Rational approach to finding life partners

by c_edwards1 min read16th Aug 2015128 comments


Personal Blog

Speaking from personal experience, finding the right relationship can be HARD. I recently came across a rational take on finding relationship partners, much of which really resonated with my experiences:




(I'm still working my way through the Sequences, and lw has more than eight thousand articles with "relationship" in them. I'm not promising the linked articles include unique information)

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[-][anonymous]5y 8

It's straightforward to make a list of how to be poor and then by not doing those things to possibly not be poor. But it's hard to make a list of how to be rich and do those things and be rich. Similarly, it's easy to make a list of how to be alone and then by not doing those things possibly not be alone. But it's hard to make a list of how to be with someone and then do those things and be with someone. So - eliminate all the negatives first. If wearing clothes that don't fit, ignoring cleanliness and avoiding people makes for being alone, don't do thos... (read more)

0OrphanWilde5yNegative things are (mostly) universal, positive things are (mostly) extremely specific to the individual.
0c_edwards5yThere's really two independent things, though. a) How to not be single/how to get someone to date you. b) How to find the person(s) and build/maintain the kind of relationship(s) that you want for the rest of your life (/the forseeable future). In my experience, (a) is much easier than (b). The articles address (b), not (a).

The Correct Rational Approach to Finding Life Partners:

Start with two facts: First, the vast majority of women are not, in fact, suitable life partners for you. Second, you are not a suitable life partner for the vast majority of women.

These imply a course of action which starts with elimination. If building an online dating profile? Your goal is not to attract as many suitable people as possible. Your goal is to -reject- as many unsuitable people as possible; this is the entry point for people looking for you, and there are far, far more unsuitable pe... (read more)

1Vaniver5ySo, I agree with the premises behind this prediction, but: I know someone who scraped okCupid for information which he used to eliminate women he wouldn't want to date from the pool. I read an article about someone else who scraped okCupid for information which he used to appear as acceptable as possible to women, and then would go on dates to find out if they were acceptable to him. The second person was considerably more effective, both at figuring out what actually led to a good date and getting good dates. Consider this like prices. If you are having too many dates, your prices are too low, and you should raise them (i.e. exclude more people / look less presentable and more authentic). If you are having too few dates, your prices are too high, and you should lower them (i.e. appear more presentable so you don't get excluded as much).
1OrphanWilde5yI think of it more as a Type 1 versus Type 2 error tradeoff; there's a point at which you are excluding too many people, true, but I'd treat it less a function of raw dates, and more a function of the number of obviously unacceptable dates you have. You can relax exclusion criteria if you're not getting enough dates, but if in relaxing it, the number of unacceptable people rises without a commensurate rise in acceptable people, you went too far. (The criteria will differ wildly according to the population you're searching. The style of profile I had living in the Northeast was -much- more exclusionary than the style of profile I used in the Midwest or South, both because the pool of potential people was much larger, and the percentage of them I would consider dating was much smaller.)
1Vaniver5yI agree that this is a big issue. My point there is more that you need to look at that curve, figure out your tangent line, figure out your value tangent line, and then move so that the two are identical, and this requires both advice on what to do if you are going on too many dates and advice on what to do if you are going on too few dates. The secondary issue is that presenting as exclusionary typically is discussed in terms of relative turn-offs; if it turns off 5% of the people you would want to date and 50% of the people you wouldn't want to date, your pool's average has increased. (Ideally, someone decreases the turn-off chance in people you'd like to date and increases it in people you wouldn't like to date, but I think people are overly sanguine about what strategies have that effect.)
1Lumifer5y...dating advice on LW ... even mentions looking at curves ...:-D
0Vaniver5yI realized earlier this morning that I had forgotten my main point, and so the sibling comment only hints at it instead of making it explicit: many people talk about plans with the assumption that all of them are on the possibilities frontier, and so the relevant thing is moving along the possibilities frontier until they're at the right tradeoff. But being optimal is surprising--one should assume that there is lots of room for growth, and should try to get more of everything (i.e. move perpendicular to the perceived frontier) until it's clear that they are actually on the frontier. (In the stats case, getting more data means both less Type 1 and Type 2 error.)
1Lumifer5yThe same principle ("reject the middle, explicitly look at the tail of the distribution") as The Verjus Manifesto [https://medium.com/@dsquareddigest/the-verjus-manifesto-3e396cd00421?source=latest---------3] : (talking about how to make good-for-you metaphorical vegetables palatable) :-)
0roland5yI didn't quite understand this, could you please elaborate?
2OrphanWilde5yYour ability to judge both yourself, and another person, and how your personalities will interact, is limited. It's sufficient to identify people with whom you absolutely will not get along, with reasonable accuracy; this is low-hanging fruit. So let's say you've eliminated 95% of the candidate pool by this point. The remaining 5%? You're now considering a pool of candidate partners who you can't immediately eliminate (assuming you have more than one person remaining, after all probably-unsuitable people are eliminated). At this point your list of candidates are people about whom you are uncertain. -Remember- that you're uncertain. Or, from a different angle: If you are absolutely certain that a relationship with somebody will work out, that sense of certainty should, due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, be taken as evidence that you should be less certain.
0roland5yOk, so why not pick the "best"? This sounds like defeatist to me. You are assuming that the best is probably to good for me, over my league and instead of wasting time and energy on that I should rather focus on more realistic options. Is that it?
2OrphanWilde5yNo. It's that you're probably overestimating your ability to judge which relationship will be the "best" for you. The Halo Effect means, for example, you'll probably overestimate all the positive qualities of a person, based on one quality that is exceptional (say, physical attractiveness).

I find that the Orthodox Jewish system seems to work quite well, at least for religious most people I know. I grew up and married in that system, and I've never "dated" in the normal Western sense, so I have no idea how the system compares or might be applicable in the "normal" world.

[Note: There isn't really one Orthodox Judaism system. Different communities have very different systems, ranging from basically arranged marriages in many Hassidic communities, to almost-normal Western dating in Modern Orthodox communities. I grew up in wh... (read more)

I don't see the point of getting married at all, especially when you're royally screwed once you're divorced.

3jefftk5yI'm very happy about being married. It allows us to plan knowing we can count on the other one to be there, and embark on large joint projects like childraising. Divorce would suck, but we both know that and would try very hard to avoid it. Talking a lot seems important here, prioritizing the relationship, and valuing the other person's happiness as your own. I only have six years of practice though, so I could be wrong.
0LessWrong5yIt doesn't seem to be worth the effort.
2Lumifer5yWhat is your estimate of the probability that you'll change your mind about that at some point during your lifetime? :-D
3VoiceOfRa5yThat presumably depends on how the relevant laws change (or not).
2Lumifer5yI don't think this probability is driven by laws.
4VoiceOfRa5yThe grand-parent's complaint was about being screwed by divorce, which is driven by divorce laws.
3Lumifer5yBeing unhappy about divorce laws post- or during divorce is a very different thing from having one's decision to marry being strongly influenced by divorce laws. In fact, if you are researching divorce laws before your wedding, you probably should call that wedding off -- regardless of whether you'll find these laws reasonable or not.
0LessWrong5yIsn't what you're saying completely contradictory to basic decision theory? A possibility of a personal catastrophe in the future should not be ignored. Marriage introduces that possibility and non-marriage doesn't have it.
2Lumifer5yYou are privileging a particular viewpoint. Both paths have risks, costs and benefits. Note that researching divorce laws before the wedding has a strong self-fulfilling prophecy flavour.
0LessWrong5yExplain this.
0Lumifer5yYou are assuming that being not married is the default state of being and any deviations from it must be justified.
0LessWrong5yWhat? How?
1Lumifer5yYou are assuming that marriage just adds risks ("possibility of a personal catastrophe") without eliminating other risks.
-1LessWrong5yI think the risk is indeed not worth it. And as far as practical things go, marriage is just a simple contract; I'd guess that you can live happily without it, too
1[anonymous]5yDefine practical things.
1Lumifer5ySure, but is that anything more than your personal opinion? That is very clearly false.
-3VoiceOfRa5yDon't tell me you're one of those hopeless "love conquers all and isn't subject to rational laws" romantics.
0Lumifer5yDo I detect a subtle hint of disapproval in that sneering? I expect much more from a spouse than just being a business partner bound by a long contract. As to divorce laws, my suggestion would be to marry good people. That makes divorce laws irrelevant.
1gjm5yI do not believe that marrying good people is sufficient to make divorce laws irrelevant, unless you define "good" so strongly that it's basically impossible to be justifiably confident that one is marrying a good person.
2Lumifer5yI'm talking on a personal level, not social. In the same way I would suggest that you not rob anyone and if you follow that suggestion, laws about robbery will be irrelevant to you (insert the usual disclaimers).
0gjm5yYes, I understood that you meant individuals rather than society as a whole. And I am suggesting that a policy of only marrying good people is not sufficient to keep a person from having to care about divorce laws. Unless e.g. you define "good" in such a way as to imply "would never get divorced" or "would, if getting divorced, never have interests that sharply diverge from their ex-spouse's" or something, which I would think highly unreasonable and which would make it even more impossible to be sure of not marrying someone not-good. ... Oh, wait. Is what you're really suggesting a policy of never marrying at all? Because that (1) is probably the only way to be sure of not marrying anyone who isn't "good" and (2) would indeed make it very unlikely that one would need to care about divorce laws.
2Lumifer5yIn such a way as to imply that two civilized people -- even with different interests -- can negotiate and come to an agreement without engaging in lawyer warfare and without getting the justice system involved (other than putting an official stamp on the agreement). Besides, what both you and VoiceOfRa (heh) care about is probably not so much divorce laws, but rather prevalent practices in the Family Courts which typically have very wide latitude in deciding on the post-(antagonistic)divorce arrangements.
1gjm5yIf A and B get married -- even if they are both good people and know one another to be good people -- then there is a non-negligible chance that at some point their marriage will break down. In that case -- even if they are both good people -- there is a non-negligible chance that it will do so acrimoniously and some variety of hostilities will ensue. There is a further non-negligible chance that their marriage will end on reasonably friendly terms but then, in the course of tidying up the legal loose ends, one of them will engage a lawyer who notices that they could do "better" and who strongly encourages them to do so. There is a further non-negligible chance (I think) that when they divorce there will be children involved and it will be necessary to involve the legal system. In any of those cases, what happens will be influenced by the divorce laws. Or, at the very least, I don't see how A and B can know that it won't without being familiar with the divorce laws. Furthermore, A may be sure when A and B get married that B is a good person, but s/he may turn out not to be so good after all. Or one or both may become less good over time, which is a thing that sometimes happens to people who are unhappily married and even to people who aren't. Now, for the sake of good relations at the start of A and B's marriage, it may be best if A doesn't think B is looking up divorce laws just in case and vice versa. The best way to avoid that may be for A and B genuinely not to look up divorce laws before they are married. And the best way to avoid that may be for A and B genuinely not to care about divorce laws, even though aside from the effect on each of thinking that the other anticipates possible divorce they'd be better off knowing. But that isn't the same as saying that if you take care to marry a good person then you will never be affected by divorce laws.
1VoiceOfRa5yOk, taboo "good person". What kind of evidence do you expect to see to be sure that the person you're planning to marry is "good"? With what probability? What if you're wrong?
1Lumifer5yI mean entirely traditional old-fashioned virtues like honesty, fairness, and kindness. LOL. I wonder how you cross streets. Are you quite sure no one will run you down? With what probability? What if you're wrong?
-1VoiceOfRa5yThere's a rather acute shortage of people with old-fashioned virtues these days. A lot less then winding up in a divorce.
2Lumifer5yThankfully, I don't need many :-)
0LessWrong5yI don't know. I don't think I'll ever get married or that there is even hope for me to get married.

Many articles at that blog are worth reading, not just this one.

2Error5yThis. Wait but Why is excellent. I'd also recommend his three-part series on procrastination that starts here [http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html]. There are links to the next post in the series at the bottom.
1c_edwards5yJust pulled myself away from some of his other stuff. So much good stuff. At some point I need to compare his take on AI with the lw articles. So much to read, so little time.

The best advice I have in the area is to consider what you want before you go out and get it. Where many people do not; you have the opportunity to chose something more specific before hitting the marketplace. (I can say more on this topic if there is interest)

1zedzed5yPlease do.
[+][anonymous]5y -5