“A Scrabble board led to a lifelong commitment”

Author Janice Kaplan asks: How much luck do you need to be lucky in love?

“A Scrabble board led to a lifelong commitment”

If you get your ideas of romance from novels or Hollywood movies, you might be surprised by the non-steamy start of my love story. My boyfriend, Ron, and I were crossing a street many years ago when he nonchalantly asked, “What do you say maybe we get married?” I was 25 and knew I loved him. But was he the love of my life? What about all the other men in the world I hadn’t met yet? Ron seemed casual about the whole thing, so I was, too. I suggested we get married but only commit to two years. If we liked it, we could renew.

A couple of months later, while working on a book in upstate New York, I badly sprained my ankle on a run. I had intentionally isolated myself in a cabin to write, and Ron was two hours away. It didn’t matter—he immediately drove up with ice packs, a Scrabble board and a promise to stay with me until I could walk again. That Scrabble board eventually led to a home, a dog and two terrific sons.

“You’ve been so lucky in love,” a single friend recently told me. I nodded, but wondered about that luck. Was it random chance that of the 7 billion people in the world I had stumbled on the perfect guy, my soul mate, all those years ago?

I talked about this with the psychologist Barry Schwartz, a professor at Swarthmore College famous for his research on the paradox of choice. “A lucky relationship is created, not discovered,” he told me. “You always hear people say, ‘Oh, they’re so lucky they found each other.’ But no. Really they found each other and turned it into something others wanted.” It clicked with me: In love, you make your own luck—if Ron and I had been serious about the renewal concept, we’d have moved on the first time we argued about his crazy work schedule.

Duke University psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely told me that to be lucky in love, you need to replace the fear of settling with the idea of investing. “A relationship gets better when you invest in it,” Ariely said. “The commitment creates new opportunities.” So, if you put time, effort and trust into a person, you’ll receive huge dividends. It’s hard to look at your relationships like items on the stock exchange, but he has a point.

For years, I commuted by train to my job as a television producer. One winter’s morning, it started snowing, and by the time I got back to the train station that night, several inches had fallen. My heart sank as I thought of trudging through it and digging my car out. But when I got to my spot, someone had shoveled a path and brushed my car clean. My heart soared.

“You’re such a romantic,” I told Ron when I arrived home. Even though he didn’t make candlelit dinners or drop to one knee to propose, he’d been thoughtful enough to go out of his way and provide exactly what I needed. In almost three decades of marriage, I have found that you don’t have to be a billionaire or a Victoria’s Secret model to get lucky in love. A snow brush and a Scrabble board can be the best luck-makers around.

Janice Kaplan’s book How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love and Life is out now.