If you have never heard of Barry Schwartz then I suggest you check out “The Paradox of Choice.” If you have the time, watch this YouTube video. It’s called Why More is Less. Believe me – you’ll be glad you did!
Schwartz argues that instead of making us freer, choice paralyzes us. Instead of making us more fulfilled, choice leaves us dissatisfied. I can definitely relate.
Here’s a simple example: There’s a food loft in Bangkok where I would eat with my friends occasionally. Basically you can walk around the entire restaurant and choose from any type of food from several different countries.
I used to wander around that restaurant forever, overwhelmed by the choice I had. I wanted to make sure I’d pick something that I’d really love, considering I had so many options.
I remember one night in particular choosing Dal, an Indian dish. As soon as I sat down and started eating it I immediately regretted my decision. It was good but it wasn’t great, and considering I had so many choices, I kept wondering if I missed out on something better.
This happens in our everyday decisions, from what we buy to where we work…and who we marry.
In the video (around 05:40) Schwartz, a professor, says that he assigns 20% less work than he used to because his students are preoccupied with the question “Should I get married?”
The questions continue.
“Now? Later? When? WHO? Should I have kids first or a career first?” Etc., etc.
I found this particular part of the video interesting because it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend last month. She was telling me about a guy friend who recently went on a date with a woman in her early 30s.
When my friend asked her guy friend if he was going to take the girl out again, he just didn’t know. Sure, she was a great girl; there was nothing wrong with her. She was intelligent, pretty, fun, came from a good family…
“So what’s the problem?” My friend asked him.
“Well,” he said. “What’s she doing being 31 and single?”
Ladies, did your jaw drop open? Because mine did! And once I closed it again, I responded with the question, “What’s he doing being 30 (something) and single?!?”
(Granted, major personality flaws and neglecting to care for yourself physically are definitely reasons for men and women alike to experience prolonged singleness, however this woman possessed neither emotional nor physical “red flags.” She was merely 31 and single. Just doing her best to be patient.)
In my (humble) opinion (and I think Schwartz would agree) I think that one of the reasons I have so many incredible, amazing, wonderful friends who are in their 30s and single is because the men are overwhelmed by choice. They are so scared of choosing the wrong woman. They think because they have so many women to choose from, they should be perfectly fulfilled by the woman they choose. (Talk about pressure!) But instead of actually just choosing a woman and committing to her, they don’t make any choice at all.
And then all these incredible single ladies are victims of a stigma that says there is something wrong with them. What’s wrong is that women are staying single because men like my friend’s friend are asking such absurd questions instead of stepping into their role.*
Single people have much more choice in general. And while I think this can be good (in my own life it’s allowed me to have some unforgettable life adventures) sometimes I wish I was married simply so that my choices would be fewer, for example, where to live. Because right now I am overwhelmed by choice. Upon graduating you always hear that the world is your oyster, but until you actually step out into the world you don’t realize that you’re not actually a fan of oysters.
I know that having too much choice is detrimental. I see it in my own life as I try to determine the “right” vocation. But I honestly believe we have to stop trying to arrive at the idea of “fulfillment” and instead make good choices based on wisdom and then commit to them – and see the fruitfulness in that.
*Not attacking men. I had this conversation with many guy friends who believe men need to take responsibility and I’ve even seen them do it by asking women out (and sometimes, despite rejection, again and again). Those are men who obviously know what they want and are surely going to get it at some point.