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09/07/2014 09:54 EDT | Updated 11/07/2014 05:59 EST

Feigned Love: The Art of Settling

Daniel Laflor via Getty Images

The new age of dating makes me sad. I am a 30-year-old bachelor living in Toronto. I have a good job, a ton of ambition, a great circle of friends, and so on and so forth; I am extremely fortunate. I have had my share of girlfriends and recently one very serious relationship that almost changed the entire course of my life.

If you are around my age, you are now in a place where you are surrounded by friends and family who are engaged or married, pregnant or parents, and who are becoming more unavailable to you by the day. You find yourself longing for someone to help fill your hours; to find that someone who can help bridge the gap that is forming between your solitary existence and the lives of the couples who surround you.

Towards the end of 2012 at the age of 28, I felt this urgency and created an online dating profile. I was sick and tired of flying solo everywhere I went. Seemingly everyone around me had someone and although I didn't really know what I was trying to find, I felt like I was missing out.

The world of online dating is dangerous. After a few months of awkward dates and relationships that lasted but a few weeks, I finally connected with someone on a deeper level. We seemed to be in the same place and wanted the same things; or at least the things that I had convinced myself I wanted. Long story short, we dated for a few months and quickly moved in together before one day I realized that I was unhappy and living a complete lie. It all ended quite abruptly and I hurt someone deeply who never deserved such pain; despite the circumstances, this was the greatest learning experience, and best decision, of my life.

I had settled.

2014 Dain wants to beat 2013 Dain over the head with a manhole cover. It's unfathomable for me to look back to last year and even understand what I was thinking. In a nutshell, I gave up on being me. I accepted marriage and children as an inevitability and changed the course of my life to fit a square peg into a round hole. I had gone to school, traveled, landed a good job, had my fun and the next step was settling down.

What I didn't realize was that settling down meant changing my entire life, forever. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against marriage or children. I'm against giving up on yourself, your lifestyle, your interests and your goals. I'm against cramming a lifelong monogamous relationship into a timeline that's been forced down your throat by your parents, the media and almost every other outlet imaginable.

I can imagine someday meeting someone with whom I can truly be myself and share my life, but it will only lead to a successful partnership if I'm happy with who I am, if she's happy with who she is, and if our lives can merge while allowing us both to continue to thrive as individuals while mutually loving one another for that exact reason.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please stop what you're doing and take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. Check your identity, your values and the things that truly make you happy. Are you living for you? Or are you going through the motions that have been spoon-fed to you since you were a child? Marriage and children are a lifelong commitment. How do you want to find yourself waking up in three years? Five years? Ten years? Is that the path you want to go down? Or do you want to stay the course and chase your own unique path? You, and only you, are in control of the rest of your life and how you live it. If being married and having a family is truly what will make you happy regardless of the accompanying near-complete lack of autonomy, then chase that dream. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, if this thought ties your stomach in knots and leaves you gasping for air, think twice about simply doing what you're "supposed" to do because you're "in your 30s" and it's "time to settle down."

Worried that you're settling? Not sure if you're in love or just going through the motions? Speaking from experience, here is your guide to the Art of Settling:

Step #1: Make a Checklist

Create a list in your head of all the "important" qualities you want in a partner. Great examples include vague definitions like: educated, good family, would make a good mother/father, employed, sense of humour, relatively fit, etc. In theory, this list could set you up with a suitable mate. Unfortunately, this list defines a lot of people (especially given the subjectivity of the criteria) and does not cover anything regarding the personality and compatibility of a potential partner. A list like this gets you searching for the wrong things and can land you in a serious relationship with a person who is good on paper, but whose personality may annoy you at best and infuriate you at worst. Especially if you start to...

Step #2: Compromise and Justify

In my pursuit of a partner, I was once advised that no matter the outcome of the first two dates, I must always give the person a third date. The logic here is that you'll never fully give someone a chance until you meet them for a third time...right. Indeed, this is a phenomenal strategy for a person looking to settle for someone they would otherwise not enjoy being around. Here's the reality of this situation -- the more times you see someone, the more you'll both be able to mask the things you don't want to reveal and highlight the things the other wants to see. Sadly, this is how many relationships develop, and ultimately, how most fail in the end. If you ever find yourself thinking, "He's not really what I imagined, but he's nice, and he treats me well so..." -- Get out! You are settling. You live once, so make it count! Or continue to...

Step #3: Ignore Your Instincts

This goes hand in hand with Rule #1. Once you've made the decision that you want a long-term relationship, it's easy to shrug off obvious red flags. Examples: Your lifestyle includes fitness and health, but it's probably OK that she goes out a lot and doesn't take care of herself right? Wrong. You're educated and well-employed, but it's probably fine that he's only looking for a housewife right? Wrong. He probably only didn't wear deodorant this one time right? Wrong. Seriously folks, there are literally billions of people in this world -- why are you settling for someone who doesn't share your values, principles and lifestyle? People don't change, and especially not at the whim of a new partner. Where there's smoke, there's fire. Move on, or be prepared to...

Step #4: Abandon All Selfishness

I want to make him/her the happiest man/woman in the world! I guess this is noble and sweet and stuff, but if someone can't make themselves the happiest they can be, you certainly shouldn't have to burden that load. This is my biggest problem with relationships -- I am (surprisingly) an introvert and I love time to myself. I love the lifestyle that I've created and I'm not willing to sacrifice what I have to fall in line with the demands of another person. I don't want to have to constantly consider the expectations of another and I don't want anyone else to have to alter their decision-making to appease me. I'm not saying that you shouldn't give up certain things for the person you love (you absolutely should be willing to do so), but you shouldn't have to give up a majority of the things that make you happiest in life. Stick to your guns, be honest with yourself, and you won't fall into this trap. A little selfishness is very, very acceptable. If you get to this point though, you've probably already started to...

Step #5: Turn Your Lies Into Truths

This is where I really got myself in trouble. I absolutely convinced myself that I wanted to be with one woman, that I wanted a family (soon) and that I was totally committed to this lifestyle for the rest of my life. I'm not sure how it was possible, but I did it. In the end, those things were all lies, but I had converted them to truths in my head. When I started online dating, I just wanted to find someone to spend my time with, but it was a slippery slope. Every time I connected with a new person, the same game repeated itself: Who are you? What are you looking for? What do you want in a partner? The jukebox continued to play the same song, but my tune began to change. By the time I met my eventual girlfriend, I was in "All-in Mode". I was sick and tired of defeat and wanted to prove (To myself? To the world?) that I could be in a committed relationship and that I could be that perfect guy. Which leads me to the final step...

Step #6: Become A Different Person

The moment that you start to change your own thoughts and opinions in an effort to become more compatible with someone else is the moment that your potential relationship becomes a complete farce. If you cannot be yourself and express your true opinions around someone, that person is simply not for you. This is where online dating really rears its ugly head. Online dating allows people to become whoever they want. You can create a profile with your best pictures from your best times and you can repeatedly recreate yourself over and over until you finally catch someone who is interested in what you've become. Online dating is a place that I will never revisit. I understand when people vie for this option, but I cannot endorse it less. If you want to meet some new people and give yourself a chance at a fairly-organic relationship, just go download Tinder; I'd elaborate, but that's a topic for another day.

It makes me sad to see so many people out there feeling so empty without a partner. I've been there, and it's a strange place. In hindsight, I was wasting my energy trying to become something that I wasn't and not only did I end up stunting my own growth as a person, but I ended up hurting someone who deserved much better. Ladies and gentlemen, please learn to live for you. Find something you love and fill your life with it. The only way that anyone will ever love the real you is if you love yourself first, and have a life full of things that make you happy. Be true to yourself, live your life doing the things you love, and the rest of the story will happily write itself!

Stay tuned for my follow-up article: How To Be Thirty, Single, Awesome and Happy

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