No, I am not talking about the whimsical cafe on the Upper East Side that serves the world famous frozen hot chocolate - on the contrary - millennials keep that place alive and running.
I am talking about the noun, which is most closely understood as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” as defined by Oxford Dictionary. Serendipity used to play a quintessential role in the romance of past generations. Chance encounters, fateful run-ins and "serendipitous" rendez-vous are seen in every renowned romcom or love story. Are modern romances going to need to change the script because millennials no longer believe in serendipity?
Have millennials killed all chances of finding love by fate or chance? With dating apps being the main source of scheduling dates, hook-ups or flings, are millennials no longer letting fate play a role in the equation? In our ever so meticulously calculated and planned lives do we even want room for chance?
It’s 1985 and printers are like mechanical hippos that break down at the slightest mistake. My parents meet by chance at a printer station whilst they were both attending Georgetown Law School. My mother did not know how to use the printer and my dad did - the rest is history.
I tried to re-imagine this scene in present day, 2017: the printer would be working smoothly, shooting out glossy double-sided papers by the second. My mother would be on her iPhone 7 entranced in her college sorority friend group chat, sending kiss emojis and taking dog filter selfies via Snapchat. My father would be scrolling through Facebook checking up on the likes he was getting on the Buzzfeed articles he shared earlier. Both of them would probably be too engaged in their devices to even notice each other. Perhaps they would later match on Bumble or JSwipe and my father would propose getting coffee and my mother would prefer going to a wine bar instead. But would their (hopefully inevitable) connection been the same had it been planned?
Can people really become starstruck lovers from swiping right on each other’s photos? Can an electronic algorithm create a serendipitous connection? If we can control all the variables of our potential romances, can you even really call it romance?
Paw Research center conducted research on the differing beliefs of European and U.S. millennials towards fate. The survey defined fate as success determined by factors outside our control. Although the study was looking at fate through an employment versus jobless perspective, the results suggest that Americans really do not believe in this "fate" thing and Europeans do. 43 percent of millennial Americans believed in uncontrollable factors whereas 63 percent Italian and German millennials alike and 62 percent of Polish and Greek millennials believe in these factors determining one’s future. Only young Brits surpassed the U.S. statistics, averaging at 37 percent. Perhaps British millennials are cynics but U.S. millennials seem to believe that they have more control over their destiny than not.
When it comes to romance, should we not embrace uncontrollable factors? It seems harder and harder to find a spark or a momentary connection when every romantic encounter feels so calculated or convoluted. On a Tinder, Bumble, JSwipe, Coffee Meets Bagel (the list goes on) date you have already confirmed a mutual physical attraction, you have planned a meeting point and have come in with the attention to obtain something romantic or physical out of this encounter. The whole process is contrived and pseudo-romantic. Whatever happened to somehow being in the right place, at the right time, with the right person, all just by chance? Letting serendipity take the wheel and allowing yourself to be surprised seems so foreign.
I have been on a total of five dating app dates, where I subscribed to the contrived process: organized a meeting time and place, put on a cute but calculated first date outfit, applied my favorite "good luck" lipstick and hoped for the best.
Standing on the 1 train, en route to my Bumble date, one cold February night, I asked myself: If my date was on this exact train and we just bumped into each other randomly, having never matched, would I find a connection? Instead, Alex and I had been messaging for a week prior, I had asked my serial dater friends for their favorite spots, planned a backup spot in case the first location was a bust and chose one of my planned date night outfits.
The date went really well, I thought. Three hours of stimulating conversation, delicious cocktails, casual flirtation, witty jokes, with the dimly lit Jack’s Wife Freda as our romantic backdrop, I would say all the controlled variables were put in place to achieve the necessary results. Yet somehow, something was missing. We parted ways at midnight, at the 4th Street subway with an awkward hug goodbye and a “let’s keep in touch.” I left wanting a second date to see if different controlled variables would provide better results. It quickly became apparent, that I was more invested in creating the perfect date than in the person on the date.
Instead of taking the subway back to my small dorm room that night, I went to PHD, the infamous rooftop club, where I knew my friends would be. I was tipsy from only having a little dinner and very strong cocktails. The beat of the music and electric lights on the dance floor made my frustrations about the date disappear. I came to dance, not to find a connection, but a connection is what I ended up finding. My friend’s boyfriend introduced me to his friend, Manuel, a Colombian surfer dude, and in that moment everything seemed to work. We introduced ourselves, we laughed, we chatted, we flirted, we danced, we kissed and sparks were very much flying.
I had not planned to go out after the date - but I did. I had not planned to meet anyone else but my Bumble date that night - but I did. I had hoped for sparks and got them from an unplanned encounter instead. What do I owe this to? My spontaneity or impulsivity? Alcohol induced confidence? No. This was serendipity.
The Colombian surfer dude connection was a short lived fling but it was a good lesson in letting chance take the wheel. When it comes to romantic connections, there is no perfect formula that can make it happen. You have to give up some control and let yourself be surprised. At least that’s what seems to work for me.
[Photo via Getty]