It’s Saturday night and my plans are set. I’m going to meet up with some friends for a rousing game of “What do you want to do? I don’t know; what do you want to do?” It’s an excellent game where there really is no clear winner or loser, but everyone gets annoyed: (person 1) “What do you want to do?” (person 2) “I don’t know; what do you want to do?” (person 3) “I don’t know; what do you want to do?” (person 1) “I want someone to make a decision.” (person 2) “Fine, what do you want to do?” (person 1) “I don’t know; what do you want to do.” This is round one. In round two the conversation will change and sound something like: (person 1) “We could go bowling,” (person 2) “That`s a great idea; are you twelve and is this your birthday party?” (person 3) “We could go to a coffee shop.” (person 2) “Nice, we can bring our knitting and 50 cats like the other old people at a coffee shop on a Saturday night.” (person 1) “We could go to a movie.” (person 2) “Or we could be financially responsible and rent something.” (person 1) “Hey, that sounds like fun. Let’s go fight over what movie to watch for the next hour.” (person 3) “Yeah, I love fighting.” (person 2) “Who’s driving?” (person 1) “I’ll drive.” (person 2) “No, I should drive” (person 3) “No, you drove last time. I should drive.” (person 2) “Fine you drive and I’ll pay for the movie.” (person 1) “You paid last time. I should pay.” (person 3) “I love fighting. ” (person 2) “I love fighting more.” (person 3) “No, I do.”
Some of you might be wondering why didn’t someone suggest going to a club? You see, I’m at the age where if you want to go to a club you need a week to prepare yourself: “Okay, if I go out Saturday night I’m going to need to go to bed early Wednesday and Thursday so I’ll be able to stay up and then I’ll need to plan for a nap Sunday afternoon to recover.” It’s a sad reality, but not nearly as sad as when you realize you’re getting closer to being twice as old as the other people at the bar. Who wants to feel old? Let’s go to a club! I have my earplugs so I’m set.
Yes, this is a serious case of first world problems, but this is our reality. We face endless choice and this has led to increased confusion, stress, anxiety and depression. Having choice is a gift, but with so much it often feels overwhelming. Life in the first world is basically like being at an ice cream shop (me) “Hi, I’d like some ice cream please.” (server) “For here or to go? Frozen yogurt, sorbet or traditional? “Hard or soft? Cone or cup? Extra topping like caramel or butterscotch? Will you be paying cash or plastic? Receipt? Would you like a membership card? Would you like to donate to our charity? Would you like the combo where you get a free server who fans you with palm fronds while you drink the tears of a starving child?” Nothing is simple. I just wanted ice cream. (me) “Can I stick my head in a tub and start licking until my face goes numb?”
I was recently at a buffet – talk about choice overload – and when I returned for a second helping there was, as the worker said, “a spill”. Of course, what he meant was the spilling of puke thrown up by someone who had eaten too much and the half digested evidence was now on the floor with what looked like either a half dead bug that he accidentally ate or was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s worse than drowning in a swimming pool? This bug knows. Choice can be overwhelming, which can a problem especially when there are repercussions for bad choices like eating too much at a buffet. To add to this, when choice is coupled with our desire to want to live life to the fullest – whatever this convoluted ideal means – it becomes disastrous. Whether it’s not wanting to waste time because “life is short” or because we have a strong fear of people not liking us, the pressure on our choices grows exponentially.
Anxiety and depression in the first world are at an all time high. Is this because we’re more predisposed to them than people in the third world, or are we simply killing ourselves with choice and the need to live the “best” way possible. This pressure to live “right” has flourished with social media and sites like Facebook: “Everyone looks like they love their life and yet I’m sad. What’s wrong with me?” Everything in our society is choice. I read an article about a young man in China who said that until recently, in his area the government told young people what their job would be, but now they get to choose. This is exciting, but it caused anxiety to skyrocket because now there’s the pressure of what do I do with my life? I see this all of the time working with young people. Not only are they stuck with the daily choices of life (what do I eat, wear, say, feel, do etc.), but they also face the bigger questions like what do I do for the rest of my life? What do I need to do to get someone to date and stay with me? Who should I marry or should I bother? Even basic questions once taken for granted are now being questioned. For instance, I am meeting young people who I would say are clearly heterosexual, but question whether they’re bisexual or pansexual (this is where you are attracted to the quality of the person without regard for the gender). Ultimately, as more things in society become acceptable, people will have the option to question and try them thereby making life more confusing and anxiety driven.
Adults are also facing increased pressure because nothing is for sure anymore: Do I stay at my job or go elsewhere? Is my job stable? Do I live with this person or marry him/her? Do I stay married or move on? How do I help my kids with their decisions and take care of my parents who are alive, but can’t live on their own? All of these things that were once settled matters are no longer: (traditional person) “I will work this job for thirty years and retire while I meet someone, get married and raise a family.” Even religion is open. Is there a god? Should I care? What religion should I try? What group within that religion should I try? Should I just forget about these religious groups and try to be a good person, but what is a good person? The choices we face are endless, and even when we make one we will typically question it later. It is no wonder people are struggling to assemble stability and confidence when everything seems to be in flux or at least capable of it.
This leads to four basic conclusions:
- We need to find some stability; routines can be very helpful.
- We need to be open to other people’s ideas in case it helps us make better decisions.
- We need to be wise in our decisions
- We need to be quick to accept when we make a mistake. Bad decisions are inevitable, but we can learn from them; therefore, we need to fight unhealthy fear and exaggerated guilt for making them since that will only hold us back from making wise choices in the future.
This week may you find comfort in your routine and excitement in the opportunities to make decisions, and may your choices bring new joys rather than unfortunate repercussions.
Rev. Chad David, www.emotionalsex.ca