I called my ex-boyfriend and his mobile was answered by his new girlfriend. She said he’d gone out to get a pint of milk. When he called me back, I asked him why he hadn’t told me he’d met someone new. And he said:
“I thought, if this new relationship would not work out, we might get together again.”
One thing I always liked about him was his honesty. He has not called again, so I think things did work out with the new girlfriend, after all. Apart from that his reaction was proof of our reluctance to close doors.In “Predictably Irrational” Ariely writes about an interesting computer game with closing doors: he wanted to see if people would literally pay to keep doors open. They would. Whilst the object of the game was to earn money, people would happily invest quite a bit of that money just to keep their options open.
Maybe it’s a fundamental human characteristic to want to keep many doors open. And it’s not just about maintaining flexibility in the future. Ariely observes:
“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss.”
It takes energy and commitment, apart from money, to keep our options open. And sometimes we might find we’re wasting that energy on an unimportant door.
The thing is, we don’t even think about what’s behind that door. We’re just focussed on keeping it open.
When I read this story, I suddenly realised how much time I spend thinking about people I’ve lost contact with. And how difficult it seems to just let them go.
The other day, one of my very first girlfriends (from primary school) resurfaced as an MP. If she didn’t represent a political party I would never vote for I might have dropped her a line.
Would it have made any sense to go knock on her door, even if I did it by e-mail? As a sceptic, I would hate to be as predictably irrational as that.