Last week, I went to the pharmacy for some allergy medicine. I was faced with a daytime formula and a night time one. There were capsules and liquid choices. Some promised instant relief, others guaranteed long-lasting effects. There were natural and artificial ingredients, herbal and allopathic, name brands and store brands. I began to feel dizzy. My eyes scanned the shelves in a daze. Then I left. It was easier to bear my allergy symptoms.
After all, it’s not like I don’t already have enough decisions to make at work and home. Should I get my kitchen upgraded or put that money toward much needed house repairs? Should I get a dog or a guinea pig for my kids?
The next day, we went looking for a car. “Should we buy or lease?” my husband asked me.
“Wait a minute, don’t we always buy our cars?” I asked in surprise.
“We could. Or we could lease,” he replied.
“But … isn’t leasing for those flashy, single types? The ones who don’t really know what they want and keep changing their minds?”
“What’s wrong with changing your mind?” asked my suddenly hip husband.
“Nothing. Except this is a car. A huge buy. It has to make good financial sense.”
“Well, a car is a depreciating asset. You always rent/lease a depreciating asset. At the end of two years, we can choose to buy it, sell it, or walk away! It gives us a lot more freedom.”
I looked at my husband suspiciously. Unless he had started working undercover as a car salesman, this did not sound like him. “Fine, let’s not decide anything today. We’ll just take a look,” he conceded. Oh, great, another decision waiting to be made. Public transportation suddenly seemed a lot more attractive.
Then there was the time we decided to get away from it all. We began to make plans for a trip to the coast.
Should we stay in a motel or a beach cabin? Pack fewer clothes and wash, or more and dispense with doing the laundry? Cook some meals or eat out every day? The decisions were made after much deliberation, and taking everyone’s needs into consideration.
The big day arrived, and we were finally seated on the plane. No more decisions! Hurray! Five days of peace and relaxation!
The stewardess came by. “Would you like peanuts or crackers, madam?”
“With or without cheese?”
“Um … Without.”
“Would you like juice or coffee?”
Hmm … better to stay hydrated at the high altitude.
“Orange, apple, or tomato?”
I don’t care!!!
‘Would you like it with ice?”
The stewardess began to notice my strangely unfriendly expression.
I quickly said, “Without,” and she finally poured me the juice. Then she began to perform her ritual with the rest of my brood. Twenty exhausting minutes later, she moved on to the next unsuspecting family. On day one of our vacation, we encountered many more choices that, I guess, were meant to make our life better.
There were choices of packages at amusement parks that were so complex, you would need an algorithm to analyze them.
On day two, after being lost for an hour, we finally arrived at a restaurant, tired, hungry, and a bit short on camaraderie. There was a separate kids menu and discounts were offered depending on day and time of visit. Despite the restless mood of the troops, we made our way painfully through an array of combos, taking into account even the allergy information. When the food actually arrived on the table, it was hard to believe that this is what we had worked so long and hard for.
On day three, battle broke out. There was disagreement within the family regarding where to eat and what to see. The younger half wanted high carbs and fast rides. The older half fought for high fiber and slow walks. A painful consensus process was used to restore order and peace, with nobody happy at the end of it.
Five days and hundreds of decisions later, it was time to head back home. As we sat at the airport waiting for our return flight, I began to wonder. Had we really gotten away from it all? Or did we just create another pressure-filled world away from home? We value choice in our lives, but is there such a thing as too many choices?
The next time I entered a Starbucks something inside of me snapped. One look at the menu and I knew this was going to be another trap. So when it was my turn, I donned my best smile and asked for “Tea.”
“Well, we have seven different flavors. Hot or iced. Organic or not. With or without a slice of lemon.”
Instead of running away this time, I willed myself to face him.
“Surprise me,” I said.
He frowned. “Excuse me?”
I remained calm and ignored the looks I was getting.
He punched in the name of the mystery drink into his cash machine, I paid, and we were done.
When the tea finally arrived, it turned out to be Thai Organic Iced Tea with a twist of lemon. I savored every sip as I observed the people around me. Everyone seemed to be in such a rush. For five whole minutes, I drank my tea in bliss, without having to make a single decision.
Shanti Kurada is a freelance writer. She lives in Fremont with her husband and two kids.