So much dating but, so little success! Why are there so many dating mistakes? So many false starts? It’s because we have relationship strategies that conflict with our relationship goals. We say we want lasting love and true happiness but, in my observation as a therapist, people act in ways that directly decrease the likelihood of this happening. It’s like saying we want good health but, using a fast-food strategy to get it.
Evolution has produced urges that drive us to mate with the next physically attractive prospect without delay because evolution is the servant of the survival of the species and isn't geared toward individual happiness. If we want more than just offspring, if we want stable, happy relationships that satisfy us for the long-term, we need to choose a highly compatible partner with whom we can accomplish this complicated task. However, evolution also made us lazy (avoid expending energy unnecessarily) and needy (dependant on others to satisfy our needs). Thus, we are eager to avoid the complexity of choosing the right person and to avoid the delay-of-gratification required to gather enough information to make that decision well. The challenging stage of information-gathering stands between us and our gratification and we often bypass it and rush to gratification, with disastrous results.
We should know better but, one of the little tricks we use on ourselves to justify bypassing information-gathering is the “sign-we’re-meant-to-be” trick. We find little ‘signs’ that we claim indicate the other person is someone with whom we are “meant to be”. Perhaps they like the same niche movies as us, or grew-up in the same place, or had a dog with the same name as our childhood pet. Instead of interpreting these as the charming coincidences they are, we interpret them as “signs”. This allows us to stop bothering to be observant, especially of anything that might contradict our desires or suggest that we should delay gratification.
Getting into bed with someone you don't really know.
CASE IN POINT
Genelle was in her thirties, keen to have a family, and felt lonely when she met Jake. She was flattered by his attraction toward her and found him physically attractive too. All these forces compelled her toward starting a relationship quickly and when she found out that he, like her, had been born on February 29th, the rare leap-year day, she interpreted it as a “sign they were meant to be”. After she became pregnant she discovered that Jake, a truck driver, was involved with other women in other places. By that stage, Genelle was physically and psychologically attached to Jake, making the prospect of ending the relationship too painful to consider so, she tried negotiating instead. Although he promised to end the other relationships, after Genelle became pregnant a second time, it became apparent he was not going to stay faithful to her, especially as he also had children with the other women! Turns out that being born on the same rare day was not a sign of future success. Evidence that Jake was seeing other women could have been uncovered if Genelle had been observant and taken time to get to know Jake and his routine. The "sign" she had conjured for herself had allowed her to skip past this vital information.
Genelle is only one of many examples I’ve witnessed of using false signs to proceed into disastrous situations. You have probably done the same thing in previous relationships that ultimately proved to be doomed to failure. It’s worth knowing that, once you feel attraction toward someone you too are likely to be susceptible to seeing false signs and resistant to useful information that could save you time, heartache, money, humiliation, resentment, your health, friendships, career, etcetera. In fact, you could try using false signs, ("OMG, he's got the same birthmark as me...we're meant to be!") as a red flag; you are now in the irrational zone and need to be especially conservative with your decision-making. The sign you think means you're "meant-to-be" is really a sign to slow down and know more. Please take care when choosing who to date - you matter enough to keep your eyes wide open.