The 'paradox of choice' could explain why you're still single - here's what it means
- Dating apps mean we are given nearly endless choices of who we can date.
- While this should make connections easier, it also makes us more picky.
- This is because of the "paradox of choice" that makes us believe the grass is always greener on the other side.
- By always looking for something better, you might miss the opportunity right in front of your eyes.
If you're single, don't worry. Science has shown it's actually better for you in a number of ways.
But if you're spending this Valentine's Day crying over the fact nobody wants to be in a relationship with you, there's a psychological reason that might help explain why.
It's called "the paradox of choice," and it essentially means that while we consider variety as a good thing, at the same time, it makes our decisions more challenging.
For example, you may have met someone on on Tinder, and the first date went really well. You probably want to see them again, but you can't help noticing their tiny flaws. You know your online profile is sitting there on your phone, and you just can't shake the feeling there could be someone else on the dating app that would be an even better fit for you.
In his book "The Paradox of Choice," Barry Schwartz describes this way of thinking as "maximising."
"Maximizers treat relationships like clothing," he writes. "I expect to try a lot on before finding the perfect fit. For a maximizer, somewhere out there is the perfect lover, the perfect friends. Even though there is nothing wrong with the current relationship, who knows what's possible if you keep your eyes open."
The opposite of maximisers are "satisficers," who have the ability to know a good thing when they see it, without obsessing over "what ifs."
It's not the same as settling for a bad option, because satisficing also means having high standards. But it does also mean ignoring the temptation of finding out if the grass really is greener on the other side.
In theory, it makes sense. If you're always holding out for something better, chances are you'll end up with nothing. That, or you'll realise you left all your good options in the cold, and you'll end up with someone who's wrong for you. By that logic, satisficers are more likely to end up happy.
In a blog post about this for Psychology Today, Jen Kim writes about how in modern dating life, we no longer have the feeling of scarcity, as there are always so many options at our fingertips. This doesn't just make us picky, but arguably unreasonably so.
"How quickly have we thumbed left simply because the face peering back at us had an eyebrow hair out of place or because the guy seemed short even though you could only see his head?" she writes. "How many amazing potential mates have we missed out on because we were convinced the next profile would be better?"
In the end, attraction is about more than just a photo. It's more than just an instant spark on a first date, or a Valentine's Day card.
Ultimately, while dating apps bring us closer to people we might not otherwise have met, the issues they cause paradoxically make it even more difficult to make a connection.
To avoid falling in the maximising trap, if you think you've met someone and it could be something good, try and give it a fair chance. Otherwise you might be holding out for a fairytale that could never happen.