THE BLOG

Unfreedom Of Choice?

01/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are you always looking around for something better: a better job, a better apartment... a better relationship?

For example, let's say you finally found a pretty great love catch. Do you still find yourself tempted to keep going back to that large online dating ocean, in hopes of finding an even bigger, better, more 100% perfect catch?

If so, your search for the better might be making your life worse.

And that's not just my opinion -- that's the opinion of Barry Schwartz, Ph.D., psychology professor at Swarthmore College, and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. After extensive research, Schwartz has concluded that excess proliferation of choice makes people more anxious and less happy -- even clinically depressed at times. Schwartz defines people who tend to check out all the options as "maximizers" and believes they tend to question whether they've made the right choice, then later regret their choices.

Unfortunately, in today's online world, it's very easy to become a "love maximizer" with its tempting smorgasbord of dating choices. With so much choice, it's so easy to fall into exploring an "upgrade" -- even when your sweetie is total sweetie! Or you can wind up with "choice paralysis" and not be able to get into a relationship at all.

How does this happen? Schwartz cites a study with shoppers. Group #1 was offered free samples of six different jams. Group #2 was offered free samples of 24 jams. Afterwards, Group #1 was more likely to buy a jam than Group #2. This result doesn't seem logical. You'd guess that people would be more likely to find a jam when given a range four times as large. But the overabundance of choice seemed to freeze shoppers' decision-making skills.

Unfortunately, this same "brain freeze" can happen to daters when shopping for partners in that endless online parade of possibilities. "It's a satisfaction treadmill," says Schwartz. "The more options we have available, the more we think that another option out there is perfect."

The truth according to me? Rarely is anyone or anything perfect. And so the #1 biggest problem with choice is... well, it's an illusion. Up-close and personal, all that choice is not always grade-A material.

Here's another study I came across and found intriguing. Research studies found that people exposed to a few minutes' worth of advertising, with its endless pics of nubile women and improbably handsome men, were likely to experience far greater discontent with their partner after viewing.

Translation: Love can be blindsided by choice. A perfectly good relationship can be totally destroyed by the blazing promise of better options... that don't exist in the first place!

So what's the cure for this situation which makes us throw over budding relationships because we believe the grass is greener?

1. Recognize that being a "love maximizer" actually minimizes your chances of finding a healthy, happy relationship.

2. Realize that you luckily have a choice in how you view choice! Next time you're tempted to two-time, think twice! Remind yourself that those many, many people who look so good from faraway look very different when viewed close up -- when you can more clearly see their many, many flaws.

3. Accept that no one person is ever going to have every single thing you need. The goal is to find the person who has the most important things you need. Make a list of your top 3 dating deal-breakers and your top 3 partner must-have's. If your current special someone passes this 6-pack test, as I call it, you've got the basis of a very happy relationship -- one not worth messing up with "maximizing" ways.

4. Once a week, spend a night luxuriating in your partner's 3 fantastic must-have's -- and let it be known how much you appreciate him or her. Soon you'll turn yourself into a love energizer, instead of a love maximizer! And that's a terrific place to be.

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For more love boosting tips check out notsalmon.com. If you'd love to dump your bad love habits for good, check out Enough Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Finally Getting What You Want In Life.