Relationship De-Influencing, Vol. 1
In defense of "settling"
This is part of a larger series of mini essays I have been working on for the past few weeks that are my reactions/resistances to relationship discourse that I see growing in popularity online, particularly on TikTok. These were important for me as a personal practice to critically engage with what information I take in, and especially to be critical of content that poses itself as psychology/mental health-adjacent takes, because I think we are much more vulnerable to hastily taking it as truth and applying it to our lives in the pursuit of self-improvement or healing.
I am not mad about the increase in open flow of information about relationship health and dynamics - I have personally benefitted so much from access to these online spaces, especially for them carrying me through periods where I did not have access to mental health care and essentially had to self-therapise. I can see the positive effects of this media in everyday conversations where laypeople reference concepts that not long ago were isolated to the nuances of mental healthcare practice. I love that knowing your attachment style is on its way to becoming as common as knowing your astrological sign. Relationship health concepts are disseminated further beyond serious conversations into the larger cultural sphere (for example, gaslighting becoming a frequent meme/joke motif), which I think is just as valuable - to understand the joke, a young teenage girl must understand what gaslighting actually means. That in itself is so valuable.
However, I think there is a flipside to this. I have also suffered a lot from overconsumption of relationship health content, especially from the freedom for unqualified sources to seep into the mix. In particular I have noticed a heavy handedness with discussion of strict boundaries, high standards, and very critically evaluating you and your partner’s behavioral matches.
I do think that you should have some set of standards for yourself upon which you decide who you get into relationships with, and within those you should also have boundaries that you will not tolerate crossing. However, I think these are things that should be developed from your own life experience, and not things to be told to you by someone else. I remember when I was going through a period of really difficult and confusing relationship transitions, I was consuming a lot of this content to try to find help and came to the conclusion that I needed to explicitly identify my standards/needs and boundaries. I wrote that my partner “needs to be emotionally mature and able to communicate their feelings and respond to mine”. Sounds pretty fair.