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Can there be too much freedom in choosing a partner?

Roar writer Elena Siniscalco writes that our generations’ “freedom of choice” has made it impossible for us to settle in relationships, or at least a lot more difficult. 

“It is increasingly difficult for desire, imagination and the real to connect with each other”. This quote from Eva Illouz’s book “Why love hurts” portrays well one of the conundrums we face in modernity: the difficulty of choice. I didn’t give the topic a lot of thought before reading that book, but the powerful argument that Illouz makes is actually very relevant to me and probably many of the readers of this article – we have too much choice to handle.

Let us get back to basics. All of us had the opportunity to choose not only to study (which was a privilege, not a given, in the past, particularly for women) but also what to study and where. Many of us met many fellow students during freshers, but then over time realised who we would wind up as friends with, and who we wouldn’t, choosing accordingly. In a sense, we can pick and choose all the time, and this also applies to relationships. We have much more choice than in the past and we are generally less constrained by class, race and religious considerations in the choice of our partner. Additionally, a potential partner, or 20, are currently just a swipe away.

What are the consequences of having such freedom of choice? Of course, on a normative and progressive level, it is a positive advancement. As Illouz herself notes, it is precisely because of freedom of choice that we are able to quit a job we hate or leave an unhappy relationship. But the more free we are, the more complicated the picture gets. Indeed this market of choice tends to instil into our hearts the belief that we have to maximize to get the best outcome possible. Although there is nothing wrong with having that as an aim, have we become prone to struggle to recognize when we have actually achieved it?

Think about this in terms of relationships: have you ever thought, even if in a happy relationship, that maybe there was someone a bit better for you still out there? Have you ever thought: “the world is so big I might never meet my soulmate?” I often hear people complaining about how they find relationships such hard work that it’s not even worth trying. But shouldn’t we try a little harder before swiping right to the next?

I am not writing this to urge Roar’s readers to “settle”, but in my opinion, Illouz’s claim that we increasingly consider ourselves “choosers”, often trapped in a perpetual quest for unachievable perfect results, in relationships and careers, has some truth to it. And if we are not already struggling to choose, dating apps has made it even harder to settle. A new, possibly just-a-little-better partner can be found online from the comfort of your own home. We do not even have to leave the living room to find them.

I am not writing an academic essay here, this is merely intended to be food for thought. We should obviously make the most out of the choices we have, but freedom of choice, especially when it comes to love, can make things more difficult.

Then, how to make this awfully complex business of love a little easier? Perhaps trying to deconstruct the structural factors that makes us choose in a certain way, trying to think about how the same concepts of love, relationships, commitment, emotions that we use today were interpreted in such a different way not so long ago, and trying to reflect on what we are truly going for when we take decisions in the messy realm of love. And trust me, trying to read “Why love hurts” surely can help too.



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