We love our choices; more than love, we demand them. Especially those of us that grew up in the heart of Western Culture. Look down any street in any town and you’ll see restaurant choices, grocery store choices, tech store choices, even choices for your Super Stores. That doesn’t even cover the choices you have once you walk inside these places.
Are we overwhelming ourselves with choices? Here’s a story to help you decide. Now, before I tell it, remember that I was told this story in a college psychology class. The details may be a little blurry, but the gist of the story is what’s important. After Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, left the company, presumably to enjoy some sort of retirement, he was called back in the nineties to help the company he founded survive bankruptcy. What he found was Wendy’s was offering its customers too many choices. The menu was one of the largest in the industry. Now, Dave Thomas had a close particular knowledge of this issue, because he had been brought on at KFC several years prior and found they were in the same predicament. When Dave came back to Wendy’s his first task was to limit the number of choices on the menu. That, of course, is not the only way Dave Thomas brought his company back from the brink, but it was one of the largest contributions he made. It was clear to him that customers were becoming confused with the number of choices they were given and they chose instead to stop dining at Wendy’s. When the choices were limited customers came back and Wendy’s is now one of the top fast food chains again.
Another way choices can overwhelm is a little more close to home for many of us; the world of dating. There are so many choices it isn’t even funny. There is speed dating, meeting in bars, meeting through friends, online dating, and so many more. The online dating world has sites for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, not to mention those over 55, those under 35, those that are hipsters, those that are straight, those that are gay and lesbian. If you can imagine it there is a dating site for it. There are now apps for your phone where you can find the person that is the closest in proximity to you (if you can’t be with the one you love; love the one you’re near?). It was into this world of choices that I delved after my break ups. In the beginning it was exciting because I was the newest guy out there; so many people wanted to talk to me. Then, as choices grew and I was online for a while, I became less interesting and less popular. Then I fell into the dating trap. Someone would ask me out, or I would ask them out and we’d go on a date or two but nothing would come of it. I didn’t understand. We both seemed to have fun when we were together, but neither of us made much effort beyond that.
Then the apps and the websites updated and became more “user friendly”. You could now flip quickly through photos of potential matches. If you weren’t satisfied with someone’s nose, or their eye drooped slightly, or you didn’t like the way their mouth twisted downward when they smiled, you could move instantly on to your next choice. While I was sitting one evening doing this very thing it hit me, of course no one can find the right person, they’re too busy wondering if they next choice will be better.
How can we ever know if the choice we are making is right if we’ve already moved on to the next choice? How can we ever get to know the person we are with if we are not in the moment getting to know who they are? We cannot be worried about all of the different choices in our lives to the detriment of the relationships we are trying to nourish. Choices are ours and it is important for us to have them, but it is important that they do not overwhelm and overtake us. Do not let go of someone or something amazing because you think that you should have made another choice.
The husband who leaves his family because he thinks being single is a better choice for him. The wife who leaves her husband because she believes she made a terrible choice. The couple that does not choose to work for their relationship because the choice of not trying seems easier. Wondering what the future with someone else could be like and spending our time dreaming of other choices we could have made disconnects us from those in our lives that are there now.
I am not saying that you will not move on from one another. People come and go in our lives after we have learned the lessons they are meant to teach us. And some remain a constant. But do not give up on who is in front of you for a “what if”. Times get tough, relationships hit rough patches, but looking for the escape hatch has led us to the highest divorce rate in the “civilized” world. Stay in the moment together. Nurture your shared pain. Make decisions together that are best and positive for you both. Work toward each others’ highest good. Don’t give up on something that has been amazing because the choice of not trying seems easier. Do not try to bring back the past, it is gone. Do not try to live in the future, it is not here yet. All you have is the now. Live there; it is all you have.