five reasons to stop calling it "settling down"

fun doesn't end when you couple up.

illustration by liz riccardi

The combining of words is like a drug for me. I'm always trying to do it better, funnier, cleverer. But in my writing endeavors I often come across phrases that simply need to retire, and fade into forgotten memory. Here's one idiom that needs its jersey hung up: Settling Down. 

As will come as no shock to my friends, this post was inspired by a Buzzfeed video called 27 Things To Do Before You Settle Down. It's a PSA for anyone thinking of maybe falling in love with someone appropriate. Items to tick off ranged from the predictable (skydive, travel), to the reasonable (be financially independent, learn to cook), to the eyeroll-worthy (live alone, and jump on the futurniture, obvs). And while beautifully composed and set to lovely music, the video stung. Not because it was offensive or rude, but because it was just wrong. 

What is it about these 27 things you wouldn't be able to do in a relationship ? A long-term one, even? (Oooh, scary phrase). I also wondered why the creator chose the term "settling down." What does that phrase really mean? And why do we still use it? Here are the five reasons we should never say it again.

1. Why start at the end? The brass tacks of "settling down" is that you're done dating. You've found a person. That sounds like the start of something to me, not the end. "Settling down" itself sounds so glum, like the sound that plays when you lose on a game show. If we define partnering by its negatives (no more sex with new people, the gradual decline of passion, etc), it seems like we're starting something wonderful on the wrong foot. 

Maybe defining a new relationship with a coffin nail is why it holds fear for some. Why isn't it exciting to learn more about someone than anyone else ever will? What about being comfortable enough with someone to really experiment sexually doesn't sound like a good time? What do you have against splitting the rent, I ask you?! If we enter into something new with a "game over" mentality, won't we always long for the way things were when we were still playing? I'd rather start at a beginning than pull up a chair at the end. 

2. We still grow. You never stop achieving "you-ness." Your personality and experiences will always grow and mature, from now until the end of time. Coupling doesn't turn off your ability to continue with self-discovery. Unless they've locked you in a cage. Have they locked you in a cage? (The major exception to this, of course, is if you're in an abusive relationship. If you are, we recommend getting help from resources like The National Domestic Violence Hotline.)

We talk of love as this thrilling thing we crave. But we talk of three years after we've found that love as if we've had our wings clipped. A true partner wouldn't stop you from achieving goals, self-awareness, education—anything you choose to add to who you are. Isn't there confidence to be found in a strong home? Maybe it's just me, but if I could come home to love and friendship every night, I'd feel supported to accomplish whatever goal I want during the day. 

3. It still sexy. Settling down sounds like you're going to have zero fun at all with your partner. Forever. Last time I checked, sex on a regular basis and someone to make you breakfast tacos sounds like a damn good time. Maybe what we're referring to is the natural fading of passion over time. We all know what the third month of a relationship is like. We all know it's very different from the 36th month of a relationship. 

Here's one to add to your 27 things: Learn how to build passion. Are we so entitled that we think a relationship should always provide passion for us? That we don't have to make it ourselves? Passion is the same as any fire. You have to (sometimes literally) put some wood on it. What if we acknowledged that there will always be some mystery to our partners? What if we challenged ourselves to always see them as exciting? And when things naturally fall into routine, can't we just shake things up if we want to? Is that hard?

4. You're not sewn together. All independence is not lost once you fall in love. You can actually make plans without your partner. You can make certain decisions without your partner. You can (gasp!) travel and have fun without your partner! Heavens me, and I thought it was all pecks on the cheek and vacuuming. 

Who we are as individuals is who we were when our partners fell in love with us. Is it not logical to keep that individuality for their sake, as well as our own? A repeated phrase I see in my online dating travels is that straight men seem to want a woman who "has her own life." Are there women who don't? Are we just keeping some extras in a coma until they're selected by their partners to wake up and live? 

5. Grownups have more fun. I guess what struck and hurt the most was that most of the activities in this video were fun. They were fun activities that somehow need to be enjoyed before you find the partner you'll be doing fun things with for the majority of your years on earth. In my mind, and certainly in my house, fun doesn't end when you couple up or marry. Fun ends when you die. 

Little known fact: Being an adult is actually more fun than being a broke, ill-informed, shy-on-life-experience twenty-something. Every exciting moment and wild time can—wait for it—be had at any age, and again at any age after that. You're only as settled down as you decide to be. Spontaneity isn't something you have to throw out like your ugly coffee table when you commit to a relationship. I'd like to think just the opposite. Hold on fiercely to your sense of adventure, which might even be easier with four hands than two. 

I guess we're all free to define our life choices any way we want. And experiences we have out of love are certainly just as valuable as those we have in it. Love, commitment, fun, and freedom don't know an age, or an expiration date. I will never, under any circumstance, settle down. But I'm looking forward to partnering up.