Thursday, June 30, 2011

Essay on the Kinetics of Dating and Marriage

Auctor: One who seeks knowledge of some arcane, or even a not necessarily so arcane subject, is often tempted to consult an 'expert.' This, I have found, is usually a mistake, especially if the expert is known to have a longstanding association with the subject.

The seeker may also seek out a 'master,' who appears to have a track-record of outstanding success in the field of whatever endeavor he is contemplating. This, too, is probably a mistake. I am thinking in the first case of a person with an interest in physics seeking the advice of an Albert Einstein, or in the second of an overweight person asking a rail thin model how she manages to stay so thin.

At some future point in time, these may be perfectly useful sources of input, but in the early going they are unlikely to have much to offer. This is because, in most cases, their basic 'expertise' comes very natural to them, long ago having become unthinking habit, such that the seeker's very fundamental difficulties will be so far from their minds that they will not be able to anticipate what it is that frustrates the seeker's comprehension.

The expert has a tendency take the basics for granted, and suffers from the universal human tendency to assume that the problems of others must be similar to his own. Thus he operates at a level so far above the total novice that he is often no longer able even to have a conversation with him. Such talent does exist, but it is exceedingly rare. More likely, the novice will find himself frustrated because the expert either talks over his head, leaves out crucial details, or oversimplifies to the point of absurdity. But the expert can hardly help it.

In such a case, what I have found to be most satisfactory is to seek out, if one can happen to find it, not an expert, but a complete and utter idiot who has neverthless managed to scrape by on the topic of interest. That person will likely be intimately familiar with every pitfall that the novice is likely to face, and rare as he may be, he is both far more valuable and usually easier to find than a comprehensible expert.

It is in that spirit that I offer up this essay on the dynamics that govern marriage. The reader would be hard pressed to find anyone with less innate talent on the general subjects of romance and relations between the sexes than I, who nevertheless managed to get himself married off -- to procreate, even -- and stay out of divorce court for a number of years. So far.

So, to begin, it seems to me that there are some lessons about marital romance that may be understood by analogy to chemical kinetics --

Lector: I think I may have found your problem.

Auctor: Problem? What problem?

Lector: Never mind...

Auctor: Well, anyway, I am going to sketch out here a model based on chemical reaction kinetics, which I have had in my head for some time now and find a very useful tool. Skeptics beware! My model is based on no data whatsoever, but like any worthwhile science, is backed mountains and mountains of anecdote and speculation.

Marriage and Chemistry

The subject of marriage is riddled with misconceptions, and I will begin by exploding one of them -- the idea that it is a risky business because, as everyone knows, some 50% of marriages end in divorce.

Even supposing one accepted this statistical fact at face value, the assessment of excessive risk would not follow. This is obvious upon simple inspection. First of all, not all people get married, and secondly, those who get one divorce often get more, sometimes many more. Thus, if the question is instead put 'what is my probability of getting a divorce over the course of my life,' even in the absence of any other knowledge, any particular person must face substantially less than a 50% chance of facing a divorce before he dies, though, obviously a person who never marries can't be divorced, that much is true.

But personally, I do not even accept the statistic itself. It seems to me misleading. I think it is much like the startling murder rates in the US as compared to Europe. Foreigners often take this as a sign of how terribly unsafe the American streets are, but as anyone who lives here knows, those rates are heavily skewed towards certain demographics which have voluntarily chosen a particular set of lifestyles for themselves. So long as one does not habitually involve himself in violent criminal activity, his chance of being murdered drops dramatically -- to about the rate that prevails elsewhere, or even less.

Likewise, the 50% divorce rate statistic conflates all 'couplings' indiscriminately. I think that people who take their relationship choices halfway seriously and manage to avoid certain 'habits of thought' and behaviors stand a good chance of staying out of divorce court. It seems to me that quite a goodly fraction of so-called marriages are not really serious 'couplings' at all, and probably do not belong under the same heading. Playing house does not a marriage make, as anyone who has ever been in a real marriage knows.

The idea that an individual's choices and attitudes are the prevailing determinant of whether or not he will have a chance at a good marriage runs smack into another misconception about marriage that is probably the great grand-daddy of them all -- the myth of the soul-mate. This, of course, is the idea that the key to a successful relationship is a matter of finding the right person, that one, perfect match that will ensure that everything works out effortlessly.

However romantically appealing, one would think this notion would be rejected on its face, as people tend to change and develop over time, such that whoever might be 'right' today would not be the same person a year from now. Neither would the person supposedly making the assessment. What would be the probability that they still 'matched,' esppecially given the notion that the phenomenon of 'matching' is so rare?

Lector: Just a moment. I understand the improbity of the 'perfect match' which negates the necessity of effort altogether. But surely you aren't discounting the necesity of matching personalities to a healthy relationship?

Auctor: I am, to a large degree. I do not deny a certain utility of compatibility to 'getting along.' But I do deny the necessity, and especially the centrality, of matching personalities to marital success.

Lector: Hmmm. Perhaps. But I should think a certain constancy of character a basic virtue necessary to a stable relationship. Wouldn't tweaking one's personality to a significant degree hazard alienating one's spouse, and further, in a way violate the basic understanding behind marriage itself? Your spouse did, after all, agree to marry you, not the as yet unkown stranger you may one day become.

Auctor: You still haven't displaced personal compatibility as central to a relationship. Ironically, in my opinion it is exactly those people who do grow and change over their lifetimes who are likely to make the best mates, as they are the ones making the effort to develop themselves. We all start out as children; those who succeed in remaining constant must be doomed to remain childen forever. To reject change is to reject growth. But then, they are the ones most likely to harbor the myth of the soul-mate, so perhaps they are to be forgiven for the misconception.

The truth is that a successful relationship is not about finding the right person, it is about being the right person--

Lector: You're making my head spin.

Auctor: Give it time.

I do not refer to one's entire personality, but some few specific aspects of it, a part of what may be called character. This assertion -- that attaining a certain aspect of character is the essential ingredient in a successful marriage -- forms the center of my kinetic model.

It is my belief that the population of single people out there may be roughly divided into two groups -- those who are 'marriageable,' and those who are not. This is apart from the division between the sexes, which is obviously the second important division.

Those who have by whatever means achieved a state of 'marriageability' of character are the only ones capable of entering into a relationship that may realistically be called a marriage. A pairing between two marriagable people will in all probability succeed, with only a residual probability of divorce (which can never be ruled out entirely). Non-marriageable couples who 'marry' are most likely entering a fantastic construct of their own which is only superficially similar to the real thing and has little to no chance of succeeding in the long term, no matter how hard the couple may 'try' at it. Mixed pairings will also inevitably fail, as the toxic attitudes of one partner will eventually pull the relationship apart. Says I. But I suspect these pairings are fairly rare, as a marriageable person will naturally seek out a marriageable partner and tend to reject those who fall short.

What is with this property of marriageability? I think that for the reader who has to ask, no explanation will be sufficient, while the reader who understands is already nodding his head. It is a thing easier to identify than to define. Like obscenity, one knows it when one sees it.

My best attempt to explain would be to call it something like maturity. One is born without it, but over the course of one's life, as he develops and matures (and if he develops and matures) he eventually crosses a threshold. He realizes that happiness comes principally from conforming one's self to certain notions, most of them known since ancient times, and that rebellion against them inevitably brings misery. It is a coming to terms with the universe, and once the impudence of youth has finally been broken, though the individual will not be in final form, the battle has largely been won. The rest of one's life is a matter of working out just what the 'rules' are.

Though it may sound strange to say, it is my firm opinion that one who has reached this state will succeed in marriage with practically any other who has also reached it, independent of other aspects of personality. Marriageable adults could be practically matched at random, and though the pairings would most likely prove not to be the ideal arrangement, nevertheless I am confident that almost all would work out. I say this based on the fact that the couples had already committed in the beginning to a realistic idea of what marriage entails, and as mature people of character, they will value this central aspect of their mates above the other surrounding details of personality, which fall away in importance. Those who are actually serious and realistic about marriage can generally succeed, even against long odds.

So much for the model's core assumptions. There will be a few more, but they are of lesser importance.

The Kinetics

As my model ignores non-productive pairings, or rather, consigns them pre-emptively to failure, I focus solely on 'real' marriages and the dynamics of their formation. As such, one would expect as a first guess, then, that the rate of marriage would be proportional to the probability of two such people encountering one another (and thus having the opportunity of pairing up). It would obey some form the following equation--

Rate = c[M*]x[W*]y


c = the rate constant
[M*] = the incidence of marriageable men in the population
[W*] = the incidence of marriageable women in the population
x = the order of the process with respect to marriageable men = 1
y = the order of the process with respect to marriageable women = 1

...which is to say, that the rate of marriage will be proportional to the product of the quantities of marriageable people of each sex present in the population.

Lector: Oh God! This is going to be another one of those awful essays that treats some social phenomenon as if it were a branch of physics, isn't it?

Auctor: Chemistry, not physics. Not 'as if,' only 'analogous to.' Analogies may not have mathematical validity, but they are useful rhetorical and illustrative devices, are they not?

Lector: You haven't learned your lesson yet, have you? That awful Veblen destroyed your faith in capitalism, and now you're going to go and turn yourself into some cursed, soulless sociologist who treats people as numbers and vector quantities. To point out what should be painfully obvious -- they are not! Mathematical validity? You even used an equation, for crying out loud! How are you going to extract anything useful by comparing things to what they are not like? You are out of your mind! You keep playing with these philosophical matches, and next thing you know you're going to be declaring yourself a socialist and a homosexual and start canvassing for the Democrats!

Auctor: Look, I don't agree with everything Veblen said. His Theory of the Leisure Class made me want to vomit. But yes, I take some of his economic observations to be beyond profound, and they have shaken my assumptions about markets -- in a very good way, I think -- that I would probably never have gotten in any other way. His insights into the dynamics of business enterprise are unspeakably helpful to understanding how and why actual business practice deviates so radically from the behaviors economists would predict. Nowhere have I ever obtained such sweeping, comprehensive insight on this question, which has long given me grief in this subject.

And I have certainly given up on the idea that any legal regime is capable of producing a free market, let alone through mere freedom of contract and property rights. That much is true. I have also given up on the idea that markets on the whole function the way the free-market apologists claim. But just because perfect freedom and liberty eludes any conceivable legal regime it does not follow that I will conclude that they are bad.

I will admit that it is always a danger to begin picking apart human behavior and especially values by a 'scientific' analysis. Veblen and others like him can have a corrosive effect on the soul if one isn't careful. But it must always be remembered that the 'scientific' component, however useful it may be to analyzing such things, is never the whole story and often not even the beginning of it or even an important part. It is, for me, a toehold on something for which most other approaches are difficult. I am, after all, a scientist. Allowing such ideas to destroy one's faith and turn him into a monster is not the fault of the approach, it is weakness and error on the part of the investigator. One must think logically, and not allow narrow conclusions to run wild into regions of philosophy where they have no bearing and no business.

The danger of irresponsible application is a phenomenon common to a wide swath of human experience. Think of something as simple and necessary as sex. Think of all the harm that so often comes of it -- the diseases, the emotional destruction, the tragic fallout of procreation among people who have no business doing so. I suppose next you'll want me to give up sex?

Lector: Do you really want me to answer that?

Auctor: Never mind.

Now, IF I may continue...

Note two things -- first that the 'reaction' is 'second order' overall, but 'first order' with respect to the individual marriageable fractions of the two sexes, i.e., both exponents are equal to one. This is a mathematical way of saying that there is no cooperativity -- no 'helping effect' of having other marriageable people nearby, and certainly no requirement that other marriageable people be present for the 'reaction' to continue forward. Such a condition would cause the probability of a successful union to be proportional to a higher order product of individual probabilities.

Lector: You don't really expect anyone to understand any of that, do you? I mean, really, why bother with this whole exercise if it's just going to be gobbledygook to almost your whole audience?

Auctor: (sigh) This is why I so rarely write about actual science. Fine.

The analogy I'm trying to draw on relies on the comparability of chemical kinetic models with the process of finding a marital 'match.' Chemical kinetics is based on the idea that in order to react, the reactive species must actually encounter one another in three dimensional space, just as for any given couple to marry they must actually meet.

Thus, one is analyzing probabilities of 'encounter.' Naturally the more prevalent a species is, i.e. the higher the incidence or concentration of a given entity, the more likely any particular observer is to encounter it. One may take this probability of encounter to be proportional to the concentration, as described by some constant, as in--

Probability of encounter = (probability constant) X (frequency of entity in sample)

If one takes a reaction of be an event of 'meeting' then one simply multiplies the individual probabilities of encounter, times yet another constant. Since any number of constants multiplied together just produces another constant, all of them are rolled together into one general constant at the beginning of the equation.

Lector: But you can't possibly know what those constants should be or how they relate to the actual 'concentrations.' And what about non-productive encounters, those that don't result in a 'reaction' or a 'marriage'?

Auctor: None of that need be determined for the equation to work empirically. All of those concerns get rolled into the reaction constant as well.

Lector: So it's a fudge factor. A fudge factor that glosses over all the actually interesting aspects of the thing which you do not understand but are only pretending to.

Auctor: That's how science works. Besides, I'm not a specialist in chemical kinetics. I only know the basics, and even so I'm simplifying even that. Of course, if you're just dying to get into complex technical details about chemical reactions, I'm pretty fluent in mechanistic organic chemistry. I could talk about something like the Arbuzov rearrangement, substituent effects on the nucleophilicity of trivalent phosphorus, leaving group effects on catalytic efficiency, the practical management of the thermodynamics of conversion of a phosphorus III species to phosphorus V--

Lector: That sounds boring. Let's just stick to the present topic.

Auctor: I thought so. Now, I could imagine some grumbling exceptions being taken to this idea of there being no cooperative effects and the conveniently vast simplification this produces, but in my experience, those who are really ready to marry are usually flying solo at that point. There might perhaps be grounds for a negative contribution from the unmarriageable fraction of each population (especially the unmarriageable women, who have a greater tendency to attempt to 'poach' marriageable men more than the other way around, and also as marriageable men tend to be more susceptable this 'poaching' than the marriageable women) but I will ignore such effects. For the most part, truly marriageable people tend to be attuned to such behavior and intolerant of it.

Secondly, the quantity of marriageable people of each sex as a fraction of the population is itself a dynamic quantity, each with its own rate of formation from the underlying unmarriageable population, and furthermore its members being siphoned off by the marriage process itself. Incidentally, this dynamism is why reaction rates are often more strictly termed instantaneous rates -- because the quantities they depend on are themselves changed by the reaction and cannot be constant for long except in rare circumstances.

This process of maturation into a marriageable species is chemically reminiscent of a process termed 'excitation,' in which a lower energy chemical species must enter into an 'excited state' in order to react, although chemicals are usually able to 'relax' back down to the ground state while humans generally do not 'un-mature.' In our case, this non-equilibrium should not introduce any problems, but the process of entering into marriageability does introduce a very interesting confounding dynamic. As it turns out, this dynamic actually winds up having an even greater simplifying effect to the overall process which I will now explain.

If one imagines the unmarriageable populations of the two sexes entering into 'marriageable maturity' without much reflection, one will probably assume that these rates will be fairly similar. Actually, in my opinion this is incorrect -- the women mature to their marriageable state much faster than the men to theirs. Or, looked at another way, women are usually ready to marry at a younger age. Why this is the case, I am not certain, I only observe it to be true. Perhaps it is because in general, women tend to be more socially aware than men, are generally more emotionally sophisticated than men, or perhaps it is a significant difference in the marriageable states themselves. I do not know. What I do know is that as I look at the singles around me, within any particular (say) 5 year age bracket, I see far more single marriageable women than men. The skew tends to get somewhat worse the older the age bracket. To a point, anyway. At some point, you're just old, and I can't tell anymore.

This phenomenon has all sorts of interesting ramifications for the dating scene, but from a strictly kinetic point of view, it means that from a practical standpoint the equation can be rewritten as a pseudo-first order reaction by folding the marriageable women into the rate constant like so--

Rate = c[M*]1

Why, the reader may wonder? Simple -- because the number of marriageable men at any one time will always be so much smaller than the marriageable women that the men can never really make a dent in their population by marrying them. In the 25 to 30 age bracket, for example, I estimate that perhaps one in twenty single women is marriageable, but the proportion of marriageable men is vanishingly small -- because the women are snapping them up as fast as they appear. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the quantity of marriageable women will swamp out the men to the point of remaining constant and will not affect the overall rate of marriage. A marriageable man will always have plenty of marriageable women handy. It is for this reason that one tends to hear of women 'settling,' presumably for a barely-marriageable man, while for men it is more a matter of 'settling down.'

If true, the natural conclusion is an interesting one -- that the overall rate of marriage depends almost exclusively on the rate of maturation of men to the marriageable state. As we say in the business, the maturation of men is the rate-limiting step. Many people have arrived at this same conclusion by other means, citing a changing social atmosphere that has proven detrimental to the ability of boys to mature into men. I have no doubt that this is true, though I would add that girls are no less under attack, and no less under the malevolent influence of changing social norms and customs. It's just that the men happen to be at the rate limiting step, so that their behavior appears to show up as 'causing' the 'problem.' But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. They just happen to be located at a critical point in the process, as they likely always have been. But both sexes have been negatively impacted by the modern social atmosphere.

The difference between the 'normal' approach and mine is only that I've just given it to you from another point of view. I haven't denied the 'spiritual' or otherwise immaterial sides of things by applying a material method. I have augmented, not diminished them. See how that works?

Now, as to what all this means--

Lector: Wait a minute, wait a minute. That's it?

Auctor: Well, yes.

Lector: What!? That's not a scientific approach at all. You've just restated everyone's common sense with fancy words and equations.

Auctor: What did you expect?

Lector: I mean, if you're going to build this thing up as some kind of so-called scientific theorem, you ought to at least be systematic about things -- state your assumptions, derive everything ex-nihilo and all. I mean, all of this might actually have been construed as reasonable. A real scientific approach would have been completely different.

Auctor: I never used the word 'theorem.' But if you are so sure you know how I ought to be doing things 'scientifically,' by all means proceed.

Lector: Gladly.

First, assume that a human is a rigid sphere, like a ball-bearing. Next, we will model their motions by assuming they are governed by a Boltzman distribution of energies. Applying the Maxwell gas equations to a flat, two-dimensional surface will allow us to derive all the critical parameters -- average velocity, path length, and of course, the frequency of and energy distribution of collisions, which we will use to derive the rate of marriage --

Auctor: Hold on. That's absurd--

Lector: --Ah! I see you've finally got the point--

Auctor: The earth isn't flat.

(awkward silence)

Lector: You can't be serious.

Auctor: That would never work. I mean the edge effects, and the curvature--

Lector: You truly are hopeless. Just forget it. Never mind. I see now there is no point. Why don't we just hurry up and get this thing over with?

Auctor: You know, you're becoming quite the obnoxious literary device. Tell you what, you work out one of your own stupid little theories, write it all down, and I'll be sure to interrupt it with half a dozen obtuse objections. How does that suit you?

Lector: Oh come on! What have you got to complain about? Ever since you moved to Eternity Road, you've been absolutely insufferable. You'd think somebody died and gave you rank and title. You get one little comment and you're parading around as if you were king for a week.  Next thing you know you'll be referring to yourself in the third person like The Remus.

Auctor: I'm quite sure I don't know what you are talking about. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an essay to finish. No more interruptions, okay?

Practical Applications

Clearly, for anyone single and looking to improve his odds of a enjoying a successful marriage, the overwhelming lesson here is -- first and foremost -- to grow up! One's individual maturity is the single most important determinant in having a chance at a successful relationship and attracting a decent mate. No matter who one is, there is no single thing he could do that would improve his prospects more. Of course, this model says little about how exactly to go about that, but I can assure you that mimicking the abortive mating practices one sees among the 'successful' singles in the dating scene is probably not the way to go. They, after all, do not have successful marriages. The traditional approaches to life appear to have accelerated things in the past. Why not look into that?

But whatever the case, there really isn't much point to aggressive, serious dating until you've reached that marriageable level of maturity. In fact, it could very well be dangerous. There are situations worse than being single, after all. Priority number one should be getting to that state of marriageability, and then to worry about the rest of it.

For the men -- once you've attained marriageability, you've accomplished the hardest part. From that point, I suspect the single biggest difficulty you'll encounter is sorting out the marriageable ladies from the various and sundry females clamoring for your attention. And believe me, once 'you're there,' they will be throwing themselves bodily at you. You will be tempted. But you must resist, and you must understand and forgive them -- they are starved for your type.

Because you are a man, you may have some difficulty sorting this all out. You likely do not have the 'sensitivity' of the female species, nor their relationship cunning. You will also be fighting hormones. Make sure you are watching for the signs of marriageability -- self-restraint, personal discipline, 'a putting away of childish things,' especially the esteem of the in-crowd -- and be careful to avoid being fooled by similar looking attitudes that do not really reflect this maturity, like mere social aloofness, not to mention outright fakery. But if you really are marriageable, you will already know many of the signs, and will with time learn more. Focus on those things, and do not get caught up in trivialities. If you aren't sure -- go no further! You know very well what the danger is. There are plenty of wonderful, ripe ladies growing on the girl tree. Do not waste your time or risk your future with those who aren't ready.

On the whole, though, your problems, while serious, are enviable in comparison to the marriageable ladies. They vastly outnumber you, and are desperately competing with one another, tooth and claw. Be understanding. And careful.

For the women -- you face a very different set of difficulties. No doubt, you already have more than an inkling of your problem as described by this little theory. You will probably have little difficulty recognizing a good man -- if you remain honest with yourself and leave the status-mongering bad-boys alone. The first problem with a good man is that all too often he will have someone else hanging on his arm. The second is the confounded difficulty you have in ramming through his head just how good a prospect you are. We men are generally good with carburetors and weaponry, but on the topic of relationships we tend to be rather simpler creatures, and so easily distracted when it comes to the opposite sex. Be patient.

All that I can say to you is that you'll really have your work cut out for you -- truly! Your best asset is yourself -- your femininity. Don't succumb to modern pressures; don't be afraid to be a woman. A real woman, not the modern twisted version of one. If he wanted another man, he'd be gay. If you want to impress your friends and stroke your ego, by all means -- be a modern woman. But be prepared to stay single. Your career, earning potential, education, all that won't matter too much to a man worth having. But if you let them, they most certainly can and will get in the way.

Don't waste your youth -- repeat -- don't waste your youth! Time is not on your side. The longer you wait to get with the game (and grow up!) the worse the deck will be stacked against you when you finally decide get serious. Don't let it get to the point that you're surrounded by a sea of lonely, desperate rivals who will do anything for a man. Marry young, if you can. It still won't be an even match, and it won't be easy, but that is when your prospects will be best. Just make sure you've got your act together and know what you're doing first.

Despite the traditional stereotype of the way things are supposed to work, unless you are very special, men generally will not line up to ask you out, so that you get to pick and choose. And if they are, probably the whole lot of you aren't the marriageable sort anyway. If you're serious about getting married, you'll be serious about getting married -- which means you'll be active about it, in a feminine sort of way.

Your target will be elusive and rare. Do not sit around waiting for him -- seek him out. Keep your eyes peeled. You must be proactive, creative, and vigilant. He is also sometimes a bit dense, and eventually you'll be needing his cooperation when it comes to the whole dating and marriage thing. You might want to consider some targeted advertising and not so obscure hints. Sometimes even the marriageable men need some tasteful prodding.

(Seriously though, does anyone older than ten not know that the women are running the show?)

It might also pay to keep an eye on those guys who are 'almost there,' but not quite. You know who they are. It may take them some time, but most of them will eventually come around and get to the stage that they are worth pursuing. If you've been observant, you might be lucky enough to be first to spot the transition and will have a leg up on the competition.

Well, hopefully not too literally...

Finally, with respect to--

Lector: (Laughing) Seriously, I'm not sure which is funnier -- your little pet theory, or the idea of anyone actually taking your opinions on relationships seriously.

Auctor: Alright, that's it--


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