One man, six dates. What does the Economist think?

A week ago, @LisettePylant’s account of a six-fold date made headlines in DC. Justin Schweiger had booked six dates in 20-30min slots on a single evening. Basically, he tried to speed date unilaterally, and without announcing that he was doing so. The women noticed rather quickly, got together without him and became friends. Ms. Pylant exposed the experience on twitter. It was later featured in other outlets including the Washington Post.

First of all, this is quite wonderfully hilarious. Guy thinks the world about his own efficiency (and attractiveness?) and finds himself outmaneuvered before you can say ‘think..’. I guess, in future, Justin will only be able to date people who are either masochists or don’t read (the media) and he may or may not enjoy that situation.

What was going on here?

  1. That gender ratio. Why was he able to do that – one man, six women. Aren’t the women too busy, including with other dates? Or does that reflect the actual gender ratio in DC? – Well, 1:6 is a bit strong, but single women do outnumber single men in most neighborhoods in DC, as Holly Thomas blogs here. This situation is still current, and typical for the metropolitan areas of the East Coast. (For an eloquent analysis of gender ratios in the modern American dating world, see Jon Birger.)
  2. The ladies cracked the code. Contrary to much coverage on the event, I fail to find Justin Schweiger especially shocking. Most thinking ladies over 18 have encountered creepy behavior in the dating world at some point; sadly, it’s hardly news. What is new is that this one got public coverage – and that the women outdid the effect in solidarity. That is, by the way, the code to crack in skewed gender ratios: solidarity. Standing together as women and refusing to compete on standards. The principle has been well-known to economists for a long time, it is the good old-fashioned….trade union. It outdoes unequal (power) ratios by bundling individual demands.
  3. What now? While spontaneous and elegant, the ladies’ get together and agreement were indeed a budding trade union, from an economics point of view. (Not that trade unions can’t be spontaneous and elegant.) I would much encourage to continue on that principle and draw up a charter of standards in dating that DC women are not willing to do without. The more women subscribe, the less the gender ratio will be felt. Being the only date during one evening could be one standard, for example; or the only one, at all, before things get cozy. The bar will be as high as you set it, and firmer if many agree on it.

How To Heal A Broken Heart? A 5-Step Program

“We broke up”. “It’s over.” “No more.” It can sound so easy. But the hard work sometimes begins right there. If you are done with listening to Sinead O’Connor and a good dose of mourning, and can suffer some humor again, and maybe a fresh outlook, then this article is for you.

What on earth would economists know about this, you may be asking. I must admit, a broken heart is not a topic I would have thought of by myself, but it is one that many friends bring to me these days. So I dug around in the treasure chest of empirical literature and found a few tissues helpful pointers. (Most of them come from Daniel Kahneman’s seminal article in the AER (2003)).

1 Gain perspective. It is not quite as bad as it seems. Human beings experience loss aversion. I.e. we feel a loss of a certain importance more strongly than we would feel a gain of equal importance. In plain English: your sadness without her is bigger than your happiness with her would have been. (Sounds about right?) This is how we humans work.

2 While an end with pain is better than pain without end, your perception may get this wrong. I know it’s hard to believe, but empirically, patients judge the pain of a procedure by the pain they feel at the end. A short procedure that ends with a sharp sting of pain is judged as worse than a much longer procedure with several stings of pain and two sharp stings in the middle. Look back critically: how much *pain* was there already in your time together, which your memory now tries to dismiss?

3 Good riddance indeed. You know, the opportunities you missed while dating your now lost love are likely a bigger loss than losing him now. It will not feel like it. But this is just another way our intuition plays tricks on us. Economists would coldly say ‘out of pocket expenditures are more painful than opportunity costs’. What it really means is that it hurts more to lose an actual mate than missing a good potential mate – even if objectively the latter is the bigger loss. Bottom line: rejoice; you are free to revive the opportunities you had missed in the meantime.

4 Replace the adrenaline and cortisol with endorphines. This advice is not from behavioral economists, but from doctors and experience. Adrenaline and cortisol are hormones caused by stress, such as fear or anger or sadness. Exercise can reduce their levels. Physical activity makes you less stressful. Difficult issues are easier to handle. What is more, exercise produces endorphines that create a sense of peace and pleasure. (Some people call this “runner’s high.”) To be precise, endurance sports are best for this effect: running, rowing, biking, aerobics, for example. For good balance, you may want to throw in something to wind down every other day, such as yoga or pilates.

5 Keep trying. Your past loss has no control over your future success. Meeting good people is a bit like waiting for a taxi, don’t you find? They pass by at rather random intervals. Sometimes you wait and none arrives, sometimes there are lots in parallel lines. The only thing you can predict is that the arrival and departure of one taxi is completely unrelated to the next. In nerdy terms, taxi arrivals follow a Poisson distribution. One arrival (or departure) is no predictor whatsoever of when (or how) the next one will arrive. I would venture that it’s quite similar with dates. Let go of your current pain; it has nothing to do with the next mate.

Love Advice from A Beautiful Mind – 5 Rational Dating Strategies

Rest In Peace, John Nash, hero of the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and of many an economics student’s a-ha experiences, who died end of last month. Nash received the economics Nobel Prize in 1994 for his findings in game theory. Game theory, which studies interaction and negotiation, is one of the best fields within economics to consult for dating. I thought, within the wealth of Nash’s publications, his paper on “Two-person Cooperative Games” sounded about right for our theme; and indeed it offers a wealth of lessons from both its assumptions and conclusions. While his assumption that people are rational gave me pause, it actually turns out very useful if you wish to err on the side of caution in your strategies.

But let’s begin. Here are 5 essential lessons from Nash’s work for daters.

  1. Make sure you can talk honestly with your date about everything of importance to you. If you want to cooperate at all, if you want to negotiate a good time together and maybe make some agreements, it is indispensable that the communication is open and honest. Otherwise, your agreements will be incomplete, or shaky, i.e. unreliable.
  2. It is important that you can make agreements that work for both. It almost goes without saying, but after all I hear and see happening to many friends that are dating, I am not sure we can take this one for granted. Nash himself felt he needed to point it out as a key assumption before modeling cooperative games. You need to be able to agree on something, so that both of you understand what is meant by the agreement, and understand it in the same way. You also need to able to comply with and fulfil any agreements made. Given that we are talking dating, these agreements can range from the light (like, agreeing on a time to meet to go to the cinema) to the serious (agreeing to go exclusive, or, eventually, marry…). The ability to fulfil agreements implies:
  3. None of you should have outside commitments that interfere with the relationship. Again, it should go without saying, but I am writing up some rational strategies here, based on a level-headed rational economist’s work. And from that perspective, anything can happen. Better check that your date does not come with baggage none of you is able to deal with. Neither should you. Incompatible outside commitments include, for example: being married, having another exclusive dating relationship, or having existing financial or time commitments that leave no money or no time worth mentioning for a new relationship.
  4. Don’t take altruism for granted. It is safer to assume that your counterpart will go as far as he/she can without losing you. Better assume this first and assess any degree of altruism well before agreeing to, like, go steady. (Hint: you want a lot of altruism, while being mindful that all that looks too good to be true probably is.)
  5. You may need an accountability framework. It is great if you can just blindly trust yourself and each other. But this is neither granted nor, possibly, as frequent as we’d like it to be. Nash suggests ‘something like an umpire’ to enforce agreements. Now, as this can prove complicated in dating, what about the following proxies: (i) a joint network of friends that knows or gets to know both of you well, and with whom you are willing to share where you stand dating wise; and (ii) for the younger or the more conservative among us: parents who are kept abreast of essential agreements. The accountability thing is naturally a small circle affair; I don’t advise publishing on facebook. It also should not be something that locks you into a relationship, but rather a trusted group that is in the know but otherwise neutral.

If this sounds too businesslike for love, ask yourself when you last held someone to these standards? If anything, your dating life deserves much more.

All this with the grain of salt that we are sometimes too irrational to apply the rationally obvious. But try and let me know how it goes!

 

Holidays without A Better Half? – A 5-Step Survival Plan

I am not quite sure I should be writing this. After all, I am *everything but* without a better half. I have the world’s hunkiest husband, who is currently playing with two adorable little wild beasts on the corridor.
But, boy, do I remember how it was without him. In fact, it is a recurring nightmare that I have: being unmarried and having to decide among a bunch of unpalatable ex-es. These are nightmares that feel quite real. During the dream I genuinely forget that I am married. It’s scary and lonely. And the options look between dour and unfeasible. A group of friends and family that stand around, bewildered and without understanding, does not help.  – And then I wake up next to The Man and feel like singing Handel’s Alleluia, multi-voice.

In other words: dears, I know what I am talking about. Been there. You are not alone. From the vantage point of someone in safe haven, but with a good view of the ups and downs of single-hood, here comes my survival plan for your holidays:

1 – Read the biography of a great single man or woman. (There are MANY. Composers, writers, poets, politicians, successful entrepreneurs – each century has had a few, of both genders.) Take a step back from the couple focus.
2 – Promote this idea to your family: not everyone needs to have a partner. You may use evidence from the biography you are reading. (You don’t have to believe this yourself, but the real bunch that you want to take a step back is your family.)
3 – Focus on yourself. Pamper yourself, become yourself – just better. Train the muscles you’d wish you had, or the skill you’d like to have. Schedule a makeover with a pro, or a friend whose taste you trust. Beautify your best side.
4 – Be the person that is missing from another person’s life. This need not be ‘somebody’s partner’, but another helping hand at the family dinner, or with your cousin’s little wild kids, the community activities of the season, or in the places that lack staff during the holidays but are bitterly needed: hospitals, soup kitchens, hospices, nursery homes, orphanages. You will never know how much you are appreciated till you try.
5 – Number three and four should keep you busy already. But if you have some downtime left: dream. Sit down with yourself and make your personal wish list for the next year. Stick to a maximum of three wishes total if possible. If that includes a partner, work on it and be specific: what are his/her five non-negotiable traits. Promise yourself you won’t accept a second date with someone that does not meet them. After all, dating is about spending one’s time wisely and economically for best results. That’s called optimization.

Happy Holidays!

Love from your Economist.

Germany: Flirt like Champions

3 Teutonic Techniques To Consider

The soccer championships were a joy to behold. Well, mostly. And most media outlets agreed that the right team won in the end, pointing out new and old reasons that might have made the German Mannschaft strong. The media’s love affair with Germany is not yet over; suddenly the country is supposed to be good at about anything. So what about dating?

A solid tradition of romanticism not withstanding, Germans aren’t exactly famous as lovers. One reason may be that they don’t really flirt. It may feel too light weight in a country where every puddle has depth. So this is what Germans do when approaching a relationship. (Caution, the claims of this entry are based on a selected sample of barely 30, including interviewed friends and personal anecdotes. My own passport confirms the qualification to comment, by the way.)

  1. Be an open book. As the Spiegel once eloquently analyzed, Germans signal interest by opening up about themselves, their experiences and views – the more personal the better. This can happen pretty fast, also in completely sober persons, and strike the uninitiated as emotionally incontinent. But Your Economist approves. It cleans up the information asymmetry early on and lets you know what you are in for.
  2. Expect mutuality, and forget double standards. If you want to date a German, you need to e.g. let go a little of the ‘man pursues, woman responds’ notion. German men will expect women to call or write about as regularly as they do, or otherwise assume there is no interest. Your Economist approves. Mutuality makes for a well negotiated pareto optimum.
  3. Prefer action over words. When the time is right to initiate the relationship, most cultures use some form of declaration, i.e. one side or both put their feelings into words. This is true for most Latin cultures, both of the Americas and even Scandinavia if you believe Knausgaard. But not Germany. Most Germans reveal their feelings as (subtle) actions first.  – From the Economist’s perspective, this is a double-edged sword. It is efficient, for sure. But actions can carry many meanings and thus be misunderstood, probably to a higher extent than language. The more transparent contract may be the one with words.

Bottom line, these three principles will help you score a few goals. But improvement is always possible.

Why the Rise of Women Means They Marry Later

Today The Economist discusses the conflicting views on marriage between younger and older Chinese generations. Younger women in particular appear to receive increasing pressure from their families to marry and marry young, while the women themselves would prefer to wait (and be choosier). The trend goes hand in hand with rising empowerment and better career prospects for women.

What’s happening? Three things are at play here (and were missed by The Economist.)

#1 Marriage is no longer an economic necessity for women. With women earning their own living, marriage becomes a nice-to-have, from formerly a must-have.  In this situation, not only is the urgency gone, but different factors govern women’s choices. This is the situation of the young women. While the older generation may still perceive a world of must-have marriages.

#2 Professional women have other things to do. As I pointed out here, many professional, attractive, intelligent women are single at a marry-able age, and those who marry, marry later than the population average. Science says they also have better things to do than the population average. If a date competes with work that is fulfilling, bodes success and a higher income – then the date better be at least as fulfilling, easy-to-present-to-others, and liquid. Of course work and relationships fulfill different needs – but they also compete for the same, scarce resource: time. Professional women have less time and higher demands for relationships, given their alternative options. Both together are likely to keep them single.

#3 In China in particular, women wait because they can. Already in the 1990s, scientists reported skewed sex ratios at birth in China. Now, the gap between the genders is a sizeable ‘gulf’.  In this situation, with more men competing for fewer women, the gentle gender determines the rule of the game. And that likely involves waiting for their best bet. On their terms.

Are You The Odd Woman (or Man) Out? – 5 Things to Get You Into The Game

Clara is a beautiful woman of 38 years, well above average in looks, intelligence and success. With her golden brown hair and small round nose she looks kind of seasonal now – a bit angelic. Still, she is without a partner and in her social circles, feels like the odd woman out. Basically all men her age are partnered and the very few, who are not, objectively do not meet Clara’s attractiveness on any scale.  It feels like a matching game has been played and she was left out.

If Clara looks around her workplace and friends she will see that there is indeed a surplus of single women in her age range. (She works in a prestigious NGO.) This of course puts her at a disadvantage: if she has to compete with women for fewer available men, she will have to trade below par, or, in plain terms, lower her expectations below what she could get in a more gender balanced environment.

Therefore recommendation number 1 for Clara:

  1. Meet more people. Widen your circle of friends: you can re-discover a forgotten hobby, learn a sport you always wanted to – or start any new activity you are interested in to meet new people who are likely to become friends. More precisely:
  2. Seek out activities where the opposite gender is numerous. So, as a woman check out sports, outdoors, computer related hobbies and about everything that involves speed: car racing, speed boats and space tourism. (Examples courtesy of my husband.) As a man, seek out literature, the arts, yoga, zumba, prancercise and philanthropy. For example. Biking and running groups should work for both genders. And if you are really serious about settling down in the near future:
  3. Mind your values. In addition to the activities that just widen your circle, make sure to include some that foster values that are dear to you. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples should have activities for singles. Causes like the environment, fair trade, mentoring of at risk youth can also help find and bond with kindred spirits.
  4. Focus on the essential. Arm yourself with a checklist of values and characteristics your partner would need to embody. I recommend between 3 and 8 – neither too few nor too many. You need to keep a mental note of these criteria with you at all times. People that don’t meet the list are out and have no claim on your (dating-) attention and time.
  5. Your dating objective first. If you are past 35 and unmatched, odds are that you gave generously of your time and attention to others, based on their need; maybe your family of origin, your work, or friends you felt needed you. These are all worthy claimants, but it’s time to re-focus on your own objectives. Your time and attention are first of all your own and you can employ them where you feel they best help you. (In other words: the earlier you learn to say No, the earlier you will say Yes to the right person.)

5 Steps to Call Love Into Your Life

Caitlin is a very attractive woman in her late thirties. The classical blonde, slim but with generous curves in the right places, and endowed with genes that will let her look 28 for a while still. She is as smart as she’s hot, with an Ivy League MBA, and working long hours. She has strong values and is beautiful on the inside too. The one thing she finds missing from her life is – a better half. She would like to marry, and she knows what kind of guy she is looking for. But not too many people are showing up, and she has not been happy with those who have. People who know her are puzzled that she, of all people, should still be single.

Caitlin is not a rare case among my acquaintances. I too am puzzled. But let’s take her case as an example and try to find avenues for love to enter her life.

  1. Work Less (and Better). Caitlin is single, without dependents to care for, and still her life is packed packed packed with barely a minute to spare. No. 1 reason: work. Caitlin works hours that are totally incompatible with a regular dating life let alone a family life. She needs to stick to the timetable in her contract, and make use of leave time, holidays, compensatory leave for long hours or weekends worked – whatever her employer’s rules allow. And she needs to study these rules and find out, and put her foot down if needed. Downtime is good for dating, and good for productivity at work. (The Economist says: she needs to reveal her true work-life trade-off preferences.)
  2. Use Your Work Hours Well. Of course the main focus of her work hours should be her tasks and professional goals. It may however be in the interest of her professional life to cultivate a network of peer experts for exchange and review, or to take group training, whether in leadership, a language, organizational skills or something else. These activities kill two birds with one stone; they promote professional development and foster personal encounters. Caitlin’s dream date may attend one of the trainings, or be a peer expert, but even if not, there may be a person who knows someone Caitlin should know.
  3. Meet Many Quality People. Twelve should suffice, but more doesn’t harm. In order not to waste her precious time, Caitlin should focus on social circles and activities that likely attract people with her core values. If she is an environmentalist – she should find the key environmental groups and events in town and attend them. If she practices a religion – she should attend their singles groups or affiliated dating agencies. ALL OF THEM. And then the non-affiliated (online) dating agencies, carefully ticking the boxes of what she needs in a guy. She must make clear that non-matches need not apply. If money is no issue, she should consider a professional matchmaker (the classical solution before the internet era). These people are trained and, depending on the agency, have access to a quality selection of singles the world over. There may be a location – love trade-off: if the best guy is in, like, London UK, she may need to move there.
  4. Tell The World. The previous two steps, and especially this one, are about cutting what Economists call ‘the information asymmetry’. Caitlin knows what she needs; the world – and especially Mr Right – do not. She can start by telling her friends (who tell their friends and so on). No worries about seeming desperate – talking about this shows confidence. If she has friends in the publishing industry, she may plot with them to find an excuse to portray her in a newspaper or newsletter or online community. Does she have a specific project she is leading, a volunteer activity or similar? Does she have an interesting story or experience to share? Have them narrate it, and portray her in the wake.
  5. Give Yourself Time And Space To Decide. Once the phone starts ringing and the invitations coming, Caitlin needs to make sure the dates are meaningful and help her decide. Dinner or coffee are good, picnic too. As are moderately strenuous sports from hiking to tennis: they all give you time to talk. Cinema and theater do not – although they give you a theme, and if followed up by a meal, might make sense. Meeting in public until she feels safe is a no-brainer. Group activities are important to see how the date behaves around others, but getting too close too soon, e.g. involving family or very close friends, may influence Caitlin unduly. She needs to decide. And how best to do that will be the feature of another column…

To call or not to call, that is the question.

onthephone

Imagine you had a pleasant date and hope to see that person again. Should you call? – Let’s look at it from the economist’s perspective.

A phone call is an effort, an investment with a risk attached like all investments: you might earn the reward of a delighted reaction and indeed, a repeat encounter. Or you might experience various degrees of failure: lack of interest, a cold reception, or worst, a clear signal of refusal. Weighing the reward against the risk, you may think that on balance it’s not worth it.

This is because we tend to over-value losses compared to wins. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed in a Nobel Prize winning study that people perceive loss of a certain object as hurting more strongly than the joy coming from winning that same object. The loss or gain is objectively the same, but the human psyche values it differently according to the original situation. Human beings have a tendency to stick to the status quo, and deviations, whether up or down, always have a cost. This discounts gains a bit, and adds to losses. In the context of weighing the risks and benefits of calling a date, this means that most people (if not all) tend to judge them somewhat too pessimistically on balance.

Therefore, our first recommendation: unless you are sure of a refusal, take the risk of calling. The pain of refusal is usually less than imagined. Here, being confident is usually more realistic.

Let’s look at what people actually do. Two large-scale surveys have asked women and men about their calling habits and any successes after dates the dating agency ‘Just Lunch’ asked 38,912 singles, and match.com surveyed 5,000 daters. Here is what they found. Women seem to line with Kahneman and friends: 49% of them never call or expect the man to call first. 20% call two days later, while 15% call the next day. On the other hand, dating men are more courageous: 45% of them say they call the next day, 32% call two days later, and 14% call three days later.

That’s 91% of men calling after a date, wow. Most dating men seem to have overcome the deceptions of loss aversion, congratulations. A small catch with these survey answers is that they leave out those who never or very rarely date. Those who actually have a date to ponder about are potentially a more courageous lot than the non-dating. Anyway, as a bottom line, the figure is quite encouraging.

What about follow-up dates after calling? With such a high calling rate of men, it doesn’t surprise that those who don’t call within 24h rarely arrange for a follow-up date: only 1 in 8.

Therefore, our second recommendation: as a woman, don’t waste too much hope on the chaps that don’t even text within the first 24h, or 48h max. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket and keep dating other people.

 

 

How long should you wait for sex?

Dear Economist,

how early in a relationship should you expect, or give in to, sex? I hear so many views on this topic that I am quite confused. Most guys want it as early as possible, and by the third date at the latest. Many dating gurus advise to wait – but not on how long. The only advice on timing comes from several world religions, which promote waiting until marriage. But how can this work in the modern world of dating? There seem to be no rules. – Now, do economists have a view on this?

Grateful for any light in this confusion, Yours, Katja

Dear Katja,

thanks for giving us an opportunity to answer this awesome question. We hear it a lot in conversation and counseling practice, but few people dare debate it online in a serious manner.

Yes – economists do have an opinion. A clear one, and empirically founded one. You should wait – for as long as you need a clear head to decide if the guy is the right one for you, and deserves your trust. (The question to you is then: what is ‘the right one’? If you are looking for someone to marry, then, yep, waiting until marriage is a good idea.)

Because after sex, the clear head will be gone and you will trust blindly. We owe this insight to a team of experimental economists at the University of Zurich. They tested the effect of oxytocin (the hormone women emit during orgasm, and also childbirth) on people’s judgment in an investment game. While the testees could still calculate well, they started to behave more trustingly and thereby opened themselves up to abuse.

Now, while it’s a good idea that mum and baby are bonded in blind trust, it may not be quite so useful in a dating relationship. Imagine you are high on oxytocin with someone that for some reason does not deserve your full trust. You risk being mucked about without even noticing.

You will say, great, but how can I ‘wait for sex’ in practice? My friends will think I’ve gone nuts.

First, your friends’ (or the majority’s) opinion should not come before your own wellbeing. Second, those who agree with the above (e.g. many world religions) have figured out all sorts of ways to delay sex until a time when it’s right. My favorite books on the matter haven been written by ladies who tested both worlds (waiting and not waiting)and then made their own conscious choice, Dawn Eden and  Wendy Shalit. You can save yourself your own trial-and-error by just reading about theirs.

Hope this works for you! Do check back in.

Best wishes,

Dr de Bergerac