There is an interesting theory that the problem with forming a committed relationship is actually too much choice. Is the Pupu Platter of dating ruining the Prix Fixe marriage menu? Were you totally happy with the shrimp toast until you spied the sexy short ribs? Did the kimchi sauce on the collar give you away?
Saturday night presented me with an interesting juxtaposition on this question. My Uber driver was telling me that in his culture, he has an arranged marriage. Despite thinking that his wife at first was ugly, he grew to love her deeply and 11 years of marriage and three children later, he was quite happy. I was pondering this as he dropped me off at the Surf Lodge with whole herds of long-legged beauties tottering down the road on high heels like newborn fillies.
I have no illusions that for women in certain cultures who have no choice, arranged marriages may be a misery. But the interesting psychological question arises on the other side of the spectrum, what can happen with too much choice on a Saturday night in the Hamptons?
We have a generation driven more by FOMO than taking a chance on Ms. or Mr. Almost — if they lost 10 pounds/liked my incontinent Yorkie/didn’t make that strange braying sound during sex — Right.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher calls it “cognitive overload,” where you keep looking to find someone better. She maxes out at nine alternative partners to consider, and then you tend to choose none. Except, of course, if you are under contract on reality TV. No wonder “The Bachelorette” is always in tears. We live in a day and age where quantity can overshadow quality. Are thousands of thumbs up or fist bumps on social media more gratifying than a few close relationships?
I admit to having had a dating Excel spread sheet. This kept track of favorite qualities, status of ex-wives and children, and extra credit for old fashioned chivalry. But it’s true that when I just felt overwhelmed, I retreated to corgis surfing videos and called it a day.
Barry Schwartz explores the dilemma in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. His theory expounds that choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Yet an abundance of choice doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. In his Ted Talk he lists the number of choices we have, from 175 salad dressings in the grocery store to the best new phone. What about choosing the best curling iron, blood sugar tester, oyster knife, or crème brulee torch?
He reminded me of what it meant to buy just one pair of jeans. I used to go to Cove Hollow to buy a pair of Levi’s where the only option was waist and inseam length. I took that pair of jeans and washed them again and again then ran them over with my Ford Pinto in the driveway to get that perfect worn look. I kept patching that pair and wore them for 20 years. Now you have the option of pre-washed, pre-dyed, pre-hole-in-the-knee jeans in skinny, cigarette, modern athletic, and slouchy slim.
Ultimately, the increased options also increase expectations and lessen satisfaction. There is no being pleasantly surprised. At least with jeans and salad dressing FOMO, you just go back and get the friggin’ mom cut that hides your muffin top and the Wishbone Italian.
Yet none of these choices involve till death do you part. Some choice is always good, and when it comes to a committed relationship, we don’t want to have low expectations. But what is enough? What really matters? Is a delicious mini crab quiche going to sidetrack you from your main romantic entrée? Find ultimately what is going to nourish you because the thing about nibbles is they ultimately leave you hungry.