As a psychotherapist who specializes in relationship issues, I often see people suffering after relationship breakdowns. They ask “why do I always pick the wrong person?” My standard response is that they are not psychic and they couldn’t have known what this person was like until they’ve spent a good deal of time together. Dating is a period of time to get to know someone before making a commitment. If a commitment is made during an early courtship phase, you may realize that a prince or princess is really a frog when the cloud of infatuation lifts and the rose-colored glasses are removed. Then the question becomes “why didn’t I see these red flags before?”
The truth is, love is somewhat blind for a number of reasons. First, the chemical rush of adrenalin and surge of hormones that come with infatuation causes us to perceive the other as an idealized mate. A hormone called Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. In men, as in women, oxytocin facilitates bonding. When we fall in love, we see them as smarter, prettier, or stronger than anyone else sees them. We are averse to seeing anything that threatens our warm bubble of love.
Second, it is human nature to ignore the obvious. Willful ignorance blinds us to valuable information, facts and behaviors that should alert us. Author, Margaret Heffernan, in her book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, examines the cognitive mechanisms by which we choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to remain unseeing in situations where “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.” She argues that the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don’t see. Not because they’re secret or invisible, but because we’re willfully blind. We conveniently filter things that unsettle us.
Third, confirmation bias drives us to believe what we want to believe. We seek confirmation of what we already believe to be true. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
Fourth, sometimes we are in the presence of someone who deliberately seeks to deceive and manipulate. We all like to think of ourselves as pretty sharp, but charlatans exist.
Are we doomed to repeatedly make the same mistakes? No. We can learn from experience.
- Take your time. Don’t make a life long commitment in the first year and a half of dating.
- Challenge your thinking. What red flags do you see?
- Seek feedback from others. Others may see what you are blind to.
- Love is an emotion, not a fact. Gather and verify information as you get to know someone new.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is human nature to seek and preserve love.