settling down

Summary: My thoughts on romantic love and “settling down” as a woman is expected to by age 30, otherwise she is considered a “Leftover Woman” in some cultures.

I’ve always placed a high emphasis on relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic. As a people-pleaser for most of my life, I frequently cast aside my own needs for others.

My Chinese culture and upbringing emphasized harmony, cooperation, and a team mentality. I was always very eager to make my family proud and my friends happy.

My views on romantic love were no exception. I thought the noblest kind of love was the one where you sacrifice everything for your partner.

Yes, I completely bought into the fantasies from Disney and anime/manga of meeting my perfect soulmate one day and being swetp away to a Happily Ever After.

And I also struggled with self-love and acceptance for most of my life. I didn’t feel “enough” or “worthy” of a fantastic relationship.

So it’s no surprise that these all set me up for unhealthy, even toxic, ones.

I was extremely shy and had my first crush in 5th grade (which lasted 5 years!), but I didn’t dare make a move. In fact, I did the stereotypical opposite, getting too tongue-tied and nervous that I ended up ignoring/avoiding him, conveying the exact opposite of what I had wanted to. I didn’t think he could like me back anyway, and didn’t want to ruin whatever tentative friendship we did have.

As I’ve looked back on old journals, I was shocked at the things I had said about myself. I definitely thought no one could possibly be interested in me. I was overweight, not girly enough, and too much of a slob, as I’d often be told by my family.

“If you want to get a guy, you need to lose 20 pounds, start wearing makeup and tighter-fitting clothing, be more coy and flirtatious, etc.” The media didn’t help either, shoving model after model of how attractive women “should” look or behave.

I was so shocked and overjoyed when someone told me they liked me in 12th grade!! I entered my first relationship with all my Disney ideals and fell in love quickly, since I loved the idea of being in love and sharing all these sweet, wonderful, and sappy moments with someone.

I was completely blind to red flags that he didn’t truly respect or value me, such as not standing up for me to his family who wanted him to focus on his studies, or not being supportive in a time of panic.

I won’t go into too much detail, but needless to say, I ended up with my heart severely broken. There was also some betrayals of trust, which left me so emotionally damaged that I didn’t really heal until several years later.

It was also around that same time that a close family member revealed something shocking about their marriage as well, which left me without any good role models for love, and subsequently, I lost even more hope.

For a while I villainized men, thinking they were lazy, incompetent, oblivious, placed too much emphasis on appearances and would just cheat if they had the chance or leave for a younger woman, etc. I was a proud feminist, but likely too radical of one for a good while.

I also became cynical, since about 50% of marriages end in divorce anyway, and even more stay married, but unhappily so. My odds were so low, I almost gave into others’ beliefs that “marriage is just a financial contract, since love will always fade after some time.”

It took me a long time to realize that these subconscious beliefs were not serving me, and actively barring me from getting to where I wanted to be.

I also realized that romantic relationships are intimately linked to familial relationships from childhood, and I couldn’t truly be ready for a healthy romantic relationship if I didn’t heal first from my past.

Rather than a secure attachment style, I have elements of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. This likely stemmed from the trauma of an abandonment before I could even remember, from I moved from China to the U.S.

They promised my closest caregiver would be there waiting for me, but he wasn’t. My mom also left China when I was 6 months old, and I never even met my dad until I was nearly 3.

The love from my family, though they tried their best, also felt inconsistent and unpredictable, since they were struggling with their own demons. I felt this huge pressure to achieve; I wasn’t sure I would be loved if I didn’t get straight As, came home on time, or otherwise was a “good girl.”

A few moments were imprinted forever, such as having the door slammed in my face (“If you like it so much out there with your friends, just stay out there!”) when I came home a bit after sunset, or a barrage of criticism and shaming when I got my first and only 78 on a quiz.

I can see now that they meant well, but these shock/scare tactics are psychologically damaging for children and can even be counterproductive to the “success” that families push them towards.

I felt so strongly about this that I founded the “Acceptsians” movement, which aims to change harsh parenting cultures (such as traditional Asian “Tiger Parenting”) to ones with more love and acceptance. The A in Asian should be for Accept, not for Achieve.

acceptsian manifesto asian culture exception

It’s important to give children a loving, stable environment and to teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes. Perfectionism can drive people to develop unhealthy self-esteem, self-worth, and other mental health issues.

I don’t blame anyone (anymore, admittedly), since we are all human and we’re all doing the best that we can. But it took a lot of time, reflection, awareness, and effort to get there.

My healing journey took me a really long time. I had a handful more of unhealthy romantic relationships where I so wanted to be loved, to make up for deficits I felt from earlier on, that I settled for less than I deserved.

I desperately wanted someone to complete me, another toxic view pervasive in our culture (“You’re my other half. I can’t live without you.” etc), and I overly relied on someone else for my happiness (the definition of co-dependence).

I now see that truly healthy relationships involve 2 wholes, not 2 halves. People who are complete, independently happy, and in love with their own lives can securely relate and create something even better together. They can enhance each other’s lives and bring out the best in one another.

I’m searching not for 0.5 + 0.5 = 1, but 1 + 1 = 11.

settling down other half

I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way, swinging between being too clingy and being too avoidant/commitment-phobic. A lot of second-guessing or trying to stifle important needs. Miscommunication, running away, beating a dead horse, trying to change someone, pursuing emotionally unavailable partners.

I let relationships that already died long ago drag on for 3-4 years because I was so afraid of being alone and that I’d never find someone else to love me. It was such a mindset of scarcity and low self-worth.

But I see now that mistakes = growth and everyone partner has a lesson to teach us. If we repeat mistakes, it’s because we haven’t truly absorbed those lessons yet.

I had so much work to do on myself, and rushing the process of healing because I felt I had to settle down by age 30 would not have done justice to myself or the partner I would have married, or our future family.

I’m finally in a place now where I love myself enough to have the strength and self-respect to walk away from disrespectful treatment or unhealthy relationships, of any kind.

I don’t need someone to love me, because I already love myself. Of course I want and welcome amazing people into my life, but there’s a huge difference between want and need.

My thoughts during dates have shifted from “Oh gosh does he like me? What can I do/change to gain his attention/approval?” to “Do I like him? Would we fit well together?” I am clear on what kind of person I’m looking for, my needs, wants, and deal-breakers.

Searching for love is about finding the right fit, not about molding yourself to fit another person. That wouldn’t really be being authentic, and such a relationship couldn’t last.

Yes, compromises are important and inevitable, but we need to be able to clearly draw our boundaries of how far we will bend, before it starts becoming unhealthy.

I know that an unconventional lifestyle of financial freedom and extensive travel (or at least more travel than the usual 3 weeks of vacation per year in the standard 9-5 job) is vital to me. I’m aware it shrinks my potential pool of partners, but I wouldn’t truly be happy if I sacrificed that part of myself.

I want to see the world, but I don’t believe exploring and settling down are mutually exclusive. Home is where we feel love; it can be mobile and carried with us wherever we go, and there are even people raising families on the road through world-schooling.

I believe that there are several potential “soulmates” for each person out there, people we are compatible with and whom we could build a happy life together with, but it always does take work and effort to create an ideal partnership, and it needs to be a two-way street. There is so much more than what the “Happily Ever After”s shows.

I’m finally ready for a healthy love, and I respect myself enough to not settle for less than what I know in my gut I deserve, even though others remind me that my “biological clock is ticking” as a now 32-year-old and that I “shouldn’t be so picky” if I don’t want to end up a crazy cat lady or spinster.

settling down crazy cat lady

I used to be so afraid of this outcome. I used to feel desperate and like a loser/failure if I was single, especially as I approached age 30. In Asian cultures, you were considered a “Leftover Woman” and there was something wrong or broken with you because someone did not choose you for a partner by age 30.

We tend to congratulate people, especially women, more for marriages than for career or educational advances. People look at singles with pity, making assumptions that they do not remain single by choice, that it’s always better to be partnered than not.

I see now that that’s just not the case. Being partnered is not necessarily better than being single; there are pros and cons to each lifestyle, as shown by several studies.

It also depends on the person and their personal values. I know many people who are truly happier on their own, getting to make all of their own decisions and live life exactly their way. One even said to me how much of a hassle it is to consider where someone else wants to live or what to spend money on, and that he really valued his autonomy.

Asexual, aromantic, homosexual, bisexual, and polyamorous people exist and thrive, and these lifestyles should be respected just as much as the traditional monogamous heterosexual relationships. Love is love, no matter who or how many people are involved. Self-love is critical though, and a crucial ingredient in all of these.

Society tries to brainwash us that there is only ONE correct way to live or experience love. Or that there’s a timeline for when these “milestones” are supposed to happen.

Don’t give into the noise. You are on your own timeline of growth, discovery, and transformation. Don’t “settle down” unless you truly feel ready, and even desire it in the first place.
Having a life partner does not necessarily improve your life, and having children is not the only way to find satisfaction, meaning, and purpose, leave a legacy, or change this world for the better.

settling down

After much reflection, my personal values weigh more on creating a truly wonderful, conscious, and loving relationship, before considering a family. I do ideally want at least one biological child, but I’d rather adopt a child with the right partner than have a biological child with the wrong one.

I’d also rather be alone/single and free, than tied to a partner who wasn’t right for me or didn’t add to my already amazing life. Either way, I will be living my best life.

I’ve decided that my ideal romantic relationship is worth holding out for, and it will take the time that it takes. I wouldn’t have been ready any earlier, and I still don’t know with 100% certainty if I’m fully there yet, but I know I’m getting closer with each and every day.

Finding a relationship takes effort; I won’t just be swept away like in the movies, so I will continue to meet new people, put myself out there, and remain open to new connections.

And once I do, maintaining a loving relationship requires work as well. I am now more aware of my flaws and won’t automatically jump to my usual insecure or dismissive tendencies when I feel triggered.

It is possible to achieve an “earned secure attachment style,” one that I will proudly wear and which will positively impact all my relationships, including the one with myself.

I completely understand and respect those who value having biological children and choose to prioritize family over ideal romantic love. Nowadays there are so many option as well — sperm and egg donations, co-parenting with friends or family, freezing eggs, surrogate parents, etc.

Whatever you decide, you do you!! Whatever you choose is valid, enough, and worthy of respect and love. Live your choices boldly, without guilt or shame. If you’re struggling, ask yourself if there’s some area you need to heal first.

If some people don’t understand, please know that there are many who do!!! If you’re in need of support, I’d love to see how I can help. Please contact me here.


4 Responses

  1. Simple, beautifully said! Ending a 7 year relationship that was so toxic I was feeling sad and scared at least once a week was one of the best decision of my life. It felt terrifying until the moment when I finally realized it was better for me to be live authentically alone than live a lie with someone else.

    • Wow that’s so amazing you were able to come to that clarity and make that leap!! It’s scary sometimes to be alone, but it’s far worse to be unaligned with our true values and living inauthentically if we know deep down someone isn’t right for us! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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Who am I?
Hi! I'm Dr. Toni, a carTOONIst. I empower, educate and advocate for women and minorities through my art and coaching, while traveling nomadically. I help others also follow our hearts and live true to themselves, no matter what others say!
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