A few years ago, some friends of mine were having a party, which seemed like the perfect time to introduce them to the woman I’d been dating to the group.
Now I won’t say I wasn’t at least a little nervous, but I really had no reason to be. She fit right in to the group dynamic like she had been part of it from the beginning, which is – to be perfectly honest – what I had expected; she knew how to network and connect the way other people know how to breathe.
Later on as the party was in full swing, a number of my friends came over to talk to me about her. “Hey man, we really like your girlfriend,” they said. “You’re really lucky, meeting her.”
Thing is though? Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it.
In fact, if you’ve ever lamented that you’re unlucky in love.. well, that’s usually a sign that you’re doing it wrong.
No Fate But What We Make
We have this very odd relationship with destiny and chaos in western culture. On the one hand, we like to imagine that we’re the captains of our destiny; the future is unwritten and random chance can bring changes that we couldn’t possibly forsee.
At the same time, however, we also like to believe that events have meaning and that there’s a purpose to things that we may just barely be able to perceive. Our brains are designed to look for patterns even in the most chaotic data, to find relationships of cause and effect, even when it may not be there. There is a certain comfort to believe that there is a reason to the events that fill our lives; that we’re not just at the mercy of swirling chaos and random chance but instead live in a deterministic universe. Even the study of chaos theory is – in many ways – an attempt to discern a plan or path to seemingly random, disparate events.
This is part of why superstitions persist; we fall victim to a causal fallacy that unconnected events are somehow related and come to believe that event B is directly correlated to preceding event A. Even people who consider themselves to be perfectly rational will find themselves falling towards quasi-magical thinking; taking part in certain actions even if they don’t necessarily believe that it will change the outcome.
For example: attributing our failures or successes to luck.
We are as a culture, obsessed with luck, anthropomorphizing it into deities or semi-sentient concepts and invest inanimate objects with the ability to manipulate it.
We apply value to it (good luck, bad luck) in a way that we don’t when we discuss probability or randomness. Luck is, for all intents and purposes, taking the results of probability as a personal affront.
We never see this quite so often as we do when it comes to relationships. Pop culture is rife with stories of chance meetings leading to meeting one’s soul-mate and how one-in-a-million chances lead up to this meeting of two perfectly matched souls. By attributing meeting someone we love to “luck” we give our relationships significance; we feel as though meeting somebody by random chance is somehow more meaningful than, say, meeting someone via an online dating site, because we have somehow “beat” the odds against us finding that One True Love.
Incidentally, I think this is why some people have such a strong reaction to certain types PUA tactics or the idea that attraction and sexual chemistry can be created deliberately rather than developing spontaneously; if we can “make” someone feel attracted to us, doesn’t that not only mean that it’s less genuine but also less meaningful than if we just happen to find someone with whom we are compatible?
To be perfectly honest… no. Not really. The problem with this attitude doesn’t come from a belief in luck so much as what relying on it says.
Luck Be a Lady Tonight.
The idea that luck – that we somehow beat the odds – has influence in our relationships betrays a scarcity mentality. By believing that we have met The One through random chance – and thus, are incredibly lucky – we are implying that there is somehow a deficit of available romantic partners. In fact, when we talk about our One True Love, then we’re implying that there is literally only one person out of 7 billion with whom we could possibly expect a wonderful, loving and fulfilling relationship. Every relationship you have is balanced on the idea of “if this isn’t The One, than we are ultimately doomed.” You have better odds of winning all the lotteries than you do of finding The One.
The fact of the matter is that there is no One. Or, rather, there are many Ones. And your odds of finding her or him aren’t fixed.
The problem is that when you see romance as being a matter of luck, you’re treating your love life as though you were playing the lottery… which means you’re playing the wrong game entirely.
You should be playing blackjack instead.1
While most forms of gambling involve the attempting beating long odds through random chance, blackjack is one of the few games where you can directly influence your potential for success. When you’re playing blackjack, the odds of your winning are against you; you may have short term successes, probability is stacked against your long-term success. However, through careful strategy and advantage play, you can turn the odds over the long term in your favor – allowing you to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself for a greater pay-off.
You can, in effect, make your own luck.
Just like you can in your dating life.
Luck Is The Residue of Design
Ultimately, luck – whether good or bad – is based on how someone is able to respond to a circumstance. What we see as good luck is the ability to turn circumstance to an advantage – that is, to respond to happenstance in a way that provides us with some sort of benefit. Similarly, bad luck is the inability to respond in a way that benefits us, or worse, to mitigate a disadvantage.
What may appear as good luck is often the result of preparation and skill; preparation that maximizes the chance of a fluke that you then have the opportunity to exploit and the skill to make the most out of it. Being able to connect with other people at an emotional level – being able to make friends and network effectively, in other words – puts you in a better position to make a valuable contact when you happen to randomly sit next to a famous movie producer at a film festival. A skilled baseball player is better prepared to take advantage of an unusual bounce and prevent the opposing team from scoring a run. A person who is more willing to take chances, push their own limits and open themselves up to risk is more likely to encounter opportunities, than somebody who consistently plays it safe.
Other times luck is a matter of perspective; a person who has been fired from what she thought was the job of her dreams may not realize that it had she not been unemployed at a particular moment in time, she wouldn’t have been motivated to start her own successful business.
Now that’s not to say that preparation and skill will always trump chaos. There is always an element of randomness and unpredictability involved with luck. Often, we only can recognize luck in hindsight – such as the fired employee from the example above. Other times, there are factors that provide an advantage that we simply cannot prepare for – people who are born earlier in the year, for example, often do better in sports; they enter the school year later than their other classmates, and often have physical advantages from effectively being a year older than their peers.
But just as in blackjack, careful planning and though is more likely to put you into position where luck can occur.
- Yes, I realize that it’s an imperfect metaphor as it implies that romance is a designed to cause the player to lose over the long-term and that you are somehow competing against the Universe. Now quit trying to out-clever me and pay attention, you might actually learn something. [↩]