It’s a truth universally acknowledged that dating is almost exactly like job hunting. Think about it. You sign up for some websites that plan to hook you up with prospectives whose needs match your interest and with whom you feel you could form a mutually beneficial partnership. You reach out and put in applications that detail your stats and your history — what baggage you bring — and then you wait to hear if they are interested. Eventually you get that joyous email or phone call to set a date to meet up.
You meet, you chat, you get to know each other and then you wait for them to call. During the excruciating interim, you first ask yourself: “Am I allowed to call them? What are the rules here?” You wait hours and then days just for a simple sign that they had a fun time to and you’re a strong enough candidate for the position, and your self-interested composure quickly devolves into, “WHY WAS I NOT GOOD ENOUGH? I SPEAK THREE LANGUAGES AND DOUBLE MAJORED. WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?”
Note: This internal monologue may include: Crying, sweating, drunk dialing your potential employer, drinking, crying while eating, crying while eating sorbet (which has less calories), giving it up and just eating ice cream, thinking in all caps, watching Honey Boo Boo for no reason, Facebooking your exes, swearing at nothing and masturbating while eating. It’s a dark time.
However, some of us are in an even worse game. You hang out once and things go well. You can tell they’re into you, and you know you’ve got this if you want it. You could meet up until both of you decide to make it official, and they make an offer that you logically consider and then decide not to refuse, but the question is: Is this what you really want? Is this what you dreamed of? You know you could be happy there, but this isn’t what you saw yourself doing. Is this company really your type? Are you really a…customer service girl?
A friend of mine, who we’ll call Tako with a “K,” has been working at the same company for 15 years. She’s a well-known writer in Chicago and runs her own ludicrously popular blog, and colleagues often ask why she keeps the job. Why would Tako work for “this dude” when it’s clearly not what she wants to do with her life? Tako told me it’s because her boss is incredibly supportive of her and her work, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important to her. Sure, it’s not the job a million girls wanted, but it pays the bills and gives her stability and respect. It also helps Tako do what she really loves, write, so it’s kind of a win-win.
My mother always told me that real relationships aren’t the cancan dance of romance we’re told to expect. There’s a reason that Julia Roberts romcoms always end when the couple gets together, because the rest isn’t so glamorous. It’s hard to moon over paying the bills or wiping the other person’s butt when they’re ninety and they don’t remember your name, so we don’t have that many romances about commitment. We don’t romanticize the guy we didn’t have to hold out for, the one whose affection wasn’t so much like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel but more a warm pair of socks. We like the waiting games and the heartache, because it feels like we’ve earned it. What’s love without pain?
But at the same time, are we doing ourselves any favors by holding out and waiting for that perfect prospective? What do we lose out on when we continue to hold our choices to impossible standards? For me, moments like this are proof of the illusion of choice. When you go to a store, you’ll see hundreds of nearly identical choices — from canned beans to soda. When you look at the chemical ingredients of most aspirin, the store brands are exactly the same as the kinds with names we recognize, the more expensive Advils and Tylenol.
However, the name brands universally sell better, while not offering that much of a difference. Why? Because we feel like we get something when we sacrifice. Our satisfaction should have costs and the higher they are, the more value we get.
It reminds me of this people-watching game that Lorelai and Rory play in Gilmore Girls. It’s called “1…2…3…He’s Yours,” and in the game, you are forced to pick the man of your dreams out of the next three candidates who walk by. (Apparently, there are only three men left in the world.) When the first guy walks by, you have to say “yes” or “no.” If you say yes, he’s yours and you lead a nice, happy life together of picking out china and tea sets. If not, you move onto Guy #2. Once again, same rules apply. Should you pick him, ta-da happy marriage, but otherwise, you’re chained to the third guy who walks by.
No going back. No mulligans. None of that The Amazing Spider-Man do-over bullshit. Playing 1-2-3 is like life: There are no second chances. Love is like Julie Delpy’s great monologue in Before Sunset. Love isn’t just learning to accept whatever comes into your life; it’s seeing it as a gift.
Statistics suggest that you should hold out for Guy #3, because if #1 and #2 aren’t to your liking, you are due. It’s like a batter who averages .333. Common understandings of statistics tell us that if you can’t get those first two pitches, wait for the third. However, in 1…2…3, those who wait for Guy #3 end up disappointed and angry when they universally strike out. Guy #3 is forever a dud, and I’ve ended up with a bucktoothed teenager with a mullet, a Jimmy Buffet enthusiast and a man in a Darth Vader costume — who, to his credit, could have been Ryan Gosling under there. You can wait for Guy #3, but don’t be surprised when you wind up back on the bench.
This is the illusion of choice at its finest. We kill ourselves looking for the perfect pitch, when we can take the one that gets us to first. You don’t have to hit a homerun right away, and most of the batters that try have low averages. You have all the time in the world to get to home. All you have to do is get on base — and the rest comes later. Your hit might not make the highlight reel or get your wild applause, but it’s not about fireworks. It’s just about closing your eyes and hoping for the best.
So, don’t settle for Guy #2 if he really isn’t worth your time — because this is how we end up trapped in awful relationships for years, when we think we don’t deserve better — but don’t let him pass by if the only thing stopping you is the idea that there’s something else better out there. And if Guy #3 does come along, just tell him the muffin shop is closed and send him my way instead. I’ve always wanted to go to the Dark Side.
image – Duplicity