A Plague of Wrongly Perceived Choice

I have decided to try online dating again.  I am a woman of some courage, but even I had to give myself a two year break from dating after the last time I tried it, so it is with much trepidation that I attempt to do this again.  I have recently received an email from one man that appears to be, at the very least, sane.  But then again, he may be writing to me from jail.  As you can see, my hopes are high.


As I venture into this murky territory one more time I am attempting to ascertain how to avoid many of the pit-falls that I sank into in the last round.  Accordingly, I have removed the adjective “open-minded” from the list of things that I am and that I am looking for in a partner.  My intent with this word was to warn off right-wingers, homophobes, and racists, and hopefully find someone with a bit of an artistic temperament.  Instead, I received offers of love and commitment from every form of fetish lover that one could think of – including an offer of adoration from a one time Olympic athlete, ten years my junior, that wanted to worship my feet.  Not worship AT my feet, which would have been totally fine, but to worship my feet themselves.  You must understand that I am not judging these people, I am simply voicing my disappointment at being misunderstood.

I’m sure that there are a myriad of reasons why one might not be successful in the online dating scene, but I’ve narrowed that list down to one overarching reason why I believe I have not been successful.  A plague of choice.  Or rather, a plague of what I wrongly perceive to be my choices, along with a plague of what the gentlemen on the other side of the online dating scene also wrongly perceive to be their choices in possible mates.  Personally I believe it to be our delusion that is keeping us lonely.   That and Jane Austen and that damn Mr. Darcy.  Although to quote her in Chapter 24 of “Pride and Prejudice” – not that I have read it 55 times or anything:  “It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.”  Alas, Ms. Austen must have known of what I speak.

The Feet that Launched a Thousand Ships

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice”, psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses the fallacy of the modern reasoning that freedom of choice is what makes people happy, and one can therefore maximize happiness by maximizing choice.  Countless studies have been done that indicate that more choice does not in fact make people happier.  Most of the book has nothing to do with dating, but he cites one example that is connected to my present dating situation.  At one time the goal of everyone was to get married as early as possible and have children as early as possible.  The only choice involved was to whom.  You essentially got that decision out of the way early on and moved on to other things.  I looked up the average age of marriage in Canada and people are generally getting married a bit later in life – in 2003 in Canada the average age that people were getting married was 30.6 for males, 28.5 for females.  Considering that the divorce rate is at about 40% in Canada for 2012 (only 12% in Italy – perhaps good food is the answer to happiness) all that extra decision making time doesn’t seem to be making anyone happier with their choice.  I am hoping to be a bit of a dark horse in finding love that lasts, and in order to achieve this I will have to, according to Schwartz, avoid the following pitfalls of too much choice:  analysis paralysis, and escalation of expectation due to vast amount of choice.  Simply put, if you have too many choices, it is hard to choose at all, and even if we overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we are less satisfied because of all the choice that is out there and having a vast number of options escalates our expectations.  Even if we have made a good choice, ie: have a great man/woman in front of us, we are more likely to regret our choice.  Schwartz’s motto is:  “The secret to happiness is low expectations”.  Sob.

For me this is all tangled up with what I would call the plague of wrongly perceived choice in online dating, because unlike in a grocery store where all 40 salad dressings are actually available for you to buy, that doesn’t also necessarily hold true for dating profiles.  Just because you have looked at someone’s profile, doesn’t necessarily mean that they would ever be available to you.  I think it is difficult for people to accept this.   A friend told me about a site that she found helpful (the free part of the site, not the bit where you pay this guy $3000.00 for him to be your personal dating coach – kudos for him for having the cojones to convince people that they should do so though).  In any event – his name is Evan Marc Katz.  He is smart and he used to work in customer service on an online dating site called JDate.   I suppose he was in a unique position to see dating foibles up close because he decided that we needed help, and for a price he was going to give it to us!  In the free blog section of his website there is a blog post that outlines helpful pointers for love hopefuls.  He points out that many of us overestimate our appeal.  Ouch.  If on a scale from 1-10 I am a 5, I will want to be at least a 7.  I’ve always thought of myself as a 7 by the way, so as I am still single I must be overestimating this and I’m really a 5.  Double sob.  But I wonder if I start to think about myself as a 9 then will I actually become a 7?  This thought makes me happy.

Men are apparently even more prone to doing this then women – and it’s all tied to a survival instinct of “yes, I am wonderful, you must mate with me and possibly carry on my genetic material” kind of thing.   Katz then goes on to say that most people who are 10’s want to be with other 10’s and so on.  So, successful online dating is about being realistic about your number and then pursuing or allowing yourself to be pursued and hopefully loved by that same number.  All that with the caveat that online dating isn’t really ever going to be realistic because you are being compared to all sorts of other people  – smarter, taller, etc all at once, which wouldn’t happen in real life.

So, in order to do battle with the plague of perceived choice I am going to do the following:  lower my expectations, and leave myself open to being pleasantly surprised rather than being disappointed if I find what, or who, is right for me.  (To be read sotto voce:  And, I’m going to try to thinking of myself as a 9 for a month and see if that helps too).  Baby steps my friends, baby steps.


13 thoughts on “A Plague of Wrongly Perceived Choice

  1. Oh the perils of online dating! It’s a crazy, crazy little slice of life…

    I wonder if people’s high expectations tie in with what I perceive to be the “never enough” outlook of our culture. It seems like we’re never satisfied with what we actually have in our lives, we’re always looking for more, bigger, better. I know I’ve had to learn to be grateful for everything I have in my life, and the people in it. It’s so easy to look at people and notice what they’re missing instead of looking at what they have. This is not about you, just our culture in general, as I perceive it.

    Glad you’ve found a way to navigate that world in a new way. May the force be with you!

    And you are totally a 9! 🙂

    • Thanks BH, and you know what, as soon as I started thinking of myself as a 9, another 9 contacted me 🙂 Like we were talking about earlier – my soul is definitely a 9, working towards a 10 :), and I am looking for that other 9 soulmate. And until then, there is always Cricket the wonder dog – a 10 from birth.

  2. I’ve sometimes wondered too whether we are paralysed by choices. When I talk with my Grandmother she sometimes uses the term “man” interchangeably with “husband”. As in, “Her man was working on the farm when they met.” It seems like they weren’t looking for someone to be a friend, lover, and confidante so much as someone to fill a specific role with a predetermined set of responsibilities.

    “Wanted: Man. Must be kind, honest, clean, and be able to make a living.”

    But on the other hand, as soon as I start believing that is indeed the way it was, she’ll say something about my Grandfather. She loved him from the time she was a child. Loved that he was “a natty dresser” and a beautiful dancer, a traveller, musician and occasional bouncer when things got out of hand at a dance. She didn’t expect him to be any of those things forever and she didn’t expect him to fill as many roles as we expect of our partners today. But she did expect to feel a certain way about “her man” and those feelings… I don’t think they were her choice at all.

    Good fortune to you Bellacanto. I hope you find where your heart is content be it on your own (and fetish free!) or with someone who makes the choice so easy you don’t even realise you’re making one.

    • Thanks LT – from your lips to cupid’s ears.

      An interesting story about your grandmother. It sounds like the simplicity of her expectations allowed her to be pleasantly surprised by the feelings that developed within her. I guess that is what I think of when I think of the value of having “low” expectations. Not so much that you don’t have any or that they are negative in any way, but that you keep them simple and allow things to develop as they will. And for the record, from the brief description your grandfather, he sounds kind of wonderful 🙂

  3. I can’t help but think of the middle east, where decisions about marriage are made with the clear input and vetting of family, where people will decide to get married on the basis of a meeting or two, what we call ‘arranged’. Here, the choice is limited because you have to take into account so many factors, and sometimes it seems that the decision has to be made without all available information. Is it so much worse than the paralysis of choice, or having to trust just one gut instinct? I’m not so sure. I’ve seen marriages bloom that were arranged and where they have grown to know more and love more (like LT’s grandma, I guess), and marriages that seem so certain at the moment, but where the future fizzles. I think you should have high expectations for happiness, and no expectations for what shape that happiness is going to take.

    I often think about my situation, I met husband when I was 19. What the hell did I know at 19? Did I know he would be successful, or dutiful, or responsible, did I even know what that meant? DId he have any idea what I would become when I really became an adult? And yet, the decision to grow together makes all the difference. I think it would be hard for me to find someone now, at this point in my life, because I just feel so much more formed- and inflexible. So, maybe instead of it being ‘low expectations’, it’s also about how open we can be to adaptation, while still knowing who we are.

    Holy, what a ramble.

    Oh, of course your a 9. This you must never doubt.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful ramble 🙂 I’m quite fond of rambling myself – as there is often not just one possible answer, but rather a myriad of possibilities – which makes life, and thinking about life, interesting.

      In the end I think it is all pretty much a crap shoot. The arranged marriages that work are probably the ones where the two people getting married were well matched in the sense of their scope of emotional availability and expectations. If a man thinks of a woman as a conduit for making children and keeping house then he will probably be happy if she is able to do that for him. He won’t necessarily be unhappy if she doesn’t know how to belly dance. But if he was dreaming of wife who would belly dance for him, because he longs for – I don’t know – an air of the exotic in his life let’s say, then he is less likely to be satisfied, regardless of her house keeping skills. As long as someone is kind you will probably become more and more fond of them as the years go on, just by proximity to them, but only if you have the emotional availability to do so.

      I agree with you that it is probably more difficult to find someone that is a good match later in life, because we are more “set in our way’s” and I haven’t met too many people that love to compromise. On the other hand I look at as the best time of my life to find someone, because I have gone through most (probably not all) of my experimental phases and I am now full formed in all my wondrous glory 🙂 And hopefully they have spent enough of their life alone to think about who they are and enjoy being that.

      My brother married the first girlfriend he ever had when he was young and it all went sideways for him. Basing a relationship on liking the same movies is apparently not the right way to go. Anyway, as he went through a long and painful divorce he also had time to think about who he really was, and happily, he recently re-married to a woman who is essentially a brilliant and slightly eccentric loner just like him and they are wondrously happy with each other. I am inspired!

  4. … and I’m inspired, as usual, and gratified by the voices I hear here. I kept hearing myself say, “ohh yesss! I was just thinking the same thing”! So my thoughts are rambling, and is my won’t, arranged in bullets. An organized mess. (I wonder if one day I will write a book in bullets?.. Maybe I can then turn it in to a PowerPoint (even the way it’s spelled is obnoxious) presentation.)? Sorry. Back to it:
    – Bellacanta, you can be sure you’re an 11, Spinal-Tap-style, when it comes to your writing (I’m sure you are a 9 on the other things as well but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you). Anyway your writing is hilarious. I burst out laughing about the “worship my feet” bit and the sob and double sob. I’ve heard it so often it makes me want to scream that stupid “women aren’t supposed to be funny” line, and you’re clearly breaking that stereotype in to a thousand tiny pieces.
    – Oh and while we’re on the foot thing, according to “classical phrenology” (which believes that functions of the body are mapped like a GPS to the brain), the “sex” center is located directly next door to the “feet” center. There’s a bit of misfiring going on in ye ole grey matter for Mr FF (Foot Fetishist).
    – And I agree with most other opinions – that our culture somehow tries to preserve the sanctity of marriage thing in what has become such a throwaway society; that lowering our expectations means we are likely to be less disappointed (or, said a different way, ignorance is bliss); that in some cultures the lack of choice is a freedom in of itself (I was reminded of traditional Indian Hindu marriages which are arranged, and the bride and groom first meet each other the day before the wedding or something crazy); the old 80/20 rule (that 80% of people think they’re in the top 20%), etc.
    – To add a few bits n bobs:
    – There’s a lot to be said for chemistry. Can’t quantify it, but when you’ve got it you’ve got it. Them pheromones are powerful things. You know how you can tell if you got it with yo man? Take it from me – it’s a total Pavlovatheory: you like the smell of his sweat. Yeah, I said it, and you know what I’m talkin’ bout sistahs! If you don’t mind on a hot summer day the smell of his greasy neck or sticky t-shirt he just threw in the basket. That’s chemistry I reckon.
    – Someone wise said to me once it really doesn’t matter if you have the same hobbies, or interests, what’s most important is how you approach conflict that matters. I believe this can be taught, but it’s best if good habits are formed early (i.e. thanks or no thanks to Mum and Dad!)
    – But back to the online thingy. Fun Fact: I met my husband on Craigslist. Yes, on the Casual Encounters section (before it was full of prostitutes and murderers). We’ve been together for 8 years and been married now for 3. Love can show up in the most unlikely places.

    Bellacanta (and anyone else who cares to chime in): I have a question for you, as a fellow alumni of the online dating zeitgeist: Do you think dating has become progressively more transactional as we (d)evolve to our reliance on technology and online interactions as a preferred method of communicating? I was watching a dumb HBO dramedy set in Williamsburg the other night, and, feeling old, was caught off guard when the female lead said, “Oh I knew he was older. He called me instead of texting”. Thoughts?

    • PM – thank so much for your response. Isn’t it interesting about the “women aren’t supposed to be funny” thing. I have come up against that again and again in my life. I did quite a bit of sketch comedy and improve at one point and some men hated me if I got a bigger laugh than them (which was almost always – high five to the ladies!)

      I recently read an article about “what men want in a woman” (don’t worry ladies, I wasn’t trying to cater to anyone’s expectations – strictly research – harumph, harumph) – and they made a point of saying that what most people seem to really desire in a mate is a sense of humor – with the caveat that men want women who find THEM funny i.e.: I want to be assured of having at least one person at all times who will laugh at my jokes. Really can’t blame them for stocking the crowd can we 🙂

      As to Mr FF – great observation PM. I studied that whole “motor strip” in the brain thing in one of my Psych classes and we talked about how the feet are just next to the sex organs on the strip and can easily get mixed up, but the fascinating thing is this: if his brain is mixing them up, then wouldn’t he want HIS feet massaged instead of massaging mine? Or maybe he is expecting me to be so pleased with his foot massage (let’s just imagine massage here rather than going into what else he might be wanting to do with the foot shall we – eeewww) that I will then wish to reciprocate. Part of me wants to go back and contact him – again, purely for research purposes (harumph harumph and an extra harumph).

      I’m so glad that you admitted to meeting your husband online. Some people don’t seem to want to admit to it – as if it admits desperation of some kind, or takes away from the romantic notion of meeting. My parents actually met at a dance, which is romantic I suppose – but my Mum’s most avid memory is of my Dad standing on his tip-toes when he came into the room so that he could get a better view of the beauties within and make he decision about where to beeline to.

      I think your question is a really interesting one – I can tell you for certain, from recent experience, that many people have completely changed the way that they communicate by preferring emailing and texting to meeting in person. I am going to meet with someone this weekend (yes, thinking I was a 9 put something out into the Ether that caused me to immediately be contacted by, in my mind, another 9 – I’m thinking of starting a website and charging women $3000.00 per hit so that I can teach them how to do this) – in any event, he is intelligent, charming and handsome (in a tall, bald, beautiful smile way). He even volunteers with the Special Olympics! He told me he has been on the site for a year, and has emailed with countless women, but only a few have even wanted to meet in person. What is that all about? Why would you bother emailing at all unless you were interested in meeting? I really believe that the paradox of choice is at play here, as well as a bit of people wanting the fantasy to last rather than the reality. I think there is some real fear here as well – as long as you remain an enigma, you retain control. You remain the one that is wanted. I recently had a series of emails with another man, of French ancestry, intelligent, a total charmer – and we emailed back and forth, he leading on with how interesting he found me etc etc, finally asked for my personal email, which I gave to him, and as soon as he had it and it would naturally come to the point where we would have to move to the next level i.e.; meet – he came out with the fact that he was not emotionally ready etc for a real relationship, but wanted to keep the option open of contacting me in the future. I smell fear, or perhaps what I really smell is someone dating someone else and keeping options open should that not work out 🙂 Fair enough. He, of course, has made the wrong decision, as I, being a total 9, am always the best choice. He will most probably realize this too late – tragic really.

      • An interesting phenomenon, this “online world” we create for ourselves. I think I may have seen too many episodes of “Dateline NBC: To Catch A Preditor” as I can’t help thinking that the internet brings out the very worst of people (and yes, the very best, as we are seeing here too, but that’s not my point). I am not surprised you have effectively been “e-used” and “e-betrayed” (these words are my creations, so royalties are expected if you use them harumph); we live in a cynical age and when someone doesn’t have to commit, why would they? I myself have been guilty of a little online psychological mindgaming, because, well there is no real downside except for your own loss of dignity and general feeling of living a purposeful life etc etc. But let’s figure it out, and assume the most conservative of assumptions about the “online presence” of people. These are wildly inaccurate assumptions, but for argument’s sake:
        1) There are approximately (umm i dunno but sounds ok) 100 million individuals in the US who regularly use the internet
        2) 50% of those have interacted and expressed some kind of emotion through either social media or public posts or the “comments” section of websites at some point
        3) So, of those 50 million “opinionated” users, 10% have done some kind of online trolling or at least disregarding the feelings of others.

        I think you’ll agree that the above statistics are both a) nearly completely factually inaccurate; b) highly conservative; and c) both. So, assuming ALL of the above, that means that on any given day, you’re probably dealing with 5 million potential opportunities for being in some way hurt, offended, manipulated or other such bad things by someone on the internet. I fear for our children.

        I am being overly dramatic, I know, and probably highly pessimistic (which if you think about it is a little surprising, considering the circumstances under which I met my own husband; hardly the bastion of exemplary human interactions online). But Bellacanta, you got balls to look that little plasma screen straight in the face every day and sing, “no-body-gonna-breaka-my-stride”, well that’s just frickin awesome. And bloody funny. If I wasn’t married I’d probably have a crush on you 🙂

    • I love your terms of e-used and e-betrayed. I am going to start using them and I’m certain they will soon be added to the dictionary. I’m sure the feelings that those words express have been felt by many since email began, we just didn’t have an official word to use to express being betrayed by someone you hadn’t actually met yet. Bizarre concept yes? My primitive little brain can hardly deal with the concept.

      I took a course about a year ago that focused on cognitive studies – brains are big money at the universities these days – in any event the prof said that he had begun a blog a few years previous so that students in his class could freely exchange ideas and opinions about what was being taught and discussed in the class outside of the classroom as well. The students, who barely got off of their Facebook pages long enough to type up notes of what he was talking about in class each day blasted each other so badly via the blog that he had to close it down! It’s as if emailing has the same effect as being high – zero inhibitions. Interesting yes?

      • One more reason I am so gratified by this little online community – it’s as though we’ve intuitively recognized the indellible damage that can be done when negativity is etched in black and white (at least on screen). Thank you all for being respectful, not judgmental, and careful. Such a dying art. So much comfort to be found in it.

  5. OK, I am onto my second glass of wine here tonight so bear with me if these comments are a bit disjointed. I love that you put ‘open-minded’ on your profile. It made me laugh out loud! Like BEZ I met my husband young – at 18. I was maried at 20 so I can’t comment much on the whole dating thing. But I am so sad that you are going to lower your expectations. I don’t know you – maybe your expectaions are ridicolously high- but lowering your expectations just sounds like a recipe for disappointment.

    The only thing I have to add is that I think we throw away potentially good things to quick. I’ve been married for almost 15 years. So much has changed about my marriage over the years. If I had a fixed idea about how it should be or how he should be I would have been divorced 20X over. I have high expectaions but I also know that things change, people change, and expectations change. His sweat is good (again laughing out loud, but this time for Pavlovatheory!). He’s worth some compromise here and there.

    Bellacanto – don’t bother with the 9, you are a 10 to someone.

    • Thanks for the comments FP. I often envy those people who found love when they were very young. I was pretty hard to hold throughout my 20’s and I ran from anything serious, so I don’t think it would have worked for me, but now that I am 45 I think about how nice it would have been to have had someone else along for the journey. I don’t know if anyone could have taken all the changes that I went through though – just thinking about my hairdos let alone anything else makes me think no one could have gotten through that with their love for me intact (the 80’s was very very hard on hair – I feel another Mothersugar post coming on :)).

      I think the “lowered expectations” thing that I am talking about is just like what you are talking about that has made your marriage work. It isn’t that you let someone treat you poorly or be with someone that you aren’t really crazy about, it is just leaving things open rather than having a set of rules and standards someone has to live up to at all times. At least that is how I am approaching it.

      And you are right, I’m going for the whoooole enchilada – I just bumped myself up to a 10.

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