Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Freakonomics of Love: my response to David

Just discovered the Liberty Belles' blog, through their original post on The Freakonomics of Love. Check them out, there's a few other related entries, but I wanted to respond to the latest entrant, David's The Economics of 'Girl Vibe', wherein he ponders the question, "Why do women flirt with me more when I've got a girlfriend?"

Good are excerpts:

I’ve recently committed myself to the girl I’ve been seeing, and an interesting phenomenon has begun occurring: women are suddenly much more eager to flirt with me now than when I was single. This has been the case with all my previous relationships and it holds true again. Girl Vibe is the phenomenon that causes men to suddenly become exponentially more attractive once they find themselves in committed relationships. Ironically, when men are trying the hardest to (desperately) attract a mate [1], interested women are at an apparent shortage, but the moment a pair-bond is formed, women are instantly all-too-eager to express their interest.

There are actually two different questions that need to be addressed here. The first is, why are men more attractive when they are in a relationship? [2] The second is, what do women hope to achieve through flirting with these unavailable men? To answer these questions, I will assume a market for men, with women constituting demand.

Before we can understand why men are more attractive when unavailable, we must separate all men into two categories: gentlemen and assholes. Gentlemen and assholes look alike and act alike.[3] In fact, when both types of commodities are on the market, there is no way for women to tell gentleman from assholes at all. Both types of men will doll themselves up in an effort to attract a mate by putting their best traits forward. Only an owner (girlfriend) of one of these commodi-men will know if she possesses a gentleman or an asshole. She will want to hold on to the former and dispose of the latter. [4] Because most assholes get scrapped, the market of available men disproportionably fills with assholes [5] as all the gentlemen are bought up and enter into exclusivity contracts.

So the second question is why flirt with men who are not on the market in the first place? Assuming loyalty to be one of the traits that women find attractive in men, we can eliminate the possibility of a boyfriend-buyout. Any man who leaves or cheats on his owner becomes instantly less attractive, so the flirtatious girl doesn’t actually want her wiles to bear fruit[6]. Of course, there will always be women who wish to steal men away from their owners, but I believe these women to be the exception rather than the rule. Few women enjoy being home-wreckers.

Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what David's conclusion is, but it seems to be that the flirty girls are just doing it for the practice. They get to be a tease without much risk of ruining their reputation in the (meat-market.

I've got to heartily disagree with David, but do agree with commenters Neal and Jules who beat me to part of my response.

My responses based on the green notations above:

1. As said, before, "desperation" is the surest way to scare off even other desperate people. It is one of the singularly most unattractive traits/behaviors available in the meat-market. As soon as a "gentleman" is in a commited relationship, he is no longer desperate, and thus does not act or seem desperate to others, thus upping is attractiveness exponentially.

2. Pretty much covered by above...the man in question is more attractive because he is not searching for anything from the women he meets. He has made himself a much scarcer, and thus more valuable, commodity by removing himself from the open market.

3, 4, & 5. Wrong on all accounts! The meat market is disproportionately filled with "Nice guys who can't get laid", because assholes do not act like gentlemen. For all their negative qualities, assholes exhibit far more 'Attraction' than most gentlemen...and by that I mean that despite their flaws, women find assholes more sexually arousing than gentlemen (nice guys) because, on average, assholes are more self-confident, less desperate, less approval-seeking, and generally more "manly" than the gentlemen. Assholes stay on the meat-market longer and more often because they have more "Attraction points", and thus are usually less desperate when outside of a committed relationship. To redefine our terms a bit here, I would say that the meat-market is disproportionately filled with Nice Guys and Assholes(who rarely leave the market), and the rarer commodity is the Gentleman-a nice guy that can get laid, one who has as much Attraction as an Asshole without the downsides.

6. I am sure there is a lot of mere "flirting for practice/fun", but David fails to take into account a couple of phenomena I've witnessed. I call them "Catty Competition" and the "I'm Not The Fat Girl Phenomenon."

To answer David's second question in the more innocuous sense, women know that men are still potentially available after they have left the open meat-market, and may re-enter the meat-market again with little notice. The Seductress("buyer") in question is usually speculating on limited information, and assumes that since the man in question is in a relationship, that he must be worth having and is one of the scarce Gentlemen, as opposed to an abusive Asshole or boring Nice Guy. If there's no ring, it's not home-wrecking. Just because she missed him in the primary offering, she may be able to lure him away with a higher bid in the secondary market, or may even be able to position herself to acquire him immediately should he re-enter the primary meat-market.

However, much of this also depends on intra-dynamics in the Women's Game, which I call "Catty Competition". Women as a group are generally catty towards each other, and constantly in competition for being seen as the prettiest or sexiest or whatever. Think of it as bidders at an auction who may not know each other personally, but enjoy outbidding another and taking what the other wants, just for the pure schadenfreude. Women care a lot about how many Attraction Points they have compared to other women. Being able to lure away a taken man automatically increases the Seductress' Attraction Points, and places her above his current girlfriend (at least in her mind). In the Catty Competition, this may have nothing to do with the desirability of the man in question as he is just used a pawn in the Women's Game between the Girlfriend and the Seductress. The "I'm Not The Fat Girl Phenomenon" is a special case of the Catty Competition, which occurs when there is a sizable excess of women-to-men in a relatively closed environment, such as a college campus. Once the ratios approach or exceed about 60/40 women to men, women will tend to 'pay' much more than they otherwise would for any given man in the open meat-market, and the secondary market comes much more into play. Having/getting any man in these adverse market conditions validates the women's Attraction Points in the Women's Game...thus proving to themselves that they are still attractive and not one of the 'fat girls'.

(If you haven't read Freakonomics yet, hie thee to the bookstore! It's incredibly fascinating, and a very quick read.)


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