Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The hazards of moral hazard

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how, when or even if I will participate in another romantic relationship.

I’ve a long history of not-so-good experiences with men. I view so many of them as negative because I have long maintained a core belief that relationships, at least the more serious ones, are basically an exercise in analytics and economic concepts. Efforts you put in place to ensure that the initial chemistry goes unsullied by fights about things that are actually fights about other things. It turns out I'm somewhat rare in this belief. Although not as rare as I would have thought...

Anyway, lacking a good base in economics, I only recently came to the realization that these were solid and established concepts. I would go to great lengths to develop metaphors in order to explain myself, only to have someone point out to me that the last half hour of baroque language could be summed up as "sunk costs."

Take for, example, Moral Hazard.

Moral hazard occurs when a party insulated from risk behaves differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk.

Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

This particular one resonates with me, not only because I tend to be a pushover with men when it comes to demanding much of... anything. But also because it gives me that high you get from righteous indignation. (Am I right?)

We've long since lost any sort of robust social infrastructure that disincentives bad dating behavior, so now everybody is pretty much free to be awful to everybody else without consequence. Aside from the emotional leftovers of last year, weakened moral hazard is big part of why I've sidelined myself from any opportunity - reactive and proactive - to experience romance. I just don't care to open that door right now.

And I just keep seeing example after example of individuals who are merely seeking to find solid ground in their relationship being... ignored, undermined, blown off, and sometimes outright disrespected, because their own perspectives and demands no longer carry weight and it's ceased to be acceptable for a third party (hopefully objective) to come in and point out the problem.

I assume we’re all equally guilty of suppressing that fantasy where you confront an individual in defense of someone close to your heart who is: taken for granted; used as a doormat; or being strung along. There are hundreds of conversations I’ve not had with the past, current and future partners of people in my life.

I can't help but wonder if maybe we were in the habit of holding people accountable for their bad dating/marriage behavior, maybe, just maybe, there would be less of it. Strengthened moral hazard = less weasely behavior.

In my earlier dating life, I would have dissolved into a panic if my friends or family dared to step in to my romantic life, but now, now I would love to have some panic button, some way to call out the cavalry, led by an imaginary southern aunt who would come face to face with the offending chap in a not-to-be-interrupted rant that would go something like this:

“Now boy, I hear you’ve been avoidin’ makin’ a firm commitment to our girl? Now why is that, pray tell? Is our baby girl not good enough for you? Do you mean to tell me that after months of pitchin’ woo in such a brazen and public manner that would dare to back-peddle about what the intentions of those actions truly were. Do you think I was born yesterday, boy? Now it’s one thing to change your mind about something, but I would like to assume you were brought up with enough sense to know when you have gone a mile too far and son, I will tell you that at this point, you done passed that mile about three states back and your horse is about to die from exhaustion. I know you weren’t raised up to be wild hooligan, so how about you make your momma proud and dig deep into that cavernous mind of yours and bring to bear some of the more gentlemanly behaviors we expect of our men folk ‘round here.”

See that, THAT, would be that kind of thing that would strengthen moral hazard.

But I do not have a southern aunt capable of letting my suitors know that I am not to be trifled with. And frankly, I do not see how simply adopting and enforcing stringent rules about what constitutes “good dating behavior” is going to turn me into anything but a ball-busting nag.

So I'm just staying out of the game for the time being.

But now and then, I do indulge in what I would want when I find someone new with whom I share chemistry. It would look something like this...

  • To be able to stop the inevitable emotionally-charged conversation with, "Wait. This isn't about ___________. Can we figure out what this is really about?"
  • To know that he understands that emotionally-charged conversations are fairly commonplace in emotionally-charged relationships, and frankly, represent a good way to quickly identify issues that could continue to cause problems.
  • To willingly face those issues as you would face any other challenge: with research, data, trial-and-error and logical decision-making.
  • To understand that doing this doesn't negate the chemistry and fun of a relationship - it tends to shorten the laundry list of Things That Cause Tension, which actually leaves more time and energy for all the fun stuff that we're all looking for from another person.
  • To think it's adorable that I want to distill the logistics of a happy and healthy relationship to economic concepts and understands exactly what I mean when I talk about how weak moral hazard leads to bad dating experiences, and then proceeds to tell me about the time when asymmetric information led to a truly awful first date a couple of years ago...

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