Thursday, July 15, 2010

Play the Game Theory

Today, I had a little bit of a "heart fart." This is like a brain fart, except it involves your emotions. In fact, this describes those awkward times where you think that you've just completely changed how you feel about something ... or someone. Usually, heart farts are short-lived and relatively minor, but I still prefer to avoid them. (Yes, I did coin the term "heart fart.")

Anyway, I had a heart fart where I thought I might like this guy I've liked on and off for awhile. (I know - it's impossible to say you "like" someone without sounding like you're a thirteen-year-old playing ZAP. It is significantly more difficult to invent cool terminology for pre-pubescent phenomena than to create a catchy, rhyming term like "heart fart." Sorry I can't do more.) Even in a heart fart, though, I'm notoriously logical and love charts. This led me to categorize all members of the opposite sex as fitting into one of four Categories. (I am going to use "like" in the giggling, pre-teen, crush-tastic sense.)

1. Men you don't like who don't like you.
This is a wonderful, uncomplicated group of the opposite sex. These are strangers, friends, eunuchs, waiters, grocery baggers, subway performers, and mildly attractive TV personalities. There's nothing between you but air, and you are both able to live your lives without having to sing melodramatic pop songs about the other one's existence. Next time you see someone in Category 1, give him a non-awkward high five.

2. Men you don't like who do like you.
This tends to be a small, odd group of guys for several reasons:
1. People who like you tend to gain a lot of brownie points in your book for having "such refined taste in women," perhaps creating a heart fart of your own.
2. Creeps and weirdos are irrepressible.
3. You probably actually do have refined taste in men.

This is an awkward group that's usually full of lab partners, exes, and overly friendly men on the street/in the grocery store/on the subway, etc. Despite the initial awkwardness, your only job is to let him down gently but firmly, and not lead him on. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but since you're not emotionally entangled, there's not a lot riding on Category 2 fellas for you.

3. Men you like who don't like you.
Oh, unrequited love! This category is the stuff of Taylor Swift songs, and for most of us, this category causes more problems than all the others put together. These are the more desirable lab partners, friends who don't see what they're missing, and really attractive strangers/tv personalities. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Category 3 is that they can become a Category 1 or 4 quite easily - or, in a painful twist of irony, even a Category 2! The problems come while you're waiting for them to switch affiliations ... but not like that.

4. Men you like who also like you.
Oh, glory! The joys of Category 4 men - those rare jewels of the earth who have the decency to time their feelings for you alongside your feelings for them. For some girls, every man is a category 4 man. We call these girls "women of the night." For most of us, Category 4 guys are more rare - and for some of us, they're extremely rare. However, something helpful to keep in mind when you think you've met a Category 4 guy is that you really only ever need one of them. If you find more than one, they have to become Category 1, 2, or 3 guys eventually (or you might have to change jobs). Category 4 guys are like shoes that are both adorable and comfortable. It's a rare combination, but oh, what a sweet one!

Now, we can actually make a diagram of Categories 1-4 that resembles the diagram used in game theory.

See, both 'You' and the 'Man' in question are on the chart. The numbers represent how much either of you wants the relationship to work out - your numbers are in the bottom right corner, his in the top left corner of each box. For example, if he likes you and you don't like him (Category 2), we'd look at the top right-hand box. He thinks the relationship would be an 8, you think it would be a 2. Clearly, you both benefit the most from the outcomes in the top left box, but you're more likely to get something "unmatched," like the results in the top right or bottom left box, where only one person thinks the relationship is a good idea. This is why relationships are difficult - even though there are only four categories, each one comes with its own set of problems.

In economics, this diagram is usually used to show why two companies will both charge a lower price, even though if they worked together they could charge a higher price. Neither one wants to end up in one of the "middle" boxes (top right, bottom left), so to avoid that risk, they both try to undercut the other, making less money than possible, but more than if they'd been caught in the middle.

In our example, though, this shows why so many people are afraid of relationships - they've been hurt in the past, and they'd rather end up in the lonely world full of Category 1 men than in the hurtful world of Category 2 or 3. Luckily, people can change categories, as well as attitudes. Heart farts can be good for that - but you have to act quickly, because you never know when sanity will reinstate itself.

I had a heart fart in:
Black pencil skirt, patterned bias-stitched sheer blouse, black cami, silver hoop earrings, yellow-green zipper cuff bracelet, and green leather platform stilettos with cork heels and platforms.

PS No, you don't know who I was heart farting over. Don't try to guess.


  1. According to that game theory chart, the best method for everyone, statistically, would be to like everyone else. It always gets the best outcomes. In order for it to be accurate, you need to make the Not Like/Not Like scenario worth more for each side. Those Category 1 guys aren't so bad.

  2. Please write an entire book on relationships based on game theory and other economic principles.

  3. Kyle - just like you can't just decide to have everyone in the world fall in love with everyone else in the world, you can't make competitors become best friends in order to get a "better" outcome. For you, imagine that instead of being an 8/2 split, it's a 10000000/-3 split. Does that work?
    And I'm a big fan of Category 1 guys. I said they were "wonderful" "uncomplicated" and advocated giving them "non-awkward high fives" for sheer awesomeness. :D
    Bean - you are a dear. I'd love to. :)