It's easy to get caught up in the hype of trying to find real, true love.
Some people believe we all have a soulmate. Somewhere in the cosmos, there's a custom-made human being who completes us where we're lacking and loves every single one of our flaws, and we'll "just know" when we've found him.
Some people believe fate will lead the way. Somewhere far away, a magical deity has written out a predisposed series of steps that will inevitably lead us to find "the one," and we just have to continue living our lives until that happens.
Some people believe we have to take action: If we throw positive energy into the universe, or if we get over that stubborn ex, or if we stop looking, he'll finally, finally come.
These are all simple, neatly packaged solutions to the complicated phenomenon that is love. And we fall for them all the time -- when we see them played out in movies, when we hear them cooed about in pop songs, and when we hear stories about couples who swear by them.
But as nice and easy and whimsical as they sound, if you've been in the dating game for even a little bit, you know the truth: They're all bullsh*t.
There's no secret, preplanned moment when a so-called "soulmate" is going to enter our lives. Just when we think "fate" has handed us the perfect person, that person ends up sucking. And we can be our best selves and search endlessly for someone, only to find nobody. Or we can be our worst selves and have an aversion to all things romance, only to find the love of our lives.
When it comes to matters of the heart, you just never f*cking know.
Romance doesn't come from fate or soulmates. It doesn't happen under special circumstances. It happens randomly.
I realize this sounds like a really cynical way to look at love. But it actually might be the most romantic of them all.
Physical attraction, at least at first, is key. And it happens randomly.
I've never been able to date someone for whom I didn't feel a little initial spark. Many people don't operate like this (I do have love-at-first-sight syndrome, after all), but the bottom line is that none of us want to date someone we find physically repulsive.
In a piece for Psychology Today, Dr. Stephen J. Betchen, who's been practicing couple's therapy for 35 years, says there's nothing more important, at least in the beginning of courtship, than how physically attracted you are to someone.
This is true if you're using dating apps (like many of us do) or if you're operating strictly IRL.
Eli J. Finkel, an associate professor of social psychology at Northwestern University, told the New York Times that dating sites like eHarmony, Match and OKCupid that try to match people based on something deeper than this initial physical attraction "are a joke. There is no relationship scientist that takes them seriously as relationship science."
"When was the last time you walked into a bar and someone said, 'Excuse me, can you fill out this form, and we’ll match you up with people here?'" Sean Rad, cofounder and chief executive of Tinder, told the Times. "That’s not how we think about meeting new people in real life."
To further prove this idea, OKCupid recently conducted an experiment and found that the text in a user's profile is only 10 percent of what someone thinks of that user. Which means a whopping 90 percent of what you think about someone lies in what he or she looks like.
And whom you find physically attractive is completely unpredictable.
Of course, we all have certain physical features that we're attracted to. But I highly doubt that every single person you've ever been with looks exactly the same.
Personally, the men I've dated post-college all look nothing alike. None of them look anything like my college boyfriend, who looks nothing like my high school boyfriend, who looks nothing like the summer fling I had as a young teenager.
Fredric Neuman, M.D. writes in Psychology Today that physical attractiveness is never just a matter of what someone looks like. How we determine physical attractiveness is a complex combination of classic physical attributes like body type and facial symmetry, plus more subtle attributes like the way someone smiles and how someone is dressed. And so much more.
The point is that there is truly no universal formula for physical attractiveness. Any random combination of things could do it for us. And even when we think we've unlocked the perfect combination of things that make up our own personal formula of what we find attractive, it will change unexpectedly. Dr. Neuman says that what we find physically attractive at one point in our lives can completely change at another point.
We can't predict when this will happen, and we can't predict what qualities we'll find attractive in the future. It's all random.
The non-physical qualities you look for in a partner are random.
It's obviously true that you can become more physically attracted to someone the more you get to know him or her and discover that your personalities are compatible. But at the end of the day, you can also befriend someone the more you get to know him or her and discover that your personalities are compatible.
Compatibility doesn't always guarantee romance.
Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor at Match.com, who has written extensively about sex, love, marriage and gender differences, has spent most of her career trying to figure out specific compatibilities and personality patterns that indicate what draws us to people.
But to no avail.
In a piece for Psychology Today, Dr. Fisher writes:
There is much evidence that people generally fall in love with those of the same socioeconomic and ethnic background, of roughly the same age, with the same degree of intelligence and level of education and with a similar sense of humor and grade of attractiveness. But you can walk into a room of 40 people all from your background, with your level of education, degree of intelligence and good looks, and you don't fall in love with all of them... Psychologists have searched exhaustively to find personality factors that play a role in romantic attraction. Do opposites attract? Or is similarity the elixir of love? No consistent patterns emerge.
As a result of all this, Dr. Fisher has chalked up much of human attraction to something more primal: biology.
But even these kinds of chemical responses are -- yes, you guessed it -- random.
Your biological attraction to someone is random.
Pheromone perfumes have been around since the 1990s. Apparently, if you wear a pheromone perfume, you will emit biological chemicals that transmit signals to induce others to feel sexually attracted to you. In other words, you will emit pheromones.
The scientific community has long debated the existence of pheromones. There is sufficient proof that they exist in nonhuman mammals, but researchers have yet to find concrete evidence of their existence in human beings.
To demonstrate that pheromones really do exist, scientists would have to identify the actual molecules responsible for a single human pheromone that consistently emits chemical signals. And they haven't done that yet.
Still, chemicals do play a role in our attraction to other people. For example, we're attracted to the body odor of people whose genetic makeups differ from ours. This is because our bodies prevent us from dating people who have similar genetic makeups as us to stop the possibility of inbreeding or to give our offspring immune systems with as much protection from as many different diseases as possible.
But because there are millions of possible genetic combinations that can produce millions of different body odor scents, we can't predict the exact genetic makeup that will produce the exact scent that will draw us in.
It's so unpredictable, in fact, that it might as well be random.
Randomness is not hopelessness.
Some people might believe that all of what I just talked about is, indeed, the result of soulmates and fate and taking action. But if you think about romance as a result of anything but randomness, you're setting yourself up for failure.
You believe that if fate doesn't hand you "the one" on a silver platter, you'll never find him. You pick apart all the imperfections of a perfectly nice guy and determine that he isn't "your soulmate" because he doesn't fulfill every element on your checklist. You convince yourself that if you only stopped going on Tinder, or if only you could get over your ex-boyfriend, or if only you could become your best self, he'll come.
Believing in the power of randomness means there's no special circumstance under which romance can only occur. It means there's nothing you or anyone else can (or can't!) do to make romance happen. It means romance can happen at any time, anywhere, with absolutely anyone.
Think about all the people you can connect with for literally ANY reason! Or for no reason at all! (Because who knows? Sh*t's random!). You could date a green-eyed software engineer who hates pop music, or a tall, gangly physicist who loves black-and-white films or an athletic financial analyst who loves stand-up comedy -- and you could live happily ever after with any single one of them.
The possibilities, like all the stars in all the universes that could possibly hand-pick a special soulmate for you, like all the dating app profiles you could make for yourself, like all the self-care tactics you could do to make yourself more appealing to the opposite sex, are endless.
And if that's not romantic, I don't know what is.