The Curse of Being Popular

When Too Many Choices Spoil the Love

It’s called Living the Dream, right?

A gaggle of beautiful women saying you’re hot, fawning over you, pleading for time with you, scrapping and bitching and even crying for you.

The problem is, you can’t have ’em all. Your job as reality television’s The Bachelor is to expel these hopefuls, one (or two) at a time, to get to the Chosen One. The right woman for you.

But is she really? Did you really put your, er, rose in the right place? Should you have gone with the free spirit, the challenging one, the one your sister liked, even the one who wept for you? What about the one who bailed early? Could she have been…?

And suddenly all that choice feels overwhelming and scary — not the lucky position you thought you were in.

US psychologist Barry Schwartz was arguably the first to warn against the pitfalls of excess choice in his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice — Why Less is More. Schwartz was referring largely to consumer products, and his views have since been widely challenged, but it’s hard to argue against the idea that more choice makes life more complex and, therefore, trickier to navigate.

When it comes to romance, while a deluge of attractive options sounds highly appealing, the reality can have the opposite effect, causing anxiety, confusion and self-doubt.

Here’s how, with a romantic twist to Schwartz’s ideas and some fresh ones based on clinical experience:

  1. EMOTIONAL PARALYSIS. Being presented with multiple options can stir up confusion and anxiety to the point where you feel unable to make a decision, so you end up doing nothing — and having no-one.
  2. THE ONE/S THAT GOT AWAY. The great fear that the person (or persons) you rejected would have been better/easier to live with/more exciting that the person you chose induces regret, which undermines satisfaction with your decision.
  3. SELECTIVE MEMORIES. When you have lots of romantic alternatives, it’s easy to remember the attractive features of those you rejected, while conveniently forgetting about their failings. And that can make you picky and dissatisfied with the person you have chosen.
  4. THE BAR’S TOO HIGH. Having multiple options increases expectations that at least one of them should be perfect. Obviously, that’s unrealistic. But it means when the person you’re with does something “less than perfect” (in other words, normal) it’s easy to believe you got it all wrong. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should have low romantic expectations — that’s called playing with fire. Or being stupid. You should know what you want and need in a partner. And what the deal-breakers are too.
  5. SELF-BLAME. If the relationship doesn’t work out, or when it goes through a rocky patch, those who had plenty of options may be more inclined to take aim at themselves for a poor choice instead of seeing it as the natural ebb and flow of a relationship.

Television’s bachelor-no-more Zac said he sought professional help to deal with the mental stress of being on the show. No wonder: he carried the responsibility for a lot of distress. And while it looked like he was calling the shots, it would have been impossible for him to work out who genuinely liked him, who was chasing their five-minutes of fame — and who just wanted to trump the other girls.

Zac has since stressed his desire to get back to normal life. To hang out on the beach, to walk down the street holding hands with his new girlfriend, the show’s winner Viarni.

But he’s about to discover real life means he’s in a real relationship. Which means it will have challenges. Pretty soon Viarni will turn back into a real woman. She’ll have bad hair days and wear trackies instead of cocktail frocks. Zac will annoy her. She’ll annoy him. They’ll have their first fight. Zac will see Lily on Instagram laughing on her latest travel adventure and Claudia staring devotedly into the eyes of her new man. And he’ll feel a prickle of angst about his Choice.

Ah, the perils of romance. Someone should have warned him: there’s no such thing as a rose without thorns.

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