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Unlocking Dating Myths: ‘Love Only Happens When You’re Not Looking.’

Two days ago on Facebook, I saw this post: “Not looking anymore. If it’s meant to be, love will happen.” It was littered with likes.

Folks, there is a word for people over age 25 or so who wait for love to happen to them, and that word is “single.”

Yet people keep believing love will find a way—no assistance needed. Why?

When we are very young, we really don’t have to look for companions. We just naturally find them wherever we are. Sociologists claim that as long as people are thrown together often over time in circumstances that let them interact, they’ll make friends easily.

So a lot of people do find a mate when they aren’t looking—as long as the environment where they aren’t looking is someplace rife with the available, like high school or college.

Second, weird stuff happens, and when it does, it’s normal for people to pay attention to the weird stuff and discount the scientific norm. Our brains are wired for story, not statistics–especially vivid stories and stories of those close to us. This might’ve helped our ancestors avoid harm; they didn’t have stats, but they did have the benefit of others’ experience to guide them towards safety. So if you have a friend who accidentally jostled into Mr. Right on her subway commute, it’s tempting to think you don’t have to look, either.

But she’s an exception!

Sometimes, people don’t understand that science gives probabilities, not certainties, and it’s good at predicting what happens to large groups of people, rather than individuals. For instance, let’s say you heard that smoking kills six out of 10 smokers. That is objectively true. But let’s also say you have an uncle who smoked all his life and died of old age at 100; does his survival make science wrong? No. It makes your uncle an exception. Exceptional things do happen—in the case of smoking, four out of 10 times, smoking does not cause cancer. Also, science doesn’t tell us which four out of the 10 will be the survivors.

Yet if I were buying a car, and the salesperson said, “That’s a nice ride, but I should mention that this vehicle causes death by explosion in six of 10 buyers,” then I’d buy something else.

Science gives odds of an event happening; it doesn’t tell us exactly when and to whom it will occur. It doesn’t say: “Do what the science says, and you, Tanya, will find love next Tuesday.” It says: “This is what happens to most people most of the time, so if you want to max out your odds, here’s how.”

If you want certainties, you have to pay someone with a crystal ball! If you want advice based on compelling tales…well, there’s always your friends’ experiences. Or mine. Stories are wonderful—but they’re not data. If you want the best odds, based in fact, you consult science.

Upshot? If you’re a college student, or in some other environment rich in single people, then you are already looking, without having to look. Stumbling on a great mate really could happen to you.

But if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t in that kind of environment. And even if you are, using strategy to look won’t hurt your chances of finding love; it will help.

Script to confront this harmful myth: “I increase my odds of finding a worthy partner by actively searching, not passively waiting.”

LoveFactually-Final-CoverHang in there: Using the strategies that help most people most of the time is very doable. Let’s find out what they are, and how you can apply them, starting today.

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015; this entry is a partial excerpt. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!