Sunday, October 17, 2010

A satisficer, an optimizer, and unity

A long time ago, my once-economics professor-now-pastor husband explained a couple of economic "people types" to me.

A satisficer is a person who is happy with a solution or product that meets their needs.  They don't worry about whether or not it is the best possible option.  Once their criteria are met, they don't need to do further research.  They make a choice. That'll work.  Fine. Get it.

An optimizer, on the other hand, is a person that has to examine all the possible options.  They don't want to make a decision until they have all the information they feel they need in order to achieve the optimal outcome or purchase the finest product for the money.  They spend a lot of time researching, examining, and comparing in order to get the very best.

It is pretty easy to figure out which you are. If you get irritated when someone you love takes a long time to made a purchase decision, you are probably a satisficer.  If you are annoyed that the loved doesn't do much comparison shopping, you may be an optimizer.  There are some of each kind in every family.

I once spent a very long time with one of my children (who will remain unnamed) while that dear child decided whether to purchase 0.5 or 0.7 mm thickness mechanical pencils.  If I had figured out our differing purchasing strategies before that trip to the store, I would have left her in the school supplies section to take as long as she needed to make her decision while I wandered happily through the garden center.  Alas, this was before my husband had enlightened me about these differences, so I stood there getting more and more irritated while she debated the relative merits of pencil thicknesses.  Just get some pencils, already!

Now I know.  I am a satisficer.  Coty is an optimizer (that child above takes after her father).  Sometimes Coty's optimizing behavior drives me crazy, but mostly, it is very good for both of us.  To be married to your opposite balances your extremes and strengthens your weaknesses.  When I just want to go ahead a make a purchase, Coty makes me wait while he does the research.  When he is agonizing over details and waffling in optimizing indecision, I act.  We purchase and move on. 

Here's how our satisficer/optimizer dynamic worked out yesterday.  Coty is traveling this month.  He needed a new carry-on suitcase, but he didn't have much time to shop for it before he left.  So, yesterday, I went to the store for him.  Before going, I asked what he wanted in a carry-on and since his mind was on lots of other trip preparations, he gave me only one requirement, zippers that make the bag expandable.  Easy.

At the store, I had many carry-on suitcase choices.  I looked them over and in about ten minutes, narrowed the choices down to two.  Both had expandable zippers, four wheels, and retractable pull handles.  One was black, one was red.  They had similar interiors but different types of inner and outer pockets and different handles.  I bought both and brought them home for Coty to choose.  The one he rejected would get returned later. I would have been happy, quite frankly, with either one of them.  I would probably have gone with the red just because it was prettier!

Anyway, when I got home and showed him the two choices, I had to chuckle.  His optimizing kicked in and he spent about three times as long deciding between the two suitcases as I had spent choosing them from among the many available.  He examined them, repeatedly zipping and unzipping the zippers, raising and lowering the handles, rolling them back and forth, assessing the merits of pocket placement, comparing, optimizing...

He finally chose the black one.  Good choice.  No... best choice.

Why do I tell you this story?  Certainly not to poke fun at my husband, though after nearly 31 years of marriage, we are well aware of and able to laugh at each others foibles.  But I don't write to tease.

I write, instead, to honor the unity that has grown in our marriage over those 3 decades, unity that is lived out in big things like standing beside each other in hardship and in little things like suitcase purchases.

When we were first married, we affirmed that God had taken two people and in a profoundly mysterious way, made us one flesh.  As young marrieds, we acknowledged, but didn't really understand that.  It took hardship, pain, betrayal, and the limitless grace of God to show us that unity is both a steel cable and a spider's web.  It is both strong and fragile.  It is an ongoing project that takes work.

For Coty and me, unity has required the work of examining and understanding how we are different.  The satisficer/optimizer distinction is just one example.  We have had to look at how and why we do things the way we do, what we like and dislike, how we relate and function.  He's an analyzer, I'm a feeler; he's functional, I'm relational; he was a math major, I'm math phobic.  Go figure - or if you're me, don't. 

Quite often, couples see their differences as threats. The work of unity requires, instead, that we see them as potential strengths.  I have come to see that some of the ways in which Coty is different from me are precisely the strengths I lack, and vice versa.  When you look at differences in this way, they become not threats, but complements.  You are not torn down, but completed.  You are not two people competing to get your way, but allies working toward a common end.

Tonight, as Coty sits at Kennedy waiting to board a trans-Pacific flight with that new carry-on suitcase, I face several weeks of separation.  I said good-bye at the airport curb very bravely, but I will miss him terribly.   I am incredibly thankful, though, for the God-given, work-forged unity we have, unity that is ours across the miles. I am thankful that even when we are continents apart, we, one satisficer and one optimizer, are not two, but one.

"...and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh."  Mark 10:8


Amy said...

Beautiful illustration, Beth. What an encouragement it is for me and so many others to see how you and Coty complement each other. I've often said that when I get married and have a family, I want to talk to you and Coty, because you have something I want to emulate. Praying for you over these next five weeks. Love you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this! -Jess R

Jayne said...

That is such a helpful post. Most of our family arguments would have been stopped if I had known this earlier. Thank you. Love, Jayne.

Coty said...

Thank you for your two beautiful and insightful posts on marriage, sweetheart
(From the Taipei airport . . .)

Erin said...

Thanks for outing me. ;) I had to chuckle at this, which I just saw - over the past two nights I have spent close to 3 hours deciding what shoes to get for Clara. Tonight I called Luke in to help and in about 5 minutes we had made a decision. :)

Thanks for such a wonderful, ongoing example of building unity through differences in marriage. You've given us a "head start," and we feel very blessed.

Scotty and Lisa said...

Thankful for your example! So good to see how God sharpens us through the other. I fall into Coty's category too...once took at least 45 mins to buy $5 worth of stuff at the dollar store as a girl. :)

erin said...

beth! i loved this post and was laughing throughout because
1. i am SUCH a satisficer and ben is very much the optimizer and
2. when you did not name your child but referred to her as a "she" it made it quite obvious! :) i'm sure you realized that.
keep writing! i love it.