Number one, the fear that I will make the wrong choice. Now, this is a fear born out of the feeling that the stakes are so high. And of course they are high. The choosing of a right partner is one of the most important decisions that we will ever make. And we are indoctrinated with that. People are indoctrinated with the idea that this is incredibly special. Marriage is so special. It’s so important. It’s so big. And even if you have been told over and over again that marriage is scary, then the idea of marriage being scary and a giant commitment and something that can go horribly wrong raises the stakes yet higher because you’re terrified that this already really difficult and scary thing is going to be made hellish if I make the wrong choice.
So when we think about who’s going to be our confidante, best friend, our lover, our roommate for the rest of our life, that feels like a very big decision. And that can create a kind of decision paralysis. This idea that I can’t make a decision in case I get it wrong. Or what if another person that’s better comes along? There’s that optimization that can find its way into our love lives in a really unproductive way. Always thinking there might be someone better, someone more attractive, someone with even more of the qualities I want. Even if the person that I’m with has some great qualities that I want. And that keeps us in this perpetual state of self-doubt, of not trusting our own decision making.
So what can you do about that? I think one of the really interesting pieces of psychology around relationships is that to me the myth is the idea that love at first sight, love at first sight is this great myth that we’re supposed to meet someone, know that they’re the one, and then we invest in them because they’re the one. And I think that often it works the other way around. You meet someone, yes, they have a lot of the qualities that you really want in a person. Yes, there is some initial chemistry. But then they become the one by what you invest in them and by what they invest in you. You create something special because you build it together.
The problem is, if you’re so fixated on worrying about whether someone is the right person, you never actually invest enough to get past the tipping point of feeling like you’ve got something incredibly special on your hands. And questions early on in dating that are to the effect of “What are we, where is this going long term, are we in a relationship?” Can sometimes immediately raise the stakes of a situation in a way that stops someone from investing to begin with.