In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz says that the more choices you have, the harder it is to choose and choose well and ultimately the less happy you are no matter what you choose.
It makes sense when you think about it, right? You are searching for the perfect boots, and the options are endless—different heel heights, materials, colors, toe shapes. How can you possibly get it all right and invest in just one pair?! And if you can only invest in one pair, will you be able to control yourself from checking out all the other boots you didn’t buy?
Let’s consider the same phenomenon as it occurs in a different scenario: dating. You would think that having endless choices in dating would be a good thing, but Schwartz’s theory about choice applies to dating, too. We’re talking about choosing a person to invest in, to spend your time with, and perhaps to share a life with. The stakes are so high and, among all the choices, how are you to know when to stick around or move on? How do you know whether or not you are really coming face-to-face with issues worthy of ending a relationship? Or what if you commit to this person, and someone better comes along?
Indeed, the plethora of choices can paralyze us in dating, but we can take back control. Here are five tips for feeling empowered instead of overwhelmed by all the choices in dating.
01. Consider your family history.
Research continually shows that the attitudes of Millennials toward marriage and commitment have been dramatically impacted by the reality that many come from divorced homes or visibly unhappy marriages. Often after growing up in a family where relationships seemed to go wrong, people react by wanting to get it right. But this drive to get it right can become paralyzing when the fear of making the wrong choice sabotages your ability to make a lasting commitment.
Others have grown up seeing so much hurt and heartache within a marriage that they come to the conclusion that marriage leads to becoming trapped in a vulnerable relationship. This conclusion easily morphs into an unconscious belief that any serious commitment will be entrapping.
If any of this rings true for you or you believe you may be subconsciously sabotaging your ability to make a choice and stick with it in your relationships, you can take action-oriented steps to resolve these deep-seated beliefs, like talking to a therapist, reading a book, listening to podcasts, or taking an online course.
02. Date with a purpose and a plan.
Recent research has shown that external locus of control beliefs are up 50 percent among Millennials compared with similarly aged individuals in the 1960s. What does this mean? This means that we tend to believe that we do not have power or control over things in our life; that we believe that life just happens to us.
You see there is a pervasive belief in our culture that love just happens. And this removes personal responsibility for relationships. In a way, it also attempts to remove the risk. Because if we don’t get too invested, don’t exert too much energy, or get too involved, then somehow we are safe from hurt. Unfortunately this approach doesn’t work as we are seeing record high rates of loneliness in our generation.
I am telling you that if you desire to have a long-term committed relationship, especially marriage, you have to take charge of your relationships. You have to date with a purpose, with a goal of finding a good and healthy partner. This means you are being proactive and intentional about discerning whether or not he is a good fit for you.
A good first step is to identify what you want. Map out what you are looking for in a partner. If you are dating with an eye to marriage, it is so important that you take time to write out your ideals, your deal breakers, and your negotiables. This will help you evaluate partners before your heart takes over and has you compromising your values or looking around at all of the other options.
Next, equip yourself with information that will help you to feel confident when you date. A good first step is reading, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk by Dr. John Van Epp (Full Disclosure: The author is my father, and I work alongside him to promote his work) also written about here. This book provides you with a plan for pacing a growing attachment in a new relationship as well as five key areas to get to know about a partner that predict what he will be like in a long-term relationship.
03. Get to know real reasons for breaking up.
Knowing what justifies ending a relationship can be tricky, but there are three common characteristics of relationships that warrant a break up.
1) Abuse. Abuse should never be tolerated. Ever.
2) Persistent resistance to change. This is a big one. If you are dating someone and have brought an issue or concern up several times and your partner is defensive or doesn’t put any effort to making an improvement, this is likely a good sign that it is time to end the relationship.
3) The final one is lack of chemistry. There are usually two camps when it comes to chemistry. Those who believe it is instantaneous and those who believe it can develop over time. Both are true, but know which kind of person you are and, if there isn’t any chemistry after six months, know that it likely won’t come later.
Get to know these real reasons to break up, because if you find yourself just antsy, or nitpicky, or unrealistic you may be calling it quits on a relationship that doesn’t deserve it.
04. Evaluate your expectations.
So often we have expectations about our relationships that we are not conscious of until they go unmet. Do some self-exploration and attempt to map out your expectations in your relationships. What do you expect of your dating partner and what do you expect of the relationship?
Unrealistic expectations often lead to disappointment. Know that relationships aren’t perfect all of the time. They aren’t easy all of the time. Make sure your expectations are aligned with reality. This is also where a therapist can help you to be sure you’re not either short-changing your desires or expecting too much from another person.
05. Know that comparison breeds discontentment.
We live in a filtered culture. It doesn’t matter if it’s our faces, our clothes, or our relationships; we tend to edit our lives before sharing them with the world. Know this. Don’t forget this, and know that comparing your partner with edited versions of other people’s partners or even other choices will plant the seeds of discontentment in your relationship. Set some boundaries around what you allow to penetrate your perspective of your relationship and your partner.
You are privileged to have so many choices when it comes to dating relationships; however, the freedom to choose comes with extra risk and responsibility. But if you put these five pieces of advice into practice, the multitude of choices won't be an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity to meet new people and find a compatible partner.