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.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

  5. 35

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

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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…..

  10. 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.

  11. 41

    Sarahrarah (#36) wrote: “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)”
    Since when are these negatives? If you’re looking for a life partner, don’t you want someone who can carry on an intelligent conversation about a few things of mutual interest? However, I would argue that these men do not share your values if they are drug users (and you’re anti-drugs) or or just not that into you.
    Suzanne #33 wrote: “You have rejected guys because they want to stay in the same state in which they grew up.”
    If Jenna doesn’t want to live in that state for the rest of her life, then breaking up with a man who does makes sense.

  12. 42

    The main problem with marriage is this whole context of picking someone based upon outer attributes.  Find someone who is honest, friendly, has the ability to care for and love another person, has good character, and takes care of themselves and you.  All other things can be negotiated.

  13. 43
    Karmic Equation

    A good read for this topic is “Is He Mr. Right” by Mira Kirshenbaum. Key takeaways are

    The “five dimensions of chemistry”- make sure you and your guy have some degree of chemistry in all five dimensions
    Making sure you find a “safe guy who is hot enough” or a “hot guy who is safe enough” for you — don’t give up hotness if you’re with a safe guy (hotness doesn’t necessarily mean physically hot, but whatever “it” is that turns you on, e.g., reads, cooks, travels, etc.) — and don’t give up “safeness” if you’re with a hot guy.
    If a guy has more annoying habits than not, dump him. Those annoying things are going to magnify over time, not lessen.
    Be aware of counterfeit chemistry
    Don’t ping-pong between hot guy-safe guy dating cycles
    Be WILLING to dump the duds! Too many women can’t or won’t do this.

    Sounds to me as if Jenna is definitely doing number 6, but perhaps she’s not doing so well in the other areas.

    Jenna, What confuses me is if you’re planning to leave your rural town, why haven’t you left already? Wouldn’t it be easier to find and date “acceptable” men already living in the “new town” of your choosing than hoping to find men in your hometown who are willing to move? I think you’re asking for too much if you’re seeking the latter.



    I’ve never been a maximizer, but I’m not so sure I’m a satisficer either!

    I think that I’ve always had luck finding and building loving relationships because I simply look for a man I *LIKE* — And “like” encompasses so much more than what has been listed by various posters and yet so much less. For example, I don’t care if a guy is well-read so that we can discuss what he’s read, but rather that whatever conversations we have, are easy; no uncomfortable silences; not too many “Huh? What do you mean?”. I don’t care what he eats as long as he doesn’t care what I eat. I don’t care if he’s employed but that he persists in trying to find a job if he doesn’t have one. I really don’t have ANY preconceived notions of what I “like” so the guys I’ve had relationships with have been all over the map. No type, except that I liked them and they liked me, which eventually grew into love.

    In Kirshenbaum’s book she notes that if you and your guy have “chemistry” (some degree of all five dimensions) — you’re going to have a good relationship and more easily work through any difficulties. Great compatibility doesn’t necessarily equal great relationship. And remember Kirshenbaum’s definition of chemistry is much more than physical attraction.


    Paula #20

    I think you’re missing the point with the dress analogy. The point isn’t that the dress = man. The point is the THOUGHT PROCESS that the woman went through and then ended up with nothing. The woman needed *A* dress that looked good on her (dress = a man to make her happy). She DECIDED that she needed a RED dress to look good on her (RED dress = a good man with a BACHELOR’S degree [insert any non-happiness inducing criteria here] to make her happy). She bypassed the blue dress that not only looked good on her but was also within her budget (blue dress = good man with only high school diploma, within budget = bonus).

    If she hadn’t had preconceived notions of what she needed to make her happy, she would have bought the blue dress as soon as she tried it on. That’s not settling. That’s knowing a good thing when you come upon it.

  14. 44

    🙂 The dress analogy, amuses me. I would buy the blue dress but keep looking for a red one. If I did not find a red one in time I would keep the blue one. If I found a red one that was better I would take the blue one back . Now how would I apply that to a man ?;)

  15. 45

    Circular dating? 😀

  16. 46

    Karmic Equation, no I did understand the dress metaphor. Reread my post, I did get its point. The dress metaphor bares no resemblance to reality. Relationships are 2 way streets. Men have baggage. Yes the point is that the dress metaphor illustrates to women the dangers of being too picky. However picking a man also involves his feedback, hence this metaphor makes no sense.
    If we are using this horrible metaphor, it’s also neglecting the urgency of getting the dress. Do I need it for daily wear or do I have a special occasion to wear it for? And anyone that knows how women shop, you can buy both the blue and red dress and shop until your hearts content. You can go to other malls. Buying one dress is not the end of your dress buying career.
    Not a fan of metaphors, let’s use reality and actual experiences

  17. 47
    Karmic Equation


    Truth be told, that is what I would do, too! Buy the blue dress and keep looking for the red dress.

    So how do you apply this fable to men, with your example?

    Most women will “commit” to the red dress even though they know it needs alterations to fit…but, you know, it’s red. It’s what they decided they wanted. So they’ll buy it, take it home, take off the tags, get it altered…and then realize it was the WRONG shade of red for her complexion. But she’s now committed to the dress. She can’t take it back. It cost a fortune, so she won’t donate it. She wears it to the event and tries to forget about the fact that it’s the wrong color for her because of the sunk costs.

    She bypassed a great fitting, off the rack blue dress in favor of committing to the red dress of her dreams and then after commitment (becoming gf/bf, having sex, maybe moving in together) realizes that particular shade of red was all wrong for her. She’s only willing to part with the dress after several years, because of the sunk costs.

    That’s what most women do.

    I do it different, but I do what your example above illustrated.

    I buy the blue dress and keep looking for a red dress. I have sex without commitment so that I can continue to wear the blue dress while looking for the red dress. And I can continue to keep looking for a dress in right shade of red and the right fit because I haven’t required the blue dress to commit to me, so, therefore, I don’t have to commit to it.

    However, after wearing the blue dress often and recognizing how comfortable it is and how many compliments I get whenever I wear it, and the blue dress THEN asks me to be his gf, THEN I commit. I stop looking for the red dress, but I regularly assess the blue dress to see if it’s still a good fit. Once it’s too worn out or no longer fits, then I donate it and go looking for my red dress again.

    I don’t commit myself to the blue dress before the blue dress does offers to commit to me. I keep going about my happy life looking for the red dress.

    I have magic talking dresses, don’t you know. LOL

    But you know what I mean.

  18. 48
    Karmic Equation

    Then I guess you’re not a fan of fables. You must detest Aesop. Would a tortoise and a hare ever get in a race?
    You’re being too literal. Metaphors have a purpose. I like them.

  19. 49

    Karmic, you like metaphors – does that mean that Paula also has to like metaphors? 

  20. 50
    Karmic Equation

    If you actually read all the posts before commenting, it wouldn’t be me you’d be sniping at. I didn’t bring up the subject of liking or not liking metaphors. I was simply presenting the opposing viewpoint.

  21. 51

    You need to make a decision that works for you but the world doesn’t wait while you decide.  If you don’t make a decision, the universe will eventually decided for you.  I have a friend who broke up with her long term boy friend a few years ago.  A few years after the breakup, she discovered on facebook that her ex got married and was expecting a child.  The news upset her because it dawned on her that he will never be in her life.  She wasn’t in love with the man but I think she had the feeling maybe it could happen again.   I think some  people delude themselves when they consider their romantic options.  They think they have a discount rack they settle on.  

  22. 52

    Karmic Equation, on an offtopic note, yes I totally dislike most imaginary things. I don’t really like fiction or movies and tend to stick to non-fiction or documentaries. Not everyone likes metaphors so at least we have to be open to that reality that some people (like me) prefer more concrete things. 🙂

  23. 53
    Karmic Equation

    I totally get that. My exhusband was like that. We couldn’t ever have a conversation about conceptual/conjectural (is that a word?) things 🙂
    My life is very real, so I like to escape by reading Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels. Fiction-based mystery novels, etc.
    To each her own. There’s room enough in the universe for the two sides 🙂

  24. 54
    Randal Cieslak

    I feel like the term “good enough” is possibly misleading. It’s not settling, which is what good enough sounds like. There is a difference here. Having high standards and/or holding out for the best can still happen IF YOU’RE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Be honest with yourself about three things that determine “the best” for you. Anything you list beyond three is a “want”. And determining if the next person you meet is “the best” is a simple matter of meeting the important qualities. Beyond the important qualities, ask yourself if whatever trait you’re debating over is something that you would be happy living with. That’s love, which is what everyone here is looking for. If you want “unconditional” love, be willing to give it yourself. That means really taking a look at those “deal-breakers” that are now a mile long and determining which ones TRULY are, and which are preferences that don’t matter if you love the person. It’s not settling at all, it’s accepting someone for who they are.

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