Here’s a great article by my friend Dr Paul Dobransky:
Like many of you, I am a “Yuspie”, that new term for the Hugh Grants and Bridget Joneses of modern America — short for Young Urban Single Professional. We went to college, likely got several degrees more after that, bought a house, found career success, then suddenly found ourselves in our late twenties, thirties, or forties still single.
I’m a doctor, public speaker, author, and media personality, and still single. However, what many of you worry-worts may not guess is that I am utterly unconcerned about my current single status. I know for a fact that I will eventually marry, and to the perfect person for me at that. You can have this assurance too.
For you to begin a new adventure in single life, I have a rather odd suggestion — see the film Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. It came out in 2001 to terrible reviews, billed as a sickeningly sweet, unrealistic love story. Yet it has become my favorite film and a unique instruction in how to live a brand new kind of single life. You see, hidden underneath the “unrealistic” story, is the very secret of a happy singledom that absolutely ends in a lifelong, satisfying marriage.
I’m a psychiatrist, and for all the science I have absorbed in two decades of training and practice, I have never seen such a perfect example of storytelling instruction for today’s would-be couples. As silly as some critics call the faith and yearning of the characters, the seemingly rigged plot, the gushiness, Serendipity is as close as you will come to perfect psychological health instruction for singles. I won’t give the plot away if you haven’t seen the film, but I will cover some of the skills that the characters have to learn in order to find their perfect mate.
The word “serendipity” means an “ability to attract fortunate accidents”. Like encountering the perfect mate for you.
How in the world does someone learn to “attract good fortune”? Well, first of all, such people see the world as a place of abundance, not scarcity, as do the characters of the film. The world is full of single men and women, many of whom are not putting themselves out there in environments where it is even possible to encounter a fortunate romantic accident.
Many simply stay home, resigned to living in a lonely world of scarcity. The girls believe that there are “no good men anymore”, at least not in Denver or wherever else you live. A few guy friends I know refer to Denver as “Menver”, and lament the pure lack of numbers of available women. These two groups of people have obviously never met each other, or just weren’t walking around with their eyes open.
Do you realize that there are at least 50,000 available men and 50,000 available women in the Denver area alone? If you live in a scarcity mindset, you might forget that “all it takes is one.” THE one. And it is your job to be out there, carefree, not desperately searching—but in any case simply allowing “serendipity” to work its magic.
I certainly believe in “abundance” in my social life—so much so that I have enjoyed bars, singles events, internet dating, and have even appeared on the second season of ABC’s The Bachelor! Although I say more power to the folks that want to pursue what feels like their dream of being a star, I eventually rejected an invite to continue further in the show’s selection process.
Why? I felt no magic in it—no opportunity for the sexy, random delight of serendipity. Not when a mere 25 girls are preselected for you by some producer. And not when a chance occurrence in Whole Foods, the mall, skiing, a friend’s party, or best of all—travel—offer me the opportunity to experience REAL magic that no contrived television show can offer. I want REAL magic, and so I connect with REAL people.
As a psychiatrist and bachelor, I cannot help but ask every happy couple I meet how it is that they found such a great marriage. I have always wanted to know. I used to think it must be complicated, and must require all kinds of experiences and the growth of special relationship skills. Well, after talking to literally hundreds of happy couples of all ages, I found ONE answer from all of them, across the board. They just knew. They tell me universally that they found their perfect soulmates, “while just standing there minding my own business. And when I saw him or her, I just knew. I just knew.”
How easy is that? They just knew. It reminds me of the Irish origin of the term “soulmate”, which in Gaelic, is called “Anam Cara”, meaning “soul friend”. The legend goes that at the beginning of time, the entire earth was made of clay, and we humans were part of it, just lying there in the earth. And after eons of time, here we are wondering the world today encountering people that “don’t feel like our people”, and dating girls or guys who “just don’t feel right”. That is, until the day we encounter our Anam Cara, our soulmate. At that moment, the legend goes, we instantly recognize another person as having come from the same clay, lying right next to us in the ground we were both a part of at the beginning of time. Encountering them again, today, eons later, we just know.
This was the magical moment of recognition that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale experienced in Serendipity. They just knew. But that was not enough—the characters had to go through trials and self-examination in order to learn to follow that feeling, that “knowing”.
We all get so caught up in the workaday world of logic that we sometimes forget the importance of feelings and gut instinct. These are the very psychological forces that millenia ago kept us alive as we ran from Sabre-toothed Tigers in the jungle. How could feelings and intuition have become so unimportant in modern America? Apparently, cavemen and women were smarter than we are now. Unlike many of us, they managed just fine to get laid, have babies, and make for social bonds that last a lifetime.
I’m not saying you should act like a caveman. I’m also saying you don’t have to be a movie star, rich, or have a perfect body to experience the magic of following your intuition. You don’t have to be famous to experience serendipity. You can find magic in dating especially by virtue of being average, ordinary, and mediocre. In fact, you may even find that the rich and famous would not be to your average liking.
I once found myself in an LA club talking to a very interesting British girl for hours. She was a bit flirtatious and signaled some interest in ways that only a shrink would recognize. I thought to myself how intelligent and thoughtful she is, yet how she is just too thin for me, and there was something tired about her and just not for me.
But, hey, I was enjoying the conversation even though I didn’t FEEL like she was for me to get to know much further than that. After she got up and left, my buddy came over and blurted out, “Hey, man, do you realize that we are right here in the middle of the cast party for Pearl Harbor? Do you know that was Kate Beckinsale you were just talking to?”
Things that make you go, “Hmmmm.”
While the real life actress may not have been for me, her character in Serendipity certainly has had much to teach me, and all of us.
For the other kind of struggling single, not the passive ones who sit at home, but the overly energetic ones who try to hard and wish they could control the outcome of romance, Kate’s character of Sarah Thomas teaches us solid lessons in having boundaries.
She appreciates the advances of John Cusack’s character of Jonathan Trager, but she also is willing to assert her boundaries and suggest that maybe it was not the right time for them to meet. She has a belief in the abundance of the world, a kind of faith in Providence. For if they were meant to be together, there would be another chance someday, another meeting. She was willing to trust their purpose for meeting to the fates—to destiny. And so even though they have a wonderful conversation in a random encounter, she tells him it will be their last unless the fates bring them together again. After all, they each have a current partner already. This is good boundaries.
People you encounter for dating may have some work to do on their personal boundaries. A good way to know if this is a problem is to see whether they are trusting of the natural course of meeting and dating, or whether they are instead “pushy”, controlling, or manipulative. Manipulative people have poor boundaries and believe that the world is a place of scarcity. They try to hold on to you and may suffocate you with demands or neediness.
To have good boundaries, a person needs to get very good with the word “no”. This means accepting no from others, tolerating at least temporary rejection. Good boundaries also mean the ability to say no to others, to not be a doormat, to not allow oneself to be used.
Good boundaries are a notion also found in Buddhism, and if you have encountered the excellent book, If the Buddha Dated, you will notice how boundaries work in the language of Buddhism. For when we spend our energy or time trying to control the uncontrollable, we do what is called “suffering”. Suffering is an effect of having poor boundaries, of not recognizing where our psychological territory ends and another’s begins. We end up stepping over a sought-after partner’s boundary acting as if we should control their actions. This is often offensive to a prospective date unless they are prone to what are called “codependent relationships”, those painful arrangements where both partners have poor boundaries and allow themselves to be used, abused, and have their time and energy wasted.
The way to approach dating most successfully is with what Buddhists call “detachment from the outcome”, which both characters in Serendipity learn to use in a most elegant cinematic display. Detachment is a skill with “accepting what comes your way” while simultaneously making effort toward the general direction of your desires. In other words, it is crucial to know what exactly you want in a man or woman, but also crucial that you not pin that want on any particular man or woman. You have to be willing to go through a lot of people, and say goodbye quickly to all but that special one at the end of the dating road. What will tell you that you have arrived? You will “just know”.
If you get good at the use of personal boundaries, and literally make your way in the world as if it were a place of abundance, free of over attachment to a particular relationship outcome, you will succeed in finding the perfect marriage for you. It will be like magic.
This notion of serendipity is not just fanciful magic though—there is real science behind it, based in statistics, and in an economic theory most popularized by another film — A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe. The Nobel Prize, won by the main character was for the discovery of Game Theory. This theory is a mathematical proof of none other than “karma”, or “what goes around comes around”. It is a proof that when you walk around with a smile, a good attitude, and a belief that there is more than enough in the world to go around, including single, available people—well, that is what creates “serendipity”, a seemingly magical attraction of fortunate romantic accidents.
For when you look at statistics in the model of Game Theory, you find a simple truth—that the more total people you encounter, and in which you have a good attitude, the more likely you find this notion of a “soulmate”. The more mature and giving you are, rather than opportunistic or desperate, the more the social environment around you is attracted to YOU, wants to follow you, and give back. It is simple mathematics that only looks like magic. You can learn to get real, scientifically expectable results in your social life, AND enjoy the feelings of magic in romance. You get the best of both worlds when you take on the spirit of the characters of Serendipity.
If you see the film, you will also watch the characters struggle to learn perhaps the most powerful dating skill of all. For all the methods of meeting people you use—the bars and parties, and dating services and internet ads, and trips to Whole Foods when there is really nothing to buy—there is one method that doesn’t care where you are standing right now, or whether your hair is done just right, or whether you drive the best car, wear the most fly clothes, or have the most degrees. That method is faith.
I don’t necessarily mean faith in a religion, although your personal spiritual beliefs are intimately tied to this same notion of serendipity. I mean a more general faith in YOU, and faith in all the opportunity in the world. Your most core asset as a single is faith—that with a good attitude and a smile, with a kind and confident word to everyone you meet no matter where, you know for a fact that every moment of every day, the world is offering you the fortunate accidents of serendipity that will guide you with little clues of feeling and intuition. That will guide you eventually, expectantly, inexorably, effortlessly right to the one that you will be with for life, in happiness.
See the film for the first time, or again, and you will know exactly what I mean.
by Paul Dobransky, M.D.
Dr. Dobransky is a Psychiatrist and radio personality specializing in film analysis. He has appeared on CNN and written in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Denver Post on issues of relationships, trauma, the psychology of politics, the criminal mind, and terrorism. Visit Dr Paul Dobranskey’s website and learn about King, Warrior, Magician, Lover or his MindOS system.