I love posts like this. The New York Times’ John Tierney reports on a study published in Science that people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” Says one of the authors of the study, Daniel T. Gilbert, “Middle-aged people – like me – often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
Yep. That sounds about right.
I’ve long recognized this – and my own fallibility in the process. In fact, there is a very quick exercise I do with clients from time to time. It goes like this:
I don’t know if we could get through the day if we were constantly thinking about how little we know.
Let’s say she’s 36 years old. I’ll say to her, “What did you know at 31?” She’ll invariably say, “Wow. That was like a lifetime ago. I’ve been through so much since then. A new job. A new house. A serious relationship. Yeah, I really know much more now at age 36.” And I’ll say, “What did you know at 26?” And she’ll laugh, and say, “Oh my god, I was such an idiot at 26”. And I’ll say, “Did you think you were an idiot at the time?” And she’ll say, “No. I thought I knew everything.” Not my best dialogue, but you get the point.
As the article indicates, people seemed to be much better at recalling their former selves than at imagining how much they would change in the future.
Why? Dr. Gilbert and his collaborators, Jordi Quoidbach of Harvard and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia, had a few theories, starting with the well-documented tendency of people to overestimate their own wonderfulness.
“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said.
It’s true. I don’t know if we could get through the day if we were constantly thinking about how little we know, how we’re all works-in-progress, how in five years, we’ll have so much more life experience to inform our decision-making. Five years ago, I wasn’t even married. Now I have a house, two kids, and a business that is considerably bigger than the one from 2008. Was I confident in 2008? Yes. Do I know a lot more now? Hells yeah.
What does this mean for you and your pursuit of lasting love? Well, I’d think it would be yet another argument in favor of waiting a long time before getting married. Most people can tell a story about a relationship that was great for 3 months and then fell apart. Some people can tell that same story about a relationship that was great for 1 year and then fell apart. Fewer people can tell the story of a relationship that was great for 3 years and then fell apart.
Dating is something that should take place over 2-3 years before you make any lifetime decisions.
Dating – the process of getting to know a partner and evaluate his/her compatibility as a spouse – is something that should take place over 2-3 years before you make any lifetime decisions. And all of you who want to “just know” that you met your soulmate and lock it in within a year are just setting yourselves up for the predictable backlash of realizing that either you or your partner has changed or that you didn’t really know each other before you got married.
Better to be safe than sorry. And if you doubt me, just think of the mistakes in your past relationships and how much more you know now compared to five years ago.