Decision Making – A Social Perspective

Having taught decision making for approximately 25 years, one would think that by now I’d be good at making decisions. Unfortunately my personal decision-making has given me few positive examples but lots of examples of how one can be led astray. Let me count the ways. They fall into seven different categories and, to keep this from being a book rather than a short article, I’ll limit it to relationship experiences with the opposite gender.

Way Number One: Recognizing That You Have A Problem

Having a problem can be as simple as wanting something that you don’t have – a relationship, or having something that you don’t want – your current relationship. You don’t have to do exhaustive research to know that there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy in relationships, and another large group who are unhappy because they are not in a relationship. These two groups are vastly larger than the "happily in a relationship” group. There are also lots of subgroups, like those who are in a relationship but wish it were better, and those who are not in relationships and only wish for a quickie relationship. I’ve been in all of these groups at one time or another. Most of us spend our lives moving from one group to another. According to a Woman's Day magazine survey, 36 percent of married women said if they had to do it all over again they would not marry their husbands. And another 20 percent weren't sure.

Recognizing you have a problem often requires some feedback from others. Many men don’t realize that they are not in a happy relationship until their significant other tells them so. Many women don’t realize that they are not happy being in no relationship until their mothers tell them so. When I was married, if my wife was happy, I was happy. Unfortunately it didn’t work in reverse, and she let me know.

Thoughtful reflection on your longer-term objectives is always a good thing to do in any decision, but especially with decisions about relationships. However it rarely comes to mind when one’s hormones are making the decisions. This is why the expression “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” came about. If all you can think about is milk, then you are not seeing the bigger picture.

Way Number Two: Defining The Problem

Let’s say Joe is horny and wants a girlfriend. Sue needs affection and is looking for a boyfriend. They meet by chance and begin a relationship. They are both happy for six months because they are each getting what he and she wanted, so they get married. Sue gets pregnant and gains 30 lbs as well as a loss of some libido. Joe gets wandering eyes because all he really wanted in the first place was milk, but not the kind she is producing. Sue needs more affection during her pregnancy but is getting less. They both have problems because they didn’t think through the longer-term objectives and ramifications of their decisions to satisfy short-term needs.

Way Number Three: Diagnosing The Problem

When you go to a doctor with an ailment (problem), the doctor attempts to give you a diagnosis – he tries to find out the cause of your problem so he can solve it. A bad doctor tells you to take two Aspirin and call him in the morning. That is treating symptoms, not causes. A good doctor does appropriate testing and asks probing questions. Sometimes the doctor also does probing tests and asks appropriate questions.

If you are unhappy because of a relationship, or lack thereof, you need to really examine why. If it’s a bad relationship, what made it go bad? Can it be reversed, corrected, or salvaged? Couples go to counseling in order to find out why things have gone awry. Until you find out, you will only be treating symptoms or doing nothing at all. People who have been married seven, eight or more times have never diagnosed their problem. Trial and error solutions are good up to a point, but it’s a poor way to propagate the species.

Way Number Four: Developing Alternatives

Alternatives are sometimes mistakenly called solutions. “Possible solutions” might be an acceptable term, but most alternatives don’t solve anything, and many can worsen a problem. Having some criteria for coming up with alternatives is a good place to start. Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships, nature has dealt us a bad hand. For the most part, we pick our relationship alternatives the way people choose puppies. We tend to not be cognizant of the fact that the cute and cuddly thing we are attracted to is going to change dramatically and might be biting us in the ass in a few years. Needs and wants will change, and at best, it’s going to be a much different relationship.

Way Number Five: Evaluating The Alternatives

Since ‘relationships’ is the topic here, dating is the process of evaluating alternatives for a long-term relationship and marriage. The problem is that in dating, we only evaluate one alternative at a time. In most other types of decisions we can gather our alternatives together and compare them. As good as it sounds, we can’t do this in dating without someone really getting pissed off. There are, however, locations around the world where this technique is successfully implemented for very short-term relationships. Hookers are lined up in windows or cubicles for clients to pick and choose. Mail order bride web sites also provide a plethora of alternatives for evaluating long-term relationships, albeit a long-distance evaluation. Internet dating has also opened up new venues for evaluation.

But when push comes to shove, as it does in many relationships, you really can’t ride more than one horse at a time, so picking a horse or a spouse becomes a one-on-one evaluation process. An acquaintance of mine, who is 42, has been engaged twice but never married. One relationship/engagement lasted, on and off, for 10 years. In decision-making lingo, this is a violation of the cost-benefit approach.

I had a horse for 9 years and she was perfect. But she died unexpectedly, so I quickly purchased another one that had many of the same features. He didn’t work out, and after three years I had to sell him. That was equivalent to a divorce. I was on the rebound when I acquired him, and I made a hasty decision without careful evaluation of the alternatives – or even having enough alternatives. I went with the first alternative that looked good.

Way Number Six: Implementation

Depending on which statistics you believe, roughly half of all first-time marriages will end in divorce. This is another way of saying that 50% of all ‘till death do us part’ vows are wishful thinking. They probably all are. Why? Because we are not prepared for implementation. In any decision, planning for the implementation phase must be done before embarking on the voyage. People who go on a 30-day trip around the world will take great care in selecting the right locations, planning their route, budgeting their money, and making sure that they have everything they need before leaving. Some even take lessons in a foreign language. But how much planning do people do when they get married? Except for way too much wedding planning – virtually none. And marriage isn’t a 30-day trip. Well, for some it is.

Way Number Seven: Follow Through

Basically the follow through means keeping track of how we are doing. In business, government and even military operations, once a major decision is implemented, there are monitoring methods, analyses, and other feedback devices to keep the decision makers informed of how things are going. In relationships there is a simple technique. It’s called “communication.” This takes us back to step one. Keeping each other informed about how we are doing; where, when and why we are happy or unhappy, and what needs to be done to keep things going in a more than satisfactory manner.

People change. When they grow out of their clothes, they tend to buy new ones rather than make alterations like grandma did. Product life cycles are shorter than ever. We want new, better, and what the neighbors have. And all too often it is so with our significant others. Commitment today means to stick with it as long as it works and then to move on. And the stigma of divorce that was so prevalent in the early and mid 20th century has been lifted. Perhaps relationships should be three-year renewable contracts, or like the lease on a car. The “till death do us part” fantasy is just that for most couples. We keep the TV until it breaks or something better comes along. And we watch Desperate Housewives and sympathize.