What Gambling Taught Me About Dating
By Mary R. Dittman, M.B.A.
Have you ever looked back on something and thought, “I should have known better?”
Most of us have. So why is it so hard to recognize a potentially damaging situation when you’re in it?
Even if we don’t learn from our own experiences, it would be ideal if we could learn from others’ experiences. Cautionary tales can spare us a lot of grief, but we frequently believe we are the exception rather than the rule.
We all know dating a married man is heartache waiting to happen. But most women who get into that situation will believe that THEY are the exception. THEY are the one the guy will leave his wife for. THEY are the one who will get a happy ending. THEY aren’t being strung along by a man who has zero intention of leaving his marriage.
I have watched several of my girlfriends get involved with men who were separated and in the process of divorce. For them, it worked out and they were married inside of a year after the divorce was finalized.
This kept me believing that I, too, could have this outcome. So, I would get involved with men who were separated but not yet divorced. What happened? Normally only one of two outcomes: (1) he would date me as the rebound, then marry the very next girl he dated; or, (2) the ex-wife would be jealous and come back and he would leave me to go back to her.
In In the Meantime, Iyanla Vanzant says you have to decide how many times you’re going to be a fool, then stick to that number. For me, it must have been around 137 times (give or take). I just kept thinking I would get a different outcome.
By the way, this is the same phenomenon that keeps us addicted to social media and gambling.
In psychology, we know that variable interval reward schedules are highly addictive. Think of a slot machine: you spin the wheels, and you may win or you may not. There’s no set reward interval. Let’s say you spin the wheels 5 times then win. That will keep you spinning because you think another win could happen any time.
It’s why we scroll on social media: something may give us a dopamine or endorphin hit, we just don’t know how far down we need to scroll.
Likewise, if you believe you can hit the jackpot in dating by chasing exceptions, you will continue to put yourself in situations where you are gambling. Only the stakes are your emotional well-being. Sure, the last five guys I dated who were separated weren’t ready for a relationship, but maybe THIS time it’ll be different.
Personally, I enjoy legal gaming. I lived in Reno and have family in Las Vegas, so I’m well aware that casinos are designed to profit from variable interval conditioning. In the end, “the house always wins,” so if you are winning, it may be best to “quit while you’re ahead.”
I will take $20 into the casino and just plan to lose it on entertainment. I’ll play the quarter slots or quarter video poker and see what happens. Sometimes I win, many times I lose. But I never gamble more than I can comfortably lose.
Sadly, I have not always had those boundaries in relationships. I have found that the older I get, the more painful a broken heart feels. I can no longer afford to gamble with my emotions.
This is why I don’t play the odds anymore in dating. I don’t bank on the exception. I wager based on probability, not possibility.
Dating a man who is separated: it’s POSSIBLE he will be over his ex-wife and will want to marry me. It’s PROBABLE that he won’t have the emotional closure to move forward. This is why giving things time is so critical.
Dating a man who is chronically unemployed or underemployed: it’s POSSIBLE he’ll get it together and be able to provide. It’s PROBABLE that I’ll end up supporting both of us and his children. This is acceptable for some women, but it’s not what I want.
It’s POSSIBLE that you will marry the guy you just had a first date with. It’s PROBABLE that you will change your opinion on that in 12 months. Again, this is why giving the relationship time to unfold is important. After all, if it’s “meant to be,” what’s the harm in waiting a year before you get legally enmeshed?
I’m a “Sex and the City” fan, but in the first movie, we see that Mr. Big gets cold feet at the altar. Then he decides he really does want to marry Carrie. That’s a great story. But in reality, men don’t need 10 years to decide if you’re the one they want to marry. This is the type of fiction that keeps women hanging on to go-nowhere relationships for years - they think that like Mr. Big, their beau will suddenly wake up one day and realize she’s The One.
Ladies, we must stop allowing Hollywood to set the example for how we live.
Some people enjoy the up-and-down drama of variable interval conditioning. It is legit addictive. As I said, I do enjoy it in a casino. But I don’t enjoy it in my emotions.
I believe part of a One-Derful Life is having the wisdom to not throw away your peace and happiness and emotional well-being on remote possibilities. Yes, “all things are possible with God,” but God also tells us not to put our trust in princes (see Psalm 146:3) - like Prince Charming!
The peace and contentment of the One-Derful Life comes from trusting God’s process, not from playing long odds.
Question: Do you gamble with your heart?
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