Love is in the air, and on the scales.
No, not the gym scales to see pounds we gain from Valentines chocolate and dinner out. I’m thinking about the survey that indicated 53% of women would end their relationship if they did not get something for Valentine’s Day.
The survey was conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, a company specializing in consumer behavior, and was reported at Statisticbrain.com, a group that believes in the pure beauty of numbers—and that interpretation thereof is up to the reader. You can read more here: http://www.statisticbrain.com/valentines-day-statistics/
For starters, consider that it’s a consumer company that is promoting this finding that half the female population might walk away from their significant other if necklace and flowers aren’t delivered. Not surprising a consumer company is eager to let men know that fact. Nudge, nudge.
But what’s behind the statistic? Maybe contract thinking.
In economic terms the contract model aims to keep rewards (things you get out of the relationship) and investments (things you lose) about even. And generally this is worth pursuing. We know that couples who experience equity are more committed and report higher relational satisfaction than people who don’t.
But we also know that keeping track of who’s done what for whom and who owes the other a perk can be difficult and nit-picky. A study on dorm roommates found that students with this orientation rated their roomie relationship below average.
We can also consider relationships where keeping things even or “fair” just isn’t possible. Consider:
Contract relating is also the algorithm in dating relationships as people look for good deals hoping to maximize their happiness and minimize their pain. And, because dating is so fluid, so exploratory, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales to figure out an investment isn’t worth it. So people bolt. Maybe that’s what’s behind the 53% statistic.
But over 4,000 people took the survey, and presumably a good cross-section too.
Perhaps more likely contract thinking continues past our dating years. The common-law relationship banks on it—we can live together until this is no longer working. And the prenup marriage too—we will make this work, but if it doesn’t, I’m going to get my share of the assets.
To think contractually means we likely value our personal happiness, believe relationships deliver happiness, and that if we aren’t happy we have sufficient reason to leave.
Being happy is not a dishonorable goal, but when we make it the primary aim of relating we are doomed to fail, for no one can meet all of our needs, nor can we meet all of theirs.
I wish you a memorable Valentine’s Day with those you love. Perhaps your investment of time or affection will be sufficient expressions of your commitment. (But, for the record, I love chocolate.)
Bill Strom, Author
I am a believer by faith, a professor by vocation, a husband by choice, a father by blessing, and a friend by hanging out. Along the way I have learned about close relating through my experiences, biblical models, and social science research. Hopefully my ideas and encouragement show up here in ways meaningful to you.