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.
Maximize Your “Luck” In Dating
Too many people rely on blind luck when it comes to relationships: hoping to meet that special someone through kismet. Others lament their bad luck – too many head games, too many emotionally unavailable partners and disintegrating relationships. The problem in both cases is that they’ve removed their locus of control and effectively miss out on the ability to influence their own fates.
If you want to maximize your good luck when it comes to dating, you have to do your homework.
Know Who You Are
I cannot stress enough how important self-awareness is when it comes to dating. Too often we don’t stop and take an honest, blunt analytical look at ourselves. We become too invested in how we want to see ourselves that we often blind ourselves to the truth, which can cause any number of problems in the dating arena. For example: I used to be a regular on the club scene back when I started getting better with women. At the time, it seemed to me like the best place to hone my skills at meeting, attracting and eventually bedding women… and yet while I was getting better, I was rarely happy or satisfied with my results. I was getting dates, even sex, but I was simply wasn’t meeting women I could connect with. I was spending too much time trying to live a lifestyle – that of the club going party guy – that simply wasn’t for me.
One of my best friends had the same relationship over and over again; he would meet someone, have a brief but intensely passionate relationship followed by to a dramatic break-up over some perceived flaw, usually leaving his exes crying and wondering what had happened. He was in love with being in love, but his expectations for a relationship were so impossibly high that no woman could possibly meet them. It wasn’t until he realized that he was using his standards as an excuse to get out of a relationship when the passion started to fade that he was able to make a relationship work for longer than weeks at a time.
If you’re consistently experiencing bad luck in relationships, you need to realize that sometimes the only common denominator connecting them is you. Taking the time to take a good hard look at your dating life can help you discover the patterns, limiting beliefs and behaviors that keep cropping up and causing you to be unlucky in love.
Know What You Want
What are you looking for? Are you looking for a future wife, or are you looking for no-strings-attached sex? Are you looking for someone quiet and refined or outgoing and dynamic? Are you looking for a geek? A Goth? A punk? A hipster? A homebody? Or are you just throwing yourself out there and just hoping for whatever happens to fall into your lap?
It seems counter-intuitive, but a lot of people aren’t honest with themselves about what they want. We all like to think that we’re rugged individualists, but we often find that we’re looking relationships – or people – that we think we’re supposed to want, rather than what we actually do. Other times we want something that seems appealing – an introvert looking for his manic pixie dream girl in hopes that she will help drag him out of his shell – without stopping to think whether it’s a person you’re actually compatible with. Like I said earlier, I spent a lot of time approaching party girls, thinking that I wanted a “player” lifestyle before I realized I would rather have a casual, low-key friends-with-benefits relationships with people who I could relate to until I was ready for something more committed.
Part of maximizing your luck in dating means knowing what you’re looking for, rather than taking a shotgun approach and hoping that fortune smiles upon you.
Know Where To Find It
Once you know who and what you’re looking for, you have to start making a point of knowing where to go. After all, to quote a particular wise sage, you won’t find gold on a sandy beach and you don’t go drilling for oil in a city street. When you’re looking for a particular type of relationship or a particular personality type or subgroup, you want to go where you are most likely to find them. Sure, you might find a socalite at the punk bar, but the odds are stacked against you. Similarly, you aren’t going to be finding too many goths at the country club or otaku at a football game. Yes, exceptions will always exist – chaos slips in to every system, no matter how closed – but you want to tilt the odds as much as you can towards finding what you’re looking for.
Even dating sites tend to cater to different types of relationships; OKCupid tends to be more oriented towards casual dating with a younger, geekier membership base while eHarmony is aimed strictly at hetero, cisgendered, professionals who are looking for long-term exclusivity.
It’s worth noting: if the type of person you’re looking for hangs out in places you can’t stand – crowded bars, noisy clubs, sporting events, etc. – you may want to take that as a sign that you’d have better luck looking for somebody else.
Be In A Position To Take Advantage
Once you’ve put yourself on the path of finding the relationship you want, you need to make sure you’re able to actually act when the time comes. Just encountering someone you’re attracted to is only half the battle; you also have to be able to actually approach them. You may have seen the punk rock goddess of your dreams at the Henry Rollins spoken-word concert, but if you’re just standing in the corner nursing your beer and trying to will her over to approach you via spontaneous telepathy, you’re blowing your opportunity. You need to be ready, willing and able to go up and introduce yourself as soon as you see her before you psych yourself out… or worse, somebody else makes his move before you do.
Accept That Shit Happens
Sadly, there are no guarantees in life. You can push the odds to your favor as much as possible and still lose out. Nobody, not Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling, not Mystery or Neil Strauss or even Dr. NerdLove goes 5 for 5 when it comes to dating. Even when you do everything right – you’re charming, funny, full of self-confidence and looking like a million dollars – you can fall flat on your face. You can never account for all the variables that can affect approaching somebody. You may be money and know you’re money, but that hot dude at the bar may have just gotten out of a relationship. The punk rock goddess at the Henry Rollins concert may have decided that she’s taking a break from dating for a while. The quiet nerdgirl at the Barnes and Noble may have a boyfriend, may have a girlfriend or may be about to move to another state.
You may screw up. You may say something wrong and shove your foot in your mouth. I’ve had times approaching women at parties or bars where I choked, literally choked, trying to talk to them.
Shit happens; it’s part of life. But letting the fear of failure keep you from making the attempt in the first place guarantees that you will never succeed. You can’t win the game if you don’t put your bet on the table in the first place.
Fortune favors the bold.
Go out and get lucky.
- 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. [↩]