Going on multiple dates a month and not meeting the right person can make you question whether you’ll ever find true love. But when it comes to dating, our own thought patterns can make us miss some great opportunities. An awareness of these roadblocks can make it much more likely that we’re successful when pursuing a romantic relationship.
Cognitive biases are systematic errors of perception and interpretation. Basically, they’re ideals that can get in the way of attaining our objectives. They’re emotionally based, and irrationally driven, and can lead to all kinds of bad decisions based on flawed logic.
Anchoring sees us fixating on arbitrary reference points, blind to alternatives. The bias appears in the pursuit of romance when we create an archetype for a potential paramour—he must be tall, work in finance, like to try new restaurants—and then become fixated on pursuing that archetype. We say, I’m not going to go out with someone unless they’re this kind of person. I’m not going to go to that kind of place on a date. I’m going to only have a certain experience—and then when that experience doesn’t happen, we get upset and feel bad about the entire situation.
Another manifestation of anchoring can happen when we set conditions that we must meet before we ever start to date. “I have to lose X number of pounds before I get out there,” we might say. But because we deprive ourselves of a new experience, we end up lonely, eat for comfort and the pounds never come off.
So how to deal with anchoring? Self-awareness helps. So does developing a set of alternatives to the anchored bias. Try listing three archetypes of potential paramours, not just one. Create a set of three conditions that would allow you to date if you met even one of them—and ensure they’re realistic.
The archetype of the potential paramour plays into something called confirmation bias as well. Let’s say you’re out at a restaurant and your date spills food on his clothes. A confirmation bias can contribute to your reaction. If you like the person, you’re apt to chalk it up to a rare accident, laugh it off and pass him a napkin. If you don’t like him, you might attribute the spill to clumsiness and general ineptitude, seeing it as a reason to ask for the bill early.
Confirmation bias can lead us to limit our options. Try to resist it when you’re on a date by keeping an open mind. Find the positive in your partner’s actions. You want to challenge your biases that are getting in the way. Instead of saying, “This isn’t working for me,” try saying “What is the good in what I’m seeing?”
Our brains are hardwired to avoid risk. The fear of losing $100 is more likely to motivate us to zip up a coat pocket than the hope of winning $100 motivating us to buy a lotto ticket. In relationships, we tend to act from a fear of rejection or a painful end, rather than in the hope of meeting someone new. Risk aversion can lead people to stay in bed rather than go on a blind date, or to stay in a bad relationship rather than be alone—even though they aren’t happy.
To mitigate this form of cognitive bias, try to reframe the way you think about dating. Perhaps you’re afraid to go on a first date because you fear the risk of rejection, and not getting a callback for a second date. Try to change the way you think about the excursion. View it as an opportunity, as a step toward happiness. If you think to yourself, “I’ll have to go on 50 first dates before I meet that special someone,” then each date that you go on will bring you that much closer to that 50-date goal.
Don’t take rejection personally. A date is a bit like a cold call in sales. It’s not personal. They’re not rejecting you, they’re simply thinking of what they want. They don’t dislike your chimney sweeping skills—they just don’t own a chimney, so they don’t need to hire you. Rejection only means you haven’t found the right person yet.
To wrap up, let me leave you with some advice. A successful relationship requires two out of the following three things: Mutual respect, physical attraction and a shared set of values. For a romantic relationship to persist, both people should respect each other. A relationship will be stronger if both partners feel physically attracted to the other. And shared values is key—you really should feel similarly about foundational elements like honesty, discipline and hard work.
To sum up: Rather than anchoring on a single optimum result, give yourself alternatives. Avoid confirmation bias by being open minded. Counteract risk aversion by seeing rejection in a positive light. And one more thing: Good luck!
Cognitive behavioural therapy with a Medcan psychologist can help you unpack your biases and get a clearer idea of what’s important to you. Make your mental well-being appointment today.