Quoting people is easier than coming up with something entirely original

Sue says

Is this how we define happiness to be now? That to be fully happy and successful in your life, you have to be married or in a long term relationship? Maybe I’m naive (or just been single for too long), but I would like to think that happiness isn’t fully defined by whether or not you have a significant other.

I contend that it’s a matter of balance. There’s a tendency for people to compare the extreme cases, but reality is always somewhere in between. I don’t think anyone at either of the following two extremes for a prolonged period of time would really be happy. Given the choice, I would choose neither.

  1. The person who is wildly successful in relationships, but doesn’t actually have an education or job worth noting.
  2. The person with PhDs coming out their behind and makes a six figure salary, but has never experienced a long term relationship.

The first person is missing out on the joys of accomplishment, peer recognition, working to help others, etc. The second person is missing out on a level of emotional and physical intimacy that you just can’t get from friends and family. A balanced person is a happy person.

Switching gears, she goes on to say: “We were talking about whether we would settle for someone subpar out of desperation because we had hit our 30s and still didn’t have the idealized wife/husband, two kids, dog, and house with a white picket fence.

I’ve always found the term “settling” to be kind of funny in this kind of context. To “settle” implies that you know for certain you can achieve something better, but you decide not to for whatever reason. In other words, if you don’t know for certain, then how do you know you’re actually settling? For all you know, you could already be achieving the best you’re capable of, in which case you’re not settling, you’re at the peak.

Well that’s the thing. During the course of your life, you’ll meet a finite number (N) of people that are “relationship material”. Let’s say that there is some omnipotent grading system. That is, for each choice, if you were to select that person, you’d end up with some quantitative value (H), representing your happiness in the end.

Now clearly, you want to maximize H. However, you only get a single pass over all N people you will meet, the H values of each person you encounter will be random with an unknown distribution, and you don’t know how large N is. Upon reaching a local maxima, if you decide to stay, can you really call it “settling”? What if the local maxima turns out to be the top of the heap?

All of this assumes that you’ll find at least one positive H value. If every H value you come across happens to be negative, you probably need to recalibrate your scale.


  1. Sufu says:

    Must we be a geek and put everything into a nice, succinct, mathematical equation?

    Anyway, to respond to the first part of your argument, you said that the person who isn’t in a relationship is “missing out on a level of emotional and physical intimacy that you just can’t get from friends and family.” True enough. But the point is that maybe they have already had these types of relationships and feel fulfilled from the experiences they have had. Or maybe they have decided to devote their time to something that returns more than purely personal gains. I mean, what about the Dalai Lama or the Pope? Are they any less balanced or happy because they have never had a girlfriend or wife?

    And in response to the “settling” issue, I guess I have never aimed low or taken the easy route in life, especially if I know that there is so much more to gain with a more challenging road. Maybe when I’m 90 and sick of challenging myself, I’ll elope with the first 90-year-old that doesn’t give me dry heaves when I look at them. Plus, I can’t understand how people can go into a marriage with this at the back of their minds. This issue will eventually come up during an argument: “I could have done so much better!” I think that is extremely unfair to both parties.

    This is depressing. And with no TV, the only thing I have to get back to is my stinking Alzheimer’s paper. Sigh, alright, you win. I kind of want my own toothless 90-year-old right now.

  2. Dave says:

    …maybe they have already had these types of relationships and feel fulfilled from the experiences they have had.” Perhaps, but humans, like everything else on this planet, operate in cycles. Meaning, you’ll eventually you’ll be bored of what drives you now and will want something else. You’ll move onto that something else, get bored of it, then move back to your current muse. I have trouble believing that you forsee so much on your plate that you’ll be 90-years-old before the thought ever crosses your mind that it’d be nice to have a good shag. 😛

    The Dalai Lama and the Pope? Assuming they don’t do anything unsavoury behind closed doors, I’d say they’re definitely not as balanced. Despite this, they still seem to be sane and happy though. Why? Probably the hundreds of millions of followers that hang off their every word. Don’t try and convince me that there is absolutely no personal gain for them. They’re attention whores of the worst kind.

    As for the “settling” thing, how do either of the two parties actually know that they “could have done so much better!“? My original point up above was that there is so much uncertainty that for all the person knows, they’re just deluding themself by saying something like that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Generally when you settle you degrade from your current maxima, so even if it is the best you can do you will degrade when you settle. Thus, without losing generality, settling is a move against your current achievements.

  4. Dave says:

    Which may be true, but I liken it to a game of poker. Let’s say you’re dealt: Ace(Spades), King(Spades), 10(Spades), 7(Spades), 5(Spades). Do you keep the Flush, or drop the 7 and 5 for a chance at a Royal Flush?

    Let’s say you drop, then pick up a 10(Hearts) and 3(Diamonds). So you had a Flush and are now left with a Pair. Is that called settling? I contend that it is not, because the odds are against you of getting the original Flush back.

  5. Sufu says:

    Dave Dave Dave…you don’t need to be married to have a good shag. 😉

  6. Dave says:

    Huh, who said anything about marriage? I just didn’t think you were the type to go barhopping and shag random people. Bonnie says she could see that, depending on how frustrated you got. 😛

    I guess there’s always the booty call too, but that can arguably be considered a “relationship”.