Day’s Verse:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13

How do you shop? Do you go to the store, find a product that meets your needs, purchase it, and leave without agonizing about it? Or do you prefer to shop around, comparing similar products from different stores ad infinitum? When I read Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, the author’s discussion of these two different types of people really struck me. She described the first type as satisficers. Satisficers find a product that meets their criteria and move on without agonizing about whether they could’ve done better elsewhere. The second type, optimizers, find a product that meets their needs, but then thinks, “But if I just keep looking, maybe I’ll find something better somewhere else,” and so they keep shopping around to find the best deal.

In the context of the book, the author talked about women who are satisficers as meeting a guy who was pretty good but by no means perfect, accepting him as a good option, marrying him, and generally feeling satisfied with their choice. They didn’t tend to chafe as much in their marriages because they had settled on a spouse and, even knowing he wasn’t perfect, weren’t agonizing about whether Mr. Right was out there somewhere else. Women who are optimizers, on the other hand, tended to either keep dating and rejecting guys because those guys weren’t 100% of what the woman was looking for. They keep holding out for Mr. Right. Or an optimizer would marry a guy, but then end up feeling dissatisfied because she felt like she could have done better if she’d kept looking a little longer. Not surprisingly, optimizers often ended up single and dating indefinitely, while satisficers tended to end up married to pretty nice guys.

The author, herself an optimizer, didn’t say “You should try to be a satisficer.” She did, however, talk about how women tend to create these huge laundry lists of characteristics that a potential spouse must have. For example, if I was single and I created a list of characteristics my ideal husband would have, it might look something like this (in no particular order):

  • Medium to tall height, preferably not more than 4″ taller than me (but definitely not shorter)
  • Brown or black hair
  • Slender
  • No facial hair
  • Athletic
  • Very into biking (and can do bike repairs)
  • Smart
  • Considerate
  • A Christian
  • Polite
  • A good cook
  • Funny
  • Responsible
  • Reliable
  • Has a good steady job
  • Willing to help with chores
  • Creative
  • Likes to read
  • Wants kids
  • Loves Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Likes hiking, snowshoeing, and backpacking
  • Good photographer
  • Dresses nicely
  • Etc.

Now, this list is just a very short version of what could probably go on for pages, if I kept wracking my brains. Ian has some of these qualities, sure. Does he have all of them? No, and here’s the important thing: No man alive has all these qualities. If I’d held out for a guy who had all these characteristics, I’d still be looking. As it is, I’m happily married to a guy who has many of these characteristics, particularly the important ones — responsibility, considerateness, politeness, reliability. Essentially, I was able to say, “I’ve found somebody I can live with, who meets most of the important criteria I have. I’ll go with him.” Satisficers like me take a good deal and move on, not worrying about whether it was the exact right choice. Optimizers, on the other hand, continue looking for somebody (or something, depending on the situation) who meets every one of her criteria… and, in most cases, she’ll keep looking forever and never feel satisfied.

Why do I bring this up (aside from the fact that it’s generally interesting)? Because a mere 5 days ago, I mentioned I was interested in getting a Fast Bike. On Monday, I test-rode the 2008 Jamis Xenith Pro I found on Craigslist. The owner, Lucy, is on the same bike racing team as my physical therapist. That irrelevant piece of information aside, I found the bike to be a good fit and a good price, and I liked Lucy — she’d been AmeriCorps and is going into Peace Corps. I paid her $750 on Monday, took the bike, and on Tuesday had Kirkland Bike Shop go over it. They gave it two thumbs up, so I wrote another $750 check and put it in the mail that afternoon. Now, less than a week after starting to look around, I own a new carbon fiber Fast Bike.

Fast Bike

Dan, my PT, recommended taking my time and scouring the internet for a good deal. He said, “You’ll love this bike. You want it to be perfect.” Several other guys I respect recommended a similar course of action: Spending a good long time looking, looking, looking for the best deal on the best frame I could find and then separately doing the same thing for the other components. (See where the satisficer/optimizer thing comes in?) They’re totally right; I don’t need a Fast Bike any time soon. I have until July. I could spend the intervening months test-riding bikes at bike shops, continually checking online for good deals, accumulating high-end components and ridiculously good prices, etc. But I, being a satisficer, found a solution that met my needs — the bike fit, it has excellent components, it’s carbon fiber, it’s well-cared for, it was in my price range — and so I went with it. Will I regret this purchase? Very, very doubtful. Because as a satisficer, I’m comfortable with the fact that I did well and now I won’t waste any time agonizing how I could’ve done better. You can always do better. Why worry about it?

Now please excuse me; I have a winged bike to fly.

6 thoughts on “Satisficing

  1. I’m with you; a satisficer. Why waste the time when you’ve found what you need and it will do? I have a friend who is the other type. She will look INDEFINITELY for tile or fabric or a couch until she’s seen it all and asked a million questions and gotten the best service and price out there. I just want to get it done!

  2. It’s a matter of degree, though, too: it’s not much of an “optimization” if you end up ruling out ALL the options.

    So generally I’m a fellow satisficer – but it seems to me that when a guy admits to that, especially in terms of relationships, it carries a COMPLETELY different connotation than for a woman to do the same. Ah well, I suppose life isn’t fair. :-p

  3. I mentioned this optimizer/satisficer thing to my PT. His comment: “So you’re saying looking for a guy is the same as looking for a bike?”

    Jordan – Yes, it’s true, and that’s what lots of optimizer women do — they end up single, having optimized away all the candidates. You have to draw the line somewhere. The difference is really a matter of degree.

    And I think whether you’re a man or a woman describing yourself as a satisficer in a relationship seems to carry some negative connotation, like you “caved” and “settled” — both pejorative terms in this context — even when that’s actually a wise thing to do. We’re so well trained to think women should look for Mr. Right that the idea of saying Mr. Good Enough is good enough sounds like heresy.

  4. I suppose you’re right – it’s a somewhat negative connotation for women, too – you did have to qualify your statements about Ian quite a bit. 🙂

    To make a case for optimization: you need merely add “time” in as a variable. As a chemist, I’m always optimizing processes at work while taking time into account: making the chemistry go faster, minimizing the time-to-market, eliminating steps that would be time-consuming in large-scale production. So as a “satisficer”, you’re really just an optimizer who maximizes happiness and minimizes hassle (and time spent without a solution).

  5. Jordan, time is a good point – actually, the author talks about that in her book. Women can essentially price themselves out of the market by being too choosy when they’re young. When optimizer women get into their 30s and 40s and are finally willing to compromise, the guys they’re “compromising” to get aren’t interested — they have younger satisficer women to choose from! Plus there’s the whole biological clock ticking thing that women (apparently) feel, which pushes women to procreate while they’re still young enough to keep up with their kids. Optimizer women often sacrifice a lot and don’t actually end up with what they’re hoping for.

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