Sunday, June 8, 2008

Desperately Seeking the One

Surely, today's young people have more relationship options than any similar group in human history. This is especially true in any great cosmopolitan metropolis.

Vast numbers of young people congregate in the great cities. This, in itself, would provide many, many romantic options. Add internet dating to the mix and the number of possible connections grows to the point where it becomes unmanageable. This causes the system to break down.

Apparently, young people have now dispensed with the formality of ritualized dating. They hang out, roam in packs, hook up at random, and occasionally form relationships. When it comes to choosing a mate, however, they defer the decision, often saying that they are waiting to find the One.

They say things like: Maybe, he's the One. She isn't the One. I'm too special to settle for anyone less than the One.

Are they looking for true love? Are they hopeless romantics who will settle for nothing less than the real thing?

Some psychologists would say that they are looking to repeat that grand developmental moment when an infant looking at an image in a mirror realizes for the first time: It's me! Is that what it means to find your soul mate or your perfect complement?

Or, perhaps, it just means that there are too many options. That would be the point of some recent psychological theory.

In his book The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz outlined the problem: it is easier to choose among three kinds of detergent than it is among three thousand.

With apologies to those who recoil at comparing their hunt for a mate with a trip down the detergent aisle, the analogy does clarify the problem.

With hundreds of thousands of potential mates out there, you will say to yourself that you do not need to compromise or settle. Surely, among such a vast number you can find the One who is perfect for you, who is a dream come true, who fits you like a bespoke garment.

When it comes to choosing a mate, small communities offer the path to an easier, more adult, choice. If there are a dozen or so suitable prospects you will likely exercise rational judgment in deciding which one is best for you. You will not be seeking perfection, you will not be thinking that everything has to be right before you can make a commitment.

With a limited number of prospects you will know that you have to compromise and that you will have to negotiate. The fact that the two of you do not always complete each others' sentences will be of lesser import.

Making an adult decision means weighing the good and the bad; knowing that you will have to accommodate another person's faults, flaws, and foibles; knowing that you will have to accept idiosyncracies and tastes that you do not like. You will enter your relationship with the right attitude, without blinders.

Too often people imagine that once they find the One, they will ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. There will be no disputes to negotiate, no faults to accommodate, no differences of taste and opinion to mollify.

In that case you will not really be involved in an adult relationship. This has one advantage: when and if you lose the One it will not be a great loss.

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