dating choices paradox

Navigating Your Way Through Dating in 2021: The Paradox Of Choice

February 24, 2021 by Alanna D. Merriman

You want to find a lifelong partner. You’re using Tinder to find one. You sift through the endless options, searching for the perfect match. Each suitor you pick doesn’t fulfil you enough. You start to pick out the flaws in that person and think to yourself “there’s surely someone better out there”. As a result of this, the pre-relationship texting phase flops, your expectations weren’t met, you feel like you’ve failed. You do it again. You focus so much on this one area of your life that you keep failing at, over and over. You blame the world around you. You blame yourself. You spiral into thinking this applies to everything in your life, when actually it doesn’t. Does this sound like you? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Want to understand why this process isn’t working for you? Look no further, we’ve got you covered!

An Abundance of Choice

Successful author and psychologist Barry Schwartz has noticed a major shift in how we see the world in a modern, industrialised, Western society and he reckons it’s not you that’s the problem, it’s just The Paradox of Choice. In a 2005 TEDGlobal talk, Schwartz outlines the negative effects of having an abundance of choice in our day to day lives, from simply choosing what jeans to buy, to choosing what salad dressing we buy in the supermarket. He talks about how too much choice can result in people becoming paralyzed, you’re intimidated by the endless amounts of choices in everyday life and are put off from making decisions. This, believe it or not, applies to your love life too! Schwartz explains that “with so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all”, for example if you’re given the choice of endless possible partners to pursue, you are less likely to invest time in finding the one that suits you best. You are more inclined to invest time into 5 people than you are into 10 people. Why? Because it takes away from your work, your lifestyle, your ability to have freedom and imposes on your day to day life much more than what is necessary. You end up passing on singles that would be perfect for you, because of the intimidation and consummation of a larger field of options. Sounds confusing, but it’s actually quite simple.

Let’s say this doesn’t apply to you. You feel empowered by choice! You love the rush of logging onto Hinge and watching your suitors flock to your inbox. But, you’re less satisfied with your choices because that one guy with rock hard abs and a perfect jawline didn’t swipe right for you. The problem with this is that you end up dragging yourself down, living in a ‘what if?’ world, where every single guy who hasn’t matched with you might have, if only you’d dieted that week? Or, if only you’d dyed your hair that colour? Schwartz acknowledges those of you who feel this way too! This is called living in An Imaginative Alternative, “It’s easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would have been better”. Please don’t let this stress you out though, even singles who have made it to the texting phase with Mr. Dreamy experience living in An Imaginative Alternative. With the amount of choice being presented, you then want to go where the grass seems greener. You begin to feel like you’re ‘missing out’ on other opportunities. Suddenly, your perfect man doesn’t seem so perfect now you’ve got him. The opportunities you once had have now been stripped away, you’re confided to a box, alone, with Mr. Dreamy. What once sounded like the ideal conclusion has become a terrifying trap. This is because the opportunity costs have been subtracted, allowing your satisfaction to dwindle. This is all part of The Paradox of choice, ladies and gentlemen. But, If you’re still thinking this doesn’t apply to you, allow me to present another element!

The Escalation of Expectations

You feel less satisfied with your choice because your expectations have escalated, it’s called the Escalation of Expectations, the final piece of this paradoxical puzzle. Although choice makes it more possible to do better, it also makes you feel worse about not making the ‘right’ choice. Schwartz gives an example of escalating expectations by telling a story about the first time, in a few years, that he went shopping for a new pair of jeans. Schwartz wasn’t used to having so many options of jeans- flares, high-waisted, low-waisted, boot-cut yadda yadda. His expectation of finding the perfect pair were pretty low. Schwartz expected the shop assistant to give him ‘jeans’, not ‘jeans of every single different style, colour, texture, length imaginable’. To quote Schwartz, ‘with all of these options available, my expectations about how good jeans should be went up!” This is the exact same thing that is happening to singles around the world in 2021, with the popularisation of social media and dating apps. You expect your love life to be perfect, due to the comparisons you make of other people’s success. Your mind is polluted through social media, and the ability to fuel your mind with idealistic possibilities. You want a man who looks like Ryan Gosling, or a girl who looks like Kylie Jenner. You can’t accept that 29 year old Rachel from Limerick is good, because she’s not ‘perfect’, by your own dystopian definition of perfection.

“What are you telling me all this for?” I hear you ask. It’s not to make you feel bad about using dating apps, in case that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, I’m telling you all this because of the consequences that come with dating this way. “When people make decisions, and even though the results of the decisions are good, they feel disappointed about them; they blame themselves”; this is what Barry Schwartz concludes his TED talk with. When you have fewer options, you can blame the world for the lack thereof. When you have multiple options, and can’t find one that suits you, you can only blame yourself. When you’re constantly looking for more, it’s difficult to see what’s directly in front of you. You fail to notice that one girl or guy who’s always popping up at the same bar as you, who you run in to in the line at the theatre. Who ticks all your boxes really, when you strip away everything else. I’m not saying that you can’t explore your options and find the right person to settle down with, but you can explore investing time in to someone who’s good for you without feeling like there’s somebody better all the time.

Finding Balance, Focus & Fulfilment

Instant gratification can only get you through so much. It’s similar to having a temporary solution to a long term problem. It doesn’t work, you rely on it too heavily, and when you realize this you rely on it even more, because you don’t know how else to handle it. Using a short term solution to a long term problem can buy you time. But, you can rely on the short term solution, while simultaneously figuring out a long term solution, without losing any gratification. Why not invest time into figuring out a long term solution, and finding gratification in something else? It’s about finding the balance, coupled with choice. Choose to minimise your options. Choose to place your focus elsewhere. Choose to look for fulfilment in your job, your education, your friends, your hobbies. Learn more about yourself, and allow your knowledge influence your choices. Narrow it down, think with an open mind, but don’t live in the ‘if’. You’ll lose sight of what’s really important, and that’s your journey to find love. An enjoyable, terrifyingly spectacular journey, that should be full of great experiences and positivity.