I'm going to borrow the brainpower of other people for this column. Like Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker fame. It's an anecdote from his book Blink, a case for the truth in gut decision-making, as related to me during the Peachtree Road Race by an actual New Yorker. When I then relayed the story in a radio interview with Marcy Levinson, a reporter/photographer/radio jockey for this magazine, she said to tell it here.
So, thanks to all of you wise souls. As I've said, I don't know any more than any of you on the mysteries of love, dating and relationships. But at least I can facilitate the conversation.
That said, Gladwell describes an experiment in which an array of jams was sold and sampled in a grocery store. Sometimes there were six choices, sometimes 24. According to Sheena Iyengar, the Columbia University researcher who conducted the experiment, 30 percent of those who visited the booth with only six choices on display bought jam. But when the number quadrupled, only 3 percent made a purchase. Too many choices, in other words, overwhelm the consumer. What does this have to do with dating?
Clue: My New Yorker friend is telling the story. In New York, the massive number of singles makes it tough for people to make a choice and a commitment. But Atlanta, she says, is another story. Atlanta is a six-jelly town.
If and when we lament our options here, this is a good anecdote to remember.
While we're discussing Blink, there's another story Gladwell tells — that the health of a couple's relationship is written on their faces. The renowned relationship psychologist John Gottman devised a system in which, by coding facial expressions of newlyweds in conversation, researchers could accurately predict, within minutes, whether couples would remain married after 15 years. That's because expressions of contempt, like eye-rolling, signal a death knell. And the ratio of positive-to-negative emotions in any exchange must be at least 5-to-1. More of Gottman's work can be found at the Gottman Institute, which offers workshops for couples — and if you feel like procrastinating, a relationship quiz on the Web site: www.gottman.com.
I love the concepts in Blink, which empower us to trust our instincts. But even I, who know diddly-squat about statistics, could tell he makes his case with a selective use of data. Not surprisingly, along came the rebuttal book Think! by Michael LeGault.
Take them together, I say, to make your best decision. But know that your feelings will likely lead you down the right road.
In the meantime, happy dating! There's at least a half a dozen great jellies around here.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.