Back in college, my friends and I were getting tired of dating guys who just weren’t right for us. More specifically, we were tired of spending months, or even years, with boyfriends who were completely wrong in just about every way. We were smart young women who knew what we wanted out of our relationships; the men we chose, though, were always obviously and painfully wrong. We reasoned that we could certainly figure this out more quickly if we were honest with ourselves, and each other, about our dates.
Vows to be honest and look critically at our dates were all well and good, but we knew we’d need help holding ourselves accountable. And so we developed The Form: a series of questions designed to identify qualities we were looking for in our boyfriends which we promised to answer – and share – before we got serious with anyone. The sharing was critical, the idea being that if any of us tried to lie to ourselves about what a guy was really like, or what we were willing to tolerate, the rest of the group would be ready to step in with some strongly worded advice.
I was reminded of The Form as I read William Nicolson’s The Romantic Economist: A Story of Love and Market Forces (Atria, January). In the book, Nicolson, a young British student of economics, decides to apply economic principals to his floundering love life. Having been dumped again for perhaps being too eager, too emotionally available, Nicolson is convinced that principals such as supply and demand, or game theory, can turn him into a more date-able man.
The clear-cut rational world of economics, I thought, must surely be the perfect coolant for my overheated emotions. No longer was I to be the hapless romantic, desperately in search of love, wandering aimlessly from one girl to the next, lost in the mysterious world of women. I was to become an investor in the market for relationships, and use the rational, inclusive tools of economics to get me a whopping return.
The book is not exactly a formula for success in relationships, but it is a rather sweet story of a man who tries to make sense of his dating life, and what he learns along the way. While you may not come away from the book with the desire to apply these same economic principles to your own dating life, it will surely get you thinking about how you approach relationships, and how you might change that approach in the future.
What Nicolson has in common with myself and my friends is a desire to apply some kind of logic or rules to what is essentially an unknowable and chaotic process. How do you find just the right person for you, and make sure that when you do he or she will want you in return? We all wanted to know, and we are not alone.
Last month, Wired Magazine published a story about math genius Chris McKinlay who hacked into OkCupid after nine months on the dating website and only six first dates, in order to develop a profile that would be a better match for the women he actually wanted to go out with. It’s important to note that while McKinley’s hacking certainly broke some of OkCupid’s rules (the bots he used to gather his data were at one point shut down by site), he was not actually presenting any false information about himself in order to attract women. Instead, he used data gathered by his computer scripts to determine which of OkCupid’s many questions he should answer in order to appeal to certain groups of women; once he identified these questions, he did answer them honestly.
All of these approaches—questions to answer about anyone you date, economic theories to guide your dating behaviors, or computer programs that provide optimal matchmaking from online dating sites—speak to the same need to bring a level of rationality to what is a largely emotional process. It’s not a terrible idea. While it won’t guarantee that you find your soul mate (McKinlay’s story ends with a marriage proposal, Nicolson’s with some valuable lessons learned), thinking rationally about what you want out of relationships, how you approach dating, and how to present yourself to potential matches will ultimately help you to know yourself. And that will make you a better partner to anyone you do end up dating.
Love: D Sharon Pruitt, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/
Couple kissing: Yansen Sugiarto, http://www.flickr.com/photos/yansensugiarto_street/