My husband recently introduced me to the Freakonomics podcast, specifically the episode “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” He’s been reading the book entitled Freakonomics (and finding it fascinating) and has been listening to the podcast for a while. The reason this particular episode caught his attention to the point where he had to share it is the relationship advice that it contained. I decided to listen to the whole episode just to experience what my husband listens to each week (and it’s great to have something in common to talk about over dinner), and I found this episode very interesting as well. There are a tons of interesting facts throughout the episode, and besides the prohibition-style banning of pinball machines in New York until 1976, the factor determining why relationships are successful was the most interesting. I encourage you to listen to this podcast or read the transcript, and if you only want to listen to the part in which I am writing about, it begins around 28 minutes into the episode.
Melissa Schneider, a dating and relationship counselor, explained the “awesomeness factor” or “positive illusions.” Research was composed in 2010 to 37,000 dating couples in different countries, and the researchers were looking for what factor kept couples happy with one another and within the relationship and what made some couples break up. The factor that most determined happiness and contentment within a relationship wasn’t “commitment, or love, or trust.” It was something called the “awesomeness factor.” Here’s what this factor is: “the criteria was basically that you think your partner is great, you think your relationship is kind of better than all your friends’ relationships, but you wouldn’t tell them that. And you feel like your partner is close to like your quirky sense of ideal for you. And it didn’t just matter in dating. It actually also mattered in marriage. One study that looked at newlyweds and kind of evaluated this factor found that three years later satisfaction had dropped for everybody, except, one group. Guess who it was? The people who had a high awesomeness factor the day they walked down the aisle.” You believe your partner is awesome, you believe your relationship is better than most around you, and, therefore, your relationship is successful.
Does this mean that these people’s views of their partners are misleading or illusions? Schneider explains that it’s a “yes and no” answer. You believe your partner is more awesome than he/she actually is, but interestingly enough, if you believe this for an extended period of time your partner actually does become more awesome. Like if someone believes you are better than you actually are, you may strive to become that better person. Your partner may make you “want to be a better man,” to quote Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets.
So what does this mean for my relationship and your relationship? Are commitment, love, and trust just not that important? I believe those factors are still very important. How can you believe someone is awesome if you don’t have commitment from him/her, love and are loved by him/her, and can trust him/her? It is also important, according to this study, to also think your partner hangs the moon. Yes, it’s important to understand his/her flaws and faults because honesty with one’s self and how we perceive the world is important. However as Henri De Montherlant said, “We like someone because. We love someone although.” We decide to love someone even though we see their faults. We see beyond those and can still believe that person is pretty awesome.
After listening to this podcast, I reflected on my own relationship. Is the “awesomeness factor” why Hans and I work? Absolutely. It may sound bad, but we judge other relationships based on our own. We’re solid, we work, and when this is the case, it’s easy to see where other relationships are not as strong. Are we correct in the assumption that our relationship is superior? Probably not, but it is important that we believe it. We also see each other as more awesome than we probably are. However, I’ve seen us both grow into better, more confidant people than when we first met. That woman from my Facebook feed five years ago doesn’t even exist anymore. I don’t recognize her, and I believe this is a good thing. I’ve seen my husband grow into the man he is today, and I believe he is such an amazing human being that I’ve decided to make a baby with him. Are we the awesome people we believe each other to be? Again, probably not, but as long as we’re an awesome person in each other’s eyes, I will remain content with this wonderful man I’ve married.