Saturday, November 6, 2010

Just Framing Marriage and Social Life in a Pseudo-Game Theoretic Way

I have no training whatsoever in game theory or whatever science you might say I'm evoking here, but this is just me riffing, off the cuff, not attempting an academically rigorous thesis of any kind. I proceed with tongue in cheek, please be aware.)

We all want companionship, whether in the form of public socialization or private friendship, active dating or closed marriage, or some mix thereof. Marriage, however, particularly when it leads to childrearing, is the option that does the most to remove the participants (the married couple/parents) from the socialization pool. (Which is not to say that married people never socialize with friends - far from it - but that marriage brings a very, very increased likelihood of essentially removing the couple from the social pool.)


This has nothing to do with what I'm talking about, but it is a really big pool. With a sailboat in it.


This leads to decreased companionship for the married couple's friends, who not only see the couple less, but probably see each other less due to a loss of the social glue/gravity that attracts groups of friends together. If these friends previously were not experiencing a surplus of socialization (a "surplus" meaning, for example, that they would be going out four times a week, when they would have been satisfied with a minimum of twice a week), then they will now have a deficiency of socialization that they need to refill in order to be happiest.

They may be able to fill this deficiency with new friends (or dating, going to bars and clubs, etc), but more likely than not, given enough time, their pool of potential socialization options will decrease to the point where they are now permamently dissatisfied. Part of the reason for this will be that increasing numbers of established friends and potential dating partners will get married; which is to be expected, since some people just plain want to get married and/or have kids and/or they fall in love.

However, this also particularly could happen if, for example, the value of clubbing or dating around or meeting new friends is decreased for them; if the amount of energy these take is not proportional to the socialization received, thanks in large part to the huge turnover of established relationships that is to be expected when your socialization is with entirely new people, devoid of commitment-forming longevity. (To put it more simply, it's not satisfying because these new people they meet don't mean that much to them and keep wandering away.)

Now these dissatisfied persons have only a small number of options: 1) continue to stay dissatsifed, 2) rely on established friends or other less fleeting socialization options, or 3) get married.

1) is obviously sub-optimal. Some will choose 2) and some 3). Of those that choose 3), some will choose it because marriage is attractive to them anyways, and/or they have found a mate, while others will fall into it to escape option 1), especially if option 2) doesn't work for them for whatever reason. Whether or not 2) works for them depends on their own personal proclivities, the availability of like-minded people, and the particular habits and coincidences amongst their immediate social circles. Some people will choose 2) and stay in that option, more or less, for life; there are entire communities built on this. (And as well, it should be noted again, plenty of people blend 2) and 3) successfully.)

However, for many people living in many places and local societies, the more that 3) is chosen, the fewer people there will be available to provide 2), and so, increasingly, 3) will become the only viable option.

It's practically a mathematical trade-off: getting married sacrifices variety and group-cohesion in exchange for intimacy and availability - a sensible choice when one's variety and group-cohesion has already been diminished by... other people getting married.


It's not like this at all. But I wanted another picture.


One might say that, in a pseudo-evolutionary sense, marriage is the most fit competitor in the sphere of socialization options, because it is the only option that eliminates its competitors' "food supply."

Thus marriage leads to more marriage even amongst people who don't want to be married.

(Disclaimer: if it wasn't clear, I am not against marraige. I think it's one viable option amongst many for how to live your life, have a family, raise a child, and/or get your socialization, and which is definitely for some people and definitely not for others. I shall now remove my tongue from cheek. Move along.)

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

I think your theory works better if you replace "married" with "serious relationship," though there are still some pretty major exceptions that apply. I would go into those exceptions, but I am le tired. I will try the second half of my response another day.