Is It Easier to Choose a Hummus than a Woman?

A few days ago I was at the grocery store. Two of the items I was in the market for were spaghetti sauce and hummus.

In the sauce aisle, I found myself looking at a sheer wall of sauces as far as the eye could see. There were dozens of varieties and brands and shapes and sizes. I was completely overwhelmed. Eventually I made a choice, but I wasn’t satisfied, knowing that there was probably a better choice I could have made.

Then I went over to look at the hummus. I found a single brand in three varieties. I was completely underwhelmed. I wanted some other brands for comparison. More precisely, I wanted a cheap brand (to avoid), a really expensive brand (to avoid), and a middle-of-the-road brand (to buy to feel elite and frugal at the same time). Again, I wasn’t satisfied.

I began writing this post thinking I was going to write about the paradox of too much choice, as Barry Schwartz discusses in his TED talk (watch it–it’ll be the most informative 20 minutes you spend today). But thinking about my experience at the grocery store, I wonder:

How much choice is exactly the right amount?

The premise that Schwartz discusses (he also uses a grocery store example) is that we simply have too much choice, and as a result, happiness is close to impossible. His conclusion is that the key to happiness is low expectations. If you have low expectations, he says, regardless of the number of choices you have, you’ll be pretty happy with the choice you make.

I can see that, but like I said, there could have been a “correct” number of hummus choices at the grocery store. Three different brands, three similar choices within each brand. Nine. Nine choices. It’s not overwhelming, and it’s not underwhelming. It’s perfect.

Nine choices. It’s not overwhelming, and it’s not underwhelming. It’s perfect.

Let’s apply this to women, because women are more interesting than hummus. There’s no magical number of women that you need to experience or survey or date to figure out who’s right for you. Some people marry their first sweetheart and never look back. Others date around for year before finding that special someone, or no one at all.

I don’t think the key to happiness in choosing a mate is low expectations. It’s also not a matter of comparing a certain number of women before making a choice. I think it’s simply the willingness to recognize happiness when it slaps you in the face.

If only choosing a spaghetti sauce were that easy.