“It’s impossible not to constantly wonder if there’s something better, someone better.”
My good female friend picked up her third glass of Syrah-Merlot and continued: “If I could only choose between three decent guys, it’d be a done deal. I’d be married already.”
I nodded. Having options—perceived infinite choice—isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. How, then, do you tame indecision, particularly in relationships?
The following guest post, written by Claire Williams, explores some of the more successful approaches… and realizations.
In 2000, Drs. Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper set up a tasting booth at an upscale grocery store in California. On some days, they put out a selection of six types of jam; on other days they set out twenty-four. Although the wider selection attracted more shoppers, more people bought the jam when there were fewer options. It seemed the more choices people had, the harder it was to make a decision.
The Paradox of Choice explored this infamous dilemma, in which having more options tends to leave us paralyzed and increase our buyer’s remorse. But what does that mean when you’re not just shopping? What about when you’re doing much more important stuff…like picking a job, a house, or – gasp – a life partner?…
If you ever listened to your teachers, talked to your parents, or watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, you learned that you were a special snowflake and the world was yours for the taking. But for a generation with more options than ever before, how do you choose when you’ve been taught you can have it all?
Today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings approach life and love very differently than past generations. The explosion of choices now available has impacted our desires and expectations, and led us to reconsider traditional decisions. Young men and women are increasingly reluctant to make the ultimate commitment and get married, and much of
that is due to all the other glittery options out there competing for our attention – friends, professional success, 30 Rock, the people in the world you haven’t yet dated.
If you love choices and think the world is your oyster, you’re a choister.
In a world where you might have twenty careers by your 31st birthday, you just might want to cultivate some more stability in your relationships.
The “choice effect” is that pit in your stomach as soon as the waiter walks away with your food order and you realize you wanted what she’s having. It’s a reality, and one that impacts our love
So how do you overcome this paradox in relationships? For your mother’s sake, take notes.
5 Ways to Tame the Choice Effect:
Use the following “C”-words to make the other “C”-word–commitment–less daunting.
Before I decided to settled down with “J”, my now fiancé from Argentina, there were several key moments where I questioned the very basis of our relationship. As foreigners in each other’s lands, cultural and language barriers have been an ongoing theme. It’s taken him years to accept that in my country we eat omelets for breakfast – not lunch – and my visible upset at the break-up of Tipper and Al made him more than pause (okay, maybe that’s not cultural). But one day while I related a particularly hysterical Jon Stewart shtick, the worst happened. He told me it didn’t sound very funny. And that’s when I asked myself: could I really spend a lifetime single-handedly explaining the nuances of The Daily Show to a newbie?
My non-negotiables had been there from the start: internationalism, spirituality, and ambition. Although J matched me well on these fronts, we weren’t carbon copies of one another by any stretch of the imagination. He spends hundreds of hours a year on photography, and I traveled around the world for an entire year without bringing my own camera. I still don’t understand if a bass and a bass guitar are the same thing, but there are apparently three of them displayed in our foyer. I had never heard of Maradona.
We make trade offs in our love lives – J’s cultural “shortcomings” are made up for by key compatibilities. As I’ve come to believe, a man who has never tasted peanut butter can still make an excellent father. So think about what you need. Not a never-ending wish list about how the perfect partner will want to attend Lilith Fair and share your love of Neti pots. Pick the stuff that matters and find someone with those qualities.
Like Stephen Stills once sung: “Love the one you’re with.”
When J and I had been dating less than a year, I moved half-way around the world for an MBA program. Suddenly
my wonderful, intelligent, handsome boyfriend was a pixelated photo to Skype with. Meanwhile, real, warm-blooded men played lacrosse around me. This world will pull us in lots of directions, and you need to decide what your prize is and keep your eye on it. Don’t get distracted by every boy or girl that musters the energy for a “how YOU doin’?” Don’t forget your fiance’s cello concert because you’re wall-flirting with your middle school crush on Facebook. I’m all for canvassing your options, but beware the shiny ball syndrome.
3. Common Sense:
Does your ideal life involve a mud hut in Nicaragua with a partner equally thrilled by jungle monkies? Then don’t go trolling for men on what’s left of Wall Street. If you’re a conservative Christian who’s into side hugs, don’t make eyes at the atheist hippie at the local coffee shop. Yes, opposites attract. Paula Abdul said so. But they aren’t a long-term win. Don’t fall into a relationship that checks none of your boxes. Although you may think this is destiny slapping you on the face, this is actually just adrenaline. Probably heightened from the fog of patchouli.
Keep an eye on the clock. Not in the Marisa-Tomei-stomping-your-foot kind of way. But there’s being picky and then there’s being paralyzed. So ask yourself – whether you’re choosing a pair of shoes, a healthcare plan, or a spouse – “How long SHOULD this take?” For example – would you agree with the following: you should spend no longer than an hour of your life at GAP deciding between unremarkable fragrances, and no longer than 5 years to decide on a partner? Like my best friend who, after dating her boyfriend for seven years, suddenly thought, “How much more data can I expect to gather?” and suggested they elope to Vegas. You don’t have to adhere perfectly, but it’s good to step back, pick a number (I just might recommend two years), and buy a watch.
5. Choose Already:
If you went into an ice-cream store and saw a child ordering an ice cream cone with 7 different scoops, you’d tell him he was idiot (or not, because that is mean and he is small). Don’t be that kid. You don’t get to have everything.
And, to be fair, you don’t want to. College buffet lines were fun at the beginning, but a plate full of pasta-pizza-ranch-dressing-Fruit Loops loses its appeal after a while. So choose.
What stops so many of us from making a commitment is our fear that once we make a choice we have to close the door on all the other options. If we marry Andy, we will never date Charles. True. If we become an architect, we will never be a ferret trainer. Also true. However, if we do sack up and choose to become an architect, then we have a whole host of new and shiny choices to think about! Should we make a doghouse or a people house? Should the house be blue or red? Should the building be small, medium, or big?
Choosing doesn’t limit choices—it just changes them. So feel free to pick that city, that career, that partner, knowing that even commitment brings a whole new set of options – children/pets/red and blue houses – to be excited (and angsty) about.
By the way, I picked me an architect. (See how I tied that up?)
Claire Williams is co-author of The Choice Effect, which explores overcoming the Paradox of Choice in decisions–big and small–that affect your life. Her previous writing on navigating choices can be found here.