I’ve seen ABC’s “The Bachelor” (and “The Bachelorette”) more times than I want to admit. Like most people, I object to reality TV in principle, but in practice I sometimes just can’t get myself to change the channel. For those who have not seen the show, now in its 17th season, here’s the premise: an incredibly attractive man (or woman) is matched up with about twenty-five incredibly attractive women (or men). That lonely heart then uses multiple group and individual dates, heavy petting, joint skydiving sessions and visits to meet the parents in order to winnow down the choices and find one true match.
This season Sean, a 28-year-old insurance salesman from Texas, has narrowed his dates down to two women. Soon, he will choose his number one girl and, if the show goes as planned, slip an engagement ring on her finger. So, will this be the one?
Surely, with so many to choose from, the odds are that Sean’ll find the love of his life, no? This situation might seem the answer to everyone’s dream—more choices in one room than most of us are likely to get in a lifetime. But in all likelihood, Sean and his new fiancée will not find everlasting love; fewer than 20 percent of couples on this TV series have stayed together for more than a few weeks after the airing of the finale.
Why should such a perfect formula produce such disappointing results? Shouldn’t more choices increase the likelihood of hitting the relationship nail on the head? New research into the nature of human decision making has revealed a surprising finding: the more options you have in life, the unhappier you are. In one study (described in Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less) some subjects were told that they could take home one of two pieces of art as a gift, while other subjects were told to pick one print from a dozen artwork options. Later that day, when asked how happy they were with their choice, people with only two pictures to choose from were happier than those who had twelve choices. The researchers discovered that subjects with more choices were unhappy because they ended up leaving the experiment with the nagging feeling that they missed something. Research shows that the same thing is true of restaurant menus, clothing styles, and paint colors—too many choices leave people feeling regret over what they didn’t choose.
Having choices doesn’t make a person happy; accepting the choices that person makes does. One of the secrets to marital success is a person’s ability to recognize that once he or she has made a made a commitment to be with one person, he or she must resist the impulse to shop around for any hint of what’s “better” out there. One of the biggest risks of infidelity is the spouse who comparison shops. After just a few years (or months!) of marriage a partner’s flaws may seem glaringly clear, and “other choices” may seem like a dream come true by comparison. But, deciding to step out of the marriage for something better will most likely end as a nightmare.
The path to a lasting marriage is accepting your partner as the one choice that you made, and committing yourself to making him or her the only choice forever.
So, Sean, as you decide on one woman, and if that woman decides on you, here’s some unsolicited advice: Immediately put all those other women out of your mind. If you channel all your energy into accepting your new fiancée as one of one (not one of 25), you and she may just beat the odds, and partake in a marriage that lasts a lifetime.