The Fantasy That There’s Always Someone Better Just Around the Corner

Yesterday's Modern Love column was one of the best. A great example of how a short story can convey some of the key dynamics of dating / romance better than lengthy exposition. Hard to excerpt, so read the whole thing, but here's the ending:

In the months that followed, I was determined to become a better version of myself — prettier, smarter, more ambitious — and looked for the same in new boyfriends. As it turned out, though, they were looking for someone better, too. In New York, and especially in the movie business, it’s hard to dispel the fantasy that there’s always someone better just around the corner.

Yet by embracing this notion, I had allowed my life to become an ongoing cycle of shallow disappointments that left me longing for someone like my Tim Donohue, who could be satisfied with exactly what he had and who he was. Even more, I longed to be that kind of person again, too.

7 comments on “The Fantasy That There’s Always Someone Better Just Around the Corner
  • The “constant search for something better” has to be the defining characteristic of our generation (Gen Ys). I think we understand that we should be more grateful for what we have, but simultaneously acknowledge the importance of working toward something better. So which is it? Ambition or gratitude?

    We know that too many choices are bad because we constantly feel this unrest, but we also know that more choices equals more opportunities to fulfill one’s specific, nuanced needs and wishes. My guess:

    Before… most people were somewhat happy because you learned to accept your limited choices and made the best of them
    Now… more people are happy AND more people are sad, because the quality of your choices (and luck) matters so much

    With relationships, there is no easy answer. I think the author made us sympathize with “old” Tim a little too much; once the seed of that doubt enters our mind, it is hard to overcome.

  • Reminds me of a quote from Stephen Pinker in “How the Mind Works”

    “Somewhere in the world of five billion people there lives the best-looking, richest, smartest, funniest, kindest person who would settle for you. But your dreamboat is a needle in a haystack, and you may die single if you insist on waiting for him or her to show up. Staying single has costs, such as loneliness, childlessness, and playing the dating game with all its awkward drinks and dinners (and sometimes breakfasts). At some point it pays to set up house with the best person you have found so far.

    But that calculation leaves your partner vulnerable. The laws of probability say that someday you will meet a more desirable person, and if you are always going for the best you can get, on that day you will dump your partner… If your partner was the most desirable person in the world, he or she would have nothing to worry about, because you would never want to desert. But failing that, the partner would have been foolish to enter the relationship.

    How can you be sure that a prospective partner won’t leave the minute it is rational to do so? …One answer is, don’t accept a partner who wanted you for rational reasons to begin with; look for a partner who is committed to staying with you because you are you. Committed by what? Committed by an emotion. An emotion that the person did not decide to have, and so cannot decide not to have. An emotion that was not triggered by your objective mate-value and so will not be alienated by someone with greater mate-value. An emotion that is guaranteed not to be a sham because it has physiological costs like tachycardia, insomnia, and anorexia. An emotion like romantic love.

    ‘People who are sensible about love are incapable of it’, wrote Douglas Yates. Even when courted by the perfect suitor, people are unable to will themselves to fall in love, often to the bewilderment of the matchmaker, the suitor and the person himself or herself. Instead it is a glance, a laugh, a manner that steals the heart… The upside is that when Cupid does strike, the lovestruck one is all the more credible in the eyes of the object of desire. Murmuring that your lover’s looks, earning power and IQ meet your minimal standards would probably kill the romantic mood, even though the statement is statistically true. The way to a person’s heart is to declare the opposite – that you’re in love because you can’t help it.

    Groucho Marx said that he would not belong to any club that would have him as a member. Usually people do not want any suitor who wants them too badly too early, because it shows that the suitor is desperate (so they should wait for someone better), and because it shows that the suitor’s ardor is too easily triggered (hence too easily triggerable by someone else). The contradiction of courtship – flaunt your desire while playing hard to get – comes from the two parts of romantic love: setting a minimal standard for candidates in the mate market, and capriciously committing body and soul to one of them.”

  • “You can never have a good relationship with anyone when your focus is the relationship. There’s a human being there who existed well before you got to them, and they weren’t built for you or your needs or your parents or your future dreams as an actor. If you want to be happy with someone then your body and mind have to instinctively adapt to their happiness. If you’re not ready for this kind of sacrifice, then you’re simply not ready.”


  • Pinker is wrong, that person doesn’t exist. There is and will always be something better out there. It is the quintessential modern-American condition. Frankly, I think the mentality existed 60-100 yrs ago just as it does today, only the shame weighed so heavily back then that it prevented/protected people from acting on their impulses.

    Anyway, show me a desirable, smart, interesting, beautiful person. And I’ll show you someone who’s tired of their shit.

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