Sunday, March 23, 2008

Unsure whether to break up with your boyfriend?

Unsure whether to break up with your boyfriend? Trying to decide if you want to get engaged? Confused about whether to stay with her after she cheated on you? Can't figure out whether to move in with him?

There's one sure way to solve the dilemma: flip a coin.

It's a little bit of wisdom I learned from my piano teacher, Mrs. McAllister, who along with teaching me my scales used to dole out life lessons every week. Other useful things she taught me were to speak really softly when you're trying to get someone's attention (they have to settle down and be quiet to hear you) and that there's really never an acceptable reason to play Fur Elise in public.

But the coin flipping thing was clearly the best piece of advice she gave me. "If you can't make up your mind," she explained, "just toss a coin. If the wrong answer comes up -- you'll know instantly."

And it's true. There's that moment when the coin is in the air and your thoughts crystalize and you think "heads, heads, please be heads." Even if it comes up tails, you've figured out what you want to do.

I was recently reminded of Mrs. McAllister's wisdom because a friend of mine who'd been casually dating a woman for six months made the decision to step up their relationship based on a coin toss over dinner. His girlfriend is a tad less amused by this than I am. . . but, c'mon, this is a great idea. After all, you can exist in a state of indecision forever -- how many people do you know who have stayed in a comatose relationship for years?-- and any trick to get you moving is good enough for me.

When afflicted with total indecisiveness, most of us wait around doing nothing until the choice is made for us. You can't make up your mind to ask her to marry you, and one day she up and walks out. Or you don't break up with him for cheating on you, but it affects you every day as you snap at him, feel miserable, and erode the relationship anyway.

When confronted with such situations I pick a course, any course (flip the coin, or pick the path of least resistance, or the one that scares you most, or that your heart wants to take but logically you know is wrong, or vice versa, or whatever, but pick one option) and commit to doing that thing. Decide you're going to break up. Decide you're going to tell her how you feel. Decide you'll move to Helsinki to be together. You don't have to tell anyone else yet -- but commit to this new course and start acting the part. Imagine life on your new path in detail. Feel what it's like to have made a choice.

One of two things will happen: you will have this overwhelming feeling of calm which will suffuse to the end of your toes as you think, "yes, yes, this is right;" or you will wake up in a sweat at 3 AM every night in a claustrophobic panic.

Either way, you have your answer.

If you're so busy worried about making the wrong choice then you'll stagnate, never able to pick either option. But if you try a decision on for size knowing you can change your mind later, you gain a whole new freedom.

At first glance, this may not seem so different from not making any choice at all, but if you actually attempt it you'll see they're worlds apart. One version is a swirl of contradictory thoughts in your head; the other is -- gasp -- actually taking action. You may figure out the action was the wrong action, but you'll know a hell of a lot more than you did before.

So, say good bye to self-doubt. Hasta la vista to six-hour re-hash conversations with your best friend. Tell your shrink you won't be needing him anymore. Just rustle through your pockets for a regulation-sized coin and start flipping.


  1. This is the best advice I've ever been given.. especially the reality of contradiction that circles when you take neither path.. this article really puts things in perspective.

  2. Thanks. This was helpful.