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Are you settling for second best?

11:00 Tue Feb 28 2012
Hugh Wilson
Are you settling for second best?
Will they be happy in a few years time?

Do you have to be head over heels in love to get serious? A new survey suggests that many men don't think so...

You probably think that when you settle down with the woman you hope to spend the rest of your life with, she will be Miss Pretty-Bloomin'-Perfect. After all, if this is the woman you intend to be with forever, she has to be just right, right? Second best isn't good enough. You don't compromise on a partner for life.

Your say: Settling for second best

Or do you? According to a new study of 5,000 singles, a significant number of men — and in fact more men than women — would be prepared to marry someone they weren't in love with. Over 31% of male respondents, but just 23% of women, said they would hook up for the long term with a partner who was pretty great — but not quite great enough.

Which all begs a couple of important questions. Why are more men than ever prepared to settle for Miss Good Enough, and what does it mean for those relationships in the future?

Why men might be happy to settle for second best
The thing is, this isn't how it's meant to be. According to popular wisdom, women who reach 30 without a long-term boyfriend — and without wedding bells and tiny feet just round the corner — start to come over all Bridget Jones. The fear of being 'left on the shelf' was supposed to be about women, not men.

By contrast, men are meant to be more unwilling to commit. The lad mag generation knows what it wants and what it wants looks a bit like Megan Fox. Such high expectations make us less eager to settle for second best — or so received opinion has it.

So why are so many men (if the study is right) happy to downgrade their expectations and settle for someone who may be pretty good, but clearly isn't their perfect partner?

"It's the economy, stupid"
The fact is, the world can be quite a tough place, and even more so in the depths of financial uncertainty. The study suggests that more men are willing to commit for the company, security and support that a long-term partner can offer, and fewer are holding out for the lightning strike of once-in-a-lifetime love.

It could also be that we've become so fixated on women like Megan Fox and her ilk that we find it difficult to get too excited by the more realistic picture of womanhood represented by Jane in the accounts department. Nevertheless, Jane in accounts is who we're resigned to ending up with, so we accept our lot even while our fantasies remain unmet (women do the same, of course).

Whatever it is, it seems that more men would rather settle for Miss Good Enough than embrace the uncertain attractions of permanent bachelorhood, or the endless quest for Miss Perfect.

Is settling for second best such a bad thing?
Counter-intuitively, none of this may be a bad thing. According to Tom Matlack of The Good Men Project, it might just reflect a growing maturity in men, who are coming to terms with the idea that marriage and long-term relationships are not an endless cycle of brain-mushing romance and earth-shattering sex.

"Are you always madly in love with your spouse? No," Matlock told an interviewer. He went on to say that marriage is a challenge and romance plays only a small part in it. According to the study, men are simply waking up to this earlier.

Paula Hall, relationship expert to Parship Matchmaking agrees. She thinks men are just cottoning on to something women have known for a long time.

"There has never been any such thing as the 'perfect' partner and women have known for years that Mr Good Enough would have to do," she says. "They just hope he'll knock up into shape as the marriage progresses."

If that sounds a little depressing, it needn't be, says Hall. The start of a long-term relationship is just that — a start. Making it happy for both parties is a collaborative process and it takes time and effort. Starting from a realistic base is no bad thing, if you're prepared to work to make it great.

"It's great news that men have caught on to this too but only if they're willing to continue to collaborate with their partners to get the relationship to a point where it's working well enough for each of them," she says.

What it takes to make a marriage work
If you fall head over heels in the first instance you might be less likely to appreciate the effort that's needed to make a relationship work. And that effort is required even more as the relationship matures.

"What both men and women need to remember is that relationships change and our requirements of a relationship also change," says Hall. "So even if someone was perfect for you in your 20s, they would not necessarily be so as you each mature into your 40s."

In other words, lightning strike love rarely lasts and can even be destructive if it blinds either party to the real needs of a long-term relationship. Of course, nobody is saying that it's better not to be in love with the woman you intend to spend your life with, but it's certainly better to go into a long-term relationship with your eyes open and without unrealistic expectations, experts say.

Is 'good enough' better for us?
So the men who said they were prepared to settle down with women they thought were great, but didn't love, may not be desperate after all. In fact, they may have got it right. They may have realised that perfection is rarely found and that the basis for a healthy long-term relationship is not always head-over-heels love.

"Making compromises is essential for any relationship to last and happiness is a collaborative process," says Paula Hall. "What we need to be doing is looking for positive potential in prospective partners and a shared commitment to develop and grow together."

And if you can find that, it may be all you really need.

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