Jealousy over the ignorance of others
July 25, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm a very deliberate, risk-averse individual when it comes to big decisions. I make pro/con lists and spend days researching topics only to be stifled with indecision when I think the future is unpredictable. I see people who make the same decision easily, but when I question them about it, it's clear they haven't even thought about any of the factors I did. They seem to be blissfully ignorant over the possible ramifications of their decisions, and in some ways I am jealous that they can go through life so easily. Does this feeling have a name, and how can I get over it?

Here's a concrete example I'm going through. I'm at the age where all my friends got married a couple years ago, and it's baby time for a lot of them. My wife and I struggle really hard with whether we want to have kids, and we've had so many discussions about it. We can't afford for one of us to not work in our current situation, so we'd have to move to a new house or make other Big Life Changes if we want to avoid full-time daycare. We have complex spreadsheets working out different financial scenarios and we've had lengthy discussions about the other children in our family and what life will be like as our kids age.

One of my friends just announced he and his wife are having a baby. I said "Wow that's awesome! We've been thinking hard about it too, but it's such a big decision. What are you guys doing about daycare?"

His response: "Ah, that's a good question. [She] has 4 months of maternity leave, but we don't know what we're going to do after that. Daycare is expensive."

I work up multiple scenarios and try to objectively weigh the pros and cons only to be paralyzed by doubt. He says "Oh well, even though we might be completely screwed a year from now, let's just do it." I feel very conflicting emotions in these situations. Jealousy, disdain, surprise, confusion, self-doubt, etc.

This is obviously a Big Scenario, but there are other situations too. Is there a name for this "jealousy of ignorance" feeling, and what can I do about it?
posted by RobotNinja to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing I've heard to relate to this is "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good".
posted by corb at 11:18 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Analysis Paralysis is the name of what you go through in trying to make a decision.

As far as jealousy of "ignorance" I would say that you are turning things on their head. You'll never be able to perfectly predict the future no matter how much research you do. And the time involved often makes it prohibitive in any case. If ultimately your choice is to act on imperfect information or to be paralyzed by it, you need to judge which is better.
posted by rocketpup at 11:20 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a very deliberate, risk-averse individual when it comes to big decisions. I make pro/con lists and spend days researching topics only to be stifled with indecision when I think the future is unpredictable.

I have had similar behavior in the past and it turned out it was a symptom of anxiety disorder. I'm not saying that's you, I'm just saying it's not necessarily "ignorance" on the part of other people that they're not obsessing over details. Sometimes when you let go things can work themselves out.

Also, I think "perfect is the enemy of the good" is a good phrase to use if you're trying to move on from over analyzing.
posted by sweetkid at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: The funny thing is that in most situations, I'm pretty risk-tolerant. I'm the one who usually says "let's just try it, and if it breaks/doesn't work/isn't good, we'll fix it". I void warranties and hit things with hammers to fix them if necessary.

But some decisions can't be "fixed" so easily, like having kids, buying a house, etc. It's these situations where I have analysis paralysis and am envious of those that don't seem to care about the possible ramifications.
posted by RobotNinja at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2013

Try reading up on Geert Hofstede's Five Cultural Dimensions. They are a way to describe various cultures around the world by plotting where each culture falls along each of 5 continuums. The one I think applies to you is "Uncertainty Avoidance."

Basically it treats how people cope with uncertain situations. Some try to avoid any semblance of uncertainty through extensive research (you!) and some can tolerate a large amount of uncertainty because it allows them to be more flexible, for example.

Although Hofstede developed this theory as a way to describe cultures, I think you can also apply it to individual people. If you're the kind of person who can look at differences and think, "Eh, it's a cultural thing," perhaps framing it thusly may help you.
posted by Liesl at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also note that you don't have to solve every problem prior to choosing a course of action. Look at your baby spreadsheet -- ask yourselves: "do we both want a baby?" If yes, ask yourselves "are there any showstoppers here?" If no, consider your decision made and solve the problems as they arise.
posted by rocketpup at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if there's a name for it specifically.

I've been saddled with the same paralysis of over-thinking before too. I think it helps to remind yourself that no matter how many spreadsheets, pros/cons lists, or contingencies you work up, you will still not be able to predict every possibility. So "ignorance" is relative here, we're all guilty of it.

At some point, you just have to ask yourself "Do I want [to do] X?" It's a hard thing to do for a logical person, but sometimes you really do have to lean back and rely on emotion to guide you.

In your example - there's never a "right" time to have a baby. So imagine yourself in 20 years. Do you want to be attending your child's high school graduation and sending them off to college, or will you be going on an exotic extended vacation with your wife? (Not that you can't do both, but bear with me). If you see yourself as a parent in the long-term, then start trying to make that happen now. Also remind yourself that families get by on much less than you have, no matter how little that is.

In other scenarios, such as making a big purchase, ask yourself "Do I want to wait for the perfect new widget that meets all my real and imagined needs, and at the perfect price point, or do I want a decent widget now?" If you can wait, by all means keep making those lists. But if you don't already have one and you really want one, figure out what you'll settle for and just buy it.

...and on preview, agreeing with sweetkid that anxiety certainly plays a part for me, and may for you too. (What if I buy it now and a better one comes out next month? What if it goes on sale and I can't get a price match? What if we get pregnant and I get laid off?) You have to let go of all that just a little bit and be willing to live in the moment.
posted by trivia genius at 11:26 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

LOL I know just what you mean! I too am really risk averse, and there are so many things I have difficulty doing because I can't predict the outcome. For many years I had terrible trouble traveling because I didn't like to be away from my home in case some problem came up.

What helped me was, of course, mindfulness meditation to become aware of the ways I was paralyzing myself, but also reaching an understanding that no matter how much you plan, shit happens. Even if you have everything planned down to the last penny, something always mucks it up. So the mindfulness meditation helps me become more aware that planning is something I am doing now that may have no effect on the future, and certainly worrying is "paying interest on a debt that may never come due" as a friend of mine says.

Practice, practice, practice. There's a happy medium between paralysis and irresponsibility.
posted by janey47 at 11:26 AM on July 25, 2013

The terms you want are "maximizer" vs "satisficer." A Google search on those will give you lots of interesting reading.
posted by HotToddy at 11:35 AM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have read that strongly emotional people make snap decisions easier than less emotional people. Emotion is a kind of memory which says "Thing is Good!" or "Thing is Bad!" Of course, those kinds of snap decisions are somewhat error prone and leads to people often recreating whatever is familiar, even if that is a terrible idea.

It kind of sounds to me like you are jealous of decisions that have a substantial emotional component for many people, that aren't "rational" for quite a lot of people. Your jealousy should be taken as a data point that you probably really would like a baby, so you should perhaps be more willing to make those big life changes and make it happen.
posted by Michele in California at 11:39 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of haphazard in my decision-making, and I think it's not because I didn't think of all the possible ramifications and outcomes, it's because I was leaning towards something because I wanted it, and I was willing to do X or Y to make it happen.

You sound to me like you have Fear of Regret. Typically this pertains to finances, but it can pertain to other things as well. It's not so much that you fear an undesired outcome, but that you fear having regret about it.

It doesn't have to do with risk, it has more to do with having regrets.

So it's not so much "how am I going to pay for daycare" that haunts you, but "what if I regret spending all that money on daycare."

It's a subtle difference.

You're jealous of folks who take the plunge because they don't fear having regrets.

BTW, this can point to an anxiety disorder. You might want to check it out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:40 AM on July 25, 2013

You may be suffering from the effects of comparing your insides to other people's outsides. They may indeed be less anxious and prone to fretting than you. Or they may just keep their process private. When people say to me, "What are you going to do if xyz?" I usually say, "Ah, I expect I'll manage." They don't need to hear how I've been up nights about it.
posted by BibiRose at 11:41 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It doesn't have to do with risk, it has more to do with having regrets.

So it's not so much "how am I going to pay for daycare" that haunts you, but "what if I regret spending all that money on daycare."

It's a subtle difference.

This is true, but moreso in this case I think "what if I regret having kids and not being able to have the life full of freedom that I so desire?"

Then I think "what if I'm 80 years old, alone, and regret NOT having kids??"

I can't really reconcile these two scenarios. For me this is a lot different than indecision over what car to buy or what kind of haircut to get. These are permanent, once-per-lifetime decisions that paralyze me.
posted by RobotNinja at 11:44 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there a name for this "jealousy of ignorance" feeling, and what can I do about it?

It's a desire to have uncomplicated emotional freedom, to break loose from the shackles of knowledge and obligation. A return to simplicity.

With regards to the "Sure, let's go for it!" attitude, someone on the web coined it as Utopia Myopia (as an antonym to Analysis Paralysis) but when it manifests itself in fairly responsible individuals, I refer to it as passion.

It's an emotional or spiritual desire for something which is pursued without absolute reliance on logic. I consider my core being to be about 50/50 emotional and rational. Neither one can be in charge, they must exist in harmony if I am to be happy. Emotions are about pursuit, Logic is about restraint. It's the gas pedal and the brake. I cannot live by either alone, else I'll die in a fiery crash or I'll never get anywhere. Knowing when to apply the appropriate one is wisdom.

I trust myself today. I run things by people, and if it's not flagged as a VBT (Very Bad Thing), then if it's something I really really want, I go to it. With the help of others, I know that we can make it work.

My wife recently brought up having another child, and I stalled as I didn't know about how that would impact us financially, schooling, etc.

I can get completely lost in the What If I lost my job, or if she lost her job, or if the baby was disabled, or if there was a hurricane, or if the there were cutbacks at work, or if I got sick, or if she got sick, or if house burned down, or the market crashed, or healthcare goes up, or the cost of living, college educations, on and on forever.

But the fact is, if we get pregnant, we'll make it work. We love each other, have relatively supportive families, and currently have decent jobs. I have faith in us and myself. If it happens, it'll be scary, but I have every belief that we will rise to the occasion and be happier for it.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:47 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your question, and some of the answers, seem to assume that you are "doing it wrong" and the guy with no daycare plans is "doing it right". I'm not sure which is better.

I experience somehting that I think is related: when I'm talking to someone about, say, how to think about privacy in modern civilization; others just don't have the same background information and ways of considering it that I do, if the issue seems simpler to them (it's good! it's bad! Other people are wrong!), it can be not just frustrating to me, but infuriating. And yet I know that a) there's probably no right answer; b) it's really difficult to just live while thinking about things this much; c) if everybody was as careful as I try to be, nothing would get done; etc.

Maybe there's some kind of fundamental, hard-wired-cognitively, resource guarding at hand. If everybody planned carefully (e.g. for how to take care of kids before producing said kids), we could spend time building the social and physical structures to handle things well. When others just "jump in", there's going to be some chaos, and we all have to pitch in to just handle the chaos without having a chance to reflect and make things work better than "keeping up".

In other words, bad planning in others means we all have to work harder to handle the "unexpected".

How to deal with it? My current thinking is some kind of grassroots social/lifeskills educational effort.

One place to experience emotional freedom: in acting, have a clear objective is a necessary precursor to performing with strength and power. It feels awesome to do this. If you've ever considered acting lessons, they can give you this feeling. Of course, now I'm suspicious of almost all theater: I know that performances are always an oversimplification of life.
posted by amtho at 11:48 AM on July 25, 2013

The best framework I've found to describe this is "maximizing" vs. "satisficing," as described in this book.

I think over-analyzing and protracted indecision is very seductive for some anxious personality types (mine as well, btw) partly because it's a means of evading the costs of decision-making-- while you're in that undecided, waffling state, you (theoretically) still have all the imaginary benefits of all the scenarios you're considering, combined. You can (for example) enjoy the luxury of feeling like maybe your kid can be home full-time, while maybe both you and your spouse can also work full-time, etc., etc.

Especially for people with strong imaginative faculties, this can be very pleasant-- to avoid having to come to terms with any loss whatever, and dwell in the vague hope that something will turn up to make everything perfect and 100% cost-free. That might be one reason why you're so bold with minor risk-taking, btw: if the costs are so small as to be easily sustainable [e.g. Ehh, break it and we'll just buy a new one], then there's no need for psychic defense-mechanisms to kick in to prevent you from having to deal with the loss of unchosen alternatives.

I have no great answers for dealing consistently with this kind of habit, but what's (occasionally) worked for me is trying to remember that indecision has concrete costs, as well. By waffling about trying to find the very best car for me, I may enter the next model year when everything will be more expensive. By dithering about providing the perfect daycare experience for my child, I may push things to where all the good daycares will be filled up, or I may delay childbearing until just having children at all would be super expensive, or I may waste 120+ hours on spreadsheets that I will afterwards wish I had spent with my baby. Unfortunately, our cognitive programming means it's harder to make these opportunity-cost scenarios emotionally "real," since we generally overvalue our existing possessions and undervalue the prospect of future benefits; but in cases where I've been able to really make myself feel what I was losing by waffling, it's been a good way to propel myself out of the cycle of doubt.
posted by Bardolph at 11:49 AM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

As someone who doesn't have this problem I can tell you (at least from my perspective) that it isn't that I'm ignorant of the possible issues it is that I know I'll figure them out when I get there.

Could I be researching day cares when we talk about having kids? Yes. But really I'm going to have a much better idea of what I want when we get to the point of actually having the kid in hand so I don't care about making that decision right now.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:53 AM on July 25, 2013

Perhaps a piece of this is the Paradox of Choice? That is, it seems people have more happiness when there are fewer choices presented to them.

In the case of children, for example, many people do not view procreating as a yes or no situation (the timing of children, yes, but many people do not consider being ChildFree to be a viable option). It is easy for them to choose to have kids, because there really is no alternative. In your case, you seem to be amenable to being childfree, thus complicating the decision.

So, maybe you're not jealous of their ignorance, but rather jealous of the fact that they are more clear on their desires (and therefore have fewer choices to make).
posted by melissasaurus at 11:54 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

One more thought:

Some decisions (like whether to have kids, in your case) don't have a "right" answer. Whichever course you choose is likely to be good for you to the degree that you make a complete, soul-deep commitment. It's the not committing (emotionally) that will leave you open to regret and constant what-if thinking.

Luck is important, too -- there are disaster possibilities in both cases -- but accepting that is part of making a real commitment.

If you commit wholeheartedly to kids, it will be rewarding. If you commit wholeheartedly to another course for your life, it will be rewarding.
posted by amtho at 11:54 AM on July 25, 2013

He says "Oh well, even though we might be completely screwed a year from now, let's just do it."

Did your friend actually say this, or are you just extrapolating?

Because my husband and I are super mega neurotic overplanners and scenario analyzers and spreadsheet makers as well, and I know something of what you speak. But we didn't have daycare remotely figured out before I got pregnant, and we live in one of the most expensive and competitive daycare markets in the US. And that was totally okay with me, because in the end I trust that we are smart, resourceful people, and we will figure it out when we get to that point. And we did.

On preview, magnetsphere makes the same point I am trying to, but in fewer words.
posted by anderjen at 11:57 AM on July 25, 2013

But the fact is, if we get pregnant, we'll make it work. We love each other, have relatively supportive families, and currently have decent jobs. I have faith in us and myself.

As someone who doesn't have this problem I can tell you (at least from my perspective) that it isn't that I'm ignorant of the possible issues it is that I know I'll figure them out when I get there.

These are probably pretty accurate depictions of the thought processes that make you ragey. Is there some part of you that feels fundamentally unable to cope? While it's true that you can't undo having a kid, and it's very hard/pricey to undo buying a house (especially in certain economic cycles), it's also true that for the most part, people cope just fine with both of the above, even when situations turn out sub-optimal.

It seems like what you're jealous of is other peoples' confidence, or possibly optimism. (Also possible, but less likely: these people have come to a radical acceptance of their lack of control in the world, and you are not remotely near ready to accept that, but wish you were.)
posted by like_a_friend at 11:58 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am one of these snap decision people. Maybe it is confidence. Whatever it is, I'll figure it out. Not the end of the world.

I wonder if you think there is AN ANSWER out there somewhere. Some objective, rational, all-inclusive answer.

There isn't. It's all trade offs. You're living too much in the future. At some point you gotta stop being afraid of life and just live it. You want A CHANGE without the CONSEQUENCES of change and it just doesn't work that way. Can't have your cake and eat it too.

You could also be all in your head and not in your heart. If your heart wants kids than day care costs, while non-trivial are.... actually trivial. Think of decisions you made easily, without effort. It's because you knew in your heart what you want.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Is there a name for this "jealousy of ignorance" feeling

Who knows, maybe there is a German word (sort of like schadenfreude) that gets to this level of specificity. In English, the best word I can come up with for this feeling is 'resentment'. It feels unjust that others arrive at a decision so easily, without even trying to do any of the work. Meanwhile, here you are doing everything humanly possible to arrive at a 'correct' decision, and yet you remain paralyzed. In the meantime you remain unhappy in your undecided state as others blithely go about pursuing and getting the things you want.

I think a lot of this does stem from perfectionism, desire for control, and anxiety (as stated in various responses above).
posted by fikri at 12:01 PM on July 25, 2013

I work up multiple scenarios and try to objectively weigh the pros and cons only to be paralyzed by doubt.

Regardless of how much time, effort or money you put into research, you'll never get all the angles on something. Mainly because you can't see into the future, and all your predictions and research hinge on the future resembling the past. There's no way to not make it a gamble. So it's not Enlightened vs. Ignorant. It's 25% Ignorant vs. 75% Ignorant.

I'm a lot like you, even to the extent that I get paralyzed by own desire to make the best decision possible. I realized my desire to really pin everything down didn't stem from a the wholly rational impulse to make the best decision possible, that I excused my behavior with, but from anxiety and neuroses. What helped was to realize that a decision made (or not made!) in the grip of anxiety can be as compromised as a decision made without due diligence.

Like others have said, with stuff like a baby (or a house) there will most likely never be a moment where the numbers in your spreadsheet line up like the stars and cell C12 says "GOOD TO GO, BUDDY!" Sometimes you just have to realize that your confidence in your ability to make the right choice should also apply to your ability to make the right sacrifices when you're in the middle of the reprecussions of the choice you made, good and bad both.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 12:02 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

These are permanent, once-per-lifetime decisions that paralyze me.

Because you're afraid of your own regret. And you're smart enough to be able to anticipate it.

I'm a person with spreadsheets. My boyfriend is someone who makes snap decisions with incomplete information. We make it work, and one of the main reasons is that it's really clear that I'm not actually much better at decision-making than he is. I'm just more rigid in what sort of outcomes I will tolerate and need to front-load that sort of thing into my decision making process. He's happy with a lot of things and so doesn't stress over a lot of things. I learn a lot from him.

I've always heard the dichotomy as being optimizer/satisficer (to what Bardolph said above)

I can also remember when good friends of mine were pregnant and were considering a move across the country from where they had lived for a decade to a much bigger more hectic place when she was eight months pregnant. I couldn't believe they were doing this and asked them about it and their response was "Well we're basically happy people and this makes sense for A and B reasons and so we figure after some bumps we'll probably be happy there..." I've tried to capture that feeling along with what St. Peepsburg says, it's not like a continuum of right/wrong, it's more like a mobile where everything affects every other thing but ultimately it's still hanging in there. (meanwhile I'm thinking AFTER SOME BUMPS, WTF??)

Another thing that goes into my spreadsheet-thinking was growing up in a neglectful home with a drunken parent. There was always a feeling (and you see this in ACOA literature) that if I was only exactly perfect, then the crappy parent would become somehow less crappy. Since this was a thing, maybe the only thing, I could control, I got really good at following every rule even the nuts ones, so that even if stuff was shitty it wasn't MY fault. This is no way to live.

In short, it's just jealousy. People are different. You can control a lot less than you think you can, though it brings comfort to feel in control.
posted by jessamyn at 12:07 PM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

One other thing: sometimes the work you do to make a decision isn't as objective as you think it is. I've noticed, numerous times, that my extended periods of "research" was just trying to actively poke holes in a plan that was otherwise solid. Times like that it really helps to run things by a person I trust with the sort of decision I am making and get a reality check about my doomsday scenarios. It is doubly helpful if that person is, by nature, positive and optimistic (in a realistic way, of course.)
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 12:07 PM on July 25, 2013

True story: I had (well, still have) a friend who is a true, devoted, obsessive maximizer. He rented an apartment and immediately began intricately planning his decor, taking into account an overarching aesthetic, comparison-shopping constantly, and being consistently paralyzed by everything because WHAT IF. But he was definitely going to hit on all of the perfect cost/value balances, definitely.

His apartment was still almost completely undecorated when it burned down.

You can't predict 'em all.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:08 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

This also comes from class / income / parental confidence differences growing up, I think. Some people experience that things "work out", and some people experience that if they don't plan everything perfectly, their whole life could be ruined.

These differences growing up could affect how people make decisions for the rest of their lives. For many people, the difference in possible negative consequences holds true.

It may well be that your friends' families will assure that things will work out. It may also be that you don't have that assurance: your parents and siblings might not be good role models, or might not be responsible enough to babysit for you, or might not even be alive.

This is one thing that does bother me: people don't always seem to recognize that not everyone has the same "safety net". Maybe being reminded of others' security is upsetting you.
posted by amtho at 12:21 PM on July 25, 2013 [12 favorites]

Are you up for a really long, dense read? Because Kierkegaard's Either/Or II really gets into this idea in a big way. I and II are best read together, but II is the one that most directly concerns the idea of agonizing over decisions.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:25 PM on July 25, 2013

It might help to realize that your rigorous analysis of the risks and rewards of major life decisions is, at best, an extremely rough estimate. There is only so much you can know on this side of a major decision, and you quickly hit a point of diminishing returns, where twice as much research and analysis only adds a marginal amount of insight.

Estimating how much you know before making and following-through on a major decision is difficult to do, but think about the margin of error around much smaller decisions you've made in the past. It seems reasonable to say that for a major decision, you know less than half of what there is to know, and probably less than 10%.

So, how much sense does it make to agonize over things you know less than 10% about? The only way to learn significantly more is to move forward. As to all the alternative paths you imagine. From your point of view they all ultimately lead to the same place.
posted by Good Brain at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Building on what amtho said, sometimes it's worth remembering that life-changing, binary, mega-important decisions don't actually dictate your happiness or life satisfaction.

You may have dramatically different outcomes based on what you decide, but there are enough confounding factors (house burns down, get diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, unknown uncle leaves you a fortune) that even though each is individually unlikely, collectively you are likely to encounter unforeseeable circumstances down the road. Your ability to be happy in your myriad potential futures is a combination of circumstance and disposition.

Think about how you might change your disposition as much or more than your circumstances, since you have a lot less control over those.

And good luck! And have fun!
posted by heliostatic at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2013

(I actually just joined this site to answer this question, since it reminded me of me. Not incidentally, I've been waffling about joining here for a while because I couldn't think of a perfect user name.)

I'm a planner and an anxiety person and was on the fence about kids specifically for a long, long time. I have been agonizing weekly about it to my therapist for the last 4 years (I'm female and 35 so there was a time factor) and finally I realized that 1) it wasn't a decision I could make rationally - there are just so many unknowns and 2) if I found it neccesary to devote that much brain space to it for years, I probably wanted to have kids deep down, despite all the potential negatives: cost, stress, all those studies that show that parents are measurably unhappier than non parents, the risk of screwing up the nice life I've taken so long to build with my husband, etc. Then it just became a matter of logistics: house, jobs had to be in place before I would consider going off birth control.

So I'm 10 weeks pregnant now and totally happrehensive about it: pleased but still anxious about all the unknowns in the future.

For more generally applicable advice: I try to remind myself that when crappy things happen, I can rely on myself to figure it out, somehow. Even though I can't possibly forecast all the scenarios in advance and think of an acceptable solution to every possible scenario - I trust myself to be able to think on the fly and deal with the specific one that is in front of me.
posted by data hound at 1:46 PM on July 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I'm like you and my bf is like the people you hate. I had a childhood full of fear, danger, catastrophe and regret. He had a blissfully relaxed wonderfully enriching childhood with a loving family. Maybe there is some connection there? He's an anxious person in a lot of ways, but not about things working out.
posted by 3491again at 2:37 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's these situations where I have analysis paralysis and am envious of those that don't seem to care about the possible ramifications.

I think that with these spreadsheets, you're trying to quantify want. You can't really do that. Having a baby isn't like picking a retirement plan, you know?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:45 PM on July 25, 2013

I could not help but be reminded of this by Vonnegut/Bokonon:
Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
Doesn't give you a name for it, but at least the sense that you are not alone...
posted by acm at 2:52 PM on July 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

Look, some folks are just fine by flying by the seat of their pants. Some aren't. The pantsers figure that they want it and will figure it out when they ate forced to. There wad an episode of HIMYM where Ted and Marshall decided that they'd let "Future Ted and Future Marshall" decide who'd get the apartment if one of them got married. In the end they had a swordfight and Current Lily made the decision for everybody.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 PM on July 25, 2013

Moral of the story is: situations change in the moment and all your planning may end up meaning nothing when the time comes. You may have an "oops" or someone turns out to be infertile or you suddenly lose your job when she is 9.months along and there goes all your planning. Plan what you can, but in the end, maybe you just have to jump if you can't stand not having a kid.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:15 PM on July 25, 2013

Check out Blink by Malcolm Gladwell if you want to understand how and why relying on less information to make decisions can be a good thing.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:17 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

With the baby scenario, you are describing 2 different kinds of uncertainty. One is tangible (finances, house, spreadsheets) and thus calculable. The other is intangible and emotional - regret, living fully, and aging - those factors are not calculable nor predictable.

I recently went through the same intellectual rationalization for the have a baby/don't have a baby debate that was raging in my head. Like you, I have been researching, drawing up calculable data, and fretting about all the non-calculable factors.

Finally though, I realized that all the analysis in the world on data points I could control and manage, were not going to sway me emotionally or psychologically.

So I started doing "human research". I interviewed a wide range of friends about their baby vs not having a baby decisions and reflections. I had fixed questions and got an amazing range of answers. I observed people around me who had kids in the older range (past teenage years) and people who never had kids, who had become older. I interviewed THEM about their regrets, their reflections, and their words of wisdom for someone in my position.

The end result? I realized that people from all incomes, ages and cultures have wildly varying notions on what it mean to feel "in control", "be ready" and "have regret". It's not yes or no answers, it was a huge spectrum of thought.

The thing is, all this hue array of data and anecdotal research really served to put my mind at ease. It helped me realize that whatever the outcome and my decision, I would live a life that was full according to circumstance and what the universe chose to deliver me. It helped me realize all the spreadsheets in the world could not predict certain things, and all the worrying wasn't going to prevent certain outcomes. And it made me relax, because one thing was for sure. EVERYONE I interviewed said the same reassuring thing. It was, "no matter what, we made it work".

That helped, a lot. I hope it helps you too.
posted by shazzam! at 7:57 PM on July 25, 2013

It's the bittersweetness of innocence. I prepare for a lot of things now that I didn't previously because bitter bitter experience has taught me that those I love need me to be prepared when disaster strikes again. I am pretty flexible for ordinary things, but I hyper-prepare for critical issues now.

There is a profound difference in how I experience pregnancy and parenting with multiple miscarriages and with older children who came to my family through extremely complicated adoptions. All of my kids have significant issues, and I love them and being their parent, but I envy, oh how I envy people who have boring normal pregnancies and kids with regular normal-sized issues.

It's like they're wearing blinders and are strolling through a giant howling cavern, only seeing the immediate brightly lit path around them. I wouldn't trade my experiences now and I would give my kids the same innocent security if I could, but their innocence is terrifying and so fragile. You don't really want them to see or feel what you've been through, but it can sometimes be lonely to be the only person noticing these terrible things.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:00 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm very much like you. One thing that has helped me is realizing that I generally don't have enough information available to me to make any further analysis at all beneficial. There are just too many unknowns.

Also I realized that the most important, life altering things in my life were overwhelmingly totally unpredictable and in no way something I could have ever planned for. My life has had many twists and turns and the things that have affected my life most are almost all 100% unpredictable and things it would be ludicrous to plan for as they were so unlikely.

Once you realize that your life is actually far more out of your control than you want to admit it does help you start to give up the ghost of trying to manufacture the illusion of control by endlessly making pro ad cons lists and weighing and stewing.

A pros and cons list are great if you have a good idea of the pros and cons, but once you get the big obvious ones down the rest you just don't know and if half of your lists are full of unknowns of unknown consequence the whole exercise is rather silly.

I think a lot of people who just go yeah screw it I'm having a kid or [insert whatever] accept that on some level and for most of these people it works out more or less the same as us crazy planners.
posted by whoaali at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2013

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