March 8, 2004

Why I Am Single: A Decision Theory Perspective

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at March 8, 2004 8:15 PM

I've stated before (maybe not in this space) that I must be content with being single, because I do not make much of an effort to change the situation. Recently I have discovered that this line of reasoning is an application of something called revealed preference theory -- my preferences regarding being single are revealed by my actions. It seems that it's easy to mistakenly apply revealed preference, so maybe I should take a second look at this idea (which I usually take to be axiomatic).

The question one might ask is why I should feel the need to apply revealed preference theory to myself. Don't I know my own preferences? Certainly I have a set of preferences that I believe to be mine, and this set assigns a much higher utility value to having a girlfriend (under certain conditions) than to being single. Could I, under some Cartesian skepticism, worry that I am deceived about my own preferences?

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that this is impossible. My preferences are by definition the ordering of outcomes that I believe to be my preferences, and if I act in a way that doesn't reflect them, it's not that I am actually working from some secret unconscious set of preferences, it's just that I'm acting irrationally. (It is occasionally argued, not by myself, that I am insufficiently irrational in matters of romance -- this is somehow considered a bad thing. In fact, the problem is that I am too irrational by acting against my preferences.)

Ok, so let's reject the idea that I am single because I prefer it this way. However, it is still true that I am single by choice; there aren't any forces beyond my control that absolutely prevent me from getting dates. (Unless I'm unknowingly under a gypsy curse or something. The gypsies usually tell you about it when they curse you, right?) I don't consider it a bad choice -- this, of course, is the rationale behind the Festival of Solitude -- but I still need to understand why I'm choosing this state over others that I would more prefer.

In a way I'm framing the problem improperly. Obviously I don't wake up every morning and say "I think I'll choose to remain single today." It's not (usually) that I'm making a conscious choice, but that being single is a consequence of an accumulation of choices which are not obviously related to the problem. Specifically, there are ways I could allocate my discretionary free time to increase vastly my probability of finding dates, but I tend not to think of my long-term utility gain when deciding what to do with any particular block of time at hand. Instead, I go for the short-term payoff of, say, playing video games (or blogging about why I am single, for that matter).

Further complicating the issue is the fact that meeting people is almost impossible for me, due to a devastating combination of shyness and poor conversational skills. Any effective strategy would first concentrate on these problems, for which potential solutions exist but aren't very much fun. It's no surprise that the video games win out all the time.

So, the conclusion seems to be that I should be more rational about allocating discretionary free time by taking into account potential long-term utility gains. When you put it that way, it sounds so easy...


You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need.

Posted by: Traveling Dad | March 9, 2004 3:26 AM

I don't think I really need to respond to this entry, do I? I mean, you know how I feel about all of this...anytime you talk about love in terms of "allocating" and "utility gains" it gives me the heebie-jeebies...

Someone's going to knock you off of your feet someday, and then you'll see... :)

Posted by: Tracy | March 9, 2004 6:52 AM

I don't know what's so disturbing about it; I'm just saying in an elaborate way that I'm lookin' for love in all the wrong places. Principally, between the couch and the TV, and there isn't much traffic there, female or otherwise.

If I followed my heart it would take me right back to the Playstation - the easy, comfortable route. I need the cost-benefit analysis just to get out the door.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 9, 2004 9:09 AM

Call your mama-san this evening or she's liable to put all the advice that immediately comes to her fertile mind on your blog where the world will see it.

Posted by: mama-san | March 9, 2004 10:03 AM

When I call, I'll be sure to give her my phone number and e-mail address, so that if she needs to get in touch with me she doesn't have to resort to posting on my blog.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 9, 2004 11:48 AM

You guys crack me up ;p

Posted by: Tracy | March 9, 2004 11:55 AM

It looked like a fine opportunity to demonstrate to you that I do occasionally resist temptation...

Posted by: mamam-san | March 9, 2004 1:48 PM

Viva la resistance.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 9, 2004 1:52 PM

So, is this conclusion going to lead to you actually trying some of the effective strategies? It seemed unclear to me whether it was just an analysis of the current situation (which seems accurate), or an idea or plan to change. :)

Oh yeah, and you need to come visit us down in Pasadena. Played Crystal Chronicles yet?

Posted by: Zifnab | March 9, 2004 6:48 PM

Or... how about a Paranoia game where we invite several attractive and available females to be team leaders? Or maybe just the first part, would that get you to visit? ;)


Posted by: Zifnab | March 9, 2004 6:49 PM

Z: I do, indeed, have an idea in mind of more rational behavior, but whether I have the motivation and willpower to pursue it has yet to be seen. This is one of the problems with being an irrational actor: one can make the irrational decision to continue acting irrationally. :)

I suspect the probability of finding several attractive and available female gamers (or even one) at Caltech is somewhere in the vicinity of the likelihood of detecting a magnetic monopole. (Although, if you removed any single criterion, with the possible exception of "gamer", it ceases to be a problem.) In any case, a game of Paranoia is probably sufficient to summon me to the southern reaches, regardless of the composition of the team -- after all, they're all bound to be disgusting commie mutant traitors anyway. :)

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 9, 2004 7:47 PM

This whole thread has made me laugh and laugh and laugh...

Has anyone read the article in Esquire about the gamers in Memphis called The Order of Light?

Posted by: Tracy | March 10, 2004 7:25 AM

Tracy: No, but it sounds intriguing. Where might one find this Squire you speak of?

Arcanus: Was going to say something about having found a monopole then realized it didn't /quite/ meet though criterion. In any case, i'm hoping to organize a paranoia game, i'll send an email to help coordinate when I actually finalize the game plans in my head.

Posted by: Zifnab | March 11, 2004 5:47 AM

Okay I'm sending a copy of this article to both of you. Travis, I'm assuming your email address is that's wrong then Zifnab here can forward you a copy...

Posted by: Tracy | March 11, 2004 6:47 AM

Wow. An old man can miss a lot while hanging out in the South of France. Keep your eyes open in Montreal. I hear the French Canadian girls are kickass gamers.

Posted by: traveling dad | March 12, 2004 3:05 AM

You're forgetting that I'm going to Montreal for a physics conference. These sorts of events actually repel women like charged particles. There will be traffic jams on the major roads out of the city as the Montreal women flee the rising concentration of physicists.

"Run for your lives! The APS March Meeting is attacking the city!"

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 12, 2004 10:06 AM

All I can say is you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't make it to at least one jazz bar while you're there.

Posted by: Dad | March 12, 2004 4:42 PM

Does all of this have anything to do with person A and B.

As to the physicists leaving Montreal, I know one female physicist and two applied mathematicians who will be there. I can introduce you.

(The female physicist needs to hear The Ride again and will probably be hanging out with me a lot, so you'll almost definitely meet her. The applied mathematicians are people who were undergrads at a Cornell when I was a grad student, although I didn't meet them until afterwards. They like board games [I promised them I would bring Apples to Apples the next time I saw them at a conference], so there's a reasonable chance you might see them as well.) How I managed to accidently meet females my age at math and physics conferences is beyond me, but this has actually happened on multiple occasions.) There's one other female physicist (from Cornell, although she was at Tech for two years before transferring) who hasn't responded to my e-mail, so it might be one of the other grad students who works with her who is coming. She's actually fairly normal, however; she's really nice, but the other three are more interesting. One (from Caltech) is especially hyper, especially when she loses at Puyo Puyo.

Anyway, I just wanted to lift your spirits. :)

Posted by: Mason Porter | March 16, 2004 5:55 PM
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