When Economists Consider Love…

Recently there was a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review that condemned the inevitable ‘bad equilibrium’ of online dating and then conducted an experiment to force more deliberate successes and failures in the early stages of relationship formation.  For those of you out there a bit removed from your last Econ course, a ‘bad equilibrium’ is a strategy that all the participants in the system are able to adopt and inevitably converge on, but it won’t produce a desirable outcome for anyone.”  Or more simply, in online dating participants generally choose a relationship style that results in failure.

The premise of their study was that online dating is geared less towards SUCCESS and more towards NOT FAILING, and that analysis of early email exchanges were dominated by safe, and inevitably boring topics which led to diminished interest.  Of course it’s easy to point out what’s wrong in this model, but their study also tested how things might be different if participants were forced away from the “bad equilibrium”.  The results were fascinating and very much in line with the advantages of active matchmaking versus online dating.

The Problem: People try to express themselves and find out about the other person, but they are careful not to be too expressive or risk offending someone.  Potential daters lean towards amiable over controversial, even at the risk of sounding boring.  You learn where someone went to school or if they like to ski and maybe even if they like Thai food, but you rarely touch on the meaty topics that will eventually emerge in a young relationship.  However, as you spend more time talking about the weather, you become bored and potentially miss out on on the opportunity to find out if someone might just be “the One”.

The Experiment: after identifying what was broken, the researchers took the great next step and pushed daters to actively avoid the ‘bad equilibrium’.  Instead of allowing riveting questions like ‘how many siblings do you have?”  or “what did you think of the ‘Lost’ finale”, they forced potential daters to ask more intimate and revealing questions, like: “How many romantic partners have you had?”, “When was your last breakup?”, “Have you ever broken someone’s heart?”.

The Results: a higher percent of very short email interactions (some people don’t like when you mess with the rules), and a boom in the more engaged interactions that led to a real first date.

Their Conclusion: “By forcing people to step out of their comfort zone, risk tipping the relationship equilibria, we might ultimately gain more than if we just fall back on those tropes that are safe for everyone, and useful to no one.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

When we work with clients at Kelleher International, we enable our members to skip over that part of first meetings that are “safe for everyone, and useful to no one” to quote the study.  Sure, when you meet someone you inevitably go through the preliminaries of “where did you grow up, etc.”, but because of our rigorous screening process and proprietary matching approach, you will quickly move into that deeper engagement with someone that is based on shared values.

If you’re single and a heavy online dater, you may have already met your perfect partner and bored them with “what’s your favorite restaurant?”.  If you’re ready to get real and shake lose the ‘bad equilibrium’, give us a call and we’ll create a stimulus package for your personal love economy. ;)