Sometime last year, shortly after downloading Tinder (and shortly before deleting it), I had a seemingly friendly guy with an Econ degree systematically go off on me when I expressed that I was hesitant about meeting someone from the app:
“I already have an entrenched social support network so it’s about probabilities. I’m not willing to continue investing time and effort when there isn’t the possibility of face-to-face contact. My understanding is that the relevant social science research suggests that in person communication is much more important. Definitely from a political standpoint it is (see Putnam’s famous Bowling Alone), so I will devote enough time to classify someone as an acquaintance (an Aristotelian friendship based on mutual exploitation) or a potential friend. And if you’re only interested in friendship it would become an evaluation of your relative attractiveness/interestingness as I have too many other “friendship substitutes” in an economic sense for me to feel an incentive to cultivate friendships with unavailable people I’m attracted to. I’m sure you would be engaging in a similar calculation.”
I did what anyone would’ve done. I set my phone on fire, locked the doors, closed the blinds, then hid under the dining room table while I awaited my inevitable murder and pondered how someone could possibly treat love like it was a math problem.
I exaggerate a little bit – I didn’t go into Tinder assuming there was much “love” to be found in its not-so-deep depths. But I had also never had someone boil human connection down to something so stark and impassive.
I am a highly emotional human being. Unquestionably sensitive, occasionally neurotic. I don’t tend to think of love in terms of logic. I get caught up in feelings and gut instincts. Everyone I’ve ever dated I once first saw from across a room and knew immediately that I needed to know them. We hadn’t even spoken and I was already in it. There’s no math in that.
And while I wouldn’t say that that part of me is not to be trusted, that it’s not “real” in some sense to instantly know something about you and a stranger, over time I have also come to see the value in treating love more logically. I’ll never see it like my nice Tinder friend (Aristotelian or otherwise), but I do think that there’s something to be gained in approaching love with as much rationality as emotion. Perhaps it’s the only way to understand love in its most holistic sense.
I consider Ray Dalio, founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, to be one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time. He’s also a highly logic-driven human being (for you Myers-Briggs junkies, Dalio is an ENTP). When he crafted Principles for his employees, a guide to “paint a picture of a process for the systematic pursuit of truth and excellence and for the rewards that accompany this pursuit,” I highly doubt any part of him was thinking romantically. He was thinking about building and running a successful company.
Call it emotion or gut instinct or having watched the kiss at the end of Silver Linings Playbook far too many times, but I couldn’t help but start applying his principles to the idea of love.
Below are some of the insights that smacked me awake and made me consider that learning to treat love a little bit more logically might be part of my personal pursuit of relationship truth and excellence and, ultimately, “success.” Maybe it’s also part of yours.
“Be wary about overconfidence, and good at not knowing.”
While Dalio may have been thinking in terms of ideas and information, I think this can be applied to people and relationships just as strongly. After all, we tend to hate “not knowing” in essentially any form. We associate ambiguity with discomfort and thus are always seeking control. We like to think we know people and we want to be able to fit them into a framework that we can understand, and thus it’s control that’s at the forefront of our actions when we decide and categorize who someone is. The thing, though, is that when we become overconfident about who we think someone is, we close the door to being surprised by them (pleasantly or otherwise). More importantly, we set ourselves up for perpetual disappointment, because we’ve unfairly placed expectations on another person that were born out of our own schema. I think one of the most important things we can bring forth into our relationships is a willingness to not need to know everything about who our partner is, an ability to find comfort and security in simply not knowing. In doing so, we allow others to be who they are and we allow ourselves to be who we are, without judgment or expectation.
“Failure is by and large due to not accepting and successfully dealing with the realities of life, and achieving success is simply a matter of accepting and successfully dealing with all my realities.”
Many of us don’t tend to think of relationships in terms of “success” or “failure.” We don’t tend to treat love like it’s a system, an X-number-of-steps process. And that’s all well and good, but at the same time, when we get caught up in feelings towards another person, we may start to lose our grasp on the realities in front of us.
For one thing, we tend to idealize people, making them who we want them to be rather than allowing them to show us who they are. We then tend to attach to those opinions or judgments that we have of others and mark them down as “truth,” thereby rejecting the possibility of there being a different truth that is real and actual.
When a relationship is over, we often struggle with “reality” as well, living in denial for at least a little bit, not fully wanting to accept that it’s ended. In some sense, we do end up in a state of failure for doing this. We’re in limbo, not fully moving forward or living to our highest potential, because we’ve trapped ourselves in a purgatory. We keep the past hanging around us like an echo, refusing to admit how hollow it really is, while the reality of the present stacks up and closes in on us in the way that the truth always unavoidably seems to.
If we could look at love more logically, we might see the truth – reality – for what it really is. We might see people for who they really are rather than who we want them to be to us or who we feel emotionally completes or compliments us. We might see that when something is over, it’s really over – that the past is no longer the present, that the present is now and the now does not look like things once did.
I think “success” in the case of relationships is finding yourself in one with a person whose reality matches up with yours. And if you haven’t accepted that an ended relationship wasn’t right, if you’re still hanging on to something from the past, then you’ll continue to live in a state of failure until you accept and deal with the truth. Once you do though, you’re on your way to success.
“The people who make the most of the process of encountering reality, especially the painful obstacles, learn the most and get what they want faster than people who do not.”
Once you’ve accepted the reality of someone not being right for you or a relationship being over, you’ll be in a better place to absorb the lessons that come with said reality. Beyond that, maybe a new door can only open once old ones are shut; perhaps you’ll be on the path to getting what you want faster – true relationship “success” – from having accepted and embraced the reality of an old flame just not being right for you.
“There is nothing to fear from the truth. While some truths can be scary – for example, finding out that you have a deadly disease – knowing them allows us to deal with them better. Being truthful, and letting others be completely truthful, allows me and others to fully explore our thoughts and exposes us to the feedback that is essential for our learning.”
Why is it that we have such a hard time accepting the reality of someone not being right for us or a relationship being over? Why is the truth so scary?
Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid that it’ll reflect something about us, that it’ll indicate that we’re damaged or unlovable. Perhaps it’s because it makes us wonder whether we can trust ourselves and our instincts, how we could’ve felt so strongly for someone who turned out to be different than who we’d thought they were. Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid we don’t know how to be really happy on our own.
Whatever the reason that the truth feels scary, it’s important to identify that so that you can break down all the ways that it actually really isn’t. Once you’re able to do that – once you recognize that there’s nothing to fear about the truth – you may find yourself at that place where you’re able to deal with the truth and use it as a learning tool as you move forward in your journey and closer to success.
“Being truthful is an extension of my freedom to be me. I believe that people who are one way on the inside and believe that they need to be another way outside to please others become conflicted and often lose tough with what they really think and feel. It’s difficult for them to be happy and almost impossible for them to be at their best.”
If you aren’t truthful about who you are in relationships – if you don’t bring your honest and authentic self into them – you’re not only going to struggle with forming a genuine bond, you’re also going to have a really hard time ever being truly happy in that relationship. Without truthfulness and honesty with yourself and with your partner at the backbone of a relationship, the relationship will inevitably suffer.
“Be extremely open. Openness leads to truth and trust. Being open about what you dislike is especially important, because things you don’t like need to be changed or resolved. Discuss your issues until you are in synch or until you understand each other’s positions and can determine what should be done. As someone I worked with once explained, “It’s simple – just don’t filter.” The main reason Bridgewater performs well is that all people here have the power to speak openly and equally and because their views are judged on the merits of what they are saying. Through that extreme openness and a meritocracy of thought, we identify and solve problems better. Since we know we can rely on honesty, we succeed more and we ultimately become closer, and since we succeed and are close, we are more committed to this mission and to each other. It is a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle.”
Dalio might as well have been thinking romantically here. Enough said.
“To be successful and happy, not only do we have to be excellent, we have to continue to improve at a surprisingly fast rate… Our relationships, like our work, must be excellent; as a result, we expect people to be extremely considerate and caring with each other. This does not mean being soft on each other, especially if that means avoiding harsh realities to avoid causing discomfort. It means true caring, which requires recognizing and successfully dealing with our realities, whatever they are.”
Dalio takes on a very confrontational approach to problem solving. You attack issues head on, because this process produces the fastest, most efficient kind of growth and learning.
The same could be said of love and romantic relationships. When we’re candid with our partner, especially during times of conflict and even if it means causing discomfort, we genuinely strengthen the relationship. Though it may be a challenge, kindness and compassion start with having boundaries and being willing to have tough, uncomfortable conversations. Love isn’t letting problems slide; it’s dealing with them head on.
All quotes (and many more nuggets of wisdom) can be found here.