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Yet More Unsolicited Relationship Advice:
How I Settled For Your Mother

  Reacher and settler.

  Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, I’ve got a audio clip of it here, a couple of blog posts addressing it, and then there’s the fact that almost every sitcom in existence relies upon this absolutely stupid idea. How many shows do we have a schlubby, useless husband with an attractive, clearly more intelligent wife? The implicit relationship is that of the reacher and settler - comb through the TV Tropes page (itself affectionately named “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife”) on it and you’ll see it plain as day.

  It’s stupid. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist in real life, because I’ve seen it and wanted to punch people who advocate it. But just because something exists doesn’t make it a good idea (see also: cat copter, pay day loans, the movie Mirror, Mirror). In fact, I would go so far as to argue that this type of relationship is poisonous to not one, but both parties. Okay, maybe not poisonous, per se, but it implies a lot of nasty things about everyone involved.

  And, since I’ve dedicated my life to ruining things, shall we settle in for some more unsolicited relationship device? By god, I think we shall!


  In case you were incredibly lazy and did not click a single link above, the reacher is the “lackey” in the relationship, whether implicit or explicitly stated. They are average or below-average in any number of categories: attractiveness, income, intelligence, yam growing, whatever. At best, there’s nothing special about them. At worst, they are actively trash.

  Their role in the relationship, then, is to be the “stable” one. In the How I Met Your Mother example which was outlined in the linked audio clip above, the reacher exists to never stray because, simply put, no one else would take them. They know they’ve got the best they can do – even if their companion is out of their league – so they will never, ever leave.

  At first glance, they would appear to be the “winner” in this situation. After all, we love an underdog, right? And wouldn’t it be heartwarming if someone who looks like an overweight foot lands a Victoria’s Secret model? What a great world, huh?

  We’ll get to that.

  And because apparently television has a hard time not speaking in code, the “Reacher” is almost always gendered male. If anyone can think of an example where they’re not, I’m all ears.


  Ah, the settler. The inspiration for this wonderful ditty. The one in the relationship who decides that, against all reason, they’re going to just nod their head and go with the dipshit. Their personality varies widely: they can be patient, understanding, and kind; they can be annoying, shrill, and nagging. The one trait that they seem to share is that they make sure everyone knows, at the very least implicitly, that the reacher is goddamn lucky that the settler tolerates their presence.

  The role they play in the relationship... you know, I’m not quite sure. They subtly control the reacher through their behavior and vague threats, but do they really exercise that much power? If we look at television, they’re usually relegated to nagging antagonist/moral support roles. I guess they’re supposed to be the moral heart of the show or something, but for the most part they exist to remind audiences about irritating gender roles. And speaking of gender roles, the “Settler” is pretty much guaranteed to be a woman. Because we can’t have nice things, dammit. But since “gendered reinforcement of behavior” is not a career, I’m left still curious as to why this is such a popular idea.

  At the end of the day, I just don’t know for sure. And, quite frankly, this topic depresses me. But it does bring me to the first of two major questions that need to be asked about these situations.

  Why would the Settler want the Reacher?

  So, we’ve already established that the settler is the “better” of the two, right? Can we all agree on that? Through the miracle of genetics, they have won the jackpot and are attractive, smart, and not covered in boils. Always a good thing. But, despite their superiority, they always seem to mate downward, either in a direct effort to dilute their genes or sheer laziness. The thing is, this kind of behavior is antithetical to preserving the species outside of the “spread your seed” mentality – wouldn’t you want the best possible mate?

  “But Jonathan,” you shriek in defense of your favorite sitcoms, “you’re looking at this from too austere of a perspective! These people love each other!”

  I’m glad you brought this up, voice in my head. Take a look at these characters’ behavior. Do you think the settler legitimately loves their partner? I would posit that no, they certainly do not.

  Let’s take a look at this power dynamic through this highly detailed graphic:

Yup, I think this about sums it up.

As you can see, there’s a definite power relationship here. The reacher is at the top, the settler on the bottom. How exactly could love, something which is typically reliant on the concept of mutual respect, really exist in a dynamic where someone clearly holds all the cards? That’s not love – that’s coercion.

  If the settler entered into this relationship specifically to achieve that dynamic, namely so they don’t have to worry about their partner straying, they did it so they did not have to earn their partner’s respect/love/whatever. The affection was already given, in the “Golly, gosh, a pretty person’s talking to me!” kind of way. Why bothering even remembering their birthday if your partner is just so goddamn lucky that you even acknowledge your existence?

  But let’s take this logic a little further, shall we? If the settler has no fear of their partner straying, then what exactly is the check on the settler? The fact is there really isn’t any. What, praytell, is the reacher going to do if the settler starts flirting at work and accepting mixtapes from attractive members of their preferred gender? Not a fucking thing, that’s what. Remember: they’re just lucky to exist in the same time zone as someone as wonderful as the settler. Forget their feelings, the sub-human filth.

  So, what, exactly would compel someone to do this? Why would someone willingly become an asshole just to make sure their partner doesn’t stray?

  Just think about that for a second.

  Settlers, by their very nature, it seems, are fucked in the head (which I’m assured in the sciencey term for it). They clearly have incredibly low self-esteem, so they seek out people that they know they can control or, at the very least, they don’t have to worry about sleeping with anyone who looks at them sideways. The problem with this, though, is that low self-esteem is not just a personality quirk – it’s a major aspect of some people’s behavior. That whole “jealousy/fear prevention” thing can not work when its root cause is so damaging to a person’s psyche.

  What begins to happen is a complete inversion of the original power structure’s intent:

You Cannot Grasp The Nature of The Relationship!
You Cannot Grasp the True Form of the Relationship!

How this manifests is different depending on the person. In some cases, you’ll get rampant paranoia about who their partner gets to hang out with. In other cases, you’ll have constant, irritating reminders of how pathetic their partner is and how lucky they are to have them. If it sounds like a rollicking good time, you may want to get your head checked. And by “checked” I mean “punched”.

  Even if everything else isn’t true, then there is still one major facet of this relationship that permanently cripples this whole idea of safety, and it’s not from the reacher. If you enter into a relationship knowing that you can do better, what’s really compelling you to stay? Sure, you may grow affectionate to the greasy little dweeb, you may have kids, you may be comfortable... but you can clearly achieve all these things with someone more desirable. So...

  What’s stopping you?

  Why would the Reacher want the Settler?

  “Well this one’s easy!” you can shout, but you’re wrong.

  You see, the settler has purposefully entered into a situation where they are perpetually at a disadvantage. Even if “love” is involved, it’s heavily qualified. The settler has made it clear that they know the reacher can do no better. That, even if they were to stray, the settler will be the best thing in their life no matter what. Why would anyone want to be in a relationship where your only function is to act as a security blanket so someone doesn’t die alone?

  On top of that, the reacher is now locked into a situation where there are strict rules of conduct which apply only to them. The settler is supposed to be above such things as jealousy – after all, the reacher can’t do better. However, the reacher is routinely expected to be fiercely jealous – once again, either explicitly or implicitly. The settler, as the “better” one, gets to engage in any relationship they feel like, with the only adverse effect being that their partner will get jealous. But, thanks to that lovely power dynamic, who gives a shit?

  This will also lead to something that I find particularly awful – the idea that one person in a relationship is always right. You see this absolutely shit idea in movies and television all the time, and it has bled over to real life enough where I’ve noticed morons complaining about it. When you have this kind of relationship, the settler (the “better” one, ‘member?) has clear authority and can claim “correctness” in almost any situation. And then, if they so choose, they don’t have to admit they were wrong, either. Through the selective highlighting of their suggestions, this gives off the illusion that their ideas in every situation are beyond reproach. At least to stupid people. And if this whole Reacher/Settler thing is supposed to be an accurate representation of the real world, the reacher most certainly is guaranteed to be kind of dumb.

  Why would a reacher want to be in that kind of situation? Why would they want to be in any relationship where their flaws are constantly the focal point of arguments? And then, after they’ve been derided for being wrong, why would the continue to come crawling back to someone who clearly loathes them?

  Because their self-esteem is shit, too.

  The settler is viewed as a “prize” in this situation. After all, if you look under the definitions I gave above, I stated that reachers were the clear “winners”, right? The settler knows this and pretty much uses this fact to put nothing into the relationship. The entire thing is predicated on the reacher being okay with their “prize”. It’s pathetic. Imagine winning a stuffed bear at a fair, and the thing continually insults you and tells you that you should be lucky to have it. Wouldn’t you throw the condescending piece of fluff in the trash or, at the very least, mail it to someone you hate? Why, then, would someone tolerate it from a flesh-and-blood human?

  And then there’s that stupid idea of jealousy. Anecdotally speaking, there are numerous people who claim that jealousy is a healthy and important part of a relationship. As someone who has a functioning brain stem, let me tell you that these people are idiots. If you’ll remember, the only person who’s supposed to be jealous in this relationship is the reacher. But, they’re not really allowed to say anything about it, now are they? After all, they’re just lucky they’re there. That creates a really, really unhealthy situation where one person’s feelings aren’t even considered in the overall relationship.

  On top of that, the shitty self-esteem of the settler also makes it so that there’s a good chance they will start getting jealous. And what if the reacher doesn’t actually care enough to be jealous? Or they’re just kind of laid back in general, and aren’t the jealous type? Well, then that low self-esteem will kick into overdrive, fueling a paranoid descent into nagging and blatant attempts to get the reacher to throw a punch or have any kind of jealous response. You know – in order to validate the settler’s smug sense of superiority.

  The final major point of this is really, why would you want to willingly partake in a relationship where you are viewed in a subordinate position? Sure, you can rationalize it away. You can put someone on a pedestal and pretend to be an undeserving white knight who simply does the settler’s bidding, but that loses its appeal really quickly. You can even agree with the mentality that you’re actually deserving to be in a lower position, instead of an equal one. But I would argue that you shouldn’t be in a relationship to begin with if you feel that your needs automatically come after someone else’s – especially if that someone else is supposed to be a partner. Everyone deserves better than to be in a situation where everything – from their looks and opinions to their knowledge and abilities – are constantly denigrated.

  Well, I can think of a few exceptions, but that’s beside the point.

  I guess what I’m saying here is that if you’re the kind of miserable person who thinks this kind of relationship is normal, you’re going to end up seeking out another miserable person so you can be miserable together. Or, potentially worse, you’re going to take someone who’s not awful and drag them down to your level. Long story short, stop getting your relationship advice from the television.

  Get it from me, instead.

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