Reacher vs. Settler, Take 2

Posted on April 13, 2011


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Gleaning inspiration from none other than the awesome sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, I wrote a post a while back about the idea of Reachers vs. Settlers. You can view the post here. But with more time gone by, more experiences, and more thinking, I have more to add to the idea.

First, let me ask – is there any possible relationship that doesn’t involve one person caring more than the other person?

I’ve thought about this a lot. Do I have any relationships where I care more than the other person? Yes. And a lot. You would think the idea of caring would be a positive thing, right? That’s the motto I’ve lived most of my relationships by. If the person doesn’t genuinely annoy me, I really try to care. And usually that act of trying evolves and matures into genuine care that I develop for a person over time. But it seems that more times than not, I end up caring more than the other person. Is caring more than the other person equivalent to caring too much?

Let’s go back to the original question: is there any possible relationship that doesn’t involve one person caring more than the other person? Can two people equally care for another? I don’t know if I’m convinced this is possible. Can one person not reach, and the other person not settle?

We’ve all been on both sides of the table. There’s someone bugging you. Or well, you consider it “bugging” and want them to bug off. But you care for them. Well, when it’s convenient. Or when you don’t have anyone else to hang out with. Or you like the person, but he’s not exactly on your speed dial. Or among the first ten people you would call to hang out with. But you know he cares for you. He’s trying to hang out, or looking for a reason to talk. He’s reaching, you’re settling.

Or maybe you’re reaching. Reaching to hang out with a friend that seems to have time for you only once every three months. It’s frustrating, and you’re frustrated because you care. You care about the relationship and desire to make time for it. So does your friend. But not as much as you. That friend could settle for hanging out with you four times a year and consider it a normal, casual friendship. But you continue to reach until you’re tired of it. And then you quit, because you’re convinced that caring about the relationship more than the other person is a bad thing. Is it?

Some say (I still don’t know who some are) that jealousy is a good thing for a relationship. Jealousy might awaken a person’s feelings for what she has in a relationship and remind her that instead of settling for the person she shares the relationship with, she is an equal part of that relationship who isn’t interested in giving up parts of the relationship. Thus, she suddenly cares more.

Romantic relationships seem to be some of the best examples of how this takes place, but jealousy is certainly not limited  only to romantic relationships. It happens with friendships, siblings, and parent-child relationships as well. You’ve watched the parent who’s jealous of the babysitter for stealing his/her child’s affections. And of course there’s the ever popular love triangle that inserts itself into every teen drama on television (if you’ve ever been part of one, it can get a little crazy!)

The reason I’m honing in on jealousy is that it plays such a large role in the idea of reaching and settling. Reaching implies that a person cares and desires more time, love, affection, or a significant relationship quality(s) with the person more than the other person with whom he or she shares a relationship. Settling, the opposite. Jealousy is the middle guy who comes in to propose a balance. The settler starts to reach more, and the reacher realizes he’s tired of reaching and begins to settle. It’s a cycle that can have vicious results. And sometimes jealousy doesn’t even have to step in. Sometimes the reacher might decide that what she’s doing–reaching–isn’t worth the hassle. And sometimes the settler might get frustrated with the reacher ALWAYS reaching, or get bored with the relationship and decide to move on.

I still don’t know whether the idea of “caring less” when you’re the reacher is a going to get a person anywhere good in the relationship. But I could agree that a settler caring more certainly couldn’t hurt things. Well, as long as the settler genuinely cares.

The moral of the reacher/settler story is the need for relationships to obtain balance. A relationship may never be completely  balanced. And the two people within the relationship might switch between being the reacher and being the settler. But what I can definitely say with full belief is that your relationships with the most balance tend to be the best ones you have.