“You’re so lucky.”
I hear that a lot from the women in my life. Whether it’s aimed toward my marriage, my writing career, my house, my ability to be a stay-at-home mom, it’s a declaration I have trouble accepting.
My husband is funny and big-hearted, and the successful owner of a bagel bakery and five cafés. Though I am grateful to have found my match, when someone tells me that I’m lucky to have him, I don’t glow in recognition. Rather, I get defensive.
We found each other online, and after a few emails I decided that his sense of humor outweighed the dorkiness of the photo where he’s in Teva sandals and socks. At the end of our first date, he gave me a ride home in his work van that smelled like bagels and coffee, an attractive aroma for this native New Yorker.
I dated a lot before I met him, usually men who were really funny or really cute. Finally, at age 29, I grew up and realized there had to be more than these two traits to make a relationship work.
My defensiveness toward being called “lucky” could stem from the fact that I fought, for two years, to make sure our relationship progressed. We met as he was coming out of a five-year relationship and was terrified of getting involved again. We broke up after 10 months of dating because I could sense he wasn’t ready to hand over his heart again.
“Go figure your s— out,” I told him.
A month later, we were back together. Though he ventured forth with trepidation, he decided it was worth the risk. I told him it was okay to have doubts and fears about us working out, but the relationship wouldn’t work without progress. Because I knew that we loved each other, I accepted the fact that I would have to nudge him along. At a year and half, I gave him an ultimatum: Either we move in together or break up. At three years, it was marriage or we were done.
Even though we are now happily married, our relationship is not perfect. It’s hard for me to attribute the life we have built together, including our adorable 9-month-old daughter, to luck. At least completely.
When I spoke to Paige Carambio, a psychologist in Beverly, Mass., about my aversion to being branded lucky, she pointed out that it’s likely connected to human beings’ desire to feel as though we can control our circumstances. Luck, on the other hand, is uncontrollable and unpredictable.
Hearing that I’m lucky to have such a wonderful partner seems to disregard the hard work I put into sustaining and building my relationship. “If you’ve spent years learning how to communicate with your partner and navigating all the stressful issues that life throws at you, it’s going to be frustrating to hear someone distill all that down to having somehow won the husband lottery,” Carambio says.
“In our culture, we place a high value on internal traits such as a strong work ethic and self-determination, and it fosters a desire to be recognized for one’s hard work. Ascribing success to nothing more than a confluence of positive circumstances means that those internal factors and hard work might have been unnecessary or ineffectual,” Carambio adds.
Acknowledging that much of life is out of our control can be difficult to accept. Debra Rogers, author and relationship coach, believes that our love lives are a result of preparation (the work you do on yourself); opportunity (putting yourself out there and meeting people); and being at the right place at the right time. “But with anything, it’s never a good idea to leave your love life totally up to chance,” she adds.
There are a number of explanations for why people might attribute others’ success — in life or in love — to luck. Feeling like a victim of circumstance, Rogers says, can be comfortable and familiar. Rather than admitting they could do more to change their situation, they rely on the idea of simply being on the wrong side of good fortune.
Whether it’s aimed at your great job, beautiful home, or strong relationship, Carambio suggests that the next time someone comments on your luck “it might help curb the urge to roll your eyes to recognize that they are actually complimenting your hard work — they just haven’t realized it yet.”