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Love is a Gamble

Love is a Gamble | Science Behind a Long Lasting Relationship

For your enjoyment, a few ridiculous vignettes from my everyday life:

Setting: Kitchen.
Context: Absolutely nothing happening.
Anna: “You know what’s really so true about Harry Potter?”
Jamie: (Looks up and without missing a beat, replies.) “Tell me all about it.”


Setting: Living Room.
Context: Anna is watching television. Jamie walks in from the other room.
Jamie: “Honey, I’m a little worried that these are poisoned.”
Anna: (Looks up at husband curiously and sees cookies in his hand.) “We should test them. Hand one over.”


Setting: Bathroom
Context: Brushing teeth
Anna: (Looks over at adorable husband brushing his teeth. She reaches over and presses the tip of his nose; does not release.)
Jamie: (Pauses. Looks at Anna straight in the eyes. Presses the tip of her nose down. They continue staring at each other silently until they break out in giggles.)

Placing a bid

It turns out that these ridiculous moments – and ridiculous they were – might actually be the glue in our relationship. What might seem like a couple of dorks who were lucky enough to find each other, might be a whole lot more. I came across an article a while ago in The Atlantic called Masters of Love. The author, Emily Esfahani Smith, talks about a study done in the 90s, where the researchers uncovered an important part of relationships they called “bids.”

According to the study, individuals put out bids all the time for their partners’ attention. Something as mundane as, “Hey, look at that thing over there” is actually a bid for attention. Interestingly, the couples in happy long-term relationships took each other up on their bids nearly 90% of the time. On the other hand, couples that later broke up or were chronically unhappy in their relationships accepted their partners’ bids about 30% of the time.

It turns out that when I was a complete weirdo and pushed down on the tip of my husband’s nose (it’s really something I do – I can’t explain myself), it was like I threw some chips out on the table and bet on my husband’s likelihood to respond positively to me. We’ve been doing this for quite some time now — we’ve been married since 2004 — so we must have put out thousands of tiny little bids by now. At this point if feels like a really safe bet.

Over the years, these small moments have slowly built a strong fence around our relationship. Every time one of us took the other’s bid, we added a little more cement to the fence and subtly told each other, “I got you.”

Love is safety

Before this study had even begun, Stephen Covey wrote in his first edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“When we truly love others without condition, without strings, we help them feel secure and safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity, and integrity.”

I must admit that my sense of security, safety, and validation has absolutely been molded and strengthened through hundreds of experiences of my husband accepting these silly, seemingly insignificant bids for attention. Over time, I’ve learned that I can be myself, completely, with him because every time I throw out some crazy question about Harry Potter or silly gesture, he responds with unconditional love.

Taking each other up on some silly bids

 When I read about studies like this one, I often find myself wondering about the chicken and the egg. Is it that the couples who were more well matched were already more likely to accept these bids? Or was it that each bid made them walk the path toward successful relationships? Could the relationships that didn’t work have turned around if the couples made concerted efforts to accept one another’s bids?

Covey certainly thought it could be turned around. It seems the internet is chock-full of memes of the following quote he told to man seeking his council because he had fallen out of love with his wife.

“My friend, love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

Intentionally accepting bids

Since reading Esfahani Smith’s article a couple of years ago, I’ve become much more conscious of my husband’s bids. I’ve noticed that I’m less likely to engage when I’m feeling stressed and exhausted – which is basically the definition of a working mom!

Something about this article came out like a battle cry to me, though. It’s stuck with me for a couple of years now. I find myself consciously thinking, “He’s bidding you.” The most magical part comes around this moment. When I (grudgingly) take him up on whatever silly little bid he put out – moments later, whether or not I have any actual interest in what he’s talking about, I feel closer to him, safe with him, and calmer than I had.

Jamie and I got married at just 23 years old. There were quite a few people in our lives at the time who were quite concerned about the decision. “You’re so young!” they kept saying. But at the time I was sure I knew it all. I knew better than them, and I knew exactly what I was doing. When it’s right, it’s right… right?

You need a little luck in a good gamble

In recent years, Jamie and I have laughed and laughed at our stupid rose-colored glasses-wearing selves. We didn’t know anything! In that time, I’ve seen lots of friends and family married and divorced, partnered and broken up, sometimes married again and again. Now we know that we didn’t know a thing. We were in love, sure. But when you go into something that long term, there’s no way to know, or even guess, what challenges you’re going to face. There’s no way to know how you’ll feel in a year or two, let alone 20. Now Jamie and I say that we are, without a doubt, the luckiest idiots on the face of the Earth.

In a decade and a half of marriage, I’ve learned a lot. But here’s the simplest bit and maybe the most important piece of wisdom: if you marry your friend and you take them up on their stupid little bids, then you’re stacking the deck in your favor. Are there guarantees? Of course not. But there are riskier gambles and safer ones. Truth is, I’m not much of a gambler. I’ll take safe and secure. And yeah, I’ll also take ridiculously dorky and hilarious moments. It’s a lot more fun that way.


Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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