Re: Future Relationships

Robin Hanson (
Thu, 22 Apr 1999 09:27:00 -0700

On 4/20/99 Scott Badger asks:
>But here's a question for you (at the risk of being kookified). Men are
>from Earth and women are from Earth but we clearly differ when it comes to
>what we want out of a relationship and these differences are often at the
>heart of our inability to maintain loving relationships. Should we be
>viewing these differences as a human limitation to be transcended? Should
>we try to redesign our psyches in order to enhance our mutual capacities
>for successful marital relationships? Shall we make men more like women,
>women more like men, or try to identify the most adaptive and resilient
>attributes of both and head everyone in that direction. ...

There are four relevant kinds of choices we might make:

1) Preferences - what do we each want out of a partner and relationship?
2) Personal Style - how to act, dress, search for partners, etc.
3) Couple Arrangement - what two people expect of & give each other
4) Equilibrium - the distribution of preferences, styles and arrangements
       around us that influences our choices. 

You seem to be talking about changing preferences, but that is very hard now, and I'm not sure it's very coherent even when technically easier. You want to want something different than you want now? Then you're pretty much there now aren't you?

Sometimes people talk about changing the preferences of their children, but the possibilities there seem limited (eg, "Nurture Assumption" book). Changing the preferences of other people's children is even harder.

When I've tried to raise the topic of what kind of future gender relations we want, I've often been scolded by folks saying that it is all a matter of personal style and couple arrangement - each individual or couple makes those choices for themselves, and there's nothing for the rest of us to talk about.

But it seems to me that equilibrium is the crucial choice, and relative to a distribution of choices and expectations by others, the role of of individual choices seems limited. Consider the differing gender relations around the world now, or of our ancestors at different points in the past. Most of those differences I attribute to different equilibria. What most discouraged individuals from adopting styles that are now common, it seems to me, was mostly not coersion, though there was that, but social expectations. Deviants had more trouble getting partners, jobs, friends, etc.

>if I really understood the anatomy of love, would I ever fall in love again?

An excellent question. Maybe, yes, but less often and less intensely? People have been around each other for a long time, and yet we often seem to understand arcane physics better than human relationships. I suspect part of the reason is that understanding is less adaptive in some ways. Wright discusses related issues in "The Moral Animal". It is adaptive to fool other people into thinking we are more committed to relationships than we are, and the best way to fool others is to fool yourself. When we really understand, it is harder to fool ourselves.

Robin Hanson   
RWJF Health Policy Scholar             FAX: 510-643-8614 
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884 after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.