Two weeks after we started dating, Scott told me he loved me.
He was a die-hard surfer, up at dawn to catch the first wave before heading into the city to his slick day job as a wine buyer for an upmarket Australian department store. I was a backpacking Brit, too scared of sharks to do more than paddle out a couple of feet. He’d had tons of serious relationships and had tried everything from threesomes with his best female friend to giving his hairdresser a blow job. I’d been a late starter, so he was only my second boyfriend. I remember thinking he was so quick to move on to new things, that he was already bored of stuff I had never even tried.
The day he told me he loved me, he’d had a scare out surfing. A wave had pinned him under, and tumbling along the seabed, he decided if he made it, he would tell me how he felt.
I knew this wasn’t love. Not after two weeks. But I rattled off, “I love you too,” figuring, “What harm would it do?” I reasoned away my initial mistrust. After all, he was the one with all the relationship experience, so he must know better than me the difference between love and infatuation.
Three months later, Scott dumped me by text message, owing me money and refusing to return my calls.
I should have trusted my instincts. Our gut feelings are very good indicators of what’s really going on in any situation, and relationships are no different. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink:The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, calls this ability “thin-slicing” and describes it as our unconscious ability “to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.” I’d seen right away that Scott favored the new, and that he wasn’t a man in love, but I ignored my hunches.
For years, I continued to ignore the little voice in my head that “just knew” when a guy wasn’t right for me. Like the guy who would call me every day to talk about himself, but never asked a single thing about the MA program I’d started the week after our first date. I’ve no idea why, but I invited him away for the weekend. To endure his boring company for two days, I ended up pretending to sleep in, not daring to move, just so he wouldn’t wake up and increase the time we had to spend together.
Then there was the guy I met on a skiing holiday and dated for four months despite discovering on the first night he was the worst kisser I’d ever met. Later, there was the Turkish tour guide I met when I moved to Istanbul who left school at 16, insisted that Darwin had made evolution up, and told me what I could and couldn’t wear in public. The little voice had never been more insistent that he wasn’t the one for me, but I tuned it out.
I eventually got over him with a physics professor who not only admitted he wasn’t a faithful guy, but he wasn’t going to leave his girlfriend. What possessed me to spend two months hoping he would?
All those times I just knew. In a blink, I saw, but never followed my gut. Something was always wrong, yet I overruled my instincts and carried on down the wrong path. Research suggests that newlyweds with instinctively positive associations about their spouses are more likely to still be together four years later. It’s no surprise, then, that I never lasted that long with any of those men when I had such gut-level negative associations with them so early on.
My years of ignoring my gut instincts are what I keep in mind in my current relationship. I knew he was the one right away. We work in the same industry and have the same views about it; had grandparents from Yorkshire; grew up in single-parent families; had spent a few years living in a particular northern UK city, only missing each other by a year; never sleep naked; both love Star Wars; our favorite Sunday ritual is roast dinner at the pub with the weekend papers; we both have anxiety about being late and make decisions quickly and easily. We even have the same first names.
Two years and a baby further on, it turns out (surprise!) that we’re not mirror reflections of each other. We don’t like the same music, the same food or share politics or hobbies. He’s a wine buff. I hate the taste of alcohol. He gets up at 6 a.m. to run. I can’t remember the last time I did any exercise. He cooks. I can’t stand thinking about what to eat, then buying and preparing it. He likes music that makes you look cool. I like ’80s rock and pop. I will never be an Apple girl. He has the latest i-whatsit. Star Wars aside, if we go to the cinema, one of us is bored rigid.
But if I ever have any doubts, I remember how instantly I just knew he was the one and I trust my instincts.
After all, they’ve never been wrong before.