Just over a month before Jocelyn Woods and Mia Garcia met, they sat down independently and listed the qualities that each was seeking in a partner.
“From how they cooked to the interactions they would have with their family, I was extremely specific,” said Woods, a 23-year-old director who lives in Los Angeles. Later, the pair would meet at a friend’s birthday party, feel “immediately like best friends” (according to Garcia, a 21-year-old musician who also lives in Los Angeles) and then, four weeks into dating, show each other these pages.
Had they somehow manifested their relationship?
Manifestation is a form of intention setting that involves focusing one’s thoughts on a desired outcome until it happens. It’s a line of psychological thought that was popularized by books including the 2006 bestseller “The Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne, but has been practiced in various forms throughout history.
In recent years, manifestation has been creeping into social media feeds along with other practices associated with new-age spirituality. Love manifestation rituals garner millions of views on YouTube, and the hashtag “manifestation” has more than 14 billion views on TikTok.
These videos, which cover desires such as bringing your ex-partner back into your life and being seen as “more attractive,” seem to address every hyper-specific (and sometimes misguided or slightly vain) human impulse. Last year, in a TikTok video, a certified life coach named Amanda Clayton claimed that one could manifest a partner’s obsessive interest by repeating a phrase starting with: “No matter what he is doing, no matter who he is with, he is always thinking about me.” The audio has been used in more than 190,000 videos.
Some studies have found that manifestation rituals can have the opposite effect. “In our findings, the more positively people fantasized about getting together with a crush, the less likely that they actually enter a romantic relationship with this person a month later,” said Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.” This, Oettingen said, can be combated by complementing positive fantasies with a “healthy dose of reality.”
There are many ways to manifest, including by writing down specific desires as Woods and Garcia did. But Porsche Little, a spiritual worker who lives in Los Angeles, warns people against trying to manifest an individual person. Instead, she said, it is better to consider the general qualities desired in a person.
“My thing is, you can’t tell the universe you want a loving, rich, 6-foot-5 man by July if you’re still checking your ex’s likes,” Little said. “You can make space for life by ridding yourself of old behavioral patterns, negative mindsets and bad relationships, and when you start to declutter the path, it sets the intentions that you’re ready for the opposite of everything I just listed. That alone is a manifestation.”
While manifestation is based on the belief that the words you use and the thoughts you visualize hold power, Little said true results are based intentions and actions. “What the universe has written for us goes beyond our humanistic desires, and I tell my clients to ask themselves questions like ‘If I were to get this love, what would I do with it?’ ” she said. “As I become more experienced with manifesting, it’s important for me to realize that when it comes to love, I can only manifest a lover that mirrors how I feel about myself.”
Gabrielle Richardson, a 26-year-old model, had a reading last year in which Little told her that a new lover, an “air sign man” (someone whose star sign is Gemini, Libra or Aquarius) was on his way. Richardson is now in a long-distance relationship with a Libra and believes manifestation played a role.
“After the reading, I spent a lot of time meditating and calling in full love, saying things like ‘you’re deserving of love’ and ‘you’re deserving of someone who thinks you’re the best person,’” Richardson said.
She added that she naturally has good luck, which makes her manifestation an easy practice to incorporate into her daily life. “I feel like I’ll say, ‘I want to date a person like this’ and have a crush, then no matter where they are in the world, they’ll somehow appear in my life,” Richardson said.
Gabby Bernstein, an author with a forthcoming book called “Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace,” believes anyone can partake in manifestation, but one first has to believe that they are worthy of manifesting what they want.
With that in mind, manifesting love is as much about working on your inner love for yourself as it is about finding another person. Bernstein said attempting to control the outcome of your dating life is one way you can block your manifestations. “I would just set the intention to attract within the highest good for all, rather than becoming set on it being a certain way, or a certain person at a certain time,” she said.
Bernstein believes that she manifested her husband by writing a list of the nonnegotiable qualities she sought in a partner. This clarity, she said, was an important part of her process. “The first step to manifesting love is getting yourself into the feeling of romantic energy, even without being in a relationship yet,” Bernstein said. “That means doing things that inspire you and being with friends that make you feel good about yourself. If you like cooking, take a cooking class and do the things alone that you’d also want to do with a partner.”
Monica Johnson, a psychologist and the founder of Kind Mind Psychology, said using the word “manifestation” to describe this shift in thinking might give it a more magical quality, but it can also be described as practicing cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness. “Labeling these strategies as manifestation is problematic because it removes the safety and security of the science that supports these techniques,” she said. “Science also understands its limitations and makes those things known.”
This, Johnson said, includes grieving a relationship that has ended rather than attempting to manifest it into existence again. “Why would you even want someone who didn’t enthusiastically consent to the relationship?” she said.
Despite what manifestation TikTok might have you believe, the way to manifest love is also the healthiest way to date generally — being honest about what you want while also being open to love arriving in unexpected forms and on no set timeline.
Little summarized the premise of manifestation in dating: that love is possible and we all deserve it. “We can all be realistic in love without thinking too small,” she said. “We are told that trying to fit a square into a circle is impossible, but what if the circle is big enough?”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.