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December 08, 2009

Time Management and Dating

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's Zdeno with a topic that ought to be of prime interest -- or, as he implies, perhaps not.

* * * * *

Random Question of the day:

What percentage of your lifetime happiness is the result of finding the ideal mate? Compared to everything else – career advancement, hobbies, even your choice of friends – the choice of who to settle down and start a family with seems like it should be of supreme importance.

And yet, if we apply the Peters/Casnocha theorem of priority assessment, it looks like finding, screening and selecting the best, most compatible lifelong partner is very far down the average person’s list of priorities. How much time do we invest in our careers, our friends, and our favourite NFL teams, relative to the time we spend introducing ourselves to people we’re interested in, going out on dates, and putting ourselves in situations where we’re likely to meet the person we end up creating a life with?

Most people that I know wind up dating, and (presumably) eventually marrying someone from the small group of similarly-aged, similarly-attractive friends that they spend the majority of their time with. If there is such a thing as compatibility, this is sub-optimal. Finding the right person should be the priority of a our years as young adults, but most of us spend them overworked, over-scheduled and flitting from one drunken casual encounter to the next.

Anyways, that’s my quarter life crisis, transition-from-early-to-mid-20’s rant of the day. Younger Blowhards: What are your perspectives on this? How much time and energy do you invest in your long-term romantic future? Older Blowhards: How did you find your significant other? What advice would you have for man in my shoes, still intent on racking up belt-notches, but with a for-now dormant desire to one day settle down?

* * * * *

Me? I devoted a good deal of time to chasing women during my singles days, searching for an ideal. As with Zdeno, early on this was tempered by another notion: that I wouldn't marry before age 25. Being in the Army and then grad school created sets of conditions that prevented my from getting hitched till I was in my late 20s. But the most important thing is that most of the bad (non-marriage) decisions in my life directly or indirectly involved women.

Mate selection is difficult because so many unknowns are involved -- how will each partner behave once all is "legal," for instance. (Courting couples often hold hands; married couples, not so much. Obviously the dynamic changes, though not hand-holding doesn't necessarily mean diminished affection.)

Making things even more difficult is the "it takes two to tango" factor -- person A has serious hots for person B, but person B doesn't fully reciprocate. Or, worse, doesn't reciprocate at all; a common event in my younger days.

Another factor is the decreasing supply of desirable single women as a guy advances into his later 20s; they get married to other guys. (Same situation for women looking for men.)

It can be a messy process, Zdeno. But once you hit 55-60 or so, things can get easier (for men, anyway). So be of good cheer.



posted by Donald at December 8, 2009


The old adage (paraphrased), "As soon as you stop looking for something, you will find it," applied to me when I met my eventual wife. We met in our early 20s when neither of us had any intention of finding a spouse. We started dating, then broke up, then dated again, then moved in together, then had a kid, then got married. So far, 15 years down the road, it's working out fine.

This idea of dating with intention is truly foreign to my experience. The two people I know who have done so, and started doing so quite early (early 20s), were the last to marry in my group of friends. The dating advice I give to young people is, look for someone you laugh with and want to bang, in that order. Seriously. Starting with any goal beyond those is dooming yourself to disappointment and failure. If you're meant to end up with that person, you will end up with that person. Let larger goals develop slowly.

That said, the other nugget of dating wisdom I impart to young people is, don't get married before age 30. Fuck around in your 20s, get that shit out of your system. I was lucky enough to play in bands in my late teens/early 20s, and hence had lots of opportunities with girls before meeting my wife. Still, we met fairly early and I occasionally get a pang of regret over not having had even more experience. I suppose that's inevitable no matter your number (for guys, anyway).

So, Zdeno, you apparently are around 25. My advice to you would be to have fun, look for girls you laugh with and want to bang, treat them nicely, and wait until 30 to start worrying about marriage, although don't let that arbitrary number prevent you from settling down should something develop that you feel is lasting.

Posted by: JV on December 8, 2009 1:12 PM


[It] looks like finding, screening and selecting the best, most compatible lifelong partner is very far down the average person’s list of priorities. [...] If there is such a thing as compatibility, this is sub-optimal.

You basically answered your question halfway. "Compatibility" is indeed overrated. The attractiveness of individual men and women to the opposite sex is overwhelmingly an objectively measurable variable. Rare outliers aside, there is no such thing as some magic "soulmate" connection that will make an otherwise unattractive man attractive to some particular woman or vice versa; the contrary belief is just one element of the modern reigning superstitions about relations between the sexes. (This, by the way, is an issue where a merciless Hansonian analysis would definitely be in order!)

Most people eventually settle for the best they can realistically get, and willfully delude themselves about the supposedly special and unique characteristics of their partner, whereas in fact vast numbers of others would do just as well, if not even better. (Michel Houellebecq noted in one of his novels that one of the main perils of sexual promiscuity is that it destroys one's capacity for such illusion.) And if you talk to people coming from cultures where marriage decisions are primarily guided by more mundane economic and social status considerations, rather than the lofty romantic ideals prevalent in the contemporary West, you'll see that their lives are definitely not a hell of "incompatibility" -- certainly not more so than in cultures practicing laissez-faire in sex and relationships.

The other half of your answer is that for most men -- basically everyone except successful alpha players -- the drama of dating and searching is on the whole not pleasant. This is another important issue where the modern liberal views are completely detached from reality. We are all supposed to relish in the great freedoms opened by the breakdown of traditional sexual and marriage norms, and cringe at the frightful repression under which our ancestors lived. Any dissent from this view is punished with accusations of bigotry and ruthless jeering at one's supposed loser status in the brave new order, to the point where many people will insist on it despite all the evidence from their own profoundly unhappy life experience. Yet, things are different in reality, and one seldom admitted fact is that the drama of searching for the mythical ideal partner that the brave new order will supposedly ensure to every righteous soul is in fact not at all a pleasant endeavor, which most people would in fact prefer to skip.

Posted by: Vladimir on December 8, 2009 3:54 PM

A valid and depressing point. I know most of my adult life has been sucked away by the struggle for sheer economic survival, and this has left me little time or energy for dating and mating.

Posted by: Bilwick on December 8, 2009 4:51 PM

You make the assumption that finding a compatible mate necessarily requires a time-consuming exhaustive search. I believe this is false.

After you commit to a partner, you will occasionally meet other women who would have been equal or better mates. You must be prepared to deal with that reality. You choose a good one; that's all that matters.

I met my husband in a human anatomy lab course. We each dissected a cadaveric arm and presented our findings to others. During his presentation, I realized he had completed the same task as myself, but in a more organized intelligent manner. It was scary to me, because, until then, I preferred to regard him as a happy extrovert, but less intelligent (and thus not worthy of romantic attention) than I. His brainy organized presentation was threatening to me.

Posted by: jz on December 8, 2009 9:32 PM

"What percentage of your lifetime happiness is the result of finding the ideal mate?" THE ideal mate? Just one, best of all possibles? Do grow up.

Posted by: dearieme on December 9, 2009 1:49 PM

To build on dearieme's comment: My wife and I met at a coffeehouse where I was the stage manager/emcee and she a "girl with guitar" who wanted a slot on the bill. We courted for a year or so before deciding to live together. Having made that decision we considered parental reactions and determined that, since no relationship ever escapes its pitfalls and potholes, we might as well get married and thus have every reason to work through the problems we'd undoubtedly face rather than making it too easy to just walk away. Our reasoning may have been naive, but we're sneaking up on forty years together and are still going strong. I have no doubt that had we not married and ultimately separated we would each have found someone else ... but who needs the aggravation of the single scene?

Posted by: Chris White on December 9, 2009 6:51 PM

So, Vladimir, as your namesake once asked: "What is to be done?"

Posted by: Bilwick1 on December 10, 2009 10:33 AM

If you’d like a tool for managing your time, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

Posted by: Dan on December 19, 2009 11:45 AM

Mathematically optimal solution*:

1) Determine the size of the candidate pool (hereinafter "N").

2) Date N/e candidates.

3) Continue to date; marry the next candidate better than any candidate seen so far.

Note: "e" is the base of the natural logarithm and is approximately 2.718

* 8-) (sort of)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on December 22, 2009 2:58 AM

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