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The Path of Most Resistance
Then one day he gets a girlfriend. She seems nice enough and attractive. He decides for various reason to date her. Things go okay at first, but after the initial excitement of a new relationship, he starts coming back to his senses. He realizes she's not really his type. She's very nice to him, but she's not very bright. Their interests are very different. He has a hard time finding anything to talk about with her. He doesn't want to continue with the relationship.
So Bob starts trying to figure out a way to break it off with her. She just spent a bunch of time making him a nice romantic dinner for two, so he thinks the timing is bad. He can't break up with her right after that. It'd be hard enough to break up with her, especially since she's so nice to him. So Bob decides to put it off a for a couple weeks.
That night, his girlfriend suggests that they should go to a movie the following weekend. She really wants to go, and he can't come up with a good excuse, so he agrees. But that means his thoughts of breaking up have to be extended as well. It's fine, Bob thinks, because it's such a hassle to do right now given the dinner and then the movie and everything else. He doesn't exactly hate her. He just doesn't really like her. A little more time isn't a problem. He'll just take the path of least resistance at this point. No reason to create stress for himself.
A couple days later she tells him she bought tickets to a symphony for the two of them, but it's in a month and a half. He reluctantly agrees, not wanting to have the big confrontation and break-up right now. He decides to follow the path of least resistance for a bit, putting it off. He figures, "What's another month and a half?" But then, he can't exactly break up with her the day after that. So maybe two months.
Two months go by, but they've now been dating for 3 months. He wants to break up, but when you date someone for 3 months, don't you have to have a reason to break it off? Sure he doesn't really like her, but that's not a good excuse. Why did he date her for so long if he didn't like her? So again, he takes the path of least resistance, waiting for a good opportunity.
She decides one day that they should move in together. She's always at his place anyway, so they'll actually save rent. He can see the merit in the idea, but keeps thinking that he wishes he had broken up with her. There's still no good excuse, and living together actually saves them time and money, so he takes the path of least resistance and she moves in. No big deal, he says. This is as far as he'll let the relationship go. And who knows, maybe she'll hate living with him and she'll decide to break up.
A year later they're engaged to be married. Bob doesn't exactly know how it happened. It wasn't that he really wanted to. He still fantasizes about her breaking up with him. But their parents kept pressuring them, and he figured they were already living together, so what's the big deal? It's too much trouble to fight, and breaking up at this point would be really painful. No big deal, though. He can always divorce later. So he takes the path of least resistance.
The marriage takes a number of turns for the worse. She's put on a bit of weight, doesn't bother cleaning, and she never ended up getting a job. Sure, she tried her luck at a few places, but quit when she couldn't find something that really excited her. So she stays at home. But she gets really, really bored staying there all day. When Bob gets home from work, he has to entertain her. And she insists on being treated as an equal, despite the fact that he pays for everything. He does half the chores!
Maybe, just maybe, he could break up with her. But you can't just get a divorce without a reason. She hasn't really done anything wrong, or it was so gradual that he can't make a fuss of it now. He starts fantasizing about having an affair, not because he wants to be with someone else, but because he might get caught and she'd divorce him. He knows if he's ever going to assert himself, now's the time to do it. He delays, once again taking the path of least resistance.
She informs him that she's pregnant. He gives up.
The path of least resistance is a powerful motivator. The costs of doing something hard are always immediate, while the benefits are out in the future. Maybe a person thinks the costs will diminish over time. Maybe he thinks he'll gain more confidence in his decision later and that'll make it easier. Maybe he just hopes someone else will come along and solve it for him. But whatever the case, the incentive is to put off tough choices.
The problem, as this example tried to demonstrate, is that the costs often go up over time. By avoiding the problem now, you let it grow and fester. It gets harder and harder to deal with. It eventually gets to the point where the costs are so high that you can't even consider them anymore.
The path of least resistance is often an illusion. It's based on a focus on the immediate hassle, and an evasion of the future costs. In the example, Bob should have known that it would just get harder the longer he put it off. He did it, not as an informed decision seeing the alternatives clearly, but in a half-blind view caused by fear or laziness. Trying to take the path of least resistance will often put you right on the path of most resistance.
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