The pro-con love list For when you don’t know what to do in love

Should you leave him? Marry him? Or – care­ful! – get back to­gether? Here’s what to do when you don’t know what to do.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Front Page -

It’s rush hour on a crowded bus. Aaron, a de­voted hus­band, is hus­tling home to feed his and his wife’s two cats when he sees a woman writ­ing notes on the back of an en­ve­lope. On a bus this full, no mat­ter where you look, you’re go­ing to be read­ing some­one’s Face­book feed over their shoul­der. So Aaron sees that she’s writ­ten a pro-con list. About her boyfriend.

The pros and cons

He makes her happy. Also, his cats are cute (yes, se­ri­ously – see left). The cons: he’s un­em­ployed and not look­ing for work. He has a dirty room ( but also a ter­race? Con­fus­ing!). Oh, and he owes her more than R1 000.

Aaron thought it was fas­ci­nat­ing: “I guess in a de­press­ing sort of way,” he says. “It was pretty ob­vi­ous from her points that it was to­tally un­nec­es­sary to make a list. If this is your pro-con list, you re­ally have a con list.”

Of course, maybe this woman was a nov­el­ist out­lin­ing a char­ac­ter, or maybe she was rank­ing some guys’ qual­i­ties for a friend. Re­gard­less, her list forces the ques­tion: is it pos­si­ble to write a pro-con list that ac­tu­ally helps you make a de­ci­sion about a re­la­tion­ship? Can you re­ally choose a new part­ner with a piece of pa­per? Or, can you be ra­tio­nal in love? And even if you can, should you?

You might know more than you think

With some­thing as messy as your love life, it’s nat­u­ral to want to make a log­i­cal list. But first we must dis­pense with a myth: there’s no such thing as a truly im­par­tial pro-con list.

“Your opin­ions will shape the list more than the list will shape your de­ci­sion,” says Dr Ben­jamin Kar­ney, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial psy­chol­ogy. “Peo­ple lean­ing to­wards a de­ci­sion will come up with more ad­van­tages. Peo­ple lean­ing away will come up with more dis­ad­van­tages. And peo­ple hope­lessly un­de­cided are likely to re­main un­de­cided,” he ex­plains.

Which is to say, when you write a pro­con list, you’re of­ten just pro­ject­ing the pref­er­ences that you al­ready have.

That can be use­ful, says Bruce*, 29, a re­porter. At one point, with an ex­girl­friend, he re­mem­bers, “I phys­i­cally wrote out the pros – ‘She likes Coen broth­ers movies as much as I do.’ Then, when I saw them next to the other list items, like ‘She gets on my nerves when we stay at each other’s places’, I re­alised how flimsy my rea­sons to stay with her were. The list re­ally helped crys­tallise my think­ing,” Bruce ex­plains.

What if you still need help?

But not every list is as con­clu­sive as Bruce’s. “A pro-con list is ex­cel­lent for bring­ing out the pos­si­ble fac­tors that go into your de­ci­sion, but the prob­lem is that it equalises the im­por­tance of all of these things,” ex­plains renowned cou­ples ther­a­pist Dr Charles Fos­ter. “So it just be­comes a list of stuff.”

If you want to make a more use­ful list, Dr Fos­ter ad­vises nar­row­ing down the fo­cus to your deal break­ers – for in­stance, will he move for your ca­reer, or does he make you feel safe? – and be­ing hon­est with your­self about what’s truly im­por­tant. “You have the right to say, ‘If this isn’t the case, then we’re done,’” Dr Fos­ter says.

And re­mem­ber, the list isn’t the whole pic­ture. “We don’t have ac­cess to the rea­sons for some ro­man­tic feel­ings,” re­veals Pro­fes­sor J Frank Yates, who re­searches judge­ment and de­ci­sion mak­ing. “You have to ac­cept that you’ll have feel­ings about your part­ner you can’t ex­plain.”

So if you’re not feel­ing the pros, or you’ve got a list of cons but can’t stop think­ing, ‘I care about this per­son’ ( here’s look­ing at you, Bus Girl!), don’t beat your­self up. “In­stead, try ask­ing your­self a sim­pler ques­tion,” sug­gests Ellen Mccarthy, au­thor of The Real Thing: Lessons On Love and Life From a Wed­ding Re­porter’s Note­book (Ran­dom House, R519). “Is this what I want go­ing for­wards? Is it nur­tur­ing enough that you want it in all the days – and years – to come?”

When Cather­ine, 26, a sales spe­cial­ist, broke up with her boyfriend of six years, she de­cided to take a dat­ing hia­tus. Nat­u­rally, she met a new guy, like, two days later. So she made a list, de­signed to help her de­cide whether to jump in. “It was a lot of, ‘What type of life­style do I want? How does a re­la­tion­ship fit?’” says Cather­ine. In the end, Cather­ine chose the guy, and she stands by her sys­tem. “To be in a suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ship,” she says, “you have to know what you want.”

And what you don’t want. Just ask Tay­lor, 28, who works in dig­i­tal me­dia and broke up with a boyfriend be­cause “we never talked about our prob­lems.” Af­ter it was over, she no­ticed that she had been keep­ing a men­tal check­list of all of the ways he had wronged her – things like, ‘He ig­nored me when I vis­ited him’ and ‘He would rather lis­ten to mu­sic than hear me talk’ – so she de­cided to write them down as a re­minder for fu­ture re­la­tion­ships.

Not too long af­ter Tay­lor broke things off, he called her, want­ing to get back to­gether. She con­sulted her list, and her ex­act words to him were: “I wouldn’t re­spect my­self if I got back to­gether with you.” De­ci­sion made.

there’s no such thing as a truly im­par­tial pro­con list.

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