Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cost and Benefits Analysis in Romantic Relationships

Old-fashioned scale in an old store museum


I am not particularly business-inclined nor too endowed when it comes to economic transactions. Mine are often limited to buying necessities and receiving money for work performed. The stock exchange is a foreign language to me and rarely do I sell what I have, least of all for profit; if need be I merely give stuff away.

Yet I see the benefits of business with its philosophy being applicable to everyday life. I do not advocate a material life with money as its pinnacle, but there are indeed certain things in our life that warrant a cost-and-benefit analysis, our relationships being one of them.

Simply put, a cost-and-benefit analysis is similar to the pros and cons on a divided issue. They are both important assets when it comes to decision-making. Despite having an idealistic and romantic strain, I do not think that life's most important decisions should be made with the heart only. Purely emotional decisions can, more often than not, lead to disastrous results, as the saying “love is blind” is not that far off from the truth.

At the same time, love can be so particularly elusive of rational thought and will take flight when it feels constraint by the limits of logic. The urge to throw all caution to the wind and to make an impulsive decision is rather strong, such as leaving everything behind - family, job or even country – for the sake of love and attraction toward a particular person. This might be acceptable if we were looking at love as a permanent force to be counted on; unfortunately, reality is filled with break-ups and divorces despite strong promise at first. (One only needs to look at a couch-jumping Tom Cruise ending in its deplorable current-day crisis.)

But I am not here to wave a red flag against love and passion - without them our life would be bordering on dullness and even meaninglessness - but I want to see how an economic view of cost and benefits can aid us in avoiding Cupid's drops and pitfalls.

Some people say that everything is political, the same way everything has an economic root. Marriage that does not take into account the issue of economy might suffer consequences from it. Women's rights throughout history and in various (developing) countries nowadays have come about largely due to the growing economic independence of women. 

A relationship in which only the husband is the breadwinner can often become abusive; the woman does not seriously consider the option of leaving her partner as she would have difficulty surviving on her own, especially when children are involved while the man is fully aware of this and can do as he pleases. Being economically dependent on another person willy-nilly limits your options and decision-making in most areas of life.

Such struggles in relationships have been examined by Nietzsche and further explored by Foucault, as they look at relationships mainly in the sense of power struggle, the question of who is dominating whom. As an example, women may use sex as their weapon of control; yet again money itself may open up various other avenues for the pleasure and satisfaction of men, thus diminishing or flat-out eliminating the sexual advantage.

How to make the best decision when it comes to personal relationships and marriage? Cost involves the investment the person would undertake for the given relationship. Although I have discussed money mostly, it can also be the investment of time or emotion. The question is how much we are willing to invest in such a relationship, what its profits are and how stable or prone to a crash it is.

This way of thinking may horrify some people, especially romantics, at first glance, but it can save a lot of pain and suffering later. There are cases where people have devoted most of their lives to a person, sometimes the proverbial high school sweetheart, only to realize that they have wasted their life, in terms of time, happiness and opportunities. So before one fully enters a relationship for the long haul (or so one hopes), one needs to analyze its components first.

How much happiness is this person able to generate for me? This question clearly depends on one's own definition of happiness. A life that would be based on overwhelming passionate feelings will give you bliss and its other side of the coin torment as well. Love and jealousy are no strangers to each other. But happiness needs, again in the sense of a long-term commitment, to include companionship. This person may be sexy and irresistible, but will she continue to be so in say fifteen or twenty years? What then?

However, if your definition of happiness is broader and you gain joy from shared activities, going out for walks, watching movies or having talks and discussions, then your chances of feeling fulfilled or satisfied have risen dramatically. This is the person I can spend my whole life with and not be bored, a decision not limited to sex or income in this case.

Then there is your confidence in the relationship. If you think that it is possible that the person may change later while overlooking or glossing over major flaws for the time being, you are most likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Nobody's perfect but you need to see what is most important for you in terms of personal characteristics, for example. If your partner has a tendency to cheat on others, then most likely, you will not be exempt, whatever he or she may say to the contrary. Then, in other words, your investment will not be safe, the same way, you would not trust money in the hands of a business with a shady reputation.

The final point I want to consider here separately is time. Time is the most fleeting and perhaps most devastating one. When we lose out on happiness or money, there is always a manner of making up for it, of getting it back or finding recompensation. But time, that has slipped away, is never retrievable, is lost forever. That must be the most devastating feeling when you realize that through a lack of insight or reflection you ended up practically wasting your life with the wrong person.

Therefore, look out for signs in advance. People may change, but most of the time, very slightly. If you notice that the person is wonderful except when he is drunk, and he has a history of alcoholism even in his family and ipso facto genetic make-up, my advice would be, it is not worth it. Sure, he can kick the habit and can sacrifice a lot for love, but it can be deceptive as well; in other words, check if the benefits outweigh the costs.

All in all, decisions regarding relationships can be made following the cost-and-benefit analysis. It is definitely not the perfect model, but it is a reasonable one. We usually spend time debating a major purchase since we do not want to lose out or suffer consequences, and strangely enough our relationship can be viewed as a “commodity” as well in which we must continuously invest (money, time and energy) but from which we can reap significant (immaterial) benefits.

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