Economics and the Vicious Dating Scene

Diminishing Returns: Once things start going downhill, bail.

Increasing Returns: It can only get better.

General Human Capital: Date lots of people to build up your dating ability. Then you’ll be high ability when the right one comes along.

Specific Human Capital: Don’t bother dating anyone you aren’t likely to marry; wait for the right one.

Fixed Costs: You may know she’s not the one in fifteen minutes, but you’re stuck together for the rest of the date. Plan short, cheap, first dates.

Expected Utility: He’s probably a loser, but he could be a real gem, so stick around to make sure.

Risk aversion: Bad dates are worse than good dates are good.

Arbitrage: If he was really as cool as he appeared, he’d already be married.

Positive Externalities: It is a benefit to the girls for you to take them out because it makes them feel good about themselves. Conversely, accepting date offers from loser guys is taking one for the team, societally speaking.

Negative Externalities: Unless you’re a jerk, in which case maybe you should go ahead and not date much.

Monopoly Power: Guys in singles wards.

Substitutes: Roommates.

Complementarities: Your best friend’s girlfriend…

Search Models: The more you date, the higher your probability of finding the golden egg. Also, searching is costly, so you might want to settle for the mostly golden egg.

Threat Point: How much power you have in the relationship depends on your best outside option.

Hysteresis: Just because you dumped her does not mean she will be willing to take you back.

Prospect Theory: No dating success can compensate you for the crushing possibility of a loss. Become a bubble boy.

Hyperbolic discounting: Who cares? Live in the now.

13 comments for “Economics and the Vicious Dating Scene

  1. Eugene V. Debs
    April 24, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    The Leftitst Critique of Capitalism and the Vicious Dating Scene

    The Protestant Ethic: I have to date as many people as I can so that I will know God loves me

    The Iron Cage: What do you mean when you say the dating scene isn’t any fun?

    Pecuniary Emulation: Going on expensive dates because all of your friends do.

    Exploitation: Attractive people–either sex–dating many people who may be useful to them in some way, e.g. free tutoring, cleaning services, etc.

    Reserve Army of the Unemployed: Unattached people who rarely date and are free practically any night.

    Surplus Value: Work put into the date beyond that necessary for gaining a subsequent date.

  2. substitute husband
    April 24, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    My marriage is a direct result of my wife’s solid and proven ability to exercise consumer theory to her advantage. Realizing she was dealing with two imperfect substitutes (my roomate and I), she traded us off each other until the most advantageous product emerged: me (I think…).

    (*Note: the roomate and I remain good friends to this day).

  3. April 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    I was glad to see “pecuniary emulation” get in there somewhere. I’ll never forget reading that Veblen essay.

    I’m a bit surprised not to see any dating definition for “opportunity cost” or even better “the invisible hand” …

  4. Bill MacKinnon
    April 24, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    The Deal Maker’s Approach:
    **Due Diligence — Running your trap lines appropriately.
    **Fairness Opinion — Seeking your best friend’s advice.
    **Cold Comfort Letter — Enigmatic postcards from the beach.
    **Shelf Registration and Offering — A prolonged engagement.
    **Synergy — Self-rationalizations about great compatability with complementary strengths and weaknesses.
    **Merger of Equals — Chrysler-like optimism to facilitate consummation of the combination.
    **Red Herring Prospectus — Drafts of the engagement announcement.
    **Road Show — Civil ceremony followed by a trip to the temple or vice versa, depending upon the geography.
    **The Closing — For Time and Eternity.
    **Law of Unintended Consequences — Surprises can happen with the best of deals.

  5. April 25, 2007 at 1:58 am

    Opportunity cost- Accepting a sub-par date, thus making you unavailable in case the person whom you really want to ask you out asks you out.
    The invisible hand- It’s guiding the dating market, bringing people together who otherwise would not have met. (Such as a chance encounter in the supermarket produce aisle.)

  6. endlessnegotiation
    April 25, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Frank’s prospect theory is backward. It should say something to the effect of, “Accepting the date with the plain Jane/John rather than holding out for a shot at the ideal.” Prospect theory explains the old addage that a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush.

  7. Frank McIntyre
    April 25, 2007 at 12:57 pm


    Prospect theory would also imply what you wrote, but I think my example works too. Prospect theory, at least when used in economics, is about asymmetry around a reference point. If I see myself as having a certain standing, which I lose when I get burned on a date, prospect theory suggests I overweight my current standing vs. what I could get from the date and so become a bubble boy.


    Labor Theory of Value: Outings are valued by how long they are, not how enjoyable.

  8. endlessnegotiation
    April 25, 2007 at 5:08 pm


    It’s my understanding of prospect theory that on the loss side of the matrix (the -/- quadrant) people become less risk averse (and irrationally so. If someone is a loser already and going out on a date offers the possiblity that he/she will be perceived as less of a loser then they will ususlly choose to go on the date. On the upside people are more willing to settle irrationally for the safe play while on the downside people tend to take irrational risks. Then there are the smart daters like myself that hedge their positions by always maintaining two or more girlfriends (or at least I attempted to do that). I always had the safe play– pretty and smart enough to keep me interested and, most importantly, more interested in me than I was in her– combined with the longshots– much better looking than I deserved and smarter than me too and as a result gals with options. When it came to plans for Friday and Saturday nights (the primo spots) I’d always ask a longshot first knowing that I could always fall back to the safe play and therefore increase my odds of always having a date on those two nights. Fortunately, one of my longshots decided that my expected utility was sufficient to accept a marriage proposal– a proposal I made only after getting an ultimatum from my safe play regarding her own desires for marriage.

  9. queuno
    April 25, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    At one point, I only dated girls with cars, since I didn’t have one.

  10. Bill MacKinnon
    April 25, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Queuno, is that a matter of economic theory or atonement?

  11. April 27, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I only got as far as the first one on this list. Then I bailed.

  12. ET
    April 27, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Frank, I couldn\’t help think about the bar scene from the film adaptation of A Beautiful Mind when I read this post.

    First, two possible additions. The intent here is subtle commentary and evaluation, not crass humor.

    * Adverse Selection: Co-habitation. Fornication. Brigham Young’s fabeled societal menaces.

    * Moral Hazard: Divorce. (Or at least its root causes.)

    Second, an empirical question: Is fear of commitment positively correlated with ones’ number of micro-economics credits? (See Frank, R. H. (2004). “Does studying economics inhibit cooperation?” In What price the moral high ground? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.)

  13. Soren
    May 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Planned economy: having the singles\’ ward bishop\’s wife match everyone up.

Comments are closed.