There are a lot of lessons in dating that I try hard not to learn. What I mean by this is that there are a number of ways in which my experiences would teach me, if I let them, the wrong lessons. For example, I’ve always struggled with spontaneity. I’ve worked hard at saying yes to last-minute plans because I think it’s important to be flexible and not to close myself off from interesting or exciting things because they’re unexpected. But, my experiences with spontaneity have mostly been awful, frustrating affairs, so the lesson life seems to want to teach me is that spontaneity doesn’t pay off and isn’t worth the effort. But I try to ignore the data because I don’t think that would be a helpful lesson for me to learn.
The same is true for the laws of probability in the game of chance we call dating. I’ve had so many thousands of conversations and so many hundreds of dates over the years that it’s hard not to bring all that experience with me. It’s hard to remember that each new interaction is just that: new. What happened before has no bearing on what could happen now. There’s a famous example about how if you’re flipping a coin and it’s come up tails six times in a row, the odds are still fifty-fifty for the seventh toss. The aggregate data isn’t helpful in making a call for any specific coin flip. I try to tell myself the same is true with dating, that the hundreds of non-matches from the past don’t mean the next one will have the same results.
Of course, the analogy only works assuming the coin is balanced, and that’s where my doubts start to creep in. There are a lot of ways the coin could be unbalanced. It doesn’t imply there is something “wrong” with me to say that the odds may be negatively skewed. Right now, for example, we’re in a period where what’s valued in dating culture is not what I value and not where I thrive. So maybe instead of a, let’s just say for the sake of throwing out a number, one-in-fifty chance of making a good connection with someone on a first date, the dating climate lowers the odds to one-in-two-hundred.
To make this all even harder, it often it feels less like flipping a coin, or any game where you don’t know how it’ll turn out until the end, than one of those old fashioned kids games or something from the Price is Right, where a ball travels down a board in one of many — but all predictable and predetermined — paths. It may look like the ball is travelling all over and could end up anywhere, but once you know the game and have played it long enough, you can tell where it’s going to end up from the start. Some classics in the dating game include “the-guy-who-says-he’s-not-into-hookups-but-really-just-wants-to-hook-up,” “the-guy-away-on-vacation-who-is-super-excited-and-makes-all-kinds-of-promises-but-disappears-when-he-gets-back-to-town,” and “the-guy-who-is-an-awesome-conversationalist-until-the-conversation-becomes-flirtatious-and-then-the-conversation-never-comes-back.” It’s exhausting after a while. Once I see one of these (or other) patterns coming, I have to work hard to convince myself it isn’t necessarily going to go the way all the previous ones have. But, so far at least, they still always have, so it feels like rather than having hundreds of possible outcomes, there are really only five or six tracks, none of which end up where I want them to. Another lesson I’m trying not to learn.
The thing with probability is that the elusive ‘one’ can come anywhere in the sample. It’s just as likely to be the first one in the sample as it is the seventy-eighth or the two-hundredth. At the end of the day, what I try to remind myself is that the one-hundred-and-ninety-nine don’t matter. Odds of one-in-two-hundred, or one-in-a-thousand are enough when all I’m looking for is ‘one’.