Sometimes we feel like there’s no one out there for us. Like we haven’t been on a date in months. Like we will end up old and alone with many many cats. And if we do happen to find a guy who is relatively attractive, intelligent and interesting, we hang on for dear life lest he vanish into thin air!
But lately I’ve been experiencing something quite different: a haste to disqualify.
Or at the very least, a strong desire to “keep my options open” and “see what else is out there.”
This shows up in 2 ways:
1) I go on a first date with someone who is great! Friendly, funny, attractive, smart… and yet, if I am not immediately swept away with desire, passion, and intense chemical attraction, I am ready to write it off within the first 10minutes and move on. I mean, because I should definitely be able to find someone who as all the qualities I require AND with whom I have immediate fireworks, right?
2) I go on several dates with someone who is great! Friendly, funny, attractive, smart AND with whom I have both an intellectual and physical connection. But the next day, I’m back online, seeing what other matches okcupid may have for me.
A friend once forwarded me this fascinating nerdy blog post from “Ask a Mathematician” wherein a mathematician answers the question: How do I find the love of my life?
The response is quite lengthy but really stuck out for me was:
…In any event, I am sad to report that when applying the above definition for “the love of your life”, finding “the one” is essentially impossible. I strongly urge you not to try it. The probability that you meet the single person that would make you happiest of all is extremely small. There are about 7 billion people on earth, and (let’s say) more than a billion within a reasonable dating age range of you. That implies that there are at least 500 million people of the appropriate gender (a bit more if you are bisexual). Even if it is the case that you are rather narrow minded, and just 1 in 200 people are culturally similar enough to you for you to even consider a romantic relationship (e.g. you are a Baptist American, who would only ever be willing to date another Baptist American), that still leaves at least 2.5 million people to search through. To meet just half of those people (and therefore have anywhere close to a 50% chance of meeting the “love of your life”) you would have to be meeting, on average, more than 40 potential mates each day over a period of 80 years…
He positioned this tidbit as BAD news because it would be overwhelming to sift through 2.5 million possible matches to find the ONE, but I saw it as GRRRREAT news because it meant there were at least 2.5 million possible matches for me in the world!!!
With so many options, how can a girl possibly choose just one? The best possible one? The right one?
One of my favorite books I read in the last year was “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer, a book reports on what neuroscientists, with the help of brain imaging, are learning about how the human mind makes decisions.
In a 2009 interview on npr’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Mr. Lehrer gave the following account of how the idea for the book came into being:
Mr. LEHRER: The revelation occurred in the cereal aisle of the supermarket. I was sent to the supermarket with what seemed like simple instructions, which was buy a box of Cheerios. And it wasn’t until I got the supermarket that I realized that there were 20 different kinds of Cheerios. There were original Cheerios. There were honey-nut Cheerios, apple-cinnamon, multigrain, the yogurt-with-the-berry thing, and then of course there are all the generic varieties of Cheerios.
And so I found myself spending literally a half an hour, 30 minutes, in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, trying to choose between boxes of Cheerios. And that’s when I realized I had a problem, and I became really curious as to what was actually happening inside my head while I was struggling to make a decision…
So this is something I struggle with every day. It’s a classic case of paralysis by analysis.
GROSS: Which means what?
Mr. LEHRER: Which means I’m simply thinking too much in the supermarket. I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer honey-nut Cheerios, and then I look at the apple-cinnamon Cheerios, and then I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer apple-cinnamon Cheerios, and it goes on and on like that. I’m stuck in this loop of self-consciousness where I come up with reason after reason after reason.
And so it was really that very basic, everyday failure that really first got me interested in the subject of decision-making.
GROSS: Now, one of the things you learned for sure from writing your book is that sometimes too much information is a really bad thing when it comes to making a decision, and that’s part of the predicament you were in. You had all these different brands, and they each have a certain, like, topping and a certain amount of sugar, and…
Mr. LEHRER: And there’s price. I mean there are so many variables to consider.
GROSS: Right, right, yeah. So is that – was that part of your problem in the supermarket aisle, and why is too much information so paralyzing?
Mr. LEHRER: Yeah, that was definitely, I think, a big part of my problem. And I think the reason too much information is paralyzing ultimately gets back to the brain and the way the brain is built and the fact that our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for these kinds of deliberate, rational decisions – when we try to think through our breakfast options -that’s a pretty feeble part of the brain.
It’s kind of depressing to hear that, but it’s actually a relatively limited and bounded part of the brain. It can only hold about seven pieces of information in the prefrontal cortex at any given moment.
So when you try to think through, even a decision as banal as choosing a breakfast cereal, you can very quickly overwhelm your prefrontal cortex.
Okay, granted, choosing people to spend your time with on dates and in romantic encounters is perhaps a little less banal than choosing your breakfast cereal (I suppose), but honestly isn’t scrolling through lists of “matches” with various characteristics a lot like scanning the grocery shelf? One good friend likened browsing an online dating site to online shopping… something you do late at night because you’re bored and then you choose the best of the bunch to “save to favorites” for later, just in case.
OR… you’re desperately searching for the one little black dress (male profile) that will fit you like a glove (meet all your qualifications) AND be the right price (be drop-dead gorgeous) AND will ship to you in time (will message you back — or better yet, notice you were viewing his profile & message you first), but then fighting off utter despair when this perfect dress (dream man) never magically appears.
I am starting to suspect that the problem is there are so many choices laid out there for us, that the brain gets confused and can no longer make a good decision. So we choose nothing (One thing I’ve heard a lot in sales training is: A confused mind says “no”), which is ultimately dissatisfying.
So, what’s the remedy? Let’s see what Jonah Lehrer says:
GROSS: Wow. Now let me just ask you, before we get to other things that you report on in your book, if you were making that decision in that same supermarket aisle now, knowing what you know now about the brain and decision-making, how would you do it differently?
Mr. LEHRER: I still take a little too long in the cereal aisle, to be perfectly honest. But now what I try to do is I try to honestly pay attention to what I refer to in the book as the emotional brain, that part of my brain that has a better understanding of what I actually want to eat for breakfast.
So I try to really pay close attention to that, and you know, and eavesdrop on my, you know, on my own brain and try not to pay so much attention to the reasons I’m generating, on the fly, and actually listen closer to my feelings.
Translated to my online dating experience, I am trying the following plan of action:
1) Fewer first dates in a short window of time. Limiting myself to 1 new option every 1-2 weeks (or 2-3/month). This may or may not seem like a “few” but since I am not one to spend a lot of time messaging back and forth before meeting, it is.
2) Less time online. If I am only looking for 2-3 new dates per month, I don’t need to be checking out who was checking out my profile every single day.
3) Being more present with person I’m dating. Accessing my curiosity to take the time to dig deeper than the surface level stats. Asking more questions, not about what he does, but who he is and what he wants from life. Seeing if there are more connections than might be initially obvious. Another friend who is happily married suggested “the 3-date rule” today. She said she may never have given her husband a real chance based on dates 1 & 2. Now this doesn’t mean everyone will get 3 dates. It’s important to acknowledge when there really isn’t a connection at all. But, if there was reasonable enjoyment on date one, why not?
4) When I am tempted to give in to temptation or laziness or doubt on any of the above, spend some time & energy in meditation or journaling about my vision for what I am looking for in my relationships right now and gratitude for the abundance I already have. Balancing my rational brain with my emotional brain so that I can take my next actions from a position of power and clarity.
For more tools and techniques to approach online dating with humor & grace from the foundation of being
a grounded, confident,
whole woman, check out Meditation, Mindfulness and… Online Dating, a 4-week tele-class with me & Life Coach Katy Flatau. Starts June 4, 2012.