Success and Failure and Dating

Dating at Wharton isn’t something people talk about much—some generalized statements here and there lamenting the dearth of 1Y relationships, and that’s about it.

But it’s a process to which many of us are familiar with personally—to varying degrees of success. So I’d like to compare it to something else we all know well—the process of getting into Wharton.

Let’s start with the good—getting into Wharton. I’m confident in saying that all of us cruise into Wharton on the back of a life of successes—college, job, getting that Wharton acceptance call one or two years ago—that validates the effort put in.

Success and failure, to me, are two sides of the same coin—to succeed one must risk failure, and vice versa, to fail one must attempt to succeed. I did indeed get rejected from multiple other business schools—all of which I had envisioned myself being at just a year ago. And rejection hurts. Failure hurts. Especially when you can’t just “try again”.  

What’s the dating corollary there? Applying to a school is like asking for a first date. Getting a first date is like getting into school (what you do with that bit of good news is up to you, but getting a phone call—as the R2 admits that received one recently can probably attest to—is such an amazing feeling); getting turned down is like getting rejected.

The alternative to being open and vulnerable to failure is to have no chance of succeeding once the deadline passes. But without the possibility of failure one cannot succeed—after all, if you don’t apply to Wharton, if you don’t gussy up and go to your TBD with a brave face on, you’re not getting in.

It’s easy to accept the possibility of failure in the face of deadlines—if you miss the deadline, failure is guaranteed, which makes it easier to take the plunge, hit submit on that application, walk into your interview, nerves and all. Deadlines have always given me a sense of urgency—especially as a classic procrastinator who does his best work right before those same deadlines. Timing drives us to chase success; deadlines force us to commit to the chase.

That framework works great for most everything—but not love. Love has no deadlines—it is, by nature, an ongoing process, not one that you submit an application for at a pre-determined deadline. Which, in turn, allows for endless procrastination and a litany of deflective responses when the parents ask why I’m STILL not dating anyone.

But love DOES have timing. Every relationship has timing—a window of chance, a window for action. Now, unfortunately, this timing is rather nebulous—as much as I would appreciate the information, people who like you don’t issue proclamations that if you don’t ask them out sometime in the next two weeks they’re going to assume you’re uninterested.

And in that window, any chance of getting anywhere requires a concerted effort that invites the potential of rejection. Think the dating equivalent of submitting an application to a school—a clear signal of interest.

It’s easy to understand that in the retrospect but my preferred tactic over the past eight months was always to dip my toe in the water. Test the temperature, you know. It turns out that tactic guarantees you won’t drown, but also guarantees you won’t swim.

Trying to ask someone out with the patented “Hey maybe we should grab a drink sometime soon”. You know, lots of nonchalance. Nonchalance is good. But the implication of a date is good too because hopefully they pick up on that and just bridge the gap on my behalf instead of making me actually, you know, ASK them on a date. Except they never do. “Sure, how’s tomorrow? I have a few other friends who I can bring.” No no—what I really wanted to say was “Hey we should grab a drink sometime soon—also don’t bring your friends because I’m actually asking you on a date instead of a casual group hang and I want you to know that’s the case. Also I like you.”

Showing interest SIGNALS how we feel—signals easily interpreted. But I can stand here and talk about the signals and it won’t change the fact that the words get caught in my throat when I go to say the words, perhaps made more likely that in my mind, it wasn’t like there was a deadline to ask someone out—maybe tomorrow I’d find a more perfect opportunity (Irish Pub, Justin Bieber on the jukebox, miraculously it’s just the two of us having a conversation because our friends have peeled off into the background?)!

Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect opportunity—too many unknowns. All that waiting and I can cheerily report that eight months in, I’m batting 0 for 0. 0 for 0 doesn’t sound bad—it doesn’t sound like failure at a glance. After all, if you’re not trying, it stands to reason you can’t fail—since you can’t succeed. I was busy focusing on other things, like school and career, to try in the dating realm (or so I told myself)! I thought it meant I was lining up the stars to go 1 for 1 when I finally dove overboard. But the point isn’t to go 1 for 1—it’s to go 1 for anything. I’d rather go 1 for 100 than go 0 for 0; I’d rather go 0 for 99 than 0 for 0. When the outcome variable is binary—you’ve either found your “one” or you haven’t—every chance you give up trying to find the one constitutes a failure by way of preventing success.

And just like that, I realized that failure isn’t the flipside of success—it’s the flipside of trying to succeed. The common thread in all of my professional successes leading up to Wharton wasn’t that I had succeeded—it was that I had tried regardless of outcome. Even more than failure can be considered a result of iterated failed interactions, failure is primarily defined by an iterated failure to act.

So here’s to the hundred chances I’ve passed up this year, and here’s to the hundred chances I won’t in the next year. Here’s to finding the one.

Photo credit: ::RodrixParedes:: via / CC BY
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