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March 18, 2015

How to Stop Getting Lucky

darondickens-300When I was younger I loved Garfield — you know…the cartoon cat. Loved Lasagna. Hated Mondays.

I had a distant relative who sent me and my siblings Christmas presents every year. Although it was an incredibly kind gesture, they would invariably be horrible gifts. One year, however, I opened the box to discover a genuine Garfield poster. I was so excited that I vowed then and there to hang it in my room until the end of time. It featured Garfield getting hit in the head by a racquetball he had obviously just hit against the wall. Underneath was written Newton’s third law of motion, which states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

As much as I loved Garfield, I honestly didn’t think the poster was very funny. Still, I had made a vow, so I stared at this poster on the wall of my bedroom for the better part of a decade. It got stuck in my head despite my not really understanding what it meant.

Until…I entered Junior High.

Junior High was when I noticed girls.

I had a friend named Kime Houston Landis. True story. Kime was like The Fonz of Travis Junior High. He knew everything there was to know about the mystery of girls. He was a wooer of girls, and I became a great student of woo. What I learned about romance from Kime at the tender age of 13 was that relationships — especially romantic relationships — all fell within Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

Oh, Garfield, is there anything you don’t know?

I learned that there are things you can do to get girls to react in a way that is favorable to you. These things include lines you might recite, ways you would (or would not) look at them, and a whole host of ways you could create the right image — from the way you wear your hair, to the way you tight-rolled your jeans. It was all about actions designed to get the right reaction.

See the problem there? In my young and impressionable mind, feverish with hormones and desire, I learned that romantic relationships were based on reactivity. I act; she reacts. Preferably in my favor.

The problem was that I could never know for sure. Girls were less like racquetballs — perfectly round and fairly predictable — and more like footballs. They took bizarre hops and bounced in ways I could never quite guess with certainty. I found myself doing certain things that I thought might get the reaction I wanted, but — more often than not — I just hoped to get a lucky bounce every now and again.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. In fact, I think it’s a sadly common belief. And I fear it’s at the heart of a lot of the dissatisfaction in many relationships — even marriages — today. Instead of authentic people connecting with one another in authentic ways, we often attempt to make someone react, to get a particular reaction out of them. Sometimes we get the reaction we want. Sometimes the reaction smacks us upside the head like Garfield’s racquetball. Either way is leaves us dependent upon the luck of a relational bank shot, unsure of what to do next, frustrated by the way the ball sometimes bounces.

What if we stopped trying to get lucky? Or what if we stopped assuming a good relationship is just based on a lucky bounce? What if we began to base our relationships on intentional actions focused on authentically representing ourselves rather than actions designed to get the other person to do what we want? How might a shift from the Junior High mindset of betting our relational connection on the luck of the draw to an adult stance of showing our cards change the way we approach romantic relationships?

Moving from playing games to being genuine might make all the difference in the world. But it starts when you stop trying to get lucky and start looking inside yourself.

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