Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Special Misery of Looking for Your Perfect Soul Mate

I have been reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. It is a fascinating read about how much things have changed from not even that many years ago to now, for people searching for a partner, a date, or a mate in this hyper connected era of a vast number of options. The book is insightful, often funny, and at times irreverent (quite).

I wanted to call attention to one passage in particulate that I just read tonight. It follows a stream of thought on the work of Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) who has written lucidly about the dilemmas having so many choices presents for people in this modern era. I have long loved Schwartz's work, and this particular point below is one shared by Ansari and Klinenberg in their book. It is of surpassing brilliance. Let the thought wash over you for a bit.

By Schwartz’s logic, we are probably looking for “the best” and, in fact, we are looking for our soul mates too. Is this possible to find? “How many people do you need to see before you know you’ve found the best?” Schwartz asked. “The answer is every damn person there is. How else do you know it’s the best? If you’re looking for the best, this is a recipe for complete misery.”  

You see the brilliance here, don't you? If you are searching and you believe your goal is to find the perfect partner for you, you literally can never stop searching. You have to meet every possible choice there is—or how else are you ever going to know you stopped on the best option? And, in this day and age where you can search for anything and often find it just about any way you want it (such as through the internet and mega-stores), we are used to thinking we can find the perfect anything: a widget, a job, a restaurant, a plumber, or a partner who is just perfect, for you. The allure of it all suggests that perfect matching is possible.

Schwartz' research shows that people who think this way are less likely to be happy with their eventual choices than those who think more in terms of finding a good match. Ansari and Klinenberg mention one study by Schwartz about people searching for jobs, where he finds that those with this belief, who likely do search more, end up being paid somewhat more but also end up being less happy with the job they land in.

Sure, in marriage especially, one should seek a very good match. But you can also search for so long and so thoroughly that you pass up a great match or never settle down, or only settle down when very good options have passed you by and are already taken.

Schwartz's point is that the very belief that you can find the perfect match at the end of a search sets you up to think there must always be something better--an option that you'd not seen or found yet--and that can make you less happy with what you eventually chose.

Commitment is making a choice to give up other choices. That's the deal. But having a sense that you could have searched for and found perfection—if you'd only searched a little more—will make it harder to commit to, invest in, and be happy with who you married.