Last week, I published a story, “Your Significant Other Will Show Up When You Stop Looking (and Other BS I Was Told in My 20s)” in The Post-Grad Survival Guide. If you’re familiar with my writing, you won’t be surprised to know it was a humorous take on why people might tell you to “stop looking.” Namely, that they’re too nice to tell you to get a hobby, or stop whining, or stop picking up drunk people at bars.
I was also dispensing some practical advice, not just relating thinly veiled anecdotes from the lives of my friends and my own life.
The story went live on Medium. Curated in Relationships. And within a few hours I had a surprisingly high number of “views”. . . and almost no “reads” as Medium defines it. My normal read ratio is 30-70%, so why was this article tanking at 6%?
Looking in the home page of the publication I found the answer: the title was cut off. What you saw was just “Your Significant Other Will Show Up When You Stop Looking (and Other…” Before a would-be reader could see that I was plainly calling the advice BS, they clicked.
What can I learn from this?
I love long titles.
I think the specificity and the opportunity for humor increase as a title gets longer. However, I know this is a quirky view and that there’s math and science behind why “4 Tips for Finding ‘the One’” would have been a better performing (if more clickbait-y and less funny and not wholly accurate) title.
Within 24 hours of posting, I redrafted the title to “You Will Find ‘The One’ When You Stop Looking (& Other BS I Was Told in My 20s).” It’s still overlong, but it gets cut off after “BS,” so I can live with it. After which, the read ratio went up, although it will likely never be a top performer. That’s okay. That happens. Lesson learned.
Two human truths wrapped in figurative bacon:
Truth #1: Humans want to be loved. We don’t all want sex or the same kind of sex, but we want love and connection. At least some of the would-be-readers wanted — really really wanted someone to give them the simple secret to finding love.
Obviously they don’t know me very well.
Truth #2: Humans are lazy. I get it — I’m totally lazy too. But just like I know that I won’t get six-pack abs sitting on my couch, I know I won’t meet the love of my life while sitting on my couch.
They wanted me to give them permission to do nothing to earn those good things that were going to happen to them . . . because of some sort of cosmic justice (maybe?).
No one is ever going to convert every click-through into a full read. Yet, what I started contemplating with these hundreds of click-throughs that converted to just a handful of reads, is that the would-be-readers wanted some stranger on the internet (me) to reaffirm that good things would happen to them. Particularly, they wanted me to give them permission to do nothing to earn those good things that were going to happen to them . . . because of some sort of cosmic justice (maybe?).
But this also makes me super sad. Read on, and you wouldn’t have to rely on cosmic justice! There was easy, actionable advice in there:
Start practicing talking to strangers. Sober strangers. When you’re not attracted to them. . . . To turn around in line at the coffee shop and ask the person behind you a question. Man, woman, too old, too young, towing a string of children — doesn’t matter. You’re reaching out and connecting to people. And if you’re in the practice of doing that, then you’ll be in better shape to reach out and make a connection to your future significant other . . . even if you’re not looking for them.
Okay, not as easy as try doing nothing. But far easier than a 25 step master plan that rearranges your life, or a powered shake that makes you lose half your weight while permanently damaging your liver.
I’m not saying the article is brilliant and you should read it. (Oh goodness, no! The article is funny, and whether or not you read it, I’ll still go on believing in its humor — but, you know, it’s not bloody Shakespeare.) I’m saying, why are we so lazy? No, that’s not right either — I know why we’re lazy. We’re programmed for laziness as a survival strategy — spend energy where it’s needed and find everywhere you can cut corners while staying alive. Got that.
I’m saying: why are we so hopeful-lazy? Why are we so willing to believe — to seek out the affirmation of—advice that absolves us of the act of laziness and promises a path to some heavenly state (in this case the state of being loved) without any change in our lives or penance for our inaction?
I stopped searching for “the one” while in my 20s, then started again in my 30s. I don’t regret my choices, but I also 100% recognize that those choices led to a specific outcome and I was responsible. Lazy in one aspect of life but active and focused in another aspect. I didn’t hold out hope for the lazy-aspect — like some magical, rom-com proposal climax on the eve of my 30th birthday.
I’m saying: why would we believe an affirmation that we can sit back and the world will come to us? This isn’t GrubHub we’re talking about. People are complicated. Having relationships with people is even more complicated.
And if anyone tells you to stop trying and let the universe deliver “the one” to your door, then you better ask the universe for a side of spring rolls because otherwise you won’t be getting anything.
Eileen Wiedbrauk is a writer, geek, coffee addict, former editor, library fangirl, MFA grad, Odyssey Workshop alum, and escaped cubicle minion. She writes sf/f fiction in her spare time and is on a mission for better health. She’s on Twitter @ EileenWiedbrauk.