The symmetry thesis

The thesis is simple, and almost everyone disagrees with it upon first hearing.

The symmetry thesis: A given person likes (loves) you as much as you like (love) him or her.

I have encountered many apparent refutations of the symmetry thesis,
but with time most have turned out to be spurious.  I find the symmetry
thesis a surprisingly strong predictor of human behavior and

Do I want to know how much you like me?  It is simple.  I imagine
how much I like you.  (If you do the same, are we circular?  Or does
some kind of fixed point theorem apply?)

Let me rule out or explain some obvious "counterexamples."  If a guy
stalks you, and you can’t stand him, the reality is that he is probably
more hostile to you than loving.  The thesis fits.

Break-ups are tricky and they provide the best counterexamples.  But
who really left whom is not always obvious; it can take several years
to figure out what was going on.  Often the leaving party is the one
who first develops a narrative of how things might be different; this
is distinct from liking or loving the other person less.  Other people
leave pre-emptively.

Unilateral crushes are possible and indeed common, although with
repeated contact they usually collapse into symmetry, one way or the

I can imagine several (non-exclusive) mechanisms in support of the
symmetry thesis.  Perhaps "having a connection" — which is mutual by
nature — is the key to true liking and attraction.  That is my favored
view.  Note that it creates a possible exception for people who can
like or love others without having any real connection with them.  I
tend to think of such likes as delusional.

Alternatively, perhaps at least one person is a "fraidy cat," and
won’t let himself or herself fall for the other, or even like the
other, without witnessing signs of reciprocity.  The two people then
lead each other down the pathway of like, in a kind of low-key
intertemporal seduction, sans the sex.  Or with it.

Perhaps we like other people for their intrinsic qualities less than
we pretend.  Mostly we like people for liking (loving) us. 

Yes I know that most of you don’t believe it, and have plenty of
counterexamples to offer.  But keep it in the back of your mind, and
see if it proves useful over the next few years.


Comments for this post are closed