Preface: This post is my way of reasoning about romantic relationships and marriage. It is no way a proclamation of fact or “how things really are”, but there might be something in it for you if you read on.
Before we get into the weeds, we have to start with each party’s motivations. Everyone has their own motivations (or lack thereof) for why they want (or don’t want) a romantic relationship. I’m not going to list every single one, but I’m guessing that for women it’s a validation of their worth as a lovable and valuable human being in addition to being an important stepping stone to having kids and a family. Men either don’t know what they want, just want to sleep around, or want to get married and have kids. Both genders are subject to the societal, cultural and parental pressures around getting married and settling down as well as the fear of dying alone. And, of course, we can’t forget what everyone’s looking for at the end of the day: Love.
The big word when it comes to romantic relationships is “love”. What is love? According to Oxford Languages, it is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” As with so many definitions, this one is wrong. Love is not a feeling, love is a way of seeing the world. When you love someone you see them as one of the most important things in your life. The downstream effect of this way of looking at the world might include some feelings of deep affection, but will likely also include other feelings like anger, frustration, and jealousy. That feeling that Oxford Languages calls love is a more accurate description of “like”, as in “I like her” or “I like that song”.
To love someone is to see them as important and valuable, and as an extension, to care about them. When you truly care about someone, you often have to tell them things that they don’t want to hear and do things that frustrate them in order to guide them in the right direction. The negative emotions and strife that come along with caring about somebody are far from that of “deep affection”. You can tell when someone truly loves you when they are willing to do these things, even if means you might hate them or never talk to them again. You can tell if you truly love someone if you are willing do the same for them. You can tell if you love yourself if you’re willing that for yourself.
When someone cares about you, they tell you the truth and they try to guide you in the right direction. Over time, this (hopefully) has a positive effect on your life. The care also makes you feel loved, and this has a powerful healing effect, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. (I’m not talking about feeling liked, which is what celebrities feel when their fans scream and chant their name, I’m talking about feeling loved.) Feeling loved touches a core part of you that wonders, “Am I valuable? Am I worthy?”. If the answer is no, you will spend your whole life compensating in various ways or engaging in self-destructive behavior out of the belief that you aren’t valuable or worthy. If the answer is yes, you will go into the world with confidence that you are enough. That question is the most important question and the answer to that question is the self-fulfilling prophecy that dictates your life’s direction. Love tells you that you are valuable because someone cares enough about you to sacrifice for your well-being.
Love isn’t addictive, it is healing, unlike so many other things. Love is necessary for healing the inevitable damage we accumulate in life, whether it be small or large. Just like with physical injuries, without proper healing, emotional wounds don’t heal correctly and make you prone to further injury. A small cut can get infected and become life threatening if it doesn’t heal properly. Same thing goes for emotional wounds if not addressed. Having a strong ability to heal gives you confidence to take chances because you know that even in the worst case you can still recover. In the process of finding your romantic partner, you will need to take chances and recover from injuries.
Finding “The One”
I put “the one” in quotes because there is no such thing as “the one”. There are many people out there who you could settle down with, or possibly nobody. Compatibility and circumstance determine the viability of a relationship. The common assumption is that “love will overcome” if two people are “meant to be” with each other, but both compatibility and circumstance have significant practical components. In other words, a large part of why people get into relationships is it’s useful, and a large part of why they exit relationships is because “it isn’t working”.
Let’s list off some ways relationships are useful:
- Alleviates loneliness and boredom
- Alleviates social pressure surrounding being single
- More effective division of labor / complementary skillsets
- Consistent supply of sex
- Access to partner’s money, resources, connections
Instead of “Finding the One”, it’s more like “Good Enough”, which is what people do most of the time. This is commonly referred to as “settling”. Settling isn’t a bad thing to do or an insult to your partner, it’s more of an acknowledgement of the practical limitations that come with the life. If everyone had unlimited time and resources we could all eventually find the perfect partner, but this is obviously not the case.
This is not to say that the matching process should be a purely practical endeavor (unless you’re arranging a marriage for your kids, in which case it is). I just want to make the point that the practical components of relationships are often overlooked when it comes to who you decide to date, marry, or break up with. Understanding the significance of these practical considerations will help you make better decisions and avoid unnecessary heartbreak or bad long-term relationships.
If we put aside practicalities for second, we can see that love forms the essence of a romantic relationship. It’s also the best barometer for the health of a relationship. Respect is also important, too. According to some conventional wisdom I read somewhere, men value respect more and women value love more. Do with that what you may.
The mirror image of fame is love, if you doubt this you’ve never been in love. Or famous. When someone falls in love with you, it’s not specifically for what you did or what you look like but because of some intangible quality — and only your lover can see it, no one else could, including you. The question you must ask is if that counts.
How does love die? You actively obliterate the intangible in her. Then you suspect the intangible never existed. Then you assure yourself intangibles aren’t real. Except for the one in you, which of course obviously exists but people can’t see.
— Sadly, Porn by Edward Teach M.D.
Falling in love comes from seeing something in the other person that nobody else sees, and falling out of love happens when you no longer see that thing. The intangibles here are just as important as the practicalities but are harder to pin down because, well, they are intangibles.
There are three different general categories of romantic relationships between men and women: casual sex, dating, and marriage. Casual sex and dating are fun, marriage is generally not, and that’s because marriage is for the kids. Marriage is harder to get out of. If you want to have fun and keep your options open just date. The reason why marriage is more restrictive is to keep both parties from calling it quits when taking care of the kids becomes too difficult, it forces you to stay there with your husband or wife and tough it out for the kids. Nowadays this isn’t so much the case since getting divorced is easier and more socially accepted.
I’ve written about the dating and casual sex markets in this post, so I won’t go into again. What’s important is identifying what your “field” or “fields” are, which is simple. Your fields are wherever you interact with people of the opposite gender. The more time you spend in a particular field, the more likely you are to end up dating or having sex with someone in that field. It’s simple time and space mathematics. Proximity and geography are the prime determinants of who you can match with (geography less so now with the internet and dating apps). If you aren’t satisfied with your potential matches, you have to actively seek new fields. This might mean changing your job, changing your city, changing who you hang out with or changing your dating app. Bad fields yield bad matches and good fields yield good matches, by and large.
Note: When I say “field”, I mean any place you can meet people, online or in person. I am not referring to a career field or a field or study.
There is also the question of who is willing to match with you. You’ll figure this out eventually once you spend enough time with people and take enough chances. You’ll also figure out about how attractive you are and what groups seem to be attracted to you more than others. If the goal is maximize viable matches, you want to be in place where there are a lot of people who are willing to match with you that you would also want to match with. It’s a numbers game, but more specifically, it’s a probabilities game. Many people never intentionally seek new fields in order to increase their probability of match success. If this is important to you, it’s definitely worth considering.
Another criterion for evaluating possible fields is the same-sex competition. If you are a guy and there are too many guys in the field you are in (let’s say any given engineering school), your chances of matching goes down significantly. However, lots of competition is good if you need an environment that will force you to step up your game. If you need some of that, do spend some time in these sorts of environments, but make sure that you don’t get so discouraged that you give up altogether.
When it comes to maximizing your probability of a match, you want to be in a place with as few same-sex competitors as possible who are as unattractive as possible. These sorts of environments are generally few and far between because once people get wind of them, they flock there. When the gender ration is skewed in your favor, you will have to compete less and your potential matches will have to compete more.
I do want to point out that you can play multiple fields at any given time. You might have some that are highly competitive and some that are not competitive at all. Having a good mix will keep you sharp while giving you enough opportunities to keep you busy.
Last but definitely not least is work, or what you spend your time on. People usually are able to find more common ground and, as a result, spend a lot more time together if they do the same thing for work. What you do during the day is such a significant part of your life that it does make sense to find someone else who understands, appreciates, and can share that part of your life with you. Even if the other person isn’t in the same line of work as you are, it is important that they generally appreciate and respect the work that you do.
If you have a particular line of work that you want to get into, this is another reason to make the switch sooner rather than later. Not only will have a higher probability of better matches (with the exception of certain male or female dominated fields), but you will also set the precedent before you get into a relationship. It’s easier to continue doing something that you were doing before you were dating someone than start doing something after you start dating them. Some partners will be supportive of whatever new things you want to pursue, but even the most supportive partners will have some reservations in the back of their minds. People are always aware on some level of the things that could disrupt the harmony of the relationship they are in. Newfound success in a new line of work is definitely something that could lead the other person to leave or cheat. Even if they aren’t successful, the new work environment has the potential to change them in ways that might make them want to (again) leave or cheat.
Playing the Field
I live in a city, so I can only speak from my limited experience with regard to “playing the field”. I’m sure it’s different in other environments.
On an individual level, you have to figure out what you value and what you want. This is a personal process that isn’t worth expanding upon besides that it’s necessary. What’s more generally applicable are the tactics and strategies that you can use when playing the field, regardless of what you value or desire.
Dating is a lot like the Prisoner’s Dilemma in the way that the payoffs work. If both people play fair and do their best, the result is likely marriage. If both people mess around, deceive each other, and generally use the other person for their own gain, they both end up down. But if one person deceives and other puts in a genuine effort, the person who deceives receives the highest payoff while the person who tried gets the worst payoff.
Social and cultural norms can change the payoffs in a way that incentivizes both parties to cooperate. For example, shaming sexually promiscuous behavior and infidelity for both genders makes it less tempting to deceive your partner, perhaps to the point where you’d rather not engage or end a relationship rather than cheating on them and facing the resulting social consequences.
Unfortunately, in many cities, dating is becoming more like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is due to many factors including:
- The fading of social and cultural norms surrounding dating, sex and marriage
- The widespread availability of condoms, female contraception, and effective treatments / preventatives for STDs
- Dating apps and social media
- Influence of feminist ideals in popular culture
- Aspirational media
The result is something like the following, which I’ve paraphrased from my post The Red Pill and Red Pill Women:
An increase in options and loosening of restrictions in the sex / dating marketplaces leads to 1) an increasing preference for casual sexual relationships (since there are more options and people want to sample them all), 2) an increase in infidelity rates (as there are more tempting alternatives when you are in a relationship and little to no consequences for cheating) and 3) an overall increase in time and energy spent in the matching process (look to the job market for a parallel). 1) and 2) lead to an increase in STD rates (see CDC report).
With an increase in the population of people who are down for casual sex comes an increase in options for everyone. Increased options in the sex marketplace leads to increased variance in success for men in sexual marketplace, i.e. “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. Now a smaller percentage of men are sleeping with a larger percentage of women. On the other hand, women’s success rates stay the same. Across the attractiveness spectrum, women are able to have sex in approximate correspondence to how attractive they are.
The increase in options when it comes to casual sex mainly affects the middle tiers of both genders. Mid-tier women now have access to top-tier men in the casual sex marketplace and have the opportunity to sleep with many of them. Unfortunately, these women often aren’t able to get commitment from these top-tier men, and when it comes time to get married, reluctantly settle down with a mid-tier man. This drop from top-tier man to mid-tier man can cause a lot of bitterness in their subsequent relationship(s). Mid-tier men, on the other hand, want to have casual sex but find that the pickings are slim. This can also lead to to bitterness on their end especially when they end up in a long term relationship with a mid-tier woman who has a history of having sex with top-tier guys.
This is not a great outlook for most people. But, if you play your cards right, you can increase the chances of getting what you want.
Dating is like the Prisoner’s Dilemma in the broadest sense, but it’s also a negotiation between the two parties involved. Your biggest point of leverage in a negotiation is your willingness to walk away. In the context of dating, your willingness to walk away is a function of a) your willingness to give up whatever the other person is offering, b) your willingness to be or become single at that point in time, and c) the options available to you. Those with more negotiating leverage will generally have more freedom to do what they want in a relationship. Ideally, both parties should be willing and able to walk away from a relationship should either party misbehave. In this situation, both people will stay on their best behavior. It is common for either party (usually the woman) to look for ways to subtly decrease the leverage of the the other party, usually by decreasing the other person’s attractiveness to the opposite gender (and, as a result, decreasing the options available to them) and/or making is more costly to end the relationship. Keep an eye out for those behaviors.
Maximizing Negotiating Leverage
Dating is more of a negotiation than marriage, but both are ongoing negotiations. Assuming that you’ve figured out what you want, how attractive you are, what fields you’re going to play, your next step is to maximize and maintain your negotiating leverage.
The two inputs that you can influence are your willingness to be single at and the options available to you.
Your willingness to be single is strongly correlated with your current quality of life. Generally, being single is a lower variance game than being in a relationship. What I mean by this is that being in the great relationship is better than having the best time as a single person, but being in the bad relationship is worse than anything that being single has to offer. By increasing your quality of life as a single person, you make it so that you are less willing to accept anything but the best when it comes to relationships. The main determinants of one’s quality of life are satisfaction with work, strength and health of social relationships, physical and mental health, and the quantity and quality of future opportunities. Someone who’s killing it on all four fronts is unlikely to rush into a bad relationship or stay in a bad relationship.
The options available to you as an individual depend on your attractiveness to the opposite gender. Generally, the higher status you have as a man, the more attractive you are to women. The area in which you have this status doesn’t really matter, but the larger the field the more your status matters. For women, the more physically beautiful you are, the more attractive you will be to men. In addition to this, feminine and maternal qualities are highly valued, as well as the ability and past history of saying no to other men. Body count and attractiveness to men are generally inversely correlated when it comes to long term relationships.
There is a lot of overlap between what improves your quality of life and what makes you attractive to the opposite gender. Improving on both fronts will improve your chances of getting what you want, but you must keep in mind the time component, especially if you are a woman. Physical beauty has an expiration date. There is also a biological deadline (menopause) when it comes to having children. Both of these facts mean that women generally approach dating and marriage with more urgency than men. Outcomes for men generally display far more variance, but men have the opportunity to increase their attractiveness as they get older by virtue of the fact that their attractiveness is based upon status. These two facts taken together generally explain why women prefer older men and vice versa.
This might seem like a raw deal for women, especially since women cannot change the most fundamental attributes that influence beauty, but it’s not flowers and daisies for (most) men. Sure, they have the opportunity to increase their status over time, but the payoffs only come when you’re at the very top of your game. It’s a winner-take-all game. The competition is fierce to get to the top of the stack and most men don’t make it.
As with most things, risk and reward are highly correlated in dating. You have to “put yourself out there” and be emotionally vulnerable in order to have a chance at forming a meaningful relationship with your partner. However, in practice, there are some opportunities that have a risk to reward ratio than others. Your job is identify the opportunities with the best (lowest) risk to reward ratio and pursue those. I can’t tell you how to do this, you have it figure it out on your own. Risk is unavoidable, but you don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Fortune favors the bold, but check the risk-reward ratio before you jump.
When you take chances, emotional damage is inevitable. Emotional damage is also known as “baggage”, which is “resolved” through “therapy”, or causes one to be “emotionally unavailable”. Add this on top unaddressed emotional damage from childhood and you get whatever’s going on today. In the pursuit of love, you take emotional damage, and the one thing that heals emotional damage (besides time) is love. The worst position to be in is one where the person you’re dating is your only source of love. Not only does this practically destroy your negotiating leverage, it will also make it that much harder to recover in the case that you two break up. The more outside love you have, the greater your ability to heal emotional damage, and the greater your ability to heal emotional damage, the more confident you will be in taking chances. You need love to find love. You need to prime the pump with water in order to get water from the well. I could go on and on about why this is important, but remember that all this stuff is self-reinforcing. Those who are loved are much more likely to find love and maintain healthy, stable relationships. Those who aren’t loved are much more likely to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors that decrease their chance of finding a partner or increase the chance of developing a toxic relationship. Diversify your sources of love and you’ll never become dependent on one person.
In conclusion, go find love outside of the dating market before you find love in the dating market. Or not, it’s up to you. What I’ve outlined is pretty general, high-level stuff that may or may not have any bearing on your personal experience. The important thing is to build a strong foundation, take chances, and avoid unnecessary risks. The rest is up to Lady Luck.