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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Editorials > June 2009

Heed Your Intuition in Dating, But Carefully

by James Houran, Ph.D.

The only real valuable thing is intuition.
—Albert Einstein

Intuition comes very close to clairvoyance; it appears to be the extrasensory perception of reality.
—Alexis Carrel

(June 2009) It might seem surprising that the analytical and rational mind of Albert Einstein would believe in something as ephemeral and intangible as intuitions, but there are many examples of intuition apparently playing a role in key discoveries in science and industry -- such as Einstein formulating the theory of relativity while sitting in a patent office (6).  Intuitive ability and its potential applications have been further popularized and legitimized in the popular press with publications like Malcolm Gladwell’s9 bestseller, Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking.


In dating and in the early stages of relationships, acting in the “blink” of any eye is not uncommon. Our brains function differently by focusing intently on the object of our affection, and the old saying about love being blind does come true to a large extent. Individuals may act purely on “gut feeling” or an intuition about a romantic prospect. In matters of the heart it’s best to use your head, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore what your gut tells you. In fact, intuition is a great complement to rational, analytical thinking. Used judiciously, it can help you find a great relationship and nurture it.

How does intuition do all of this?  Well, intuition is a confluence of affect, imagery, ideation and perception.  For example, some researchers (14) note that decision-making processes are partially driven by emotion, imagination and memories all collectively crystallized into occasional insights. Other experts7 have presented a multidimensional model to decision-making encompassing bounded rationality, heuristics, insight and intuition. Moreover, most researchers acknowledge that

1) intuitive events originate beyond consciousness,

2) information is processed holistically and

3) intuitive perceptions are frequently accompanied by emotion (17,19). 

Therefore, intuition is defined as a non-sequential information processing mode, which comprises both cognitive and affective elements and results in direct knowing without any use of conscious reasoning (8,17-19).

This definition does not explicitly identify the source of the cognitive and affective contents of intuitions, and indeed there are two competing views on this issue19. One view defines intuition as an experience-based phenomenon that draws on tacit knowledge accumulated through experience and retrieved through pattern recognition (3,4,11,12,18).  The second view is that these experiences follow from a more spontaneous, natural psychophysiological ability that rely heavily on sensory and affective elements in the intuitive process (2,8,15,16). Other researchers (19) have proposed a general model that incorporates both mechanisms simultaneously. In other words, the most vivid and accurate intuitions arise in people who have a strong, inherent predisposition as well as a large pool of real-life experiences, knowledge and even training to draw upon. Therefore, definitely listen to your intuitions in dating and relationships, but don’t automatically act upon them!  Allow them to act as warning signs or red flags, and then explore the accuracy of the intuitions with rational, analytical thought and behavior.

There’s also a trick to know when to give the most credence to an intuition, as they tend to happen at predictable times. In particular, intuitive thinking often occurs in situations of significant ambiguity or uncertainty (5,11) — such as situations where problems are poorly structured (3) or involve non-routine decisions (18), where problems do not have existing precedents(15) or when an individual is faced with conflicting facts or inadequate information1. Other contributing factors include motivational issues like the perceived importance of the decision (10) and its potential impact on the decision-maker (13). These situtational and motivational factors characterize well the circumstances a person usually encounters during dating, as well as in the throes of hot and heated established relationships. I recommend paying close attention to your intuitions if you’re facing scenarios such as:

  • A situation that requires a breakthrough solution.
  • A situation that can’t be made by applying a formula, policy or rule.
  • A situation that is dominated by human interpretation rather than facts and figures.
  • A situation where the facts or circumstances are likely to change while the decision is being made.
  • A situation defined by variables that impact each other in unclear ways.
  • A situation that needs to be addressed quickly and decisively.

All of this said, it’s not a good rule-of-thumb to rush important decisions -- acting on the first thing that comes to mind can be a terrible mistake. People, in fact, often regret snap judgments that they make. Therefore, it’s a better approach to listen carefully to the warnings or encouragements that intuitions provide just as Alexis Carrel insinuates in the introductory quote at the beginning of this piece, but then one should contemplate a response or plan before taking any course of action. In other words, the idea is to heed your intuitions but use them only as one part of a broader approach to evaluating information and situations and then making decisions based on the circumstances.


1 Agor, W. H. (1984). Intuitive management: integrating left and right brain management skills. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press.

2 Bastick, T. (1982). Intuition: how we think and act. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.

3 Behling, O., & Eckel, N. L. (1991). Making sense out of intuition. Academy of Management Executive, 5, 46-54.

4 Brockman, E. N., & Anthony, W. P. (1998). The influence of tacit knowledge and collective mind on strategic planning. Journal of Managerial Issues, 10, 204-219.

5 Burke, L. A., & Miller, M. K. (1999). Taking the mystery out of intuitive decision making. Academy of Management Executive, 13, 91-99.

6 Conley, D. (2008). The social limits of scientific knowledge in an age of easy information. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(15), B4.

7 Eisenhardt, K. M., & Zbaracki, M. J. (1992). Strategic decision making. Strategic Management Journal, 13, 17-37

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