Do you know why you trust whom you trust?

Why do we trust whom we trust? Why do we refuse to trust sometimes? Experience (with the persons in questions) is a big part of it, but not always. And what does this mean for our relationships?

One source of trust is us belonging to a group (or tribe, or nation). Some inter-disciplinary researchers have established that we tend to be altruistic within these groups, and less so between the groups. This is called ‘parochial’. On average, we tend to make choices of benefit to our group (even when conflicting with the choice that benefits all groups), out of a sense of duty. People perceive that they got something from their nation or group, so have a duty to give back.

There are some benefits of organizing our trust in this way. It is more ‘efficient’ in the short term; agreements are easier to enforce in a group with limited membership.

But when you are looking for your significant other, parochialism isn’t the smartest thing. It segments the world. Selecting your best possible mate just within your segment won’t likely find you the best possible mate in the world.

5 Things That Keep You Faithful

It’s wonderful to marry. It’s wonderful to be married. And in many cases it’s wonderful to stay married for life. There are the obvious exceptions when relationships become unbearable at least for one party. But there are also the break-ups that needn’t be. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I see many broken up marriages that could have been great. No abuse anywhere, two intelligent and loving people with great hope…but often – unfaithfulness creeping in out of nowhere.

Sometimes I see the first symptoms; partners not wearing their wedding band and giving a pretend-unmarried face to the world and their colleagues. When in reality they are very married. Or people sending mixed signals: no wedding band, but frequent mention of their partner. Unless the person is affiliated to a culture that doesn’t know the ring as a symbol – I don’t trust the wedding-band shirkers, also in matters unrelated to marriage.

So today’s column is about staying faithful. More precisely, about how to resist the temptation to the contrary. Our recommendations are inspired by recent research from a team of international sociologists, and actually apply to various areas of life:

  1. You can successfully say ‘No’ to temptation most of the time. Among common daily temptations (not necessarily for relationships, but for example for ice cream, internet surfing etc), people fail to resist only 17% of the time.
  2. But beware: self-control tires out. Resistance is a depleting reservoir. Failure occurs after many successful attempts to fend off temptation.  The main recommendation coming out of this is the next point:
  3. The best strategy to resist temptations is to avoid them altogether. In this way, you do not have to use your weakening resistance muscle, and can keep it ready for the unavoidable temptation. Faithful people work mainly by avoiding temptation, not by fighting it.
  4. Alcohol not only weakens resistance but actually makes temptation stronger. Stay away from alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. Also,…
  5. Stay away from people who yield to the temptations you want to avoid. Watching others succumb to a temptation makes you more likely to do the same. I guess, in the case of infidelity, which always involves two, this argument is even stronger: if you are around people who are ready to be unfaithful, it is more likely to happen to you.  – So, switch workplace, sports club or other circles if they have a high density of cheaters.

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…

Can you have a career and a happy family?

Today, dear readers, you get a reflective one. Not much evidence except anecdotal, but lots of reflection to make up for it.

Honest, do you know a hugely successful person that also has a home life you would want to emulate?

I used to have such role models in the past (e.g. an MD with four kids), but as I move up the ranks myself, MDs become less of a role model, and CEOs more so. Also, upon closer inspection, those four kids were not all as well adjusted as their mum. And as far as managers go…I seem to be seeing more childless, single and divorced people than at other hierarchy levels. Or people with a lifelong distance relationship; one CEO sees her partner once a month and considers that a relationship. Another variant is living together ‘for the kids’ but dropping the wedding band and normal marital interactions between the spouses; until the kids are grown and a divorce is less painful.

What is this? Does a parents’ high powered career zap the life out of couple communication? Does a job encroach so much upon spare time that people end up married to their job? Or is my perception not representative?

And what about the children’s growth path? Again, if you look at the anecdotes, successful parents often raise less successful kids. Warren Buffett’s daughter runs a (daddy-financed?) philanthropy, and his son is a farmer. Not that there’s anything wrong with farming. And Paris Hilton…well. The Clintons and maybe Mitt Romney seem to be an exception. Bill Gates’ kids are too young to tell.

Readers, this is one for you. Please share your observations via the comment function.

Good Things Happen to People Who…Wait

Victoria is a beautiful and educated young woman from a well-to-do family.  She is also not too easy to please. She loves good manners and protocol and has a well-developed appreciation for gentlemanlikeness. Including for men to make the first move and to invite the ladies; not the other way round. She has had several admirers. And turned them down time and again. While she turned 20…25…30…she dismissed men she found not good enough. She plainly refused to think about any ticking clock, going against the current in her peer group. And then she met John. He passed the bar and she had in fact met her soulmate. But that is another story.

Victoria waited. She was happy to wait and happy in her wait. She met her girlfriends regularly, she had a bookclub and went to a sports club. She also loved organizing charity events and mingled in her university’s alumni club. Her time was well and happily filled and there was probably too much buzz to hear any clock ticking. She also switched careers and became a ‘mature student’ again at age 28, getting her MD at 32. (She married John one year later, by the way.)

When people wait comfortably for a partner, the match will be better and more sustainable. This common sense insight has some solid economic theory to back it up. Dale Mortensen in ‘Partner for Life’ reviews the labor market literature that is applicable not only to employer-employee but also husband-wife partnerships. And finds that people who find a way to sweeten the wait end up better matched. (And the unemployed who receive an unemployment benefit end up in a better matched job. But that is another story.)

 

 

Are you ‘well matched’ with your partner? 5 Shades of Love

What is a good match? Which couples are ‘meant for each other’? I would assume that most people agree that a good match is one where the partners love each other. Very much.

But how can we get at the ‘love’ concept? With economics, of all sciences?

Lo and behold, one extra daring economist has tried to capture ‘love’ in economic terms. Some of you may have guessed: Gary Becker. Inspired by his writings, here are 5 aspects of love that economists understand.

Love is…

  1. Caring about the partner. This is best measured as altruism, a concept that economists are, on average, fairly familiar with. In economic terms, it means, my happiness (“utility”) improves, if my partner’s happiness improves.
  2. Trust. If you two really care for each other, you don’t have to watch your back that much. Your partner already will.
  3. Sharing and generosity. If your partner is happy about you being happy, it doesn’t matter so much if he eats the last piece of cake or if you do. He’ll be (nearly) equally happy.
  4. Enjoying things more if consumed together. If you really care for each other, you enjoy a joint dinner more than if each person eats in her own time. Dinner has altogether a new quality; it becomes hard to accept a separate dinner as a valid meal. The same is true for other items, travel, parties, reading a book, even trying out new fashion.
  5. Enjoying the same things. Because of 4, it also makes sense if you like the same things. The same books, countries, dinners and dinner times, places…

If you can capture love in economic terms, it also means you can measure it.

If you want to know how well you are matched, here are questions you should ask: 1) Is your partner happy, if you are happy? 2) Can you trust him; does he look out for your advantage as much as his? 3) How does he share whatever is scarce – time, cake, money? 4) How much more do you enjoy dinner when you are together rather than dinner alone?

And, finally 5) How long does it take to agree on the theatre play you are going to watch, or the kind of picture you are going to hang?

The answer to these will be telling…

Why Women Should Propose

Laura and her boyfriend Ed had dated for 6 years and lived together for five. They led a joyful, loving and successful life together as entrepreneurs in a European metropole. Their personalities completed each other: he, an introvert, polite, soft-spoken, laid back and the modern version of the humble scientist; she, an extrovert, passionate planner and organizer, presenter and confessing to an exhibitionist touch both professionally and privately. They indulged in the different hobbies they both brought to the relationship (he: avant-garde art, she: wedding fairs and books). They had jointly travelled half the globe, had a network of hundreds of common friends and intended to keep leading this life forever. The only thing missing: Ed just.did.not.propose. When Laura’s mother-in-law asked her about wedding plans, she owned up about the missing proposal. Ed’s mum then encouraged her to propose herself, as she thought would be fitting for an emancipated young woman. Laura plotted and planned and delivered a very romantic proposal to Ed. She proposed in a hot air balloon in the French countryside. Ed said yes. And for the protocol, he counter proposed not much later, in a helicopter. They have been married for 9 years now.

This may be the most radical post to date. Why should it matter who proposes? Other than for tradition, say. Well, tradition goes further than what we usually assume; it’s where the power sits. And if it is about proposing in a relationship, the first mover wins. He or she sets the agenda more than the one who reacts.

As reviewed by Nobel Prize Winner Dale Mortensen in 1988, an algorithm devised by Gale and Shapley in 1962 can be used to match employers and employees or husbands and wives. A series of matching outcomes is stable if no paired person has the desire to rather be single. However, in a given matching outcome some people can be better of than others. E.g. a matched person would not prefer to be single but rather be paired with someone else. While several people are happy with whom they are paired with. And it can be shown that the outcome is actually most favorable for those individuals who proposed the match first. They have more options to choose from than the ones who react and only can choose between different proposals.

So ladies, if you want to take charge of your relationship happiness, make a move. First.

 

Lucky 13

Dear Readers

Happy New Year 2013! Dr de Bergerac’s new year resolution is to blog weekly now. Every Friday you will find a new comment or article or letter informed  by LoveOnomics. You are also welcome to contribute – all sensible comments will be posted, and the most qualified commentators will be invited as guest bloggers. Howzat.

Let’s start by keeping the resolution today and offer some insights on a slippery topic: doubts before marriage.  The Washington Post shows how current the topic is.  What do Economists think?

Doubts clearly express incomplete information: uncertainty about the success prospects of the marriage, as one cannot look into the future. Note that I said incomplete information, not insufficient. Information will always be incomplete; the question is whether it is sufficient. As a matter of fact, it has been shown statistically that most people acquire sufficient information about both the date and the dating market after dating 12 people. If Mr or Ms Doubtful is number 13, and tops the other 12 under any perspective, then he or she is very likely Mr Right.

If not, you need to keep searching. Or rather – pick the One out of the line-up of 13 that tops the list.

Best of luck for this lucky year, and keep in touch!

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.