; maybe you will like this and maybe you'll find it really doesn't suit you. Keep in touch with your friends and visit; in a few years you may decide to move to the city where they are.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:49 PM on February 29, 2008

And you don't have to be afraid of marriage. It can be whatever you make of it. If you've had a few different relationships under your belt by the time that decision comes around, you'll be in a better position to make it intelligently. Choose partners who are basically considerate; be considerate to them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:51 PM on February 29, 2008

It's time to settle down when you finally figure out what compound interest is and how old you're going to be before you get to be un-settled again.
posted by The World Famous at 7:08 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

For you? Not now.

Right now, that's all you need to know. Lobstermitten's right - this is the time for you to roam. I had the same dilemma when I was graduating from college, but I chose to roam, and man, am I happy I did.
posted by lunasol at 7:19 PM on February 29, 2008

OP sez:
my parents went through an ugly divorce with me as a witness at a young age so I'm very afraid of marriage
I suspect lots of people will give you lots of answers to the main question ('You'll just know' is true but unsatisfying, 'When you get over the fantasy of meeting The Right Guy' is similar, 'Your fetishization of independence in the abstract won't help you - you can integrate and remain independent' is complex and a little presumptuous, etc.), so I just want to address the above quote.

Just because you think you can trace your insecurities and unwillingness to commit all the way back to your One Big Trauma doesn't mean you can give up on moving past the damn thing and growing up. You're a child of divorce, you've got one limited vision of what marriage is. OK. But all the time, on AskMe and elsewhere, I see this risible (often unconscious) tendency to equate temporary states of being (e.g. 'I haven't [yet] gotten over my childhood/adolescent fear of commitment to love,' or 'I am [currently] shy and can't talk to people') with essential qualities ('I am tall').

You will be ready for romantic commitment when you seriously and systematically address the fact that you're scared of the central relationship compact in western society because you saw one screwed up example of it. It's only trauma; like circumcision and being made fun of in 5th grade for wearing sweatpants to school every day, it's something you recognize you've been through, take stock of, and put behind you.

Please, please, please: learn to differentiate between 'I won't do this thing' and 'I can't do this thing.' I'm sure you're authentically scared of marriage; in a few years, when you're around people who have good marriages, that fear will subside. And you can hasten the end of that fear by changing the way you live now - as well you should, while you easily can, because less fear is good.

You've got a biological clock that'll tick louder with time, and you can develop an eye for interdependent compatibility (the latter: live communally for a while, it'll rock your balls, metaphorically speaking); as the years tick by and you take time to consider authentically whether you're ready to settle down, you'll know. In the meantime, what passions you pursue, give yourself to them fully and remain attentive to craft and not just accident (which we stupidly fetishize as 'talent' and 'luck' and so forth). You'll find more answers out at the end of your rope than are available now, no question.

Plus: you're young as hell, we all are (gonna live to 120 at least!). Don't worry about settling down; there's plenty of time no matter what career path you're mulling over (OK, with very few exceptions).

Best of luck!
posted by waxbanks at 7:28 PM on February 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

You won't.

You never will. I really believe this, I'm not trolling.

I settled down (sort of) at a relatively early age. Was I ready? No. Did I do it? Yes. Am I happy? Yes. Do I question what I did/am doing? Yes.

I really don't think anyone is ever 'ready' to do anything. One does things and deals with consequences. By not settling down you are making a decision and dealing with the consequences just as much as any other choice in life.

Not a solid answer, but an answer I believe in. Good luck and I'm seriously not trying to be obnoxious. I just have this kind of opinion about life.

Also, I agree that you are really young, and by reading your question, my unasked for advice is to not settle down and be selfish for several years at least.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:49 PM on February 29, 2008 [12 favorites]

I retract my previous answer and second the answer of jeff-o-matic. Outstanding.

I also wish to subscribe to jeff-o-matic's newsletter.
posted by The World Famous at 7:54 PM on February 29, 2008

When you run out of interesting things to do, and would rather sit on the sofa and think back on the interesting things you used to do.
posted by rokusan at 8:02 PM on February 29, 2008

I hate quoting pop songs, but... well, "stay with me until I die, there's nothing else I want to try" worked for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:15 PM on February 29, 2008

As a not-settle-downer type let me just say that there are many things in between settling down and no committments to anything or anyone. Distance is only a barrier to relationships if you decide it is. Being "settled" is the same way. You can not have any idea of what you want to do or where you want to do it and still be able to keep close friends and lovers as you wind your way through life. If you're waiting for a sign, you may not get it. Or, it may come in the form of a person or opportunity that you just can't pass up. I've been settled and I've been restless and they both seemed right at the time.

I too was a young person when my parents divorced and may strongly (overly?) value my own independence as a result -- certainly I'm pretty touchy about being able to make my own way as an adult -- but I also feel like my priorities are straight. I have settled friends and that seems good for them. I have more rootless friends and that works for them. You'll need to figure out how to create a life that you enjoy and appreciate and not worry too much about when it's time to settle down. If you want a kid and a family you have some broad strokes about timeline stuff but realistically many people have non-traditional family set-ups and don't settle down even with kids. Keep doing what you love and pave your way towards a life with no regrets and IF you decide, given all that, that settling down is in the cards, you'll know.
posted by jessamyn at 8:20 PM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've noticed I have two types of friends vis a vis settling down:

Type A: Grows out of 'independent, fancy-free' living, gets bored and lonely and realizes that at somepoint, just living for themselves they stopped growing. They become 'ready'. Then they find someone and start a new phase of life.

Type B: Grows out of 'independent, fancy-free' living, gets bored and lonely and realizes that at somepoint, just living for themselves they stopped growing. They think they are ready. But everytime they meet someone, they sabotage. They become fundamentally unhappy and go from person to person, unable to keep the promises they make.
posted by zia at 8:25 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

you'll know when you get tired of moving. seriously--after almost two years of bouncing around, i have finally settled into a place that a) surprises the heck out of me, and b) where i plan to stay for a few years at least. why? well, love. i had other plans, places to go, things to see, but i decided this was an equally valid adventure.

granted, i'm ten years older than you, but maybe that will help answer your question. the point is, when you're ready, you're ready.

you don't sound ready.

enjoy it! the wandering life IS lonely--i won't sugarcoat that. you might go longer without sex or even friendship longer than you ever thought possible. but it's worth doing. you'll learn a lot about yourself and have some great experiences, and you'll have a lot to bring to the table when and if you do ever settle down with someone.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:32 PM on February 29, 2008

Why are "settling down" and "committing to a relationship" always thought of as one in the same? Who said you can't just find a romantic partner with whom you can chase all the adventures you hope to experience in life? Isn't that what a long-lasting love is?
posted by sian at 8:49 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Please don't ever settle down.

Meet someone, get married, have kids, whatever, but don't settle down.

Keep traveling, keep exploring, find your passion, find a way to make a difference for other people. I've refused to settle down, and so far, its left me alone, and it might, forever. That's a risk you have to be willing to take.

But I fear settling a whole lot more than I fear being alone.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:14 PM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

When staying where you are feels better than the idea of going off into the unknown. When you would prefer stability to novelty.

If all goes well, you'll figure it out - at some point everything will just click into place. If it doesn't, well, maybe you're just not one for settling down. Some people aren't.
posted by wsp at 9:31 PM on February 29, 2008

When you want to have children, you'll know it's time to settle down.

I had been living in Japan for 8 years when my son was born. We rented a nice house in the country, had a nice car, a dog and a flagpole in our yard. I was 31 when my son was born, and we had a choice: stay in Japan and run an English school for the rest of my life, and put my son through school in a provincial Japanese town, or return to Canada and pursue an actual professional career.

I didn't want to leave Japan at all, but I knew I would never be happy settling there (it was more running an English school, which I found boring at the time, than anything else...I still long to return and stay there for the rest of my life), and I also knew that time was running out.

Five years later, things have worked out kind of as I had imagined them: I have transitioned to an entirely new and rewarding career and have settled here in Canada. But it was having a kid that made me focus on what I wanted to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 AM on March 1, 2008

My life experience leads me to agree with sian. If you're lucky enough to find someone who can provide you with the stability to feel safe while you explore and roam, it's a hell of a lovely thing. My boy and I have taken a lot of risks and grown enormously as people, lived in a ton of places, and taken huge risks, and we've done these things in large part because the presence of the other person make us feel brave and safe enough to take those risks. When we met (eek! almost ten years ago) in high school, we were both pretty firmly against the idea of commitment of any sort, let alone the lifelong, soul mate kind. We were not ready, not by a long shot. Then, later, after a lot of growth and a fair amount of pain, we sort of came to an understanding that we were ready (more or less) for a bigger, forever sort of commitment. We're still not rushing to the alter (child of hideous, messy divorce myself, as it turns out) but as we were lucky enough to find another person to help us figure out what we wanted from our lives, and for part of what it turned out we wanted to be that person.

Rambling point being: this shit is all very complicated. If you're honest with yourself and with the people you end up in relationships with, and if you're willing to grow and change and not assume that the person you are is the person you'll always be, you may find that the question of settling down is not as black and white as it seems like it is.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:27 AM on March 1, 2008

Ugh. I had that childhood and never thought I would settle down. You’re just out of college and now is a very uncertain time for you. The way it worked for me was to just live my life and do what I wanted; I wound up meeting a great guy during that time and we both grew together. Grew to the point that we’re now inseparable, 10 years later.

Do what you need to do for yourself. If you’re with the right person it will work out. Don’t bow to social pressures that aren’t right for you. And don’t focus on relationships too much. If he’s the right guy it’ll work. If not, it doesn’t sound like you have trouble meeting people.

I'm much more settled now, but I definately didn't settle.
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:14 PM on March 1, 2008

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