A Philosopher's Blog

Lovonomics

Posted in Business, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 9, 2011
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Marriage and other romantic relationships have often been cast as being fundamentally economic in nature. In most cases, this perspective has been taken by those critical of marriage (“marriage is long term prostitution”). However, there are some who take a positive view of marriage seen through the lens of economics. One recent book is Spousonomics, which I have not read. Like most men, I’m not much on reading books on relationships. However, hearing about the book did get me thinking about the general subject of casting a relationship in economic terms.

On the face of it, this perspective makes perfect sense. Legally, marriage is fundamentally about property rights: who owns what and who gets what when the marriage almost inevitably fails. However, that part is so obvious that it is hardly interesting to even write anymore about it.  Instead, I will focus on the view that characterizing relations in economic terms is a “bad thing.”

A case can be made for this being, in fact, bad. After all, deep in our secret hearts we want to believe in a love that is pure and unsullied by such matters as value exchanged and crass things like cash. I do, of course, agree with that. Love should not be about money (although money can kill love) nor should it be regarded as a crude matter of toting up gains and losses. However, I do think that it makes sense to consider relationships in terms of value.

While the feeling of love has value, it is one value among many in a relationship. While this might sound cynical, you can test this yourself: imagine that somehow all you have is love for someone and nothing else. No pleasure in their company, no common interests, and so on. Just someone the existence of love. While I suspect that is not even possible, that would seem to show that love is not the sole value in a relationship and is probably not enough to keep a relationship going by itself.

In addition to love (and one hopes that love is at least present) there must also be other matters of value. These things (though I dislike using that word here) could include the pleasure of the other person’s company, shared interests, emotional support, and so on. It is the sum of these factors that make a relationship worthwhile or not. This is, of course, a matter of value.

But, someone might say, this still seems like crude economics. It makes  relationship like a business merger or an alliance: you should be in it if it creates more value for you than the alternatives. That, one might say, is crass economics.

However, I have two responses. First, that is how you, good reader,  really function. Think about it honestly and  consider relationships you have ended and why. Second, this does not so much cast relations ships in a negative light as economics in a better light. Economics is, of course, based on human relationships (and not the other way around). As such, the reason why relationships seem to be analyzable in economic terms is that economics are forms of human relationships. As such, economics can be analyzable in terms of human relationships-although it is but a narrow set of possible human relations.

So, perhaps we should not say that marriage is a form of economics, but that economics is a form of marriage. Or not.

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Foundations

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on September 9, 2007

I was recently discussion relationships with a few different friends and the talk naturally turned to what is needed to make a lasting relationship. There are, of course, many possible answers because no one relationship is quite like another. But, one thing that seemed plausible is that a relationship will endure better if it is built on a foundation of friendship.

One reason that many relationships fail seems to be that people jump right into dating and a relationship before they get to know each other very well. In many cases, the dating timeline is quite a bit quicker than the friendship timeline-I know of many people who will enter into a relationship faster than they will settle into a friendship. In some cases, this works out well. In most cases it does not. One reason is fairly obvious: when people meet and feel a “spark” they are on their best behavior and driven by the excitement of a new relationship. This excitement and emotion tends to blind a person in the sense that what they see is not so much the other person but a fantasy version of the person. Over time, these initial factors begin to fade and one is left with the real person. If there is nothing solid under that initial “emotional rush” then things will not endure.  A second reason is also fairly obvious and can be shown by the following analogy. If a person is interviewed quickly for a complex job and then given the job based on that first impression alone, it is hardly a shock if the person does not quite work out for that job. Similarly, if someone starts a relationship rather quickly, then the person they end up with might not be a person who is actually compatible.

An obvious way to avoid these problems is to take the time to get to know a person first. Learn what they are like and see if there is something substantial, namely the possibility of real friendship, underneath that initial attraction. Although relationships vary, a solid foundation of real friendship seems to be a very important factor in maintaining a good relationship. Of course, real friendships take time to build-you have to get to know the person and build up trust.

Of course, trying to build such a foundation can put a person at a serious disadvantage. Many people seem in a rush to date or to get into a relationship and they lack the patience to work on a friendship. So, if you try to get to know such a person, they will probably perceive this as a lack of interest and move on quickly to jump into their next relationship-which will probably fail. Most relationships do, after all. Of course, this could be seen as a good thing-someone who is in such a hurry might not be an ideal choice.

Another disadvantage is that if you take the time to get to know someone and build up a friendship, someone who is not so burdened might well swoop in and start dating the object of you affection. As with most things, timing is very important. This risk can be mitigated by compromising-get to know the person enough so that you have reasonable idea about them and then, if you have competition, start dating a bit sooner than you might otherwise.

It might be objected that if a person will go with the “competition”, then s/he is not really interested in you and hence is not right for you. This does have some merit, but there is also the fact that most people are not willing to wait and wait for someone to take action. So, someone might be interested in you, but if you wait too long they might take this as evidence of a lack of interest and turn to someone else. As mentioned above, timing is very important.

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