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 (55 Comments).
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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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).

  5. 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!  

  6. 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.?

  7. 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.

  8. 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 ?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 31
    Sparkling Emerald

    Angie @ 30 – I think you could be on to something about the maximizing really being a symptom of something else that leads to maximizing.   Or it could be that whole chemistry thing.   Sometimes I’ll meet someone who is good on paper, but for some reason I just can’t put my finger on, I’m just not into them.   Some people just can’t stand not having a solid reason to dismiss someone, so they’ll come up with something lame like the person ate “jiggly food” in their presence.

  12. 32

    Jenna 25
    Look at the way your attitude was in explaining rejecting other people. And then compare that to the way Sparkling Emerald explained the same thing in #23. Both of you make the same point. But your way is filled with attitude (“The idea of kissing him repulsed me”). Seriously? You need to clarify that you would reject someone because you were repulsed by them?   Everybody can say that. But nobody does. Except you. Attitude.
    I am the second person on this thread (Jackie #3) also seems to feel the same way that you have a serious attitude. Now maybe it wasn’t your intent to come across that way. But take the edge off. You can still get your point across without being so harsh.

  13. 33

    Jenna @1
    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.
    Aren’t you guilty of the same thing though? You have rejected guys because they want to stay in the same state in which they grew up. What’s wrong with that? Many people stay in the same state they grew up in. If its not your preference to do that, its OK. But it seems like if a guy mentions that, you dump him which is you ending things as soon as they stop being perfect.
    Also your comment “I’m prepared to be single for a long time and consider this an acceptable option compared to other options available to me” is interesting. If you are as socially active as you state, then you should have plenty of options. And all of them are no good for you? Maybe you are asking for too much or perhaps you don’t offer enough to the guys who do have those qualities and therefore they aren’t making themselves an option to you. Just something to consider.
    Morris @27
    Well said. That’s the point I was making about Jenna earlier. I think she is in that group looking for that perfect 1% but may not bring enough to the table in order to obtain it.

  14. 34
    Sparkling Emerald

    Karl S
    “I find my current partner can get snappy and very critical when she’s under stress or feeling moody”
         Thanks for finally bringing a LEGITIMATE relationship concern to the table.   And that’s the rub, in the beginning, before people to know each other,   the rejections seem to be for superficial reasons (“jiggly eggs”, wants to live in the town he grew up in, an inch shorter or taller than I like) etc. when in reality, there was probably just no “chemistry”.   Once a real relationship has begun, the courtship behavior gives way to the real persona, the infatuation fades and reality sets in.   And then you have to figure out if you can live with each others REAL FLAWS !     Perhaps flaws that were hidden or glossed over in the infatuation phase.
         Once you discover that the person you are with is a real person with real flaws (and we ALL have a REAL relationship flaw or two or three . . .) it’s time to figure out if this can be worked out.   Some things I consider to be REAL flaws are, an unpleasant disposition as you described, non-contribution or very low contribution to the nuts and bolts of a relationship.   (not bringing in any financial resources and / or not contributing to the upkeep of the house, care of the children, etc.) Of course I would hope that cheating and physical abuse be considered a deal breaker at any point . .
       Anyway, I think once someone is stuck with someone and then discovers that they have a perpetually “mean mouth” or are chronically unemployed, AND don’t lift a finger around the house and are in fact quite sloppy, well, you might start looking back on those people you rejected because they liked country music or had a strange mole on their left ear and they actually start looking pretty good 🙂

  15. 35

    I wonder if much of EMK’s coaching is spent helping Maximizers become Satisficers?

  16. 36

    #17, 23, 24
    Very interesting about the perceptions of maximizers.
    When I took the maximizer vs. satisficer quiz, I had some   strong maximizer tendencies.   However, I’d like to think that I’m not as shallow as the maximizer examples people have shared here.   🙂   The things I’m picky about are things that are unrelated to higher socio-economic status:   food (homemade, organic food for my kids); having a nice, but not even close to luxurious living space; I don’t expect my friends to be geniuses, but I don’t have any desire to spend time with people who don’t ever do some personal reflection or read.   
    In the past,   I’ve had relationships with people who had a lot of the qualities I’ve looked for (similar values, intelligent, capable of having good conversation, readers, patrons of the arts), but most all of these relationships ended because they either didn’t like me that much (usually other maximizers) or had some fatal flaw such as drug use.
    I’m very open to changing if it means greater happiness in the long run and I’ve already eased up on things like eating habits.   However, I find it hard to sacrifice the other qualities when I feel that they are the things that bring meaning to life.   
    Have any other maximizers successfully (and happily) whittled down their list?   If so, how did you do it?

  17. 37

    Elli, I think you have to be prepared to tolerate a little bit of child related drama if your prospective partner has kids, because a little is normal. The deal breaker is kids that totally hate you and are hell bent on sabotaging your relationship with  their dad  or have massive overwhelming issues.

  18. 38

    I would ditch reading and the arts as a requirement.   There are fewer men who read a lot, esp fiction. I know men who do and don’t and see absolutely no difference in how they treat their loved ones.   I used to be a prolific reader and was terrible in relationships.  
    and, really, how much time do you actually spend in museums and at concerts?   And once you have kids …
    That said, the boyfriend and I will do things that we wouldn’t otherwise to please the other.   But expecting him to   like it as much as I do is too much of an ask!

  19. 39

    Karl S @ 29 and Sparkling Emerald @ 34 –
    YES!   Those are they type of questions that cause the most confusion.   I love my boyfriend MOST of the time, but he can be  overbearing and  downright rude  sometimes when he is annoyed. It doesn’t happen too often, but enough that I wonder why I am putting up with it at all.   So then I think am I settling for something less than  I want or am I being unrealistic (a maximizer)?  
    When I try to talk to him about it, he uses lots of excuses but no solutions for real change.   He just gets really sweet for a while until the next time he gets annoyed.   The apologies get old (I tell my children, thank you for the apology but it doesn’t mean anything unless there is an attempt to do better the next time).  
    So are we being maximizers if we have someone who is good to us MOST of the time and then not allowing them to be “human” by being a jerk sometimes, or do we move on and hold out for someone who has more mature control over their emotions?   Are my expectations too high to expect someone in  their 50s to have already learned to not lash out at others when they are feeling upset, or do I just ignore the occasional times it happens and not try to “change” him?
    The question becomes more difficult when he does it in front of my children, as I don’t want my boys to believe it is ok to talk to women that way, so as a mom, I think it is my duty to confront it when it happens.   I recognize no one is perfect, but I guess you have to decide what  type of imperfection you are willing to accept in another person.   Gaining a few pounds or not being as socialable as me will not cause me issues, but snapping at me (especially in front of others) will trigger dissatisfaction in me every time and causes me to question the relationship…..
    I just don’t want to become one of those women who has some guy yelling at her just because he has some hair up his ass…..

  20. 40

    @Jenna, I don’t know why you are getting jumped on.  
    So far, it sounds like the reasons you have rejected people are valid.   You basically rejected them because you knew you couldn’t be/aren’t what they wanted. If you know you don’t want kids and the man you are dating is talking about wanting them, it’s a good idea to move on.
      If you want to leave your rural area and have a writing career, you are NOT being some kind of high maintenance diva to break up with someone who thinks he’s in the perfect place and will never leave.   What would be crazy would be to marry that guy and think you could change his mind.   
    What people are missing is that you broke up with people who actually didn’t find you as YOU are to be acceptable.    And not details pieces of yourself that make you bratty or spoiled or stuck-up.   
    So as a woman who would never stop working for marriage or kids that is not looking down on other people who want those things for themselves or their partners.   If you fundamentally disapprove of who/what I am(a working women who would not live in a small town or rural America), then you are suggesting that I change in ways that have nothing to do with being easy to get along with/easy to please.   
    That is not having a bad attitude or being a princess and I think some people are projecting on you.   A man who wants to stay in the country with a stay at home wife/mother would require a massive shift on your part, and not one that I think you should undertake lightly.
    But if the majority of men in your area want to stay where they are, I personally think you should probably look for people outside that area or go ahead and move yourself.   As someone who is also from a predominantly rural state (although from one of its largest cities), what I’ve seen is that even with people who move away for school and part of their careers, a LOT of them come back or want to come back.   
    So even if you found the guy who seemed to have the same dream as you, you could move away and he might find out that it’s not for him (which also might be the case for you, but you should at least give yourself an honest shot).   I think the nice thing about being a writer is that you don’t have to live in the city to do that, but it might not be a bad idea to be someplace where you can interact with other writers and do more freelance work.   You’ll probably having an easier time finding writers groups and things like that.

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