If you read more than a handful of online dating profiles of women over 50, common themes emerge (and yes, I'm certain that's true of men's profiles -- this isn't a gender thing).
Some themes are amusingly mundane ("I am as comfortable in an evening gown as I am in jeans" -- how can that possibly be true?). Some are sad ("I'm looking for a man who is honest and won't cheat").
And at least one is both empowering, I guess, and potentially tragic. "I won't settle at this point in my life." "I'd rather be at home alone with a good book than with the wrong person." "I want and deserve to have it all."
That last quote -- and all these were taken from online profiles -- is especially disturbing. No one "deserves" to have it all, even if we had a clue what "it all" meant. But let's concentrate on this "settling" thing.
This often comes from women who have in fact been with the "wrong" person for years. Sometimes they have been with many more than one wrong person during their adult lives.
So this is a big issue. When you are over 50, especially well over 50, time is perhaps your most precious asset. No one wants to squander it. It makes us older folks nervous to think about spending six months, a year, five years, in a relationship only to have it not work. What the hell do we do then??
On the other hand, it makes many (not all) of us nervous to think about being alone in our old age.
If you have been on dating sites for awhile over the years, you see many of the same faces you saw years ago. Some of those people, maybe most, have been in a relationship or two or three over those years. But they're still out there, searching. And presumably not settling. And maybe getting scared. There does come a point where options for long-term relationships narrow.
So what does not settling mean, and what is the alternative to not settling?
Anne Marie Slaughter, former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, wrote an agonizingly lengthy and incredibly vain but pretty insightful article in The Atlantic a couple of years ago about how "having it all" is a damaging myth that should be replaced by the pursuit of happy and productive lives. She is hardly typical of older women, or men, given her life experience, but her points were reasonable.
For the women I have encountered, not settling means two things:
1) having a better relationship than the ones they have had before, which is a laudable goal; and 2) having a relationship with a man who is kind and smart and funny and affluent and devoted to his woman and honest and and and...That is an less laudable goal because it implies that you - the person seeking this non-existent man -- are yourself all of those wonderful things that you seek. And it is not likely to be an achievable goal.
But it is risky to say that to these women, most of whom have had bad relationships and who want, and believe, there is more out there. (I was in a relationship not long ago with a woman who had two failed marriages, and claimed to be looking for a guy who was kind and sweet and faithful when it reality she was looking for a bank account wrapped around a kind, sweet man. It happens.)
Since all relationships must deal with compromise, not settling is a tricky phrase. If you want a man who embodies all the things you wish for, you'll be disappointed. So if "settling" means not getting all you want, you may want to redefine the word settling. It will make you happier.
What's the alternative to not settling? Well, maybe loneliness, for one. Sure, you'll have friends and family and diversions. But someone to "grow old with" (one of my least favorite phrases)? You won't have that unless you're willing to settle at least a little.
Given how many familiar faces there are on online after many years, the choice does seem to come down to settling on some level versus being alone.
The key is to realize that neither of those situations is the end of the world.