Do you find that you always want more? More money, cars, clothes, candy, or even love interests? It’s human nature to think that having more options is a positive, but just like eating too much candy, having too many choices can be a detriment. Sometimes more really is less, and this applies to many areas, including romance.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., takes a look at Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, where Schwartz makes the case that people generally fall into one of two categories regarding their decision-making style: Maximisers and Satisficers. A Maximiser is a person who is driven to make the best possible choice, whereas a Satisficer, strives to make a fulfilling choice regardless of whether it is technically “the best” choice.
Maximisers are the type of people who will endlessly research different makes and models of an item before finally making a purchase, or who will obsessively weigh the pros and cons of several neighbourhoods before choosing a new home (which they will also enthusiastically compare with dozens of other houses in the area). Satisficers, in contrast, will simply choose a model, neighbourhood, or home that fulfils their needs, and won’t think twice about whether there might have been a slightly better option had they only looked harder.
Concerning romance, a Romantic Maximiser is driven to find “the best” romantic partner and spends a lot of time comparing a current romantic partner with past partners, other current romantic possibilities, friends’ partners, or even hypothetical partners whom he can only imagine. A Romantic Satisficer, on the other hand, simply seeks a partner who is suitable for him, and doesn’t give much consideration to whether the chosen partner is “the best” possibility.
So what are the consequences of being a Romantic Maximiser versus a Romantic Satisficer? Schwartz’s research has shown that people who have more Maximiser qualities tend to have less life satisfaction, feel less happy, and less optimistic than Satisficers, including in the realm of romance and sex. The endless search for “the best” partner makes Romantic Maximisers feel restless, dissatisfied, and as though they are constantly unfairly compromising with each new romantic partner.
Schwartz also explores the difference in the objective and subjective value in the relationships of Romantic Maximisers versus Romantic Satisficers. Because a Maximiser is striving to find “the best” romantic partner, the person they are with may objectively seem like an excellent match: attractive, well-educated, and socially adept. However, because the Maximiser is never complacent with the relationship he’s in, the value of the relationship deteriorates. In other words, the relationship looks great objectively but subjectively is mediocre.
A Satisficer, on the other hand, cares little about how his relationship looks objectively. Maybe his partner is attractive and socially adept but is rarely the most intellectual person in the room, or maybe his partner is reasonably attractive and social, but exceedingly intelligent. In either case, the Satisficer isn’t keeping score in that way and is quite pleased with how subjectively happy he is with his partner.
So if it’s not making them happier in their relationships, why do Romantic Maximisers continue to seek out “better” and “better” partners? Some make the case that having so many choices, especially in today’s hyper-connected world, intensifies the temptation to pursue a romantic interest that seems better than one’s current partner. Today we often see only snippets and statistics about a person on social media or dating applications, which can be easy bait for a Maximiser looking for his next, “new and improved” partner. That short-term thrill of having found a “better” partner often makes a Maximiser lose sight of his long-term goal of finding a significant and fulfilling relationship.
Romantic Maximisers often find themselves in a series of shallow and insincere relationships, based solely on their desire to continuously move on to a better partner, hoping to one day find “the best” partner. While aspects of these relationships may bring happiness, the fixation with finding the ideal partner can cause a Maximiser to ignore negative and sometimes harmful qualities in their partners, and too many superficial relationships can lead a person to feel sad, lonely, and frustrated. But the prospect of a new, happier, better relationship usually draws a Maximiser back in—the cycle can even become addictive for some.
Recognising the qualities of Romantic Maximiser or Satisficer within yourself can help you to gain awareness of what positive or negative habits exist in your romantic life. It’s possible to find happiness whatever your inclination, and gaining awareness of these qualities only serves to help on the journey. What about you? Are you a Romantic Maximiser or a Romantic Satisficer?