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Dating Opportunity Costs

According to a Marripedia article on the Effects of Divorce on Financial Stability, a family's net worth goes down significantly in the 4 years before a divorce and remain low compared to an average family's net worth. Given that divorce can lead to women's poverty, it literally pays to select your life partner wisely.

In The Millionaire Next Door, which is a great book about average lives leading to extraordinary financial stability, the author writes about how marriage to a partner who adds value is a critical component of martial financial success. It doesn't matter how the value is added, as value can be added by cutting costs or being efficient with time. Either way, the partnership makes the marriage financially successful compared to two people going it alone.

My dad would often talk about whether a couple is a "chopstick couple" or a "fork and knife couple." A chopstick couple is one where the two people work together in an egalitarian way. For example, all the family's needs like running a household, raising children, and earning money need to be done. The chopstick couple will coordinate with each other so that everything is done. A fork and knife couple is one where there are assigned roles, perhaps along gender role lines. They will each specialize in their respective roles and also get everything done. The key is for forks and knives to find each other, and for chopsticks to find each other. He'd say, a chopstick and knife or chopstick and fork would not work.

Obviously that's pretty binary, but it's fun to think about. I feel like we're both sporks in this scenario. And we can both flip around and be weird chopsticks in a pinch. He's great with taxes. I'm great with investments. Apart, I was the saver and he wasn't so much. Together, we even each other out.

Enter this NPR article on The Secretary Problem (or Marriage Problem): How To Marry The Right Girl: A Mathematical Solution. As a science and math person, this article was such a great illustration of dating opportunity costs. I dated a lot before meeting my husband. When I met him, it's cheesy - I knew he was someone for marrying (love at first sight). But that was because I had gone on many dates and knew what kinds of guys were out there.

One invaluable exercise I did was listen to all four of the lectures (sermons?) from the North Point Community Church's New Rules for Love, Sex, & Dating. Then I did the extra credit one the pastor suggested: Boy Meets Girl. That one talk changed my life and how I went about dating after that. If you're a Christian, this should be more of the same. If not, try to ignore all the Jesus-y stuff and recognize truth and wisdom no matter how it's packaged. It woke me up, and let me recognize my husband as the great match he is when I met him.

Another valuable exercise is one I heard originally came from a college professor. Write down the top 20 traits or qualities you want in your ideal partner. Think character traits rather than "specifications," so less "tall, dark, handsome" and more "generous, funny, courageous." Character traits are internal core things that direct behavior and speak to values as opposed to physical qualities or material possessions. After you make that list, cut it in half to 10 traits. This forces you to focus on which ones you value most. Then halve the list again to 5 traits. Those 5 traits are your non-negotiables. From then on, it's really easy to filter - if someone has 4 out of those 5, move on. You need all 5. When I built my list, I had already had several boyfriends. I suppose you can say the exes helped define my non-negotiables.

Curious what my list contained? I still have it after all these years:

  1. Feminist

  2. Self-aware

  3. Compassionate

  4. Motivated

  5. Intelligent

  6. Courageous

  7. Witty

Yes, I know I have seven and not five, but hey, I didn't have to settle! I once heard that marriages that stay successful are ones where the couple starts out with less and works together to build up their nest egg. I also once heard that financially stable couples have better/more sex. These are all wonderful reasons to find the right partner and get rich together, saving towards shared goals.

No matter where you are on this relationship continuum, I hope you found this helpful.

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