If, like me, you hiked up a mountain this weekend with no fewer than five happy couples, then you may be dreaming about the day when you won’t be the eleventh wheel. Sound familiar? You should also know that the more you fantasize about a love interest, the less likely you are to achieve actual dating success. At least, that’s what Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer concluded from their study of American college students.
For this research, participants were asked to fantasize about their crush using prompts like “You’re studying at the library when you look up to see your crush searching for a spot. As he approaches your table, you…” Participants also had to rate their imaginings as positive, negative or somewhere in between. Five months later, it turned out that people who rated their fantasies as more positive were also less lucky in love.
So this means that if you don’t have a real boyfriend, then you can’t have a pretend one either? What’s so bad about the occasional flight of fancy, especially when they’re so much fun? Well, that’s just it. The theory goes that by taking pleasure in an envisioned future, you become less motivated to actually make it happen. In other words, you get comfortable with Imaginary Boyfriend.
Luckily, there’s more to the story than just dumping the daydreams.
The researchers also found that, unlike fantasies, positive expectations strongly predicted dating success. A fantasy could be riding off into the sunset alongside your love (who happens to be Brad Pitt), while expectations are grounded in reality. Expectations that are positive also suppose a degree of past success, including the effort this entailed and a willingness to match that effort going forward.
Why you should care:
It’s one thing to envision your dream man or dream relationship, but don’t get too caught up in the idea of it all. Reflect upon past dating experiences and let this inform your next steps–because steps you must take. Join an online dating site. Find singles events in your community. Ask a friend to set you up with someone from their network. Talk to a counselor and resolve issues that prevent you from connecting. Take up jogging and feel good about your body. You could use the Secret to will your soulmate into being, but you’re better off pairing optimism with a proactive approach. We’re with Science on this one.
Mayer, D. & G. Oettingen (2002). The motivating function of thinking about the future: expectations versus fantasies. Personality and Social Psychology, 83 (5), 1198-1212.