I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about how to create optionality for myself. In fact, I think for most people in my demographic, we spend our first 25 / 30 years pursuing optionality in our career and so effectively, our lives.
We try to get the right mix of education so that we can signal our potential to current / future employers so that we have options for work. We try to live in cities so that we have options for work and romantic interests and hobbies. We prefer jobs with brand names or in industries that give us optionality in the future. In the modern digitized world where evidence of our past is neatly and visibly indexed onto the first page of a Google search, keeping an up-to-date LinkedIn gives you control over your narrative and empowers you to keep your options open.
In an era and point in my adulthood where general optionality is important and desirable, I willingly made the choice to cut off my options and get married to one person. Why did I do this?
I never thought I needed to get married. I think the construct of marriage reflects a history where families and individuals consolidated their assets for financial and social security. To be blunt about it, that construct is mostly irrelevant to my life. My financial security comes from my career and I’m already earning well. I don’t really need the social security because in my social circles social security doesn’t exactly come from being married, it comes mostly from being interesting and like-able. So I didn’t need to get married, marriage wasn’t a make-or-break requirement for survival.
However, I do believe deeply in the power of partnerships and love.
Although, I was skeptical that I would meet someone to whom I would want to commit my entire life to.
I mean, that’s a really big deal. I can’t reliably forecast my own life so how could I forecast a shared life with someone else? That’s a big unknown to take on. An entire other person. Why enter into a marriage if you’re not going to go in with the attitude of trying to make it work for the long-term? I would have to meet someone with whom I would want to spend my life with so much that I would take the leap. In order for a relationship like a marriage to endure over the long-term, I would need to meet someone with whom my values genuinely aligned and who I actually enjoyed myself with day-to-day. And, AND!! this person would have to reciprocate the feelings. What are the chances of that happening? They seemed low to me. And, given that I wasn’t actively looking for someone, I certainly didn’t expect to be married within two years of graduating from business school.
And as I was going about my life I met someone who defied the above odds and with patience, helped me believe that I ought to get married.
Even though the realities were making it clear that we ought to get married making the call on when that would happen required an explicit decision. We had to make a choice. Given that we were making a choice that would impact the rest of our lives, or at least most of the rest of our lives, how did I feel ready to make a choice in the face of so much uncertainty? How did I know I was ready to commit? I could have waited longer to make a decision, in the hopes of uncovering more information that would help me make my decision. I considered that route, but decided it was not the right one for me because it wasn’t information that I needed. The hard thing about this decision was not that I didn’t have enough information. The hard thing about making the decision was that it required me to make trade-offs, to forego other possibilities, in the pursuit of this one particular person.
Once I articulated that decision-making criteria to myself, I started seeing the “not having enough information” as a mask over indecision in other areas of my life (and our society). What I needed was for myself to make a commitment to another person that I trusted that we would live our lives according to our values. Did I trust him? Yes! Did we articulate similar values? Yes! Did we want to commit to each other? Yes! So, we did it.
Pursuing optionality is sometimes an end in and of itself but if you know what you want, pursuing optionality might take you in the opposite direction.