"I Didn't Settle"

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, September 2009

"I can't believe that it was only a couple of years ago that I felt that life was not worth living, " she said with a wry smile, her eyes twinkling. Reaching down to pull the lever that made my office chair recline, she continued, "I thought you were nuts when you told me that the challenges I was facing would have meaning and purpose someday."

I stayed quiet as Pauline leaned back in the chair and gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling. She had come such a long way. A few years ago, the 43-year-old was devastated when her 20-year marriage ended. Her husband, whom she described as the love of her life, left with what he described as the love of his life. Pauline's world was shattered. Everything she held dear was in question. Her intelligence, career goals, femininity, family values and her sense of self-worth were in turmoil.

Catapulted into a mental space that demanded she take a good hard look at herself, Pauline rose to the occasion and dove into deep, core-work therapy. This was not only about recovering from her grief and loss, but also for the first time, actively looking at who she was and what she wanted out of her life.

"When I look back on this whole journey of recovery and self-discovery, I laugh when I remember how I thought that was the hard part," Pauline sighed. "When you started pushing on me to create the vibrant life I have always wanted, I figured out that the hardest part was about to begin."

Pauline sat upright in the reclined chair and widened her deep brown eyes. "I remember the first time you asked me if I had considered dating, again." She flopped back into the chair feigning being shot and started laughing. I smiled at the joy radiating from her face. "That opened up a whole other can of worms. Dating! My first thought was how would I ever trust men again. It absolutely frightened me to death."

The silence hung in the air for a few moments as we both considered her words. "I think the turning point was when it became clear that the person I needed to trust was myself, not men," Pauline whispered. "It amazes me to think of how many times you had to tell me not to settle, but to follow my vision of a vibrant life. This dating gig is not so much about trying to meet the perfect guy, but about staying true to yourself while being available to the world."

I looked at her and smiled, caught up in her enthusiasm. "So tell me about him. Details, woman, details," I encouraged with a laugh.

"For starters," Pauline replied as she pushed the recliner into an upright position, "I didn't settle."