Tethered pairs and locational extremes

Let us assume that you, for reasons of choice or necessity, are spending time in close quarters with another person.  You are then less inclined to visit corona-dangerous locations.  In part you are altruistic toward the other person, and in part for selfish reasons you do not wish to lower the common standard of care.  If you go to a dangerous location, the other person might decide to do the same, if only out of retaliation or frustration.

In essence, by accepting such a tethered pair relationship, you end up much closer (physically, most of all) to one person and much more distant from the others.  You are boosting your locational extremes.

The physically closer you are to the other person, the more easily you can tell if he or she is breaking the basic agreement of minimal risk.  That tends to make the tethered pairs relatively stable.  Monitoring is face-to-face!

Tethered pairs also limit your mobility, because each of the two parties must agree that the new proposed location is safe enough.

People who live alone, and do not know each other initially, might benefit from accepting a tethered pair relationship.  The other person can help them with chores, problems, advice, etc., and furthermore the other person may induce safer behavior.  (Choose a carpenter, not a specialist!)  Many people will take risks if they are the only loser, but not if someone else might suffer as well.

A tethered triplet is harder to maintain than a tethered pair.  For one thing, the larger the group the harder it is to monitor the behavior of the others.  Furthermore, having a third person around helps you less than having a second person around (diminishing marginal utility, plus Sartre).  Finally, as the group grows large there are so many veto points on what is a safe location ( a larger tethered pair might work better with a clear leader).

Yet over time the larger groups might prove more stable, even if they are riskier.  As more things break down, or the risk of boredom and frustration rises, the larger groups may offer some practical advantages and furthermore the entertainments of the larger group might prevent group members from making dangerous trips to “the outside world.”

There is an external benefit to choosing a tethered pair (or triplet, or more), because you pull that person out of potential circulation, thus easing congestion and in turn contagion risk.  Public spaces become safer.

As you choose a tethered pair initially, the risk is relatively high.  The other member of the pair might already be contagious, and you do not yet have much information about what that person has been up to.  As the tethered pair relationship proceeds, however, it seems safer and safer (“well, I’m not sick yet!”), and after two weeks of enforced confinement it might be pretty safe indeed.

Very often married couples will start out as natural tethered pairs.  At the margin, should public policy be trying to encourage additional tethered pairs?  Or only in the early stages of pandemics, when “formation risk” tends to be relatively low?  Do tethered pairs become safer again (but also less beneficial?), as a society approaches herd immunity?

It may be easier for societies with less sexual segregation to create stable tethered pairs, since couple status is more likely to overlap with “best friend” status.

One advantage of good, frequent, and common testing is that it encourage the formation of more tethered pairs.

You can modify this analysis by introducing children (or parents) more explicitly, or by considering the varying ages of group members.  You might, for instance, prefer to be a tethered pair with a younger person, but not everyone can achieve that.


"Very often married couples will start out as natural tethered pairs."

And some will end that way.

Maybe it's not the point, but didn't see a single downside mentioned. So here's one.

Divorces rise in China due to lockdowns:


Can one be tethered without being in the same quarters? Technology is everywhere these days. You can keep a Zoom window open all day and enjoy the sights and sounds of the other.

"locational extremes" = stay at home?

Incels are doing better than tethered pairs. Less moving parts. Park yourself in front of a screen and tune out the rest of the world.

Is your last sentence an invitation to a certain poster that spends significant time in Greece and the Philippines?

Bat Signal to Ray

Ray is dating a woman half his age. So she's like 50.

He got separated from her, though. He's in rural Greece and she's still back in the Philippines. It's shaping up to be an epic love story across time and space, "The Winds of Coronavirus".

It seems the musing of a man in a higher risk group looking for the optimal strategy to ensure higher odds of survival for himself.

I figured the whole thing is a parody David Brooks column.

More sexually segregated societies are associated with more arranged marriages, organized by parents. At this point in the pandemic, parents are likely to look out carefully for children. One can imagine scouts, spies, quarantines, etc., before the pairing takes place. More segregated societies are likely to lead to extremely safe pairing.

Re: " A tethered triplet is harder to maintain than a tethered pair."

Does this explain
Threesomes are rare
Inherently unstable?

Is there something
About describing
The relationship

The third partner adds less in specialized skills and more in transaction costs.

Has basically no experience of dealing with a baby over months and months. Along with an apparent problem using extended family for larger groups.

And is 'Hell is other people' the overt Straussian take away? Or is it more subtle, as noted by Sartre "Hell is other people" has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because … when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves.

I wank off and play video games all day while Trump/Mnuchin prints me free money. All you fiscal-tards and moral nannies can die from coronavirus. I'm voting Trump again to keep this gravy train coming.

It is not an accident that the vast majority of world population throughout history lived in some form of roughly monogamous marriage. Marriage has been a highly efficient means of reinforcing social norms that avert harms and reduce most risks.

For all the talk of marriage being a limitation or being confining, the truth is that it typically allows people to accomplish more. You can trade off childcare duties. You can specialize in cooking or cleaning. You can secure entertainment cheaply even should the power go out. You can nurse the other while sick. And you can do all these things without having to spend resources searching in the imperfect markets of the real world with all the attendant costs.

And more importantly traditional marriages (whatever their flavor) tended to be things that had significant impediments to leaving. This tended to mean that people invested in making them work and were less prone to walk over temporary adversity. Marriage is not just more efficient, it also is more robust.

Here is my prediction: the gap in wellbeing (measured by cash, psychiatric measures, or health outcomes) between the married and the single will widen during Covid. The time and other resources required to make single folks whole relative to their married peers will amount to trillions of dollars.

Now imagine all the cash is "wasted" by maintaining our modern marriage delays and diminished rates in the good times. The world is vastly poorer every percentage point of the adult population that is unmarried.

And sure, it makes little sense to force people to get married. Yet we raise innumerable impediments to marriage. Launching two careers is idiotically difficult if at least one party is not highly mobile. We tax double earners more heavily. We phase out a bunch of benefits that merely require people to forgo the ritual of marriage, even as that ritual correlates so well with so many good outcomes. In a saner world, we would not need Covid to see that marriage is highly efficient and we should remove all marginal impediments thereto.

" In a saner world, we would not need Covid to see that marriage is highly efficient "

Sure about that? Somebody above posted about divorces rising due to COVID. I expect more divorces here in the US because let's face it a non-working spouse is a drain not an efficiency. Modern marriages aren't cheap. Money matters more than whatever nice things books tell you.

Yeah. Divorce means you made it through without dying so you are already doing better than the bottom 5% in China. It also means that you are not still dealing with long term sequelae that disrupt your life too much to do things like initiate legal proceedings (e.g. most people with new oxygen dependence and severely restricted mobility tend not visit their lawyers). And then, for the vast majority of people, divorce is at least decently expensive so we are also talking about folks who made it through a severe disruption without going so broke that they cannot afford the legal fees. All told, those are initiating divorces are likely above the bottom third of all comers by quick and dirty estimation.

Frankly this is just the helmet argument. Those who have them may come out looking like a mess, but those who don't often just don't come out.

In any event, a non-working spouse can often cook, clean, and provide a lot of benefits to the working spouse. Pre-Covid such traditional arrangements were highly correlated with higher earnings by the working partner, greater marital satisfaction, and better outcomes for the kids (granted, this is confounded by folks like this having higher incomes, but we cannot tell which way causation runs).

Covid-19 is exposing the weaknesses of families. Both Chinese and Italian life is centered on the family which makes it so easy to spread infectious diseases.

Right, which is why the current fastest doubling rate is in Europe just happens to be the UK. The fastest doubling rate in the US happen to be in places with vastly fewer families like NYC or New Orleans. After all, 51% of Americans are married, yet in NYC that figure is somewhere around 35% and in New Orleans it is around 30%.

I mean seriously, if this spread best among families the worst impacted place in the US would be Salt Lake City.

Me, I could be wrong, but I think the real issue driving all this data is who was most closely coupled to epicenters of early outbreaks. Lombardy having direct flights to Wuhan was not terribly helpful. Getting hit first is likely to mean worse spread before any counter measures were taken.

Again, my prediction is that we will find a reasonably robust correlation showing that those who were married pre-Covid will be more likely to be alive in a year. Are you willing to make the opposite prediction?

Perhaps it really doesn't matter now, any more than the lab origin versus the eating of animals whose viruses the lab was studying origin, but the lockdown on mentioning Wuhan for a month or so means I never got any context for those briefly-mentioned daily direct flights from Wuhan to Milan. Ditto to Tehran. Were there direct flights from Wuhan to everywhere else in Europe too?

Wuhan is a major world city with a population 50% larger than America's biggest city NYC. It has direct flights to every other major city in the world.

Per capita, SLC is up there as a hotspot.


Salt Lake County has 650 confirmed cases with 4 deaths. Much of that comes from the fact that it had an initial outbreak in a nursing home which seeded a lot of spread. It has just north of a million inhabitants. Per capita that still has them below the top 10 counties in the country.

I don't doubt that there will be communities with high marriage rates that have lots of spread. It would be amazingly protective if there were not some. I suspect that the cause of all the early hotspots is bad luck and too much trust in the CCP's lies after that.

Right now the places hit the hardest have been those with lots of single people. Certainly not proof that marriage is protective, but highly suggestive that it is not a major driver of infection rates.

"It is not an accident that the vast majority of world population throughout history lived in some form of roughly monogamous marriage."

And it is also not an accident that Italian style multi-generational living is also something that the vast majority of world population throughout history experienced.

The lifestyles of us marginal autistics has not changed.

Per Robin Hanson, larger household sizes means larger initial viral doses (which seems to be a big factor in mortality, and presumably morbidity) from people who catch it from a housemate who in turn got a low dose "in the wild". This seems to be one thing causing issues in Italy, where larger extended families live together.

Actually, there is a great deal of socio economic literature on pairwise stability in both networks and society. https://web.stanford.edu/~jacksonm/netstab.pdf

“...dangerous trips to ‘the outside world.’” I’m not buying. My governor has ordered non-essential businesses closed. He has further determined that two activities particularly enjoyed by older men are banned: golf, on the grounds that golf is “non-essential,” and fishing, because...? Let’s talk about golf. I live five minutes from a golf course. The course instituted social distancing policies. They closed their clubhouse. They instructed golfers to leave the hole pins in. I can walk 18 holes with a friend and never be within 6 feet of him or touch anything other than my ball and clubs. The possibility of disease transmission is zero. There is nothing “dangerous” about “the outside world.” I don’t fish, but most of the fishermen I know go alone to their favorite secret spots, where there is zero chance of disease transmission. Yet these activities are banned. It is far more “dangerous” to interact with the “essential” businesses, particularly grocery stores. But has anyone heard of a case of community transmission in a grocery store? The “danger” is in continuous close contact with an infected person or group of people, such as in a nursing home. So why ban golf and fishing? It seems to me that the elites are testing their power. To what extent can we control the population for our purposes through soft coercion? It seems clear that the next step is to experiment with harder coercion. They’re dancing along the line between complete authoritarian control and public revolution. And the line seems to move closer every day toward the acceptance of authoritarianism, helped by this blog and its language of “dangerous trips to ‘the outside world.’” I hope TC is being ironic.

I am all in favor of these "modern marriage delays". Taking the time in your 20s to know and understand yourself well enough to make a good choice about who to marry and to build enough empathy & forethought to understand the value of compromise increases the likelihood of a _stable & happy_ marriage, from which flow all the benefits you rightly praise. There are few circumstances which undermine all other aspects of life as thoroughly as a bad marriage. I'm glad that more and more people are taking their time to decide.

This post and several of the comments are taking an instrumentalist viewpoint about the bonds people form that I find quite off-putting. It reminds me of Marge Simpson pushing the salt & pepper shakers together, the dog & cat together...

Just checking, but what exactly is worse about a bad marriage than a bad cohabitation? After all it is not like people in their 20s are actually staying alone or not moving in together. The legal process is certainly moving back toward common law (with some jurisdictions awarding alimony and tax benefits/liabilities to cohabiters). Certainly in my line of work I see far more domestic violence among cohabiters and easily an order of magnitude more child abuse among the same.

The low upfront commitment strategy is one of those things that requires both parties to have a lot of resources to navigate. Works decently well for the upper middle class and rich, but seems to be utterly toxic to the poor.

10x in child abuse? Good Lord. That's an awful number but then again, which way does the causation run? Is the marriage not happening because one partner is afraid to get hitched to someone who can't control her or his temper or is the instability of cohabiting but not marrying lowering the threshold at which one person lashes out? Of course, if you've already had a kid together, then both parties are in it up to their neck, anyway. My wife jokes sometimes about how high school teachers should be given Depo-Provera blowdarts to deploy as they see fit.

I suppose the crux of the matter is the degree to which you see marriage as being transformative of the underlying relationship. I can see the argument that an improvement in material circumstances from commingling finances and reducing overhead from consolidating households is helpful. A line from _Parasite_ springs to mind: "Money is like an iron. It smooths everything out".

I'm skeptical that the psychological commitment of a wedding makes much difference at all. The value of delayed marriage and long engagements with cohabitation (but no kids!) is that partners get past being on their best behavior in early dating and have a better opportunity to honestly assess whether they really want to sign up for a potential 50+ years with this person. I know I needed to do a lot of work to even be marriageable and though my wife has helped me grow a lot, there was a threshold I needed to clear by myself first.

The official literature puts the figure at an 8 to 10 fold increase in rates of non-accidental trauma for children raised outside of marriage. It is higher still if you cohabit with a non-biological parent (which is typically a male abuser). If we look at the seriousness of the non-accidental trauma the risk increase gets higher still. The top end for lethal non-accidental trauma against children is around 50-fold greater for cohabiting couples with a non-biological parent male present.

Now maybe cohabitation should be restricted for folks who lack the social capital, money, and self restraint. Maybe we should ban having children while cohabiting. But none of that is remotely plausible in the world in which we live.

In this world, cohabitation means out-of-wedlock births and it means large increases in the rates of non-accidental trauma. In many countries age of first birth is below age of first marriage, often by more than year. In this country, 40% of children do not live with both biological parents and my spitball is that 20% of them live with mom's current cohabitant. Certainly the vast majority of times I have had to testify about non-accidental trauma have been for mom's cohabitating boyfriend. In the last 20 years the number of kids dying from this has gone from 3 per day in the US to 5. And while it is by no means the established cause, that is around the same increase we have seen in the number of cohabitating couples with children.

Now money certainly helps, but marriage decreases rates of abuse even when you control for income and zip code. It dramatically decreases the rate of child abuse when "mom's boyfriend" becomes "mom's husband".

"he value of delayed marriage and long engagements with cohabitation (but no kids!) is that partners get past being on their best behavior in early dating and have a better opportunity to honestly assess whether they really want to sign up for a potential 50+ years with this person."
The data does not bear this out. Cohabitation makes it more likely that partners will end up failing to get to 50+ years, not less. Likewise, cohabitation is not associated with an increase in marital satisfaction or with better evaluations of marriage partners or with better evaluations of the partner bond.

Why does cohabitation have such toxic impacts on marriage? Dunno. My best guess is that people develop habits of behavior while commitment is relatively low, these continue into marriage, and are maladaptive in a more fully committed relationship. Certainly this bears out with data showing that some of the harm of cohabitation on stable partnering is mitigated by giving "premarital" counseling prior to cohabiting.

And you can definitely make the whole gig work, it just seems to fail rather hard for the poor and uneducated. Because remember about 1/4 women who cohabit will be pregnant within the year. Half of them will be separated before their child is in school. And most of those will go one to cohabit again with all the child abuse risk that entails.

Like with many other social vices, this is fun for the upper middle class and wealthy. They can play the field and have a more exacting search for optimal partners. Like other vices, the harms are inordinately skewed towards the poor and uneducated.

Whatever their faults, all forms of marriage (the 1940s version, the immigrant arranged marriages, the we-did-it-for-tax-benefits ones) are correlated with a lot fewer dead kids. And fatal abuse correlates reasonably well with general abuse as well as domestic violence and other bad outcomes.

So again this will be one of those things that people will tell me must not be so, and then be utterly unable to show me objective data that their preferred vice is in any way shape or form net helpful to society as a whole.

Controlling for family size and ages, do higher percentages of married couples within a region correlate with a lower rate of corona virus transmission? (Perhaps data is probably already in an easy to find format for regular influenza virus?)

Current count from Hopkins has US cases at 278,573. The top 10 counties per Hopkins (ignoring unassigned cases from NJ) account for 121,454 cases (about 44% of all confirmed cases).

These counties are NYC, Westchester NY, Nassau NY, Suffolk NY, Cook County IL, Wayne MI, Bergen NJ, LA County CA, and New Orleans LA. Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Bergen are all just slightly below national average for the rate currently married. Everything else is decidedly below national average.

A priori the correlation exists, but it is largely tied entirely to the fact that single folk live in major metropolitan areas with lots of air travel and at densities which have been making pandemics more lethal since recorded history began.

Teasing out the impact of the many other factors like timing and income will require a lot of statistical analysis that will be a long time coming. Suffice it to say that at a first pass marriage appears to be protective against Covid spread in the US but marriage is also tightly correlated with a lot of other things that help.

This post reads as if someone had Thomas Schelling on his diss committee. IOW, it's brilliant

Re the difficulty of "tethered triplets" adverted to by "plus Sartre"?! Surely minus Sartre would be more like it. The moderne arrangement next door (no palace, far from it, but writing a check for the rent would leave me trembling and queasy for hours) has a changing cast of characters around woman x. They do not garden and seldom venture outside, so I don't really know them. The child has lately disappeared; he seemed like a hot potato before, so maybe coronavirus has given him a more stable place to be for the duration. The other lady roommate-and-child left after an acrimonious dustup. Another lady roommate has come and gone. X's live-in boyfriend, unaccustomedly, spoke to me the other day and I took the chance to glean some intel, though only half-heartedly - sure, I'm 'satiably curious, but it's not exactly life's fascinating pageant over there: I see y'all have a new roommate. "Oh, that's the guy x is dating." Ah, I see, of course, I replied, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for a thirty-something to live with his ex x and her new man. Any port in a Covid storm, I guess.

I'd sure like a nice old-person neighbor, that would be the best. Or at least someone to speak to from time to time on some of my favorite subjects: the weather, plants, recipes, coronavirus. Hell is not other people, hell is the wrong people. No, that's too strong - they're (currently) quiet, boring, mostly invisible: purgatory is the wrong people.

What you really want here is a duprass.

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