What Would Aristotle Do?

The power of reason.

Losing Mr. Right

The greatest misfortune is not in losing him but in never looking again.

Dear Elliot,

I met Mr. Right; he was my neighbour for a few years in Chatswood (Sydney, Australia). I feared love and I self-sabotaged by not giving him a chance when I had the opportunity.

Six months ago, I had to move as my landlord intended to move in himself. I then lost all my chances with this man.

Now that I have moved away, I wonder to myself: What have I been doing the past few years? Why did I not give him a chance? “Why did I procrastinate? Why did I play hard to get and not meet him halfway?

On 1 April this year, I approached his mother to ask why Robin would not give me a chance anymore. It was my negative behaviour and attitude, she said. I probably played too hard to get.

I have lost my Mr. Right, I feel very sad and regretful. I cannot move on with/in life. (I am Malaysian Chinese, ethnic minority in Australia. How would I meet someone like Robin again within the next 2 years?

I must be stupid/must have been unwise to have just let go of/lost Mr. Right just like that!

Elliot, what is your philosophical insight/perspective?

- Suzie Wong

 

My Response:

Dear Suzie,

You have already stacked the cards against yourself by labeling Robin, “Mr. Right.” If you perceive him as this one and only person who is right for you, then you have already decided that you won’t meet anyone else. But the reality is that there are other “Mr. Rights.” This is because it is you who decide who is right for you.

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Of course, not everything is this subjective. There are some objective attributes of people. They may have black hair, brown eyes, brown skin, etc. But there is not a further attribute of “rightness” that you discover alongside the rest. On the contrary, to call someone “Mr. Right” is to rate or evaluate this person, based on some of his attributes. Without your having so judged him, there could be no “Mr. Right.” It is not as though you discovered “Mr. Right” in the same way a miner for diamonds might discover these precious gems in the course of digging for them. For, it was you, and you alone, who made Robin “Mr. Right” by proclaiming him such.

Why did you not give Robin a chance? Well, you said it yourself. You “feared love” and so you “self-sabotaged.” But was it love that you truly feared or was it commitment?

The French Existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, said that a person’s decision is right because he or she has decided. To a large extent, this is what people need to do in order to make “the right” decisions. Submerging yourself in dilemmas (“damned if you do and damned if you don’t) won’t get you anywhere. What if I marry him? Maybe I’ll make a big mistake and have to live with someone whom I don’t love. But what if I don’t marry him? Then I may end up alone. So, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t!

Unfortunately, if you repeat this pseudo-logic long enough, the decision will be made for you with passage of time, and in your case, this is just what happened.

 You could have said, “I really don’t think Robin is someone I want to commit to. I would prefer to continue to play the field for a few more years.” But I doubt this is what you said to yourself. More likely, you vacillated back and forth between the two horns of the aforementioned dilemma, ruminating over the unsavory consequences of each horn until the passage of time and the natural course of events (your landlord moved into your residence, etc.) made your decision for you.

 Now you say that you cannot move on with your live. “Can’t” or “won’t”? Your “can’t” is can’t-stipating you! But you are the one who is holding on to this “can’t” and preventing yourself from moving on. Let it go and you can get on with your life. Yes you can do this, but you will need to push yourself to go out and open-mindedly meet other potential “Mr. Rights.”

 When people suffer from the inertia of decision by indecision due to dilemma thinking or fear of commitment, as you appear to have done, it is common to put a halo around the lose. “Oh he was the greatest, and now he’s gone.” But the truth of the matter is that, regardless of how many positive attributes Robin may have, he’s still one of us—a messed up human being with plenty of negative attributes too. So he wasn’t really all that. If you enjoyed his company and had some positive chemistry, then you should be able to find those same qualities in someone else too. Ultimately, however, you will have to have the courage to commit (see also my blog article, “The Courage to Commit”). Otherwise you will probably repeat the same decision (by indecision) again and again.

 Indeed, all decisions come with some measure of risk; and some risks are more reasonable than others. A guy who has proven to be self-indulgent and irascible in the past is likely to be the same in the future, and so is probably a bad risk. On the other hand, a guy who has tended to be considerate and kind might, other things being equal, be a better risk. But, if you don’t venture out into the sea of life with all its mysteries and uncertainties, and take some risks, you will deprive yourself of many of the gratifying adventures of living.

 You are a minority (there in Australia), Malaysian Chinese. Presumably Robin is too. So you feel as though you won’t find another like him. But is Robin the only Malaysian Chinese guy on earth? And you have already decided that “Mr. Right” must be Malaysian Chinese? What about just Chinese? What about non-Chinese? Does “Mr. Right” even have to be like Robin in the first place? The answers you give to these questions are also of your choosing. It is nowhere written that you must have a Malaysian Chinese mate, although you may prefer one. But you can also decide to widen your net—if you so choose!

 Maybe the cultural similarity is important to you; maybe you believe racial sameness makes you more compatible. If these are your values (and this again is your decision), then you will need to fish in waters where this catch swims. But if the same old fish appear to be swimming in the same old pond, then you might need to look in other waters. Are you willing to relocate elsewhere? Spend some time in Malaysia (where Malaysian Chinese are not such a minority)? How important are these values to you?

 You can prove how much these values mean to you only through your actions, not words alone. As Sartre admonished, a person who merely talks of what she could or should have done, without going out and living life, succeeds only in defining herself “as a disappointed dream, miscarried hopes, and vain expectations.” Potential to live life, and to its fullest, is nothing at all unless it is life actually lived. Thus, it will be your choice whether you live, love, and attain happiness.

 So, it will be quite up to you whether you “find” your next “Mr. Right.” I can assure you that he’s “out there”—but only when you decide he is!

 Here’s wishing you your dreams, hopes, and expectations—fulfilled.

-Elliot

Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., is President of the Institute of Critical Thinking and one of the principal founders of philosophical counseling in the United States.

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