Idealizing the Unobtainable

In recent weeks, this series of events has happened to me at least three times: I wanted something so badly but I knew it was unobtainable, then the object of my desire suddenly became available to me, and I realized I didn't actually want it in the first place. I blame Out-Of-My-League Goggles for clouding my vision…

I know what you might be thinking: "Did you no longer want it precisely because you could have it? Was it only the thrill of the hunt, the lure of the hard-to-get?" And while that is a factor that it is a very good idea to be aware of, I don't think that was at play. Here's an example:

At a very nice beer shop I spotted a 22-oz bottle of locally brewed fennel beer and got so excited: I love fennel seeds, and fennel seed flatbreads are my favorite cocktail hour snack to bake. I wanted that beer so bad, but it was $14. Later, I saw it at another shop for $5 less- still a splurge, but a more reasonable one- and was all set to buy it when I realized it was fennel beer, not fennel seed beer. I am ambivalent about fennel, and am not about to splash out on it, but in my initial "I can't afford this!" haze, I neglected to notice the difference.

And that exact scenario has played out several times in regard to household products and clothes, and it's got me thinking: this very process of idealizing something you know you can't afford or otherwise obtain could be a major factor in general dissatisfaction. When you're flipping through a magazine full of gorgeous home goods, it's easy to think, "Woe is me! I want every single thing but there's a comma in every single price." But if you really got into it, like if you had to register for your wedding from that magazine, there might be only a few pieces you would want to live with. (This theory may not hold water: it's based on a game I play while reading Vogue called "Is There Anything In This Whole Magazine I Would Actually Wear?" There's usually a piece or two, out of millions of dollars worth of clothes.) There are so, so many things out there, and so many websites and magazines full of beautiful things, it's easy for it to all blur into "I Want It ALL"...but do we really?

So what I'm advocating is this: the next time there's a couch or a wallpaper or a job or a hottie that you're convinced you can never have, really break it down and escape from the haze. Is the couch itchy? Is the wallpaper pretty but headache inducing? Is the hottie rather annoying, now that you've removed your crush-blinders? Really pretend that you're going to buy the item at hand, judge it harshly, and I predict that many times it will turn out we don't actually want that item we've put on a pedestal.

(Image: Flickr user Pleuntje licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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