Cognitive biases are dangerous in dating.

Confirmation bias: The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

In other words, once we believe something to be true, we ignore evidence that contradicts said belief and focus on the evidence that does.

This can work in your favor if people think you’re good at your job, or you’re smart, or any other positive attribute. But there are downsides. Once someone has doubts about you, it is incredibly difficult for you to overcome them.

We all have these cognitive biases (there are so many!), and being aware of them is the first step to moving past them.

Because of Jack, I’ve been thinking about confirmation bias. My “gut” is whispering to me there is something to my being only his second date after going back online, to his wanting to be exclusive right away, to opening a POF profile before he’d moved out of the house, to his occasional bland text messages in response to my flirtatious ones, and his closing his eyes during sex.

This is confirmation bias at work. I’m not suggesting my gut feelings are baseless, but it’s all too easy to ignore evidence to the contrary. It’s how we make sense of the world and the insane volume of information our brains process every day.

So what do I do about it?

Shut up about it with him, for a start. This is something I was never good at before. I used to think just because something crossed my mind, it gave me full license to share it. I rarely stepped back to think about else what could be going on, and when I should speak up.

In this case, I can slowly share the things I need and want in order to have a satisfying relationship. If I want more flirtatious text messages (for example), I can assume it’s because he doesn’t want to flirt, and approach the conversation as a criticism, or I can demonstrate the behavior I want, let him know I really appreciate when it happens, then praise the heck out of him when it does.

I also know it’s tempting to interpret someone’s behavior as meaning the same thing if it was us acting that way. If you’re someone I want to have sex with and I don’t acknowledge a text you’ve sent, it’s probably deliberate pacing of the discussion (for men who will constantly want to text, all day every day), or I’m peeved, or I just don’t give a shit.

So when someone doesn’t reply to me, I presume it’s one of the above.

There’s also a fascinating bias called Fundamental Attribution Error, which means we tend to attribute someone’s actions predominantly to “who they are”, instead of the external circumstances they are in. Some of the things my gut is whispering about with Jack could really be simply the situation he’s in right now. A parent in the hospital and moving out are pretty major life events and he’s experiencing them both at the same time. 

Or I could be completely right and a week or month from now I will be writing about some deep seated issue he has.

But damn it, I’m going to try to conquer my biases and overthinking.

15 thoughts on “Cognitive biases are dangerous in dating.

  1. We can only control the things we actually have control of. If people want to fool us into thinking something different, it will probably work until we actually know that we are being fooled. I like to stay a little guarded until I get to know a person.

  2. Wow! Thankyou for this post. Beyond letting us in on your inner thought process(which is damn interesting) it gives us(me) something to think about in our own relationships. Not just our intimate ones, either. These are concepts that I struggle with regularly. I think I believe in Karma, but I have been a devotee of The Power of Negative Thinking my whole adult life. This post reminds me that the worst case is not the most likely. Reading today will help me keep things in perspective. I’m sure you know that your writing helps others, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it anyway. So, THANKS AGAIN!!!

    • I’m so glad it does help others – I know it only when people say it 🙂 and it’s a lovely side benefit to why I write.
      I have to remind myself of these things too. I read a lot of work related articles and find more and more I can draw the correlations to my personal life.

  3. You two are still very new and yes I also tend to think that his present circumstances are greatly contributing to his ways of communication or lack thereof. He may be the type to be more demonstrative in person though. That counts for a lot. Right?

  4. Oh Ann…😖I’ve been reading your posts and all I read is: “I’m forcing myself to love an asshole because I’m too scared to be alone”. I miss Tony. I will miss him forever. It was you…the real you writing about her deepest feelings towards love and life. Today, I read your posts about how desperate you are…craving attention…forcing some jerk to show some affection. Sorry but that’s not you. Not the real you. 😣

    • I’m sorry, I’m not sure I fully understand what you are saying…
      That you think with Tony I was forcing myself to love him because I was too scared to be alone? That’s not how it went down. And with Jack are you suggesting I’m desperately craving attention and affection? If I understand correctly can you explain what makes you say that? Jack is not a jerk, he’s pretty attentive and he is very affectionate. Nor am I desperate for anything.

      • No. I think that the real Ann whose posts caught my attention was the one in love with Tony. I’m not sure I can explain it with the right words since it’s all about feelings. Jack might not be a jerk to you but you’ve been justifying some of his lack of interest and I find that awful. You deserve so much more than that. Parents? Ex girlfriend? Too much of a burden.

    • There have been periods where I’ve been less actively seeking a relationship. It helps when I have casual partners because I’m not needing sex or male companionship. But it was time again. I don’t know how but I seem to manage a balance between optimism and cynicism.

      • I don’t know how you do it, either. I’m all cynicism. To the point where seeing someone on social media saying how much they love their significant other immediately elicits a rather annoyed reaction from me. Perhaps one day I’ll get over that.

What do you think?