Settling and Judgment [Discussion]

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Post by reboundstudent on Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:44 pm

Today I was reading Dear Prudence, in which there was a letter from a woman who, 6 years ago, broke off her engagement. The reason given was that her fiancee had a very demanding job and never made any time for her. After having dated a lot, she's found that she misses the ex, as no one else has made her as happy and she now regrets her earlier decision. Her question to Prudence was whether she should contact the ex and see if she can rekindle something.

What's interesting is the comments section. It is filled with people who believe the LW being alone at 40 is "punishment" for being such an awful person; aka, breaking off her engagement for what they consider superfluous reasons. They believe the ex-fiancee is well shot of her, he probably found someone who wasn't as "flaky/flighty", and didn't she learn her lesson, etc.

What I find confusing about this is other weeks, this same comments section will be filled with fiery rhetoric that you shouldn't settle, about how staying with someone because dating/finding someone else is too hard, about how if you're not happy you should leave, etc.

I see this kind of pattern repeated in lots of places... You better not "settle", but you better not leave for "non-important" reasons. Like leave if you're unhappy, but if you're unhappy for "superficial" reasons, then you deserve to be judged?? And I frequently see advice that says you SHOULD settle, but you shouldn't settle too much?

Where exactly is the line? When is settling bad, and when is settling necessary to have a relationship? Is it normal to be "settled for", or is that something worth being upset about?
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Post by reboot on Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:48 pm

Could it be that people are unsympathetic when others regret their decisions? For example, if the letter was from her saying she wanted to break off her engagement because she was unhappy because her fiancee had no time for her, do you think the tone of the comments would be different?

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Post by reboundstudent on Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:56 pm

reboot wrote:Could it be that people are unsympathetic when others regret their decisions? For example, if the letter was from her saying she wanted to break off her engagement because she was unhappy because her fiancee had no time for her, do you think the tone of the comments would be different?

I think they might have been, as I've seen letters similar to that pop up. There's some disagreement, of course, with some people believing that's a temporary issue or just one that needs communication, but I'd say it's pretty evenly split in the past with folks who believe such a situation means the LW wouldn't be happy in the marriage, her fiancee doesn't care about her, and that they're not compatible/should move on.

Why do you think people are unsympathetic when there are regrets?
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Post by PhoenixMI on Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:58 pm

There's no universal right and wrong. It's different for each person. Everyone "settles" (terrible word) in one way or another meaning no relationship is without compromise. No matter what you do in the world there will be people who will judge you harshly for it even if they wouldn't have been any better. It's very easy to look at a paragraph about someone's life and tell them how they've completely messed it up.

It sounds to me as if she made the right decision years ago. Your needs should be met, within reason. If she was always going to be unhappy with playing second fiddle to his job then she did the right thing. I'm not sure why she thinks things will be different now but I'd say it's worth a shot. She certainly should not be expecting him to "make her happy", of course.

Bad settling/good settling is a deeply person thing. I try to keep my absolute deal breakers to huge character flaws (mean to animals), completely incompatible habits (smoking) and incompatible goals (they want children). When it comes to specific things about looks, that is 100% everyone's right. We all have our preferences. It's good to be aware that you're limiting your dating pool if you'll only date people who are X feet tall, Y pounds and Z whatever (not to mention that looks will fade) but to force yourself to enter a relationship with someone for whom you have no physical attraction is not fair to yourself or to them. You can call yourself shallow all day long but if people with blonde hair are just flat out not attractive to you then they're not and no sense trying to force it.

I've struggled with this A LOT over the years. Am I being too picky? Does X really matter that much to me? Maybe I should just force it and maybe eventually I'll like him. I called off my own engagement a number of years ago because I was forcing myself into it and finally realized that it wasn't going to get better and the kindest thing I could do was free him up to find someone who wanted more than anything to be with him and didn't feel as if they had "settled".
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Post by reboot on Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:02 pm

I think because people are unsympathetic to those who will not live by their choices. I do not think it is the expressed regret that riles people up, but rather the idea that you can get a do over. In the case of this letter there is also the disrupting and intruding on the ex's life after he has (hopefully) moved on and recovered from the broken engagement. There is definitely little sympathy when your regrets lead you to being the Bad Penny Ex (e.g. always turns up when you thought they were finally out of your life). Her popping up again is pretty unfair to him.
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Post by eselle28 on Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:03 pm

I do agree that there's a lot of tension in our society between the impulse to direct people toward good relationships (which involves leaving bad ones) and the impulse to encourage people to maintain them (which can involve staying in and working on troubled but salvageable ones). Things get tricky when those impulses are applied to real life, since it can be really hard to tell a bad from a salvageable relationship, and sometimes even that will depend on the specific people involved and their needs.

I do think that judgments about decisions sometimes depend on what happens after the fact. There's a bias against single people and I think an extra dose of it gets applied to single women past 30 or 35, especially if they adopt any attitude toward being single other than loving it and being glad things turned out that way. The plan of action might be influencing reactions as well. I think that people who would otherwise sympathize with not settling might feel their feelings shift when it's paired with a suggestion of contacting an ex 6 years after a breakup rather than one to seek out a partner with similar traits. I'll admit I gave that part a side eye, both because I would not appreciate hearing from my old exes and because I am a little suspicious that this ex may have been idealized in his absence.

I think that in this particular case, it may also depend on the reason for ending the relationship. Over on Dan Savage, a person who ends a relationship because of sexual dissatisfaction will almost always be viewed sympathetically, while someone who ends one because they refused a request to fulfill a kink or be monogamish might have to provide a good bit of justification for not trying to work things out. I would not be surprised if Slate has a lot of readers who themselves have rather demanding careers and who are naturally inclined to sympathize with a boyfriend who worked long hours and who was upset when his fiancee broke off his engagement over his objections. The nature of advice columns comes into play here, too, since we get such a short description of a relationship. If she'd said he'd missed her sibling's wedding or that she felt his job was making it difficult for her to pursue her career while being a good partner or that he'd turned down an opportunity that would have given him 90% of the rewards with a much better lifestyle, the commenters might have seen things differently.


Last edited by eselle28 on Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:22 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Post by Caffeinated on Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:21 pm

I think judging people's choices can get to be almost a competitive sport in some spaces, and expressing regret gives the judgers an opening.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Mar 09, 2015 7:12 pm

All of the above, I think, with some Just-World Fallacy in the mix too. If you're looking for advice because you aren't sure what to do next, people just freely say what they think is the best choice from your current position, assuming that what they've seen work is what will work. (Which is fine, and there aren't better alternatives.) If you're writing to say you're unhappy about a choice you've already made, though, then it's suddenly your fault for having made what was obviously the wrong choice. Because you should have just magically known what your best option was going to be?
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Post by reboot on Mon Mar 09, 2015 7:31 pm

I think there is also double down judgment when the choice that is regretted hurt someone else, as in the broken engagement situation. It would be different if it only hurt the person who chose, like in...say, quitting a job, regretting it and wondering if you should reapply at the first workplace. That choice only hurt the person who made it.
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Post by Wondering on Mon Mar 09, 2015 8:20 pm

(Copy editor aside: I originally thought your post was about a different type of relationship, RBS. Fiancee = woman. Fiance = man. Grin)

But yes, people like to judge, or maybe don't even like to but just do internally and the anonymity of the internet gives them a place to express that judgment where they wouldn't in the same situtation in real life.

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