THE BLOG

Too Many Choices

06/10/2015 12:22 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016
Betsie Van der Meer via Getty Images

Many years ago I was visiting one of my daughters in San Luis Obispo, California. There was one car wash in town, owned for three generations by the same family. While the owner was hand-washing my car, his wife made me a tuna-fish sandwich for my long ride home to LA and enthusiastically shared her knowledge of the entire history of the area. I knew where she grew up, that she loved roses, and that she gave time to help those less fortunate. When I left, I not only felt cared for, but like extended family. When I hit Santa Barbara, I realized I hadn't paid for the car wash. They answered my telephone inquiry with, "Oh, you'll get us next time. Have a great trip." Next time was three months hence. It didn't matter.

On a recent trip through the same area, I saw the urban sprawl that now connects Paso Robles to San Luis. There were several car washes with the typical come-ons: Tuesdays for half-price if you came before three, bargain prices on Wednesdays if you were a female, Thursdays two-for-one. If I were looking for a special deal that would include getting my dog washed, I probably could have found it. I realized that the same multiple offerings were also happening in my home town. I just hadn't noticed because I was too busy making other choices.

You can go into any major store today and compare prices on your Smartphone to see if you are getting the best deal. You can speed-flip through dating sites like Tinder and sort through hundreds of people you know nothing about to see if you catch each other's eyes. You can surf the Net and buy items with the widest spread of value and cost the world has ever known, along with complicated shipping options that often cost more than the price of the purchase. Of course, as soon as you do buy something, you will see advertisements for similar purchases on every account you visit the next day.

We are literally turning ourselves into obsessive-compulsive comparison shoppers as we try to wade through the astronomical array of possible choices of experiences, relationships, material goods, and advice that is literally at our fingertips. We can even rate the raters and compare the comparisons. And yet, we still have trouble trusting the final outcome because there just might be a better one if we just take the time to search a little longer.

Nowhere in this intense, multi-choice environment is this more evident than in the search for relationship partners. When life was simpler, most people grew up and stayed in the same place. The choice of a life-time mate was often in the works even before the potential partners knew of it. Everyone knew everyone and there were few surprises. Moreover, there had to be a pretty good reason for any of those marital unions to end.

Most people today have migrated far from their families of origin. Unprotected, unsupported, and unsupervised, they are free to explore a myriad of options in mate selection. They can make far more mistakes without being judged by their families of origin. That unbound freedom is, at the same time, devoid of the comfort of traditions that once predicted life in a more secure way.

In the sanctity of my office, many of my patients frequently share how overwhelmed they are living this odd combination of unending options and depersonalized experiences. People come and go in their lives, many times too easily and quickly erased. The media challenges would-be relationship seekers to love the merry-go-round and to continue searching for that evasive Golden Ring, but offers little in advice that really works. If you hit the button for online dating sites, there are over 2,500 responses. A few are consistently reliable and actually have the people on them that they advertise.

Friends, the media, and the Internet are rife with different strategies. Maybe the best way to find a desirable mate is to go to the gym before or right after work, head for Trader Joe's afterwards, and then to the nearest Starbucks. Or, perhaps you should join a cause, preferably one that attracts the kind of person you're looking for. Then you can hang out with people who hold your values and believe in something greater than self. You could try speed dating. At least you'd know relatively rapidly who is a potential investment. Better still, master the art of mindfulness so that you are centered enough to catch those moving windows before they disappear.

If you're a female looking for a guy, take an extension class at a university that is advertised for men who want to better themselves. Or, if you're a guy looking for a suitable female, you could sign up for a quilting class. The odds in both are likely to be better than average. And don't forget exotic trips, designed for singles that love adventure and are looking for like-minded cohorts along the way. When in a hurry, try one of the new competing flip-sites like Tinder. There are over a dozen now, and counting. At least you can look at a lot of probably photo-shopped attractive people, even though you have no idea who they are, why they are on the site, and what they might be looking for.

With so many choices and so little time, people are certain to lose their core self and live in the ever-shifting fantasy world of unrealistic possibilities. There just isn't enough time in anyone's day to invest, participate, and enjoy a plateful that is in multiple, ever-changing layers.

We need to do something to change the odds and get back to focusing on what is truly important and more likely to lead us to what is really behind the story of the Wizard of Oz. All of the now-famous participants on that journey find that their fondest dreams and deepest joys were always within their power to manifest, if only they'd taken the time to look more deeply inside.

If you're ready to stop spinning, start with realizing that things do not have to be as complicated as we think they are. You need to first redefine what you are really seeking. Life is about time, options, energy, relationships, dreams, losses, financial resources, devotion, patterns, rituals, habits, spiritual seeking, and attitude. Though we don't always have the same percentages of those options as others might, we all have more than we think we do.

Whether we realize it or not, every one of us prioritizes what we want, what we do, and who we spend time with in order of what is most important. If you choose to have hundreds of Facebook "friends," you will have little time left in your life if you feel you need to keep track of even most of them, even superficially. If you spend every waking minute on your Smartphone making certain that everyone in your life is in constant contact, you won't take the time to think about who you really value and would choose to spend time with if there were only an hour a day you could spare. Send an Ecard at the last minute when your computer tells you that it is the day you are supposed to remember? Thank goodness there are hundreds of people who have composed an adequate message and will gladly take your money to make the transaction easy. Text messages are practical and instant, but are too often devoid of recognizable emotion, facial expression, body language, touch, and rhythm in real time.

Everyone you meet, even if it just for one moment in time is a real person with a history, a heart, a mind, and a soul, not some two-dimensional representation. He or she may be just as hidden behind layers of practiced superficial disconnects as you may be. If you take the time to treasure those moments, however short they may be, and enter each interaction as a respectful visitor invited into a new culture, you will, for sure, come away more enriched, even if you never see that person again.

Try to deepen your experience everywhere you go, whatever it takes. You may initially fear dropping your armor, opening your heart, and being fully present, but the interactions you have will be infinitely more meaningful. Prioritize your life so that you don't speed from one connection to another, letting each experience transform you in some way. Do everything you do in a gentler and more vibrant rhythm, making sure the person on the other end is actually dancing with you instead of just watching.

As you focus on what really matters, you will change the way you talk to people and the way you hear them. People will experience you differently, hopefully letting go of their own speed-living and settling fully into that moment with you. Even if it just for that moment in time, you'll feel more connected and more alive. As you become more intimate and personal, you will begin trusting again that people can really care when they feel known. You may have to drop a hundred or so of your felt obligations but most will never be missed as you replace them with meaningful connections and felt experiences. Too many choices mean constant shifting of options and no time to really enjoy the outcome before it is time to re-choose.

Remember the famous experiment where people are asked to watch two three-person teams playing basketball and to count the amount of passes made? The outcome of the assigned requirement is predictable. Only fifty percent of people see the man in the gorilla suit walk through the court. Hyper-focus on what you think you need to see and the rest of the world will disappear.

Dr. Randi's free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you'll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded "honeymoon is over" phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com