Be careful: Romance breeds coincidences, and coincidences fuel romance.
Ah, the joy of romantic love. Songs, poetry, novels, and movies celebrate this wonder-filled human experience. Emotions swing from ecstasy to isolation, from merging to abandonment. The intense emotions, needs, and changes breed coincidences, and coincidences quicken romance. Enhanced by the timeless feeling of synchronicity, the relationship feels like it will go on forever. And so comes this warning.
First, some stories.
Feeling Together at a Distance
One of my patients adored her romantic coincidences: “I really loved him, like no one else I have ever loved. We seemed to be able to communicate without being in the same room. I could tell how he was feeling when we were apart. When he was in the same building, I could feel his presence. When we held each other, I melted into him. His mother’s name was the same as my sister’s. His brother’s name was the same as my father’s. These things felt like evidence that our love would last for all time. After about two years, our relationship was over.”
A string of fox coincidences accelerated an intense relationship. Amelia sensed that the man across the room wanted to meet her. She boldly crossed the crowded room to start a conversation with him. After a brief conversation, she gave him her card, hoping he would call her.
Then her house burned down, and she accepted an invitation to stay at a friend’s house. That same man happened to be there. He helped her through the traumatic loss of her house and her things. They became romantically intimate, yet she became suspicious of his ability to be monogamous. Because of his wily ways, she heard herself calling him Mr. Fox. In the rural area where she lived, the same day she anointed him Mr. Fox, she had seven fox sightings.
And, then, in her new home, a mysterious fox adopted her. Whenever the fox made his/her presence known, Amelia contacted Mr. Fox. During the calls, he often reported that he was involved with something related to her relationship with him. Once, he told her that he was with a woman who was wearing a fox fur.
Like most people caught up in the wonders of repeated romantic coincidences, Amelia wanted to believe that this relationship was meant to be. It wasn’t.
The turmoil drove her to write Synchronicity: Unlock Your Divine Destiny. In American Indian lore, the fox, a relative of the coyote, is the trickster. She was tricked into believing something magical was going on between them. Through her book, she teaches her readers and herself about the synchronistic machinations of that wily creature who had entered her life.
Brad and Jen*
The two previous stories were told from the point of view of only one of the participants. I interviewed a couple who shared several coincidences and wondered about they meant.
Brad and Jen met through an online dating site. Each was widowed. Her last name was also the last name of three of his cousins. Jen’s mother-in-law and Brad’s cousin had the same name. Although they both lived in Atlanta, each had gone to high school in Norfolk, Virginia. Also, one of Brad’s college fraternity brothers in college was a friend of Jen's husband when they lived in yet another city.
They were at the beginning of their relationship. What did all these coincidences mean?
Lynn C posted a false-promise coincidence series on Facebook: “I know someone with whom I share so many coincidences all the way back to childhood. The way we met as adults was also full of coincidences and long shots. Yet I need this person out of my life now. I wish we never met. So I'm wondering why the heck he was put in my path.”
Swept up in a series of intense synchronicities, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof dramatically married and soon divorced. He concluded: “I learned not to trust unconditionally the seductive power of such experiences... It is essential to refrain from acting out while we are under their spell and not to make any important decisions until we have again both feet on the ground” (See When the Impossible Happens).
If you are caught up in a synchronistic romance, talk with your partner. Do you share similar feelings and interpretations of the coincidences? Consider saying this:
“The synchronicities make us feel that fate has brought us together and that our relationship was meant to be. We have the power and responsibility to make it true. Let’s be alert to the inevitable conflicts that two people coming together will face. The coincidences don’t make our differences go away. No matter what happens, we can help each other grow psychologically and spiritually.”
For many people, coincidences are “all good.” Were it so simple! Coincidences offer possibilities, not promises. Your choices make the differences.
Sometimes, optimal coincidence interpretation requires nimble cognitive searching. Look for the unapparent positive in what seems to be miserably miscalculated expectations. “Sadder but wiser” could deprive future romantic entanglements of synchronistic elation. Clear-sighted expectations, encouraged by romantic synchronicities, can create a solid foundation for whatever is the best course for the two of you.
Sahmat, whose story appears in a previous post, was greatly disappointed when his low probability coincidence series failed to yield romance. The disappointment made him reflect on his recent failures to make new interpersonal connections. He realized he should instead revive older connections, specifically with his friend Larry.
It turned out that Larry was working on a project that needed Sahmat’s help. “So on the surface, my experience with the woman turned out to be a ‘false promise synchronicity,’ but, because I sought deeper guidance, it turned out not to be a false promise at all, but rather a necessary step to the next connection I needed to make.”
Amelia’s failed synchronicity romance helped create a book. Sahmat reconnected with an old friend. And I have been driven to write this post because of false romantic expectations driven by incredible coincidences.
The paradox presented by coincidences is described by cognitive scientists Thomas Griffiths of Brown University and Joshua Tenenbaum of MIT in their 2007 paper, “From Mere Coincidences to Meaningful Discoveries,” published in the journal Cognition: “Coincidences] seem to be involved in both our most grievous errors of reasoning, and our greatest causal discoveries.”
Griffiths and Tenenbaum were primarily looking at the role of coincidence in scientific discovery. But their discussion may also be applied to romantic love: “Coincidences," they wrote, "are events that provide support for a hypothesis, but not enough support to convince us to accept that hypothesis.” Let’s say the hypothesis is that a relationship, or even a marriage, will work out very well. A person should not wholeheartedly believe that hypothesis based on the coincidences alone.”
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The other extreme would be to ignore all coincidences out of fear that they are misleading. But as these researchers point out, some of the greatest scientific discoveries have been made through coincidence and some of the greatest romantic discoveries, too.
* Names and places changed