The paradox of choice essentially says that the more choices you have, the more difficulty you’ll have in making a choice and the less satisfied you’ll be with the choice you make.  This is because when you make a choice, you begin to doubt if other choices which were available could have been better.  While making the choice itself, you also have a hard time making the choice in the first place due to the shear selection opportunity. This affects us daily when it comes to choosing food from a menu, buying clothes to wear, renting a house, buying a car, and choosing relationships.

“In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.” (?)

I want to use this paradox of choice concept to discuss something I’ve thought about recently – how our relationship bonds vary based off our choice availability.

Imagine you live in a small city of 1,000 people 100 years ago where every family knew each other and everyone was well connected.  The bonds you have with the people around you are quite strong and reputable, since everyone knows everyone and your choice of friends, girlfriends, and boyfriends is limited.  You’re quite satisfied with your relationships because there isn’t really a paradox of choice here – competition doesn’t really exist for your bonds.  If you have a great girlfriend, your bond is likely much stronger than if you were surrounded by 100 other girls on a daily basis who were single, looking, and interested in you.  This is because the paradox of choice would then exist.

Now imagine you live in a big city of 10,000,000 people today where no one really knows each other and you’re bonded only to the people you interact with regularly. You have an abundant amount of choices of people to bond with, which partner to choose, who to befriend, etc.  And even when you find a partner or a group of friends, they’re at constant competition with others because of the abundance of other people around daily who compete.  The paradox of choice is now obvious, and the effects of it as described above are also obvious.

These two scenarios I think represent quite realistically how we live today in urban areas (weaker bonds), and to an extent, how many people live today in rural areas (tigher bonds).  The difference, in addition to the people around us, is that there is the internet which adds access to abundance and connections.  Instead of living in a small town and having to befriend people locally, you can go online and meet people in nearby cities.  You can live in 1 place and meet another person online in a completely different place and bond with them.

I’d argue this concept has caused us to be less satisfied with our connections, and that we make weaker bonds compared to the past before urbanization was on such a wide scale.  In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans (on average) lived in urban areas (cities),  but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in the 1960s, and four out of five in the 2000s (?). 80.7% of Americans now live in urban areas (?). Bhutan, for example, is 39%, up from 11% just 40 years ago. (?) This trend is the same worldwide.

More people are moving to urban areas, as well as more rural areas becoming urban, so don’t expect this trend to slow (?).  Does this mean that our bonds will continue to weaken?

You may be interested in the devalue of abundance article I wrote a couple months ago.  It’s related and these observations are worth thinking about.