We are spoiled for choice in this modern world. There are psychological reasons why the brain cannot cope when presented with too much of one thing. Unlike the days of yore, when marriage and love were likened much more to a business deal, there were prerequisites and strategies for romance. You were a good match for the families or the money and status involved in such a pairing were beneficial to all parties. There was a method in the madness.
These days, in western culture, love is all about the heart and how we choose to follow it. We can choose anybody we like, so long as we know ourselves and know what we want. So when we head into the world of dating, how do we recognise the scholars from the shrews? The heroes from the horrors? With a million different kinds of hearts and souls wandering around us, how on earth do we define what exactly it is that we might be looking for?
The Problem: Seeking Perfection
Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, says that it is possible that the pressures of finding that ‘perfect’ someone can often leave us feeling let down when the reality of the situation is actually something far less. Humans are not perfect after all, and the idea of trying to find perfection within the plethora of choices is guaranteed to lead to a certain amount of disappointment.
“Even when you choose well, you end up disappointed,” Schwartz says. “You’re convinced that even though you did well, you should have done better.”
The human brain does have a tendency to focus more on losses than on gains, so it would do well to remain positive, and Schwartz explains that our desire (and anxiety) to make the right choice can often outweigh the pleasure we should be experiencing in the possibility of choice.
Faced with so much to choose from, we can often spend so much time inside our minds trying to make the right — or even just a good — decision that we stop moving forward altogether. Time ticks on as we think and we think, and instead of actually living our lives, we waste weeks and months thinking about it instead.
Overwhelmed by choices
In saying that, veering through too much choice can be a stressful time for the brain. Dopamine levels (brain chemicals) are working overtime, and to an extent, choice gears up our brain so that it is excited and soaring toward a decision. But too many choices and the effect can counteract. The brain, in fact, begins to slow instead, kind of like when you plug too many things into one switchboard. Our moods can begin to darken when we are overloaded, and our minds can grow dark with indecision.
The same applies to dating. Given a few options we can become excited about decision making, but given too many and our eyes tend to glaze over and we shut down. The result is that we are less likely to make a decision at all, so in terms of online dating it can be highly beneficial to have a system that narrows it down in order for us to cope!
How To Make A Better Decision
“If there are more initial options available, all decision-makers have to do is tune their filtering procedure,” Scheibehenne says. He also says that we should use some form of conscious decision making rather than leave it up to the non-reality of computers to do our thinking for us, as online dating does. The kind of decision that warrants a lifetime of consequence perhaps should ultimately be up to you and you alone.