Predictions of results in the U.S. presidential election of 2020 were strikingly off-target, much as they were in 2016.
Oddly enough, they teach us some valuable lessons about prediction in love.
The predictions in the election were pretty much a total mess. We might as well learn something from them!
For two elections in a row, the polls regarding the anticipated outcomes of a presidential race were shockingly off. For all the money, expertise, effort, and care exerted in conducting the polls, they were not even close.
They predicted Hillary Clinton would win in 2016. She did win the popular vote, but she lost the vote that counts—in the Electoral College.
They predicted Joe Biden would win by a comfortable margin in the 2020 election and likely take the House and Senate with him in what could be a landslide. Wrong again.
What’s all this have to do with love?
1. Your predictions are about at the same level as the pollsters’.
When we decide whom we want to become seriously involved with, or even to live with or to marry, we make a serious, possibly life-altering prediction about the future of the relationship, and hence also our own future.
We tend to have confidence in our predictions. But those predictions mostly stink.
Almost half of marriages end in divorce. And many couples that stay together are unhappy. They stay together for financial reasons, or for children, or out of fear of change, or out of sheer exhaustion.
But then, some couples do find lifelong happiness.
The problem is that it is extremely hard to predict what the future holds.
Knowing about your and your partner’s levels of intimacy, passion, and commitment, and understanding your profiles of stories, can help! But there is no perfect solution to the problem.
2. Your sampling is almost surely inadequate.
Why did the pollsters fail? There may have been many reasons, but one was certainly sampling.
They got to the people who were easy for them to get to. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to a representative sample of the people who would vote.
Your problem, in predicting the future of a relationship, is that it is super-hard to get a representative sample of the behaviors that actually will be crucial for the long-term success of a relationship.
Like the pollsters, you may think you have that sample, but it is very unlikely. Even if you think you are sampling broadly, so many events can and will befall you in the future, and you just cannot predict how you or partner will act.
You may think you can, but you really can’t. And that makes it hard to get the sampling of behavior you would need to make perfect or even almost perfect predictions.
3. The stories you have about love pretty much dictate your predictions.
Different polls had different predictions about the election. Some of the predictions were very different from others.
Sure, sampling had something to do with it. But the inconsistencies were so consistent!
Why? Because pollsters went in thinking they were unbiased, but of course, they were biased, just like everyone else. And their biases affected their polling results.
They had different stories about politics and about elections, about Biden and Trump and all their fellow politicians, and those stories affected outcomes.
So will yours for your relationship. When it comes to predicting the future, we all are subject to our own biases, many of them not even conscious.
4. What you will do in a love relationship often is not what you say you will do and may not even be what you think you will do.
It’s almost certain that, in the polls, some of the people who said they would vote for Biden ended up voting for Trump.
Even more so, some of the people four years ago who said they would vote for Clinton voted for Trump. Why would they do this?
Have you ever said one thing, only to act another? How many people say one thing in a Sunday church service and then act entirely differently Monday morning?
How many people have promised lifelong fidelity to a single partner, only to forget about it, or actively repress it thereafter?
Were they lying? Maybe. Or maybe they changed their minds. Or maybe they weren’t sure of what they believed. Or maybe they thought it was fine to think one way and to act another way.
In the end, we are all mountains of inconsistency. No matter how much we strive for consistency between our thoughts and actions, or even consistency between our actions in one time or place and our actions in another time and place, such consistency rarely lasts long.
And so, it becomes really hard to predict the future of intimate relationships.
5. Accept that love is often unpredictable. Live with It. Even cherish it!
Here’s the point. You can do your best to make predictions, but many of them will be wrong.
Don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t ask how you could have been so stupid or so mindless or so out to lunch. So is everyone else.
Live with it. Enjoy your life with your partner. Make your predictions, best you can. But if they’re wrong, that’s life, not you. Some things in life you don't even want to predict, like the day of your demise.
No matter how smart or knowledgeable or emotionally intelligent or whatever you are, your predictions are a bit of a crap shoot.
Hope for the best, but in the meantime, make the most of your life, your romance, your love.
Love is unpredictable. Live with it. Cherish it. Enjoy it! Part of the joy of love is its very unpredictability. Make it yours!