Affairs, Fantasies, and Bad Decisions

Why We Make Bad Decisions

by Daniel Gilbert Ph.D

Dan Gilbert believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes — and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way — Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

The premise of his current research — that our assumptions about what will make us happy are often wrong — is supported with clinical research drawn from psychology and neuroscience. But his delivery is what sets him apart. His engaging — and often hilarious — style pokes fun at typical human behavior and invokes pop-culture references everyone can relate to.

Costs and Value

Affairs are an indulgence in escapism that can mutate into an imagined life with the other person. We all have dreams and make comparisons about our lives in a way that is escapism on one level, and yet most people still place a positive value on their lives as they are today, despite their relationship flaws and how they compare to the portrayal of relationships around us.

Affairs devalue the life you lead with your partner and your family. They declare that you want something more, better, different … something that better meets your shifting expectations. Affairs are examples of poorly assessed costs and values in both the affair relationship and the primary relationship.

The Fantasy Theory

This talk led me to again wonder about the form that people’s internal narrative can take, and how that paves the way to choosing to have an affair. The issue of shifting comparisons interested me.

In many infidelity/affair blogs and fora you will find members talking about their spouses’ affairs as ‘fantasies’. I tend to disagree with this description, holding instead the view that the affair relationship has to have elements that make it achievable and somewhat realistic. I’ve encountered numerous situations where the primary relationship is completely vilified, and the allure of the affair relationship has been that it is seen as an easily achievable chance at happiness (or escape).

I think that an affair ‘fantasy’ is about floating in the fairytale realm of celebrity crushes and extravagant lifestyles, for example. It’s a whopping dollop of escapist daydreaming that most recognize as an unattainable figment of their imaginations. Contrary to the popular use of the ‘affair fantasy’ idea, I personally believe that this unrealistic nirvana, starring Brad Pitt or Sofia Vergara (or whomever!), is the fantasy. THAT is the $51 bottle of wine on the shelf that nobody is going to buy. The other bottles are in reach, attainable, and not so far out there that they need to be dismissed as an unrealistic pipe dream.

Shifting Comparisons

Comparison changes the value of things. When you get that $33 of wine home it won’t matter what it used to be sitting on the shelf next to. The comparisons we make when we are appraising value, when we’re trying to estimate how much we will like things, are not the same comparisons that we’ll be making when we consume them.

~ Daniel Gilbert

The primary relationship probably started as the $27 bottle of wine of the shelf, but with the negatives associated with the challenges of reality (bills, children, job, housework, and other such external stressors) it has been easily relegated to the role of the misery-inducing $8 bottle.

The shelf displays all 4 bottles. Right beside the gold label bottle of “Fantasy” (the $51-I-know-this-is-an-unrealistic-fantasia bottle) is the old-fashioned bottle of “What I Believed I Was Getting Forever” (the $27-How-dare-my-life-be-imperfect bottle). Also on the shelf is the cheap and nasty screw-topped bottle of “What I Tell Myself I’ve Got” (the $8-I-am-miserable-and-blame-my-partner bottle). But right there, sits the Special Reserve … the affordably alluring bottle of personal nirvana, “Everything I Ever Wanted And Know I Can Achieve For Myself” (the $33-My-achievable-escape-or-distraction-from-my-awful-or-mundane-life bottle).

When you get that $33 bottle home, keeping it around for a special occasion, don’t be surprised to discover that it’s corked and tastes like vinegar. And the corkage fees were probably not worth it. That $27 bottle never looked so good huh? What a shame someone else is probably quaffing it now.

~ Wayfarer


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