Having dating options; a help or a hindrance?

Suitable partners can be like buses, you spend a lifetime waiting for one and a few turn up at once and just like buses, each potential partner can take your life on a different route. With options, comes questions, what kind of journey do you want?  Where do you want to end up? Sometimes hesitations arise and in other cases, having other options can clarify the qualities that you are looking for. There has been much research on our abilities to make decisions as humans and the impact the decision-making process has on our happiness and although many of the studies have focused on economic gains or losses, some of the cognition behind the processes could be applied to the dating world.  

As discussed in the article Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brainby On Amir“The human mind is a remarkable device” however it has its limitations. Our executive function is not a limitless entity and “unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision.” We can therefore limit our brains ability to make clear decisions if we increase how many choices we have to make because we strain our minds. Despite the fact that it has always been suggested that multi-tasking is beneficial to us, studies, including this article in Psychology Todaywritten by Bryan Robinson, now propose that it actually “inhibits your ability to focus and produce. It fatigues your brain and eclipses your ability to interact with others and enjoy the present moment.” This is referred to as ‘decision fatigue’ which can alter the decisions you would make if you had less options to choose between. This concept could therefore be applied to the context of dating. 

However, in order to make a decision we must first gather the relevant information. In the case of dating options, you need to gain a level of understanding about who that person is and whether you match against values, characteristics and lifestyle. Once you have ascertained those things about someone, you can then assess the alternatives and draw a conclusion, before reviewing your choice. As clinical as it may sound, we are continually evaluating the choices we make in life, whether it be what we had for lunch, to what relationship we are in and because of our ever-globalised world, our choices are multiplying and with it the decision-making process becomes harder. Research conducted by Schwartz (2004) aptly named The Paradox of Choice, found that having too many options negatively impacted the individual making the decision and “argues that the cumulative effect of choice that is causing our society substantial distress”. You could therefore presume that an increase in suitable partners would draw the same negative impact. 

There is also an aspect of what you are like as a person. This is demonstrated in the research and states that there are two key aspects; a maximizer or a satisfier. Being a maximizer suggests that “you seek and only accept the best. You exhaust all other alternatives to make sure that you know that what you’re buying is the absolute best (quality, price, etc...). You aspire to achieve a given goal and are less likely to get satisfaction out of the choices you make compared to the satisfier.” Whereas a satisfier refers that “you settle with something that is good enough and you don’t worry about the possibility that there might be something better out there.” As a result, there may be a combination of, number of choices and temperate, that effect how happy we are with the decisions we make. For example, you could have fewer options as maximizer but still feel less satisfied than a satisfier who had more choices, as it is in the nature of a maximizer to question more intensely the options they have. 

This may perhaps be further explained by the term ‘Overchoice’, which was coined by Toffler (1971). It refers to several ‘equivalent choices’ available to a person, which results in them becoming overwhelmed due to the number of potential outcomes and the fear of making the wrong choice. It therefore highlights that more may be less. However, the research also showed that it is dissatisfying if a person has no choice at all and thus a small but not limited choice set, leads to increased satisfaction and reduced regret. Consequently, it is better to have fewer, more apposite suitors than it is to have hordes of candidates. 

This can be directly linked to the dating world and the current increase in the access to thousands of potential partners we now have. With the rise of apps etc we have a flood of potentials right there on our phones but as is mentioned in the blog ‘Here’s Why Too Much Choice Is Ruining Dating’by Erica Gordon“You could get overwhelmed by the ‘options’ and suddenly feel paralyzed, not acting on any of them. Even worse, you could end up alone because the deceptive perception of something better always being around the corner can cause you to never just choose someone and stop looking.” This is where the benefit of focusing on one potential partner at a time comes into play. This is because you get to know that individual at a deeper level, which may consequently prevent you from jumping straight to another person when something may not go your way. 

This is also where matchmaking can be of assistance, instead of decreasing your satisfaction by swiping your way through countless people, take a focused approach. Matchmaking can help you whittle down the options to maximise time and effort on relationships that have a chance of going the distance. Of course, as we’ve seen, it is beneficial to have a few options, but it is still important to remember that a successful relationship will only flourish if you focus on each potential relationship at one time. Knowing that you have gathered all the relevant information and had the freedom of feeling like you really want to be with that person will speak volumes and in turn gives a loving relationship a chance to grow.  Focus drives clarity and with clarity you can have peace of mind that the decisions that you are making are coming from a place of clearness and true feelings. 

Another issue that can arise if we do not focus on a particular potential partner at a time, is that rather than concentrating on what that person can bring to the table, we start to pick and choose attributes from multiple people on what we are looking for. As discussed in my previous blog‘The art of self-sabotage, too scared to find what you are looking for?’though it is great that we can build an understanding of what we are looking for, it can also limit us because “when we do come across a potential partner, they are held to these unrealistic criteria. In doing this, we are essentially sabotaging any chance of a healthy, balanced, successful relationship. We may tell ourselves that we will only be content if we have A, B and C fulfilled and as a result refuse to see the persons endearing and positive qualities.” It is therefore important to consider that if you have multiple potentials in mind, you may be muddying the waters, making your perfect person less and less clear by posing such strict preferences on your goals. 

So, to answer the question, are having dating options; a help or a hinderance? We can express that there needs to be an element of balance. Too many and you become confused and unsatisfied, constantly thinking is the grass greener and too little you wind up thinking whether you have settled and are discontented. Focus on each person individually and learning to understand everything about them and you will find that you are closer to finding a long lasting and successful relationship. 

 

References

Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why less is more. New York: Ecco.

Toffler, A. (1971). Future shock. Bantam.