Sunday, January 30, 2011

Decisions, Decisions… ‘Shopping’ For a Partner

Ladies, have you ever gone out shopping, entered the first store and found a really nice dress that looks fabulous on you but didn’t know whether to really buy it or not? You knew that there were still so many shops that you could look through and maybe get the chance to find something better, but if you didn’t, then maybe by the time you’d return to the initial store, the dress you had laid your eyes on would be gone. So you stare at it for a while, try it on, look into the mirror and consider a decision. You have a limited amount of money, so you’ll most probably buy only one special article of clothing that day. You really like the dress but you’re sure there must be something better out there, so you change back into your own clothes, put the pretty thing back on its hanger and return it to the shop.

This actually happened to me recently. First shop, nice dress, limited budget, many more other shops I hadn’t seen. So, I too had left the dress there and started wandering around the mall with my best friend, almost sure we’d find something better. A couple of hours and one sore back later, we still hadn’t found anything. We went back to that first shop and were lucky to still find the dress there. Already knowing we didn’t discover anything prettier in that big mall, upon making the decision to buy it, I still found myself in horrible hesitation, thinking… What if there’s something better out there? I eventually got the dress and immediately stopped stressing about it. Thank God a woman doesn’t have to own only one dress, but we get to have a wardrobe that we fill with the things we like. We open it, choose what we feel like wearing, with the freedom that we can always change our mind and neither our clothes nor our wardrobe would judge.

Upon getting home, with a contented feeling of “mission accomplished”, the question still stuck to my thoughts… was there something better out there? It sounded so familiar, and then it came to me. Was looking for a partner similar to trying to find a great dress? We go around meeting men, some we like, some we don’t. We consider whether those whom we’re interested in would make good partners (life partners) and sometimes we even “try them on” to see if they fit, thus engaging in relationships. If we decide they’re not really the thing for us, we return them to the world and move on, trying to find something that suits us better. Some people look for an article of male that would last a lifetime and carefully inspect what they’re trying on for size. Others are sufficiently satisfied with finding something cheap and good-to-go thus occasionally trying on more ‘outfits’ at the same time. But if we do find that one amazing match, a guy that seems perfect for us, that once ‘tried on’ fits like nothing had before, do we take him or not? Once again, the mind-blowing question arises: what if there’s something better out there?
Clothes are simpler because you can get something you like anyway, then find a better piece and purchase it as well. They’re all neatly gathered in a wardrobe and you can switch through them as you please, without any feeling of guilt, matching them to suit you best at any given occasion. With men, there is no real possibility of ‘getting one’ and then just stashing him in the wardrobe with all the others you have collected and are hoarding. It’s not like you’re free to pick whichever you like from your “stash” whenever you feel like it and free to change your mind at any given time since all the specimens in the “man-wardrobe” are yours anyway and don’t mind being tossed around like that. Here’s reality: there is no such thing as the “man-wardrobe” described above.

In this male-scenario, there is no way for us to be able to ‘visit all the shops’ or try on all the specimens that seem cute to us. To make an accurate comparison, if in the dress-scenario we were pressured by a limited budget, in this case, we have a limited amount of time to actually settle down. And until somebody invents a miracle shot to stop ageing, this parameter will still be there to nag us. Asking yourself if there’s something better out there could be a trap. Yes, there might be. Will you find him? Will he find you? Would you give up the guy that stood out from all the others you dated until then, out of sheer desperate curiosity and/or stubborn perfectionism? And if not, how inclined are we towards frustration? Surely nobody is 100% perfect, so when your chosen male will spill out a bit of his imperfection, won’t frustration chew on the back of your brain, making you wonder whether you could have found somebody better? Are we forever condemned to “what ifs”?

I know we must be responsible for the decisions that we make, try to stick to them as much as possible and change them only when really necessary. But every time we make one decision, our minds already construct alternate realities in which the decision has not been made, not to trick us into doubting, but more for a comparison we learn a lot from, sometimes even behind our conscious minds. We must learn not to doubt everything that’s in our way. Even though we have been taught that these days one must be strong, calculated and in perfect control of his or her life, ever so often we must take a leap of faith and there is nothing else in the world that can take us forward in those moments.

My mother keeps telling me every now and then that everything is meant to be done at the right time, something that is perfectly justified if we consider the way our motivation and tastes evolve throughout different life-stages. There are things we can only appreciate and fully enjoy at one specific life stage and if that passes, even if we do try to catch up, we’ll never get as much out of the experience as we would if it had been made at the right time. It is normal to hesitate a little when facing a decision that must be made, but we can’t live our lives in hesitation and doubt, no matter how rationally justified the underlying thoughts may sound.

Time doesn’t wait for us to make up our minds and when it comes to relationships, rational thought can’t cover or establish order to everything. Every once in a while, we have to decide to take a leap of faith.


  1. Ah shopping, my evil bane! I only shop when absolutely necessary and get it done with as quickly as possible. Here's a mantra to try whenever you're drawn to a possible luxury purchase: "Do I like it, do I want it, do I need it?" Only if you can say yes to all three can you buy it.

    The metaphors and analogies you provide in this post are quite fascinating. The psychology of it all relates directly to animal behaviour. One finds that if females are the gender that invests most in reproduction (ie: large eggs, milk, pregnancy, upbringing) they tend to be extremely picky about mates and act coy while summing up potential suitors. The same behaviour is observed in males that invest more.

    We are quick to judge ourselves and others on our value and it's mainly based on our innate reproductive psychology. Any bond will take time, massive investment, change and (yes) compromise to grow. You find that if you really respect and care for someone, you accept them for who they are, flaws and counterpoints included, rather than scanning for something you perceive as better or more compatible. Eventually you will make individuality changes to benefit one another, because you *want* to rather than have to. That's love.

    The 'time' and 'budget' limits we impose on ourselves are fallacious, rooted in biological urges and psychological self-evaluation. Society is incredibly generous. We needn't worry much that we'll be wiped out by a disease, killed by invaders or poor seasons, or miss a rare opportunity to meet a suitable partner.

    Travel and communications possibilities are endless, we're well provided for and there are just *so* many of us around now, it's less about finding someone who's an especially remarkable specimen and more about realising the remarkable in the ordinary people around us.

  2. With a ticking clock and our bodies and minds being slaves to hormones, it's not hard to believe that so much of our behaviour has "selection of the best suited partner for reproduction" at a very deep root level. Since we assume we're more than animals, we build up from that point into much complex views, reaching towards even the heights of spirituality. Yet while we are here in the flesh, even if we have managed to make it to the peak of refinement, the seed below the base of the mountain is still related to biological reproduction of the fittest.

    Sometimes I wish I had met Freud. I like to imagine what it would have been like to go out for a beer and some interesting conversation with him.

  3. I wonder what Freud would think about me and my family. I'm more partial to Jung's work. I'd love to study it properly someday. Psychology is amazing!

    Humanity, animals, plants, life itself is chemistry and we are thus ruled by the laws and principles of it. But perhaps not enslaved by it. If hormones are signalling to you that you're hungry and must now eat, try going out for a half hour run. The digestive system shuts down during exercise and the feeling of hunger vanishes. There are ways and means to overcome hormonal signals, whether using physical control as in exercise or mental discipline as in denying an impulse.

    It's enlightening to consider humanity and the world as a whole before individual desires. The population is exploding with thousands of detrimental knock on effects on people and planet. That's such a huge thing to feel compassion and concern for, it makes personal wants seem insignificant and therefore justified in being overruled. It acts like a champion chastity belt!

    Sometimes enacting survival of the fittest means allowing yourself to willingly perish due to unfitness.

    When I say unfitness, I mean it in the scientific sense. Someone who chooses not to reproduce is genetically unfit because their genes won't be passed on to the next generation.

    But that's not entirely true. The celibate's behaviour may be down to another factor known as kin selection. Kin selection means some members of the group forego reproductive opportunity in order to benefit the group as a whole by providing care and protection to the young of others, or by limiting the use of shared resources.

    In the animal kingdom, kin selection is observed in family groups only, because each 'unfit' member is indirectly increasing his/her reproductive success by promoting the survival of shared genes in other family members.

    What sets humanity apart is that we have the opportunity to associate ALL people with family. Sacrificing personal success, wealth, time or effort for the benefit of unrelated others; it's called charity, and it's one of the defining characters of our species that I believe we should honour and proliferate.