Valentine’s Day Advice

If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t signalling.


Here is what I will tell my Valentine: "you are my Giffen good"

LOL. Economic comedy at its finest.

If she knows economics you can tell her she's your positional good. If not, then better not.

Hey-o! Try the veal.

Here is what I would tell my Valentine if I had one: "you are my inferior good, but now that I'm unemployed I mean that as a compliment" (won't work?)

What a nonsense. If you truly love somebody, you are happy to give (and it's still signalling).

Your statement is not exclusive to Alex's statement. There is room for conjunction.

SMBC is spot on, as usual:

as gets it right. A credible signal is costly to send falsely. It doesn't have to be costly to send truly.

Yes. That's the whole idea, isn't it?

The expensive dinner or gift or whatever hurts less, or not at all , if you love the other person.

That is what the lying is for.

Yes - except that expensive dinners are probably not the cost discriminating signals. The cost discriminating signal for romantic love is going to be correlated with the "comfort and cuddling" types of relating and connecting. Expensive dinner is just correlated with income.

I suspect that for love, the effective signals are all time intensive -- searching for that perfect gift, writing a poem, fixing the thing you promised to fix but haven't yet, and so on. Something that a well to do cad can't or won't do bc he values his time and personal consumption more than he does anything else.

In this case, you're simply wrong.

The proper signal to send to your beloved on Valentines Day is that you do value her, but measurably less than she values you. This lets her take responsibility for improving the relationship and provides her with a realistic goal to work towards. It also gives her a little harmless drama and uncertainty to chew on, which keeps her mind occupied. Women insist on a man who presents a bit of a challenge to work on. It keeps them interested. Bored women look elsewhere for excitement.

Give somebody a challenging but not unachievable task that he cares deeply about, focused on somebody other than himself, and he'll be happy. Women particularly like to work on relationship crap. That's the only thing they really want to take the lead on. Let them. Showering them with expensive gifts feels to them like you're trying to win their love rather than the reverse. That seems effeminate to them and it skeeves them out. DON'T SKEEVE YOUR WIFE OUT, YOU'LL REGRET IT.

Exception: If she's pregnant with your child or recently gave birth to it, you should unambiguously signal strong commitment. Normally, women love playing relationship games, but not then. Not remotely then.

My advice was limited to men because this is a libertarian blog.

Also, women have no control over themselves in relationships anyway. They react mechanistically to what the man does.

But if any of the three libertarian women on Earth happen to get this far in the comments, you can't go far wrong with a steak and a blowjob.

What frightening reasoning, completely devoid of understanding of humanity, friendship, love, etc. Is this what happens when someone takes economists seriously regarding signalling and relationship advice? I shudder to think of the women who might be subjected to your reasoning...

Luckily, with comments like these around on the internet, you'll probably stay single forever anyway.

Women and men have very different ways of trying to satisfy their needs, and many of their needs differ profoundly as well, especially in the area of romance or anything related to it. If you want to understand humanity, you're going to have to understand women as well as men. Women aren't men. Pretending they're men will get you nowhere, particularly in the realm of love or anything relating to reproduction. That's irrelevant if you're gay -- but if you are, you can quit lecturing me about maintaining romantic relationships with women.

If I took economists seriously, I would share this blog's mistaken view that women are men. It is true, however, that in romantic relationships, both men and women try to maximize what they value. If you think that's "unromantic", you must not know anybody who values romance. In a healthy relationship, they value each other's happiness and well being. But "happiness and well-being" are on a pretty high order of abstraction. For women and men, the details differ profoundly. What women value is counter-intuitive to men, and the way they go about trying maximize it is even more counter-intuitive -- to men ("can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em", "bitches be crazy", "nobody knows what women want", etc. etc.). To women it's all perfectly intuitive, but sadly it's never anything but intuitive.

The error economists often make is the belief that, if people try to maximize what they value (true), and if it is rational to do so (duh), then a) they must be making at least halfway rational decisions about what to value, and b) they must tend to pursue that maximization in a halfway rational way. A and b are both non sequiturs. Even if people had good information, they'd still make a mess of it. We're chimpanzees, for God's sake.

My girlfriend is quite happy, because I understand her needs and make a reasonably consistent effort to meet them. I'm not perfect, but I generally get it in the ballpark. Tomorrow, she and I will have been together five years. Women don't appreciate it when you pretend that they're men and focus your efforts on meeting needs they don't have, while neglecting the needs they do have. They resent it. If you ever get a girlfriend of your own, you will find that the relationship eventually collapses for reasons you can't begin to understand. None of your beliefs about relationships will account for it. Well, I've just accounted for it right here. When that day comes, remember this conversation.

Incidentally, don't bother asking women about this stuff. They say a lot of stuff but what they do always turns out to be an exception, just this once. "Intuition". It's not gonna change. Adapt, or stock up on kleenex.


Matt, thanks for the primer on understanding women.

Did it occur to you that you were responding to a woman?

Too funny.

Agreed, Brian. The irony of complaining that economists assume women are men, while assuming liberty is a man, is delicious. Popcorn?

What do you think, did mistaking liberty for a man occur because she wasn't acting like a mechanistic game-player?

Hey, I thought this blog was family friendly!

AS and Benquo,

You've never thought your partner is being unreasonable? That she/he is expecting things that are too 'costly' (one way or another) and yet still love him/her despite that?

If my wife asks for something that is too costly, I inform her. We will discuss it, determine what we can afford, and whether what she (or I) wants is reasonable, and go from there.

Of course, she also said when I proposed, "Don't give me a ring. Save the money for a down payment on our house." So YMMV.

"If it doesn't hurt more when you're insincere, it's not signaling."

"If it isn't costly, then why do you only do it on a holiday?" Says she...

This is the sort of advice that leads to friendzoned try-hards.

Query: Which will be more treasured, a $100 box of chocolates, or proving you were paying attention when she admired something (less than $50) in a store window six months ago?

Women want emotional commitment. If you actually have that commitment, it's nearly costless to show it off. A big bouquet of roses only gets maximum ROI on the very first Valentines Day you spend together (and that's assuming you've been dating less than six months). It shows your intention to develop emotional commitment. But after that, displays of wealth have significantly diminishing returns (among women worth dating).

" friendzoned try-hards"

Is that good or bad?

Bad, dude. It's the guys who try too hard, spend 'til it hurts, and get no love for their efforts. A friendzoned independent or a successful try-hard is far better than a friendzoned try-hard.

What's the relationship equivalent of throwing the steering wheel out the window in a game of chicken? Non refundable tickets to fly out to meet her parents at four months into the relationship, purchased two months in?

It all depends on who you're playing chicken against. Because it's not who you're courting--if she backs off, the relationship ends.

If she knows you are broke, spend the money. If she knows you have money but sometimes don't pay full attention to her, get the thing she subtly admired.

Valentne's Day is like thermonuclear war. The only way to win the game is not to play.

"If it doesn't hurt, you aren't signaling anhedonic beta provider."


My advice: Do not under any circumstance go out to dinner. I don't have any empirical evidence, only observational, but most restaurants jack up prices and treat you like cattle. Go the extra mile and cook, or at least, order take out from a place that still offers their everyday menu.

Buy a card and fill up the inside (solid block, no breaks) with reasons why you love her. It's good for you to remind yourself and it makes her feel better.

If your partner doesn't put as much effort into Valentine's Day as you do, get rid of your partner.

So every couple should break up?

If people work under that rule, the best strategy is to bid something that will be easy to match exactly. Like zero, or a card. The more involved you get, the harder it is not just to match exactly, but for both people to agree to the same value of two different bids. I hand you an apple. You hand me an orange. Is their value really the same?

as much, or, preferably, more. if you want your partner to feel strong love for you, get her to invest in you. (i say "her" because it is women, owing to the nature of differing reproductive goals and values between the sexes, who most crave the feeling of a challenging lover.) the more she invests, the greater her attraction.

i know this knowledge blows the minds of beta males, but there's a whole world out there that Hallmark, Zales and FTD don't want you to know about.

Alas, no. You gotta invest in her, not necessarily or even primarily with cash, if you want her long-term. Males offer themselves; females choose.

how do you measure effort?

I'm going to take Roissy's advice over Tabarrok's this year.

Roissy has just worked for me, yet again. Meanwhile "You don't understand, a market in kidneys would save so many lives! And don't get me started on the FDA!" has failed every single time.

Is this Roissy stuff about siring fatherless children? Or is it just the Will Ferrell character in wedding crashers.


You should read him if only for the unparalleled insight into human nature. Ignore him at the macro level -- women voting will doom us all! non-whites will doom us all! -- go to Bryan Caplan for that stuff. But at the individual level there is no better. Think Robin Hanson's insights on homo hypocritus, but less Asperg-y and with a lot more field testing.

What is Roissy's advice?

"Don't take yourself so seriously."

[NB: actually that might have been my mental advice to him when I read his blog...may not want to google everything you find here.]

This day I do not like

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