Are You Content With Good Enough Or Are You Holding Out For The Best?

In this video, Paul Bloom of Yale talks to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

I got married and built my entire dating coaching practice around the idea that you can have high standards and still find happiness. People who push back – maximizers – insist that they will not “settle”. The problem with maximizers, as Schwartz points out in this video is that they find it harder to choose, it takes a longer time to choose, and they’re never really satisfied.

Holding out for “the best” or bust, often leaves you paralyzed and unhappy. Or perpetually single, as it might be.

As such, it’s next to impossible to succeed as a maximizer. Holding out for “the best” or bust, often leaves you paralyzed and unhappy. Or perpetually single, as it might be. Schwartz stresses a message that I emphasize here and that I emphasized in Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”:

“Even if you end up with less good outcomes, you’ll be happier” as a satisficer.

Trust me: it’s an acquired skill. I was a maximizer for 35 years until I figured out how to get happy. And if you’re a woman whose greatest fear is “settling”, it’s about time you picked up Schwartz’s and Gottlieb’s books above.

Join our conversation (54 Comments).
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  1. 1

    Forget maximizing and settling – it’s all about being honest and realistic with yourself. I have “settled” before with nice guys and was not being honest with them or me about what I really wanted. Now much more selective, I am also more honest with myself about the consequences: I’m prepared to be single for a long time and consider this an acceptable option compared to other options available to me. The attitude I find distasteful is people thinking there’s an endless merry go round of amazing partners, running from anyone the moment things stop being perfect and expecting instant fireworks. There’s a happy medium in there. 

  2. 2

    It’s not realistic to hold out for perfection which is how I see ‘wanting the best’ as. Everything is flawed. Everyone is flawed. I have adopted this ‘good enough’ mentality and feel it makes me feel more at ease. I think I was a bit perfectionistic but as I grew older, I valued being happy and at peace more so naturally I would adopt a ‘good enough’ mentality. I think for me, when I make a decision, I pick one or two ‘must haves’ and maybe have a couple of other things that I want but are not necessary. I read about this years ago and it’s basically the concept of discerning between the essential and nonessential and the faster we learn to drop what is not essential and see it as a want, the better off we are. The happier people seem to be able to distinguish ‘want’ vs ‘need’.

  3. 3
    Jackie H.

    Jenna, get ready for a loong ride…no judgment…just sayin’….I agree Paula…

  4. 4

    There’s a fine line between determining who’s “good enough” and who is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

  5. 5

    Great video, I’m definitely a satisficer, though I also have high standards. i know a few maximizers  and it’s true, they’re not so happy. To segue a little, I have a theory that if Lori Gottlieb had titled her book slightly differently, for example, Marry Him: the Case for Going for Mr. Good Enough, or Marry Him: the Case for Falling for Mr. Good Enough, or something along those lines, her book would have been more palatable for women to read. The word “Settling” in the title is what repelled many readers initially. Then again, she wouldn’t have received the media attention and eventual book sales if she hadn’t used that word in her book title. Something about the word “settle” really freaks people out. Very savvy on Ms. Gottlieb’s part.

  6. 6

    Why the snide remark, Jackie? Ugh. Being reasonably selective is not the same as a maximizer. And unlike Evan and some of the posters here, I haven’t been on several hundred dates and then complained no one was a good match. It shouldn’t take that many or something is seriously, seriously wrong! 

  7. 7

    I wonder why it’s so much easier to be a satisficer generally in life, but harder in the romantic relationship department.  Maybe because it’s such an intimate relationship and you plan on eventually having a child with this person (for those of us who want that).  I do a good job at being a satisficer in all other aspects of my life.  If I didn’t I would be unemployed and unable to make major life decisions such as buying a home.  I know my job isn’t the best, but I think the trade off for stable income is worth it for me.  I don’t expect perfect friendships.  I know the house that I will buy will have some trade offs too.  I’m not looking for the perfect partner, but it does feel like more of a challenge to find your right balance of good enough.  It certainly doesn’t come as easy as other major life decisions.

  8. 8

    I can’t help but feel that something about this is a tad simplistic. Maybe the book goes into more detail, but that’s the way I interpret it from this video. What I’m wondering is, what makes one person a maximizer and another a satisficer? Are people who are inherently more advantaged, more prone to be maximizers, or is there a correlation? So if you’re wealthy and good looking, are you more likely to be a maximizer? If you’re of average looks and smarts, are you more likely to settle because you just don’t have the plethora of choices that your better-looking, wealthier counterpart has?

  9. 9

    I’m tend to be a maximizer and know it would be good for me to pick up a few more satisficer traits.   Easier said than done, though.

  10. 10

    I like this.
    And agree that maximisers are perfectionists. And are not ever truly happy. They appear happy on the surface but are deeply unhappy inside unsettled and depressed.
    It’s about the best match for us to meet our needs of our inner core needs of who we really are on the inside. To share and BE with our best match. So it’s not about settling and having no standards or pretending. It’s still about being selective, but selective in a different way than most have been lead conditioned and taught to believe.
    I particularly liked the bit about the best college.
    The best at what exactly? Pushing youngsters to get high results to meet their league tables and targets?
    MMMM and are these youngsters truly happy? No many are on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to cope. Or are they desperately trying to please their parents and make their parents proud and happy? Training to be a doctor because that was decided for them as a child, or a lawyer etc.

  11. 11

    Everyone has the right to hold out for someone with zero flaws.  But unless you have no flaws yourself, why would you expect to find someone with no flaws who’s interested in you?
    And nobody is flawless.  If you think you are, you’re deluded–and that’s a flaw right there!

  12. 12

    I like what Rose says about being selective in a different way — I’ve rejected a number of men who were “nice” but for very valid reasons. Some were too traditional and wanted either a stay at home wife or to have a lot of kids or stay in our rural state for the rest of their lives – all inconsistent with my long term vision and values. Some made subtle comments conveying that they looked down on my writing career, which is a deal breaker – the guy doesn’t need to be a writer himself, but rather, be encouraging of my job (as I would do for him).  With others, the idea of kissing them repulsed me; still others, after a few dates we could barely string together a meaningful conversation. Others were old enough to be my father – no thanks! Since I have a very full social life being single is better than any of these unappealing options, with whom I spent a fair amount of time with before writing them off. When you’re spending a lifetime with someone, making sacrifices for them, having their kids, sharing their bank account, waking up next to them every morning – well, you do need to have reasonable selectivity, which is not the same as holding out for the best. 

  13. 13

    Heck! It’s hard enough to find someone in their 50s who is emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship!! Many of the men that I have met online so far have been emotionally damaged from previous relationships, or were still carrying a torch for their exes, which is discouraging. I am easy to please because all I am looking for at this point is for someone who isn’t broken.

  14. 15

    I was always confused about how maximizing works in relationships, although I have a few friends whose dating practices I think are unusual and rarely (ok, never) lead to serious relationships.
    These people tend to date good-looking, high-salaried men who look good on paper.  I just thought dating a stereotypical guy like this was a mark of insecurity, but maybe it’s also maximizing? 
    I don’t get how people can’t meet someone, find them attractive and enjoy their company and then just see if they have dealbreakers as they get to know them? I’ve read the Paradox of Choice, and it never touches on insecurity although it’s a good read.  I don’t really understand what maximizers are trying to do, although i do think with online dating it is trickier b/c you are reading a profile and that’s nothing like real life. I saw your facebook post on insecurity the other day, and it reminds me of that. I’ve never been a maximizer but I think maximizers are appealing to some different need.  (In fact, a maximizer friend who is always dolled up, always has perfect blond highlights, always goes to the gym, always wears great clothes, always has a great apartment, has always been “the best” … finally met her “soulmate” and has gotten engaged.  But not without much complaining that he wasn’t as cute as an ex that she dated for 2 years, but didn’t like the personality of, etc.  But yes, she is actually happy… and her fiance is attractive even if he is not “as attractive” as her ex).  It just seems like maximizers are starting outwards: find the perfect on paper and try to find a way to love that person or enter a relationship with that person, and ignore the people who they naturally feel connected to, although I will admit it’s easier to disregard people online because there is no way of telling if you’d actually be attracted to the person.  I’m terrible at guessing based on online profiles.
    I just think it’s an incorrect thought that happiness comes from having the best.  And yes, I’m a total satisficer.
    @K 7 – It actually doesn’t sound like you have “satisficed” in your job.  It sounds like you have just accepted a job you don’t like b/c you value getting paid.  Work isn’t supposed to bring happiness. It’s supposed to bring money.  Also, a house you can fix up.  A man you can’t.  I think maximizing in a relationship context is trying to find someone that meets certain superficial criteria and not actual dealbreakers.  In the video, Schwarz even stated that a satisficer can have very high standards.

  15. 16

    Angie @15, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the video and do not know exactly how satisficer is defined.  My understanding of it is from Evan’s words and the comments.  I didn’t write a novel so there may not be enough detail for you to understand my feelings.  I said my job wasn’t the best, but I’m satisfied with my job.  I have had high paying jobs where I was miserable so I chose to find something else.  My job isn’t exciting and it’s stressful, but those are just some negatives.  The positives are that I get paid very well AND I like my co-workers/boss, it’s flexible, fairly easy to take vacations, challenging in a good way and I’m good at it.  It’s a good fit for what I need in my life right now.  My point was that because this isn’t a matter of the heart it’s not too hard for me to list out the pros and cons and make a decision.  With homes I’m not even looking at things that need fixing up.  My choices there are having to pick a neighborhood I don’t love to stay in my budget or pick a place that is best for my commute.  I can make these rational decisions.  Love is harder because even if the pro list on a guy is long there is an intangible feeling component. 
    [email protected] thanks!  I have learned/am learning a lot from this blog. Don’t always agree, but that isn’t the point for me.  For me it’s too look at things from another angle and to try things outside my comfort zone.

  16. 17

    @16  I think if you were a maximizer, this wouldn’t be your thought process :-):
    “Love is harder because even if the pro list on a guy is long there is an intangible feeling component.”
    I think a maximizer would date someone who met the superficial requirements even if they didn’t actually like the person OR would try to take someone they do have feelings for and attempt to fix them up OR they’d not follow up on the initial attraction and cut things off early based on superficial reasons as opposed to a satisficer would be more inclined to accept someone as-is or at least would leave the relationship b/c of genuine dealbreakers like doesn’t want a family (instead of “doesn’t make 6 figures”).
    I can’t remember if it was Lori Gottlieb or Barry Schwarz was say you have an event, and you want a red dress at X price point, etc.  And you find a blue dress. And you think it’s gorgeous and you look great in it and the price is right and it would work… but your heart is set on red.  So you go to 15 stores, find no red dresses, and then say “Ok, well that blue dress will work.” You go back to the original store, but it’s sold out.  You have no dress.  (I think it was Lori).

  17. 18

    Angie, The dress analogy is profound.  When you get older, it’s very easy to fall behind the curve.  Your world can change faster than you can react. 

  18. 19

    I read that book and it was outstanding in every way. One line that sticks out from it was that “human imagination will always outstrip reality.” Or something to that effect.
    If applied to romance, I think it’s akin to believing no matter who you’re with or potentially with, there has to be someone better—because your imagination can always conjure up someone better. You can possibly imagine someone with so many great qualities that they might not exist on this planet. That’s the power of imagination. So how could the people you meet possibly meet the images you’ve created in your head?
    So in a way I think of “maximizers” as not really “perfectionists” but “fantasists.”

  19. 20

    The problem with the dress analogy is that it is too simplistic. The dress represents the man. Men are equally involved in the decision making of what happens in a relationship. A dress is just an inanimate object with no say. The dress does not have a need to have freedom. A man is actually more complicated then a dress. Men have fears, quirks and insecurities. A dress does not.
    While I understand the dress metaphor, it is just that – a metaphor. It will not be able to capture the inner psychology of men and women. Humans are both simple and complex creatures. I finished reading the book Why He didn’t Call You Back (I think recommended by Evan in a blog post?) and it just reaffirms to me that men claim to b simple but really are not. They have their quirks and flaws and surprisingly get turned off by misreading simple communication. We women have to accept them and also try to understand what makes them tick. To simplify finding a man to that of finding a dress is really almost an insult.

  20. 21

    I try to be reasonable in what I want, I really do. But it is difficult because the older you get the more baggage people have. I  do not have children but am willing to go out with men who have children, assuming the children are not feral and on a mission to make my life miserable.  I am willing to date divorcees, but find many divorced men are very bitter about their ex and women in general. Widowers I encounter seem to have put their wives on pedestals and say they will never marry again, so I am only good enough to date, not good enough to marry.
    I am prioritizing character over charisma, but I am a sucker for witty banter and lots of laughs and I miss that  when it is absent in a guy.nevertheless I grit  my teeth and go and multiple dates and wait for chemistry to develop, I have tried really hard to find someone and feel very demoralised.

  21. 22

    Jenna @12
    I’ve rejected a number of men who were “nice” but for very valid reasons. Some were too traditional and wanted either a stay at home wife or to have a lot of kids or stay in our rural state for the rest of their lives – all inconsistent with my long term vision and values. Some made subtle comments conveying that they looked down on my writing career, which is a deal breaker – the guy doesn’t need to be a writer himself, but rather, be encouraging of my job (as I would do for him).  With others, the idea of kissing them repulsed me.
    Jenna did it ever cross your mind that maybe the guys who you look down upon because they want to live in your rural state, look down upon YOU because you are a writer? You come across as “my shit don’t stink” and so the best way to bring those people down to earth is to flame something close to their heart- such as your writing. No guy would ever give a subtle dig as to a girls writing dreams unless he didn’t care if he lost her or not.
    You seem to give a whole host of reasons why you reject guys. But I always take with a grain of salt whenever someone crows about all the reasons they  dump someone without ever acknowledging that sometimes they get rejected too. Of course in your mind, you have never been rejected. But take heed. The guys who diss your writing? They are rejecting you. Only you don’t see it that way. You look at it as them not being supportive. But in reality, they are rejecting you and the writing is just a subtle way of doing it.

  22. 23
    Sparkling Emerald

    I think I am being reasonable in what I want, in fact, in the past maybe too willing to compromise too much. 
    I have very few deal breakers, one of them being NO SMOKING of ANY KIND !  Finding someone who doesn’t smoke tobacco is fairly easy, but being a baby boomer, finding a non pot smoker is proving to be a challenge.  I really don’t want to be involved with someone who is involved in an illegal activity. Even if just occasionally.  I don’t think it makes someone a bad person, (I used to indulge in my youth, but I quit AGES ago.)  I have rejected two otherwise seemingly great guys over this.  One told me at our first meeting.  (I didn’t ask, he let me know)  I thanked him for his honesty and gave him a warm goodbye hug.  Another one knew it was a deal breaker for me and decided that since he was only an occasional user that “it wasn’t part of who he was”, so he waited a few weeks to tell me.  At this point, it was his hiding of this from me, (knowing it was a deal breaker)  rather than his occasional habit that had me more concerned.  I think he finally told me, because he was starting to have issues with my legal marital status (which he knew about from the start)
    I don’t look for (nor desire) George Clooney good looks.  Just someone reasonably fit & pleasant looking. ( I don’t mind a few extra pounds, or bald and I actually LOVE gray hair)  INCOME ?  I don’t even look at that part on the profile. HEIGHT ?  I couldn’t care less.  (I’m pretty short) EDUCATION LEVEL ?  Irrelevant to me, I only have a HS degree. 
    Am I really being TOO PICKY not wanting a pot smoker ?  (even an “occasional” one ????? )  Maybe when I finalize my divorce I’ll have more men to choose from, and I can find someone fairly pleasant looking, easy to talk to, thoughtful, kind consistent, emotionally available, who’s doesn’t smoke ANYTHING and who is into me.

  23. 24

    @Sparkling Emerald
    You aren’t a maximizer.  I have friends (and have even dated male) maximizers.  After I read “Marry Him”, I thought some of the women featured in the book were nutty, and I was telling a friend…
    She told me she dumped a guy because he ate eggs in front of her, and she hates eggs. (No, she’s not vegan.  She doesn’t like eggs because they jiggle).  The other engaged friend referenced above dated her ex for 2 1/2 years despite not liking him, b/c she thought he was good-looking and liked his job and didn’t think she would find anyone as good as him.  (She has said of her fiance that he is far less physically good-looking, but she has never felt so happy or enjoys someone’s company so much, although she still wishes he was better looking).
    Not wanting a criminal / drug abuser / deadbeat dad is normal.
    I don’t know.  I’ve read both books and have seen some other things Schwarz has done, so I think I get this, but the posters who are saying “but feelings” etc…. I don’t think maximizers are that deep, nor do I think the emotional stuff serves as factors.  (Or, if they do really have an emotional connection with a person, they may try to encourage the person to “fix” the things they don’t like).

  24. 25

    John – I’ve been rejected plenty of times and don’t hesitate to a admit to that. But this post is about rejecting others, not the other way around. Good grief, get over yourself! 

  25. 26

    @cat 21
    I feel for you. I am in my forties, never married, no children and I feel lost among all those divorcees and widowers with children, sometimes also grandchildren, who have had a long family history. I literally feel like a fish out of water at times because my views on the world are often so different from theirs. My independence usually scares them because many of them have never met such a type of woman, so many think I am weird, which I am not, I am a normal woman who hasn´t had much luck in love and has had to learn to stand on her own feet without a family support, that´s all. So am I a maximizer whn Iwant somebody who won´t bother me with all his family problems, problems with his ex, his teenage children, etc.?

  26. 27

    I say go for what you want but realize what you are asking for.  If you are looking for the 1% expect and accept you’ll have a hard time.  Also realize what you bring to the table.  Do you have what the type of person you want is looking for?  Other things to consider…
    – Just because you can date a certain type of person doesn’t mean they want to settle down with you.  Like it or not a man that is a 10 will date/sleep with 7s and 8s.  But at the end of the day they will most likely settle down with a 9 or 10.  Likewise a girl in her 20s might date a rich man in his 40s but the chances of her settling with him are pretty slim.
    – Things usually get harder as you age.  Unfortunately women hit that issue earlier. I have wonderful female friends that are pretty but unable to find the type of men they use to be able to easily date now that they are approaching 40.

  27. 28
    Sparkling Emerald

    Angie 24   “She told me she dumped a guy because he ate eggs in front of her, and she hates eggs. (No, she’s not vegan.  She doesn’t like eggs because they jiggle).”
    That has got to be one of the funniest things I have ever read !  And I guess I better put “don’t eat jiggley food” on a date, in case that’s some sort of universal deal breaker 🙂   Would she have given him another chance if he ate a hard boiled egg in front of him ?

  28. 29
    Karl S

    We all know everyone has flaws, but the question then becomes what kind of flaws are you willing to settle on? Are they things you can both acknowledge and laugh at/work on together or are they things that get you both defensive and prickly when they’re discussed.
    I find my current partner can get snappy and very critical when she’s under stress or feeling moody, which she later apologizes for. I do appreciate the apology, but sometimes I wonder whether it’s right to endure the oscillations she has, or whether I should seek somebody who doesn’t get like that. It can be hard to know sometimes where to draw the line in the sand, especially when people mean well.

  29. 30

    @ Sparkling Emerald
    I was in SHOCK when she told me that.  She told me other somewhat superficial reasons she has dismissed guys (didn’t like his car, etc), but the eggs thing blew my mind.
    I don’t know.  I feel like maximizing has to do with some underlying dissatisfaction or personal issue that leads to unhappiness, but is expressed as maximizing (ex: being insecure, having low self esteem, caring too much what others think or abandonment issues) and not the maximizing itself that leads to unhappiness, but Barry Schwarz probably isn’t interested in what I have to say :-P.

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