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The Economics of Dating

Just in time for Valentine’s day, I am writing this article title the Economics of Dating. It doesn’t matter whether you currently are in love and are dating, married, whether it’s complicated or you are forever alone. This article is about what economics as a science, can teach us about valuing others, ourselves and the value of our time and commitment. I will outline the first five “rules” of the economics of love in this article, which I have dubbed the economics of dating, because that is its main focus. In the second article, I will explain the last five rules: The Economics of Love. These rules focus much more on what happens when you have “found” your person, and what economics can teach us about being together. Let’s get into dating!

1. Demand and Supply A fundament of economics: demand and supply. What is being offered, and what is being desired? And ultimately: how well do they match? If you are looking for a sultry, dark haired, dark skinned, highly educated, fresh out of university human being (I don’t assume gender nor sexual orientation), being in the North of Scandinavia without a University in sight might make things slightly difficult. Know what pool you are in, and how realistic your expectations are, with regards to this pool.

Now let’s see what is in demand. Check yourself: how in demand are you? This is not a question about modelling yourself after the standards and ideals set by society. It is not about becoming that hourglass, beach blond, always ready (this is an inuendo) female ideal, or that ripped to shreds, stable million-dollar job yet sensitive type of man. It is about matching demand to supply.

Say you like what is being supplied. Cool, now let’s match this up. What does your supply want? Unsurprisingly, people like people like them. This opposites-attract-thing is cute, but it is opposites attract, not opposites stay together forever, happily married etc. (if that is not what you’re looking skip this step, you do you). If the type of person you’re into (assuming you have a type), loves long walks on the beach, reading books, enjoys peace and quiet and hates big groups of people, you being worlds loudest extrovert, who loves festivals, doesn’t read and hates sand, might be a slight issue. The example is a joke, but gets the point across. If your type doesn’t really match up to anything you like/want, maybe revaluate your priorities?

You can determine your being-in-demandness through other ways, that are less manipulative and mind-game-based. The best question to ask yourself to determine this is: Would I date myself? Do I think I am worth MY time and energy? If the answer is no, figure out why. This is a nice process of introspection, and yes, it can get ugly. If you feel you are not desirable, you need to get to the core of that feeling. It might be something superficial: you don’t like the way you look. Two ways about that: change the way you look and/or learn to love yourself as you are. You can even do both. Most people don’t like their shape: as such, go to the gym, eat healthier etc. But at the same time learn that regardless of your shape, you are a great person. And you are deserving of love.

If you don’t feel smart enough, get (back) into education. Dive into a degree, a whole series of tutorials, an encyclopaedia, a new skill. But remember, you are good as you are, always. But investing time and resources in yourself, for health, education, or any other goal, never hurt anybody. But do it for yourself, and for yourself only.

Also, don’t get into a relationship to feel better, feel “complete” or fix yourself. Yes, a partner can make you a better person, but they sure as hell shouldn’t be a therapist, a parent, a doctor etc. You need to be equals, with your own strengths and weaknesses.

2. Willingness to Pay, and Accept Well, now that you have figured out your pool, its supply, how in demand you are and how to love yourself, it is time to get your “date” on. You can use any method appropriate: online or IRL. Online is the way of my generation and it does make life easier (and sometimes really vile… unsolicited nudes are a thing). But before you jump in, you need a plan of action: what is your willingness to pay, and what are you willing to accept?

Willingness to pay (WTP) is easy. Dating is a lengthy process. Especially online, it can take forever, and if you are talking to more than one person, it is super time consuming. How invested are you in finding a partner? If you are looking to hook up, I’d say investment is minimal. If you are looking for the one (I’m not happy with this term, but I’ll use it to illustrate a point), you might want to set aside a lot more time. If you find yourself unable, or unwilling to make time for this process, you need to ask yourself if you truly want a partner at all. If you do, re-check your priorities, because you are trying to fit a whole new person into your life.

Willingness to accept (WTA) is a different way of you filtering through an endless supply of people. If you have a type this is easier, if you don’t, you’ll have to start from scratch. The question “what do you want?” is easy: the perfect person (for you, obviously). What you are willing to accept puts boundaries on this ideal. It can be superficial AF: how tall does someone have to be? And how tall is too tall? Preference for hair and eye colour. Weight, race, gender, etc.

Let’s get less superficial: do you care about level of education? Job title, amount of money made. Whether they want kids, or not. Their future plans. Their openness to gay marriage, gender equality, the LGBTQ+, their view on politics etc. Before you start dating, and start giving people your time and energy, you need to figure out, what is acceptable and what is NOT.

3. Research Armed with a list and very likely a phone (Tinder, Bumble, anyone?), the hunt commences. It is time to see for yourself what is out there. This is stepping into the real pool, not the one you had in your head. For people who have never dated, or for those that dating has been a long, long, looooooong time ago, things can be grim. You’ll probably run into some psychos, some fuckboys, some who want to get married on the first date, or still call their mom to ask for permission to go out although they are over the age of 30… Sorry, it happens. Your list filters those out anyway. But you need to go through this process to understand what it is really like. And hey, maybe after a couple of frogs…

4. WTP/WTA revisited There is a reason WTP and WTA are so important in economics: they determine what you end up with, if anything at all. Your initial list of WTP and WTA was based on the pool you had in your head. Now that you’ve been in the game, and swam around a bit in the pool, you need to correct and match your expectations to reality. Given what is out there, do you think you are willing to pay more or less, in regards to time and energy? And what about willingness to accept? Did you find that maybe some boundaries were too tight? You might realise that you don’t care as much about how much money they make, if the trade-off is a good sense of humour, or ambition and plans for the future. Experience alters perception, always. Maybe things have gone the other way. What you thought you’d be willing to accept initially, is something you have become increasingly uncomfortable with. Either way, edit your list. And with a new plan, let’s get going!

5. Risk Diversification This is advice often given when investing in stocks: don’t put your eggs in one basket. If it falls, all eggs break, and you’re left with one hell of a mess. Ew.

Dating is the same, don’t settle for one basket too quickly, because they might turn out to be a right basket-case. And then what? Another thing, only dating one person might give a strong rose-coloured glasses effect. This is not driven by them being so great, but by you being a bit desperate. And that’s okay. We all want to be loved. But to reign in those desires, keeping an open mind, and therefore an open schedule, this might help. Hell, I’ve known plenty of people who made sure their sexual needs were met before even going on a date, to make sure they actually liked the person, rather than liking the prospect of sex. Just make sure when using either of these two approaches, you be transparent and honest about it. To all parties involved!

You might be wondering, how long can I date multiple people before I turn into a bigamist. Well, that’s up to you really. And if you have been honest, your partner(s) might indicate their discomfort with not being the only one. This tends to only happen after a longer time, and by this point you might be willing (and able!) to pick the person that you like best. This is assuming you are into monogamous relationships. If you are polyamorous, you do you, don’t pick, and have them all!

If you realise you don’t want to pick any of your dates as your “one and only,” you are going to need to figure out why that is. Not ready for commitment? Cool, then don’t. They are great people, but not your type of people after all? It happens. Be honest, communicate and leave things respectfully. Do not ghost! It can also be that you are too flattered by all the attention and you are just being greedy: not cool. Be honest, see what happens. And maybe dive into what is driving this need for admiration and attention. Again, one (or multiple) person(s) cannot fix insecurities that have built up over multiple years. Unless they are a licensed therapist.

In the next article, or part 2 if you will, I’m going to dive into what economics has taught me about love. Assuming you have found that “one person,” what is next? We are going through the stages of negotiation, scarcity, reciprocity, cooperation, mutual investments, and possibly: breach of contract. So stay tuned!

Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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