Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Choice Effect: Claire A. Williams, Amalia McGibbon, and Lara Vogel

Written by Jessica Freedman

 


 Active Image
 

I met with Claire A. Williams, one of three co-authors of the book The Choice Effect: Love and Commitment in an Age of Too Many Options, in the secluded upstairs of a dimly-lit happy hour bar in San Francisco. Claire met her other two co-authors, Amalia McGibbon and Lara Vogel their freshman year of college at Stanford; the three girls lived in the same dorm, on the same floor., They would gossip about men and relationships together and have managed to stay close—close enough to write a book together—despite the great continental divide that separates them (Amalia is living in London, Claire in Argentina, and Lara is soon to move to Stanford to go to Medical School).

 

I met with Claire A. Williams, one of three co-authors of the book The Choice Effect: Love and Commitment in an Age of Too Many Options, in the secluded upstairs of a dimly-lit happy hour bar in San Francisco. Claire met her other two co-authors, Amalia McGibbon and Lara Vogel their freshman year of college at Stanford; the three girls lived in the same dorm, on the same floor. They would gossip about men and relationships together and have managed to stay close—close enough to write a book together—despite the great continental divide that separates them (Amalia is living in London, Claire in Argentina, and Lara is soon to move to Stanford to go to Medical School).

 

Sitting across from the soft-spoken girl-next-door it started to become clear how a twenty-eight-year-old could become so accomplished in such little time. As she humbly recounted her journey around the world with Lara after college, writing for a now flopped Orbitz-like travel website, I couldn't help but be in awe of how she managed to have gotten a BA and MA simultaneously from Stanford, an MBA from Oxford, start a non-profit, and make the cross-continental move more than once.


Not surprisingly enough, based on the girls' collective impressive passport stamp collection, the idea for the book came when Lara and Claire were in Kenya, where they founded a non-profit called Hope Runs, an organization that works with orphans suffering from AIDS in Africa. Naturally, they would get the other musketeer, Amalia, involved via Skype. Five years later, three best friends had managed to write a book so spunky, so topical that it would get to about 550th on Amazon on the first day of its launch. The book even managed to enter the radar of Forbes Magazine and Newsweek.

 

All living in various destinations other than the US, they realized that the world was their oyster. They proclaimed themselves as "choisters," a phrase coined in their book, which ingeniously combines choice and oyster. Stating that, "Choisters are hypnotized by options, and can't imagine turning any of them down," the book explores how young women have more opportunities than ever before in their professional and personal lives. With that wealth of opportunity comes a dilemma of how to navigate these decisions despite the fact that they want to have it all—travel, fulfilling careers, relationships, and not to mention great girlfriends. Left to their own devices, choisters are self-made independent women who take full advantage of everything the world has to offer.

 

You may wonder how these three women who wrote a book about not wanting to decide have all ended up deciding in great relationships and have managed to lead such diverse lives. Amalia has been with her German boyfriend for seven years residing together in London, Claire is engaged, and Lara is in a relationship of her own. That's the beauty of being a choister, as they demonstrate in the book—you can have it all. "I really believe in the message of the book," says Claire.  "Enjoy the time you're deciding."

 

So when I probed further as to how Claire ultimately chose to settle down with one man, she explained it to me using a Sex and the City metaphor: "I guess my light was on." Pop cultural references such as these abound in The Choice Effect. My guess is that if you're a woman between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, chances are you picked up the reference, but just in case you're not an avid Sex and the City fan, the idea goes something like this: the show's narrator Carrie Bradshaw speaks about men as if they were taxis; when a man is open to the possibility of a relationship, he turns his taxi light on. In Claire's case, she happened to hail a cab (or a man in this case) while his light was on too.

 

Unfortunately things aren't always so simple as taxicabs, so how does one eventually decide? According to Claire, "At some point you just have to decide to decide." Yes, there may be more than one hundred decisions to make on a day-to-day basis, but the most important thing is to relish that time spent deciding. The book explores how various things are vying for our attention such as friends, dating, work, and travel, and how these elements relate to our generation's attitudes towards love and commitment.

 

One of the defining elements of a choister is that she is surrounded by tons of great girlfriends; she would rather spend good quality time vegging out with her girlfriends than dating someone mediocre. When I asked Claire how to deal with this dilemma, she commented that you have to look for something different in your relationships than you do from your girlfriends. She went on to explain that boys innately want to look for solutions; they want to fix the problem. As Claire says, "Sometimes I'll come home from a long day and just want to vent without my fiancé saying anything." She believes the common problem is to look for boyfriends like your girlfriends—to want the same thing you get from your girlfriends from your boyfriend and you just can't expect to get that; we work differently.

 

As the daughter of the San Francisco Chronicle writer who broke the Barry Bonds using steroids story, Claire worried that her book was too lightweight in comparison. Lighthearted the book might be, but for anyone out there looking for the answers as to why it's so hard to make a decision in today's world of more iPhone apps than people know what to do with and constant Internet access, it helps that there are people out there who are helping to demystify these dilemmas that all of us face.

 

So what’s next for these choisters—a potential TV series, another book contract, marriage, babies, an Oprah show? Whatever it may be, I see big things ahead for these women. If the other two ladies are anything like Claire (which I have a strong feeling they are), the possibilities are infinite. The most important thing is to embrace your prospects and have fun in the process.

 

Share this post