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Settling

Posted Feb 26 2010 12:00am

I’ve been on the radio and/or television almost every day this past month and several people have asked me about a book out about settling for Mr. Good Enough or whatever it’s called.

My response is that I teach here and in the book and in seminars that the important thing is to know your standards. To know what you will and will not put up with. To be willing to be alone (or not) than to be in a bad relationship. I ran this letter a little while ago but want to run it again because what follows are the four posts I’ve written on the topic. It’s long and you don’t have to read it all…but it’s food for thought if you are evolving your standards. . Just for the topic’s sake. Only you can decide what is good enough and if it’s good enough for you.

Hi Susan,

I’m currently recovering from a lifetime of codependence and am about six months into my recovery. It’s such an exciting time for me, all of the puzzle pieces of my previously dysfunctional life finally fit. It’s been a huge relief finally discovering what’s been amiss all of these years and every day presents me with new and exciting opportunities to heal and grow.

Your blog has been a god-send, I read every day though I don’t post. I had something that I want to ask about because I’m having trouble discerning normal from extreme these days.

I have a close male friend, one of my better friends, but as I grow I begin to see more and more things that are just not quite right with him. For example, after returning from vacation yesterday, we went to lunch together. It had been three weeks since we’d really talked. As I was telling him a story from my vacation, he spotted an attractive lady in the restaurant. He stopped listening to me and focused all of his attention on this lady until I finally made a comment about it. This behavior is not at all unusual for him, as a matter of fact, it’s happened many times before. He sees someone he can’t keep his eyes off of and I sit there continuing to chat away as if I haven’t noticed.

For the first time, I called him out on it and told him it was rude and disrespectful. I’m not jealous that he looks at other women, I would feel the same way if I were having a meaningful conversation with a girlfriend and she were tuning me out to drool over some man in the room. The issue is that immediately after I said something, I began wondering if my reaction was too extreme. Are my expectations realistic? How do we know if we are being too picky with people?

Thanks for writing and congratulations on your recovery!!!! It’s a WONDERFUL ride ! Stick around!

I have a couple of sayings when people say I’m being too picky. The first is “I’m as picky as I wanna be.” And the second is “I’m high maintenance, but I’m worth it.” (stolen from Jack McFarland on Will and Grace.)

If something bothers you, it bothers you BUT there is acceptable and unacceptable…certain standards YOU set for yourself. You think (and I agree) that your friend’s behavior is unacceptable. For you, that is a standard and it DOES NOT have to be okay with your friend. We don’t need to put our standards to a vote. It’s about us and what we want and what we will and will not put up with.

I get this question SO OFTEN that I’ve written no less than four posts on it. Some of it is repetitive (because for a long time I wouldn’t rerun posts) but I’ve posted three of them here for you. I know it’s long and some of it is repetitive but read it, re-read it, and allow yourself to have standards as high as you want them and be picky as you wanna be. :)

“You get what you put up with.” – Anonymous

My first post-divorce boyfriend wrote me a letter once. I was so thrilled because even though we hadn’t spoken in weeks and I couldn’t figure out why we were not speaking, here he was in paper and ink. He never bothered to tell me why we weren’t speaking…he just disappeared, but now, NOW he had written me a letter and all was right with the world!!! I felt like singing the Blues Clues “mail song” even though it hadn’t been invented yet. :) but I was SO HAPPY he had written me a letter. It said something like, “Don’t give up. Take things one day at a time. Some day we’ll be together. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

I ran to my therapist with this letter as proof that he really did love me. I was just months out of a horrible relationship but true love had come!!!! Wasn’t that special?

She read the letter and looked at my excited face. She tossed the letter on the table and said in a droll voice, “How original.”

The sound of my bubble bursting could be heard, I was sure, from several states away.

WHY WAS SHE SO CRUEL?? I hated her with every fiber of my being. How could she DO THIS TO ME??

My last relationship didn’t even ACKNOWLEDGE me, let alone take the time to a write a letter, albeit a short letter. Why wasn’t this good enough?

She said if I wanted it to be “good enough” it would be, but if I wanted to be with a man who loved me, really loved me, this was not good enough.

Just better than the last relationship is not good enough. Only consistent unconditional love is good enough.

If you put up with anything less, that is what you will get. It takes a while to learn to be loved like nobody’s business, but it starts by not putting up with what you don’t want. Yes, this is nice but it’s not nice enough…it’s not what I want or deserve.

Today I have true unconditional love that has been consistent for over ten years. I walked out on a lot of “good enough” relationships that were not good enough for me. My friends sometimes thought I was nuts but I wanted someone who adored me. Some said my standards were too high. Others said it didn’t exist.

That was fine. I also decided that I would rather be alone than settle for less. I WAS NOT SETTLING for “good enough.” I wanted the best or none at all…and I held out and that is what I eventually found (after kissing a lot of TOADS, but still….I found it.)

DON’T lower your standards to fit what you have.

Change what you have to fit your standards and keep reaching for the sky.

And don’t settle for anything less.

~Susan J. Elliott 12/23/06


Today I was objecting to something that someone said in another group that I belong to. It was a matter of language that I didn’t appreciate.

The person said, “Oh I’ve heard worse.” and I said, “Okay, that’s you. That’s not me. I have boundaries and standards and that kind of language is not okay with me.”

And then he said, “I’ve been CALLED worse.” and I said, “Okay. Again. That’s YOUR boundary, or lack thereof. Just because you accept the unacceptable does not mean that I do. Please stop projecting your lack of boundaries on me and expecting me to be the same way. I am not. I have boundaries and standards and that way of talking is NOT OKAY FOR ME.”

When I was in very bad relationships, its easy to see that you are putting up with a lot. Because I had been used to being treated badly and it’s what I was comfortable with, I gravitated toward people who treated me badly.

It was easy to see, in the sickest and most dysfunctional of relationships, that the treatment was bad. After I started the long climb out, it became relatively easy to steer clear of the most abusive and dysfunctional of people.

But as time went on and I got better, my choice of mates got better as well. Having been used to the worst, it was hard to tell, for a while, when something was okay but still not good enough.

Sometimes I really struggled with accepting things that I didn’t really like because I was unsure if I was being too picky or hard to please. It was VERY hard for me when IN a relationship because I would be swayed by someone telling me I should accept it or I should be okay with something.

Therefore, I had to spend some time OUT of relationships and DECIDE, separate and apart from any relationship, what was acceptable and what was unacceptable.

If a guy didn’t want to make a commitment to me, then that was not okay. Even though I dated guys who were fun and enjoyable, after a time I wanted a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and if they did not want that after a time, I had to let them go.

Even that was relatively straight forward…but later on there became weird situations like I wrote about on here where I was involved with someone, in love with someone who had been my friend before we ever became involved, very close relationship and we could not figure out how to see each other with our very busy schedules.

We went to graduate school together and had seen each other on school nights and every other weekend. Once we graduated, we could not figure out a way to see each other. I suggested a schedule, set nights to see each other as we had had in school, and he hated the idea. We struggled for months about it and I proposed a compromise, a semi-scheduled schedule. He didn’t want to hear it. I would propose something that I thought was rational, logical and workable and he would reject it out of hand. He was completely rebelling against anything that remotely resembled a “schedule.”

After agonizing about it for months, I finally I had to realize that this person simply wouldn’t bend that far to have a relationship and I had to let it go.

For months I was focused on the wrong thing. For months I was trying to develop a schedule that he would like or that worked for both of us. I kept thinking, wrongly, that if I only hit upon the right solution, all would be okay. It took me a long time to realize that NO solution would work for him. He simply wanted it to be left day-to-day. My life just didn’t work that way. I had to plan things. I had to know what I was doing. I had 3 kids, 3 jobs and I needed to know. He had NO consideration of that. He not only wanted to fly by the seat of his pants, he wanted me to do the same.

I was venting in frustration to a mutual friend of ours and the friend said, “Sounds like you’re pushing glue up a hill.” and yeah, that’s EXACTLY what it felt like. It’s hard and messy and pointless. And it was time to stop.

Although breaking up with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I could not go on feeling as if I was being strung along and unfairly accused of trying to “control” the relationship because I had proposed a schedule.

No matter how good it had been, it was not good anymore and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was wearing me down and wearing me out and it was ridiculous.

I had other situations where there was no book you could go to consult about it. There was no chart, no list of “this is okay and this is not.” There is no book that says, “If your boyfriend does not want to work with you to schedule time together then get rid of him.”

I had to figure out if this was acceptable to me. I found it was not. It wasn’t clear at the time but after thinking long and hard and being satisfied that I had REALLY tried to work it out, I had to let it go.

I dated another guy long distance who had some weird habits that I didn’t discover until later because we had been in a long distance relationship. What he did was not necessarily a deal-breaker for a lot of people but it was a deal-breaker for me.

Then this one was cheap and this one was cranky and this one was a flake. Or whatever. I felt like I was plowing through relationships. It was like being on that show Next! and there were a lot of bozos on the bus.

Friends of mine told me that I was too picky and that my standards were too high.

I decided, after thinking long and hard about it, that I didn’t like the things my friends were accepting (the ones who told me my standards were too high) and I didn’t want to put up what they were putting up with.

At one point I decided I’d rather be alone than put up with much of anything.

My friends told me I would be alone.

Well I’m not alone and I did find someone to meet my high standards.

But when I was sorting out my standards and what was acceptable and unacceptable, I didn’t KNOW that I would ever find someone who could meet those standards. All I knew was what I DIDN’T want in my life.

I talk to people all the time who are putting up with the most horrible of things. Why I do not know. Fear of being alone? Still in love with what once was but will never be again? Think you deserve this poor treatment? Afraid you can’t make it on your own? Afraid it’s all your fault? What?

I can only say that NO ONE DESERVES TO BE MISTREATED. Not called names, not given enough attention, not abused or neglected or not given the right treatment. NO ONE DESERVES IT.

Everyone deserves to be loved and to be TREATED WITH LOVE. If the people around you…family, friends, lovers….don’t treat you CONSISTENTLY with love and respect, find people who will. YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT UP WITH. Don’t put up with mistreatment. You can find people who will act like they love you. love yourself first.

Raise those standards.


I had a friend that I’ve written about on here before who was in an abusive relationship…I helped her leave it (probably my first rescue…I went over there like I was the A team…all 5′2 of me taking on this beast of a boyfriend)…she left it, stopped and worked on herself and met a guy who wasn’t overtly abusive…the first one was probably the most abusive person I’ve ever known…but wasn’t a peach either.

Over the course of 2 years he did a lot of really crappy stuff to her. And like the first time I listened and I advised and I cajoled and I joked and I cried and I really kept pulling her along, thinking that she was just pretty stubborn and would get that this guy was a bonehead. We went away and talked about him. She would leave in a huff and come to my house for the weekend and do nothing but talk about him. They would have a fight early Saturday morning and he would storm out and she would call me on and off throughout the day (as he came and went).

One Saturday night I was making dinner for two friends who were coming over. She called right before they showed up and I cut right to the chase because I didn’t have time for this nonsense and I said, “Look, if he were my boyfriend, he would have been bounced a long time ago.” and she said, “Well that’s because your standards are impossibly high.”

Right. Okay, but me of impossibly high standards was about to sit down to a quiet and fun dinner with two friends while she was going back for go-round 212 of the day with bonehead boyfriend. So whose life was out of whack?

When bonehead boyfriend asked her to marry him and I didn’t jump up and down for joy she accused me of not being a friend. All her other friends were happy for her. Well, all her other friends didn’t listen to her moan about him for 2 years. I did. She was obviously mad at me and I wasn’t calling her to apologize because I didn’t think I had anything to apologize for.

So I had to evaluate this friendship. Did I really want any more of this? No, I didn’t. And we never really talked after that. I really felt that for all my output in the friendship, even if I was wrong for not being happy, (and I wasn’t wrong), I would like to have had some slack given. But none was. So I was done.

I didnt’ have to explain to her that I wouldn’t put up with her bf, but I wouldn’t. And after a while I was done putting up with her. I was done. It wasn’t that I wasn’t being understanding or I was leaving a friend during her happiest moment, it’s that I had enough. Not only had I counseled her all through this stupid relationship but now I was being condemned for not being THRILLED over her impending nuptials to Mr. Bananahead.

Mr. Bananahead got a ton of free rides. A TON. After his crappy performances, all was forgiven and forgotten…now that they were walking down the aisle, the whole damn slate was going to be wiped.

In our 10 plus years as friends I didn’t need any free rides. The one time I did, it wasn’t there. So now I wasn’t there either.

Another friend that I’ve written about on her got into a relationship and every time I saw her I realized I was an after thought. She watched the clock, we didn’t have long conversations on the phone anymore, we didn’t have our weekly night out anymore…so many things…

I hung on for TWO YEARS thinking that I would just give the honeymoon period time to sort itself out. But I started to think that all the time she spent with me was just some kind of placeholder between relationships. It hurt, it was upsetting and with my abandonment issues, I really couldn’t handle it, but I tried SO HARD thinking that is what a good friend would do. But I kept squelching my thoughts that a good friend would take time for me….which she no longer did.

I was torn up when I realized that she simply didn’t really care that I wasn’t in her life the way I once had been. I was closer to her than I’ve ever been to anyone else and she just transferred our closeness to her relationship and was now close to that person. I realized that it wasn’t that I mattered when we were close friends, she just wanted someone close in her life. So while I was mourning the end of OUR friendship, she was just transferring her closeness to me to someone else.

It wasn’t that way for me. When I was in a relationship (which was for most of the time we were friends), I valued her friendship for its unique qualities and her for her unique qualities. She wasn’t just a placeholder.

There had been warning signs that she was like this. She had stood me up once when she was dating someone else but I called her on it and she apologized and swore it would never happen again. But she had gotten lost in that relationship…because that is what she did…and it wasn’t a tenth as serious as the last one.

This was my closest friend. I truly loved her and had wonderful memories of our 8 years as best friends. We had been through a lot together and were as close as any two people could be without having a physical relationship (or maybe we were closer). But she didn’t value me anymore.

I spent two years, TWO YEARS, hanging onto a shadow of what used to be trying to wait out the honeymoon period but it was gone. I couldn’t just pop over there, I couldn’t have hours long phone calls, I couldn’t call past 10 pm (and we used to call each other in the middle of the night, insomniacs both of us), I didn’t have our weekly outing any more. All of that was gone from my life and I hadn’t gotten a vote on it. I was just supposed to be the understanding friend. Not the friend that maybe missed all of that. Missed her.

And all she did was talk about her relationship and what her new person thought of this and that (so many times I wanted to scream: I DON’T CARE!!!).

We had driven each other to the airport all the time when we were friends. After she got into the relationship she said “K says that traffic is going to be bad tomorrow so we should leave earlier.” I said I was leaving when I said I was leaving. She said “Well K drives on Rt x every day.” and I said “The OPPOSITE way!” I’m thinking to myself, “Why am I arguing this? We have never argued about what time to leave for the airport before and I’ve never missed my flight.” She and I were both late leavers whereas K was chronically early. I didn’t WANT TO BE EARLY. Suddenly this was a problem. I bought a house and she said, “K said you need to get a burglar alarm.” I wanted to say “WHO THE F IS K TO SAY WHAT I SHOULD GET? I’m older than K, I’ve had houses longer than K, I know what the hell I’m doing.”

And so it went…

And when I finally got upset with her, between the abandonment, the lack of time together and the all-knowing K commentary, I could take no more . And her response? To get mad at me. To never ever ever attempt to reconcile our friendship. And like I suggest here, I went totally NC and it was horrendous for me. It was torture. Seriously. I am very proud of myself that this blog was nearly a year old before I ever mentioned her at all because the grief period was long and hard but it’s been years and I don’t care anymore.

I grieved the friendship for two years in stunned disbelief that I had been a placeholder, that she didn’t miss me, didn’t value me for my unique-me ness. I just happened to have been the closest person to her in between relationships. It cut like a knife.

In all 3 of these situations, for me it was about what I wanted and what I deserved. It was about who I am and what my issues are and how I take responsibility for them but I have to honor them as well.

With friend one’s boyfriend: yes I have high standards but they’re not impossible. I would have shoved him off a roof if he did half of the things he did to her to me. Maybe she’s more forgiving or loving than me. Or maybe she’s stupider and more desperate. I wouldn’t have put up with him for a NY minute.

With friends 1 and 2. I’m sure that their issue with me was that I didn’t respect their relationships enough. I was supposed to respect their relationships more than they respected our friendship and me.

I decided no. With each of them I felt I gave it enough time and enough energy and I could take no more. I didn’t want to be counselor and advisor to my friend after her crappy relationship turned into her crappy marriage.

With friend 2 I no longer wanted to accept the crumbs of time she threw me so she could carry on with her codependent enmeshed relationship. I didn’t want to be around that anymore.

These are my standards. They are what they are. They take me and my sensitivities and my guilt for those sensitivities into consideration.

I can only go so far and do so many thing with people who are not giving me the love, respect and TIME that I deserve.

Those are my standards.

Other people might think I should have just EVOLVED into mini-Friend in response to wedding/relationship but I didn’t want to.

Each time I had to decide what was right for me….and whether or not I needed to keep my standards or my friends.

I kept my standards.

That’s all.

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