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GLINT


So here in the bar, the piano man's found another nail for my heart: 9.21.09


Weekends were made for Michelob, as they say...and this past one certainly was. In fact, it very well have been made OUT of Michelob, for all I know...the whole two days and three nights of it are still a little watery, a little foggy...but I have no complaints.


Which actually goes for just about everything these days. No complaints. None. The other day, I was offering a pal some advice on his lady love and it reminded me of those dark days of yore when I (!!) was actually involved in my own little romantic pinings and such. No, no, really it didn't remind me of that at all. Thank goodness we have no need to revisit those days on a regular basis! They are full of shivery tales for a deliciously dark and rainy day that will no doubt be blustering in with the fall winds very shortly. These tales all hinge on the same thing: bad choices. Like of the No! don't go down to the lake alone at midnight when the insane psychokiller just broke out of the institution variety--so painfully obvious to everyone lucky enough to rubberneck at the pile-up of my last "serious" (cough) venture into the tunnel of luv.


But today, we're not going to talk about that. Today, we're going to talk about other choices, choices which no doubt will be staring my pal (and maybe me someday and possibly you) down in the future. And of course, in considering our reactions to these choices, we will also talk about economic theory and how it relates to our daily lives. Because make no mistake. It does.


Now. First of all, as you may know, I loathe Hugh Grant, however I was struck by this series of lines out of an otherwise ridiculous film of his.


Drew Barrymore: (turning one pert little end of mouth up in her endearing, signature move) "You have great insights."


Hugh: (bland and overly self-aware that he is British and mistaking this for wit) "Thank you. I'd use them on myself only I don't have any problems."


This is, in a hard-to-crack little nutshell, a portrait of myself at this very, odd snapshot moment in life. In other words, for better or worse, I am truly floating along in a copacetically sealed little bubble, immune to whatever little bumps and scrapes and shattered bones may be befalling all of my dear comrades in arms. What is this emotional world of which they speak? This strange terrain that stretches from the highest, majestic peaks to the deepest, primordial, oozing pits of quicksand sludge? Dunno. Here in the bubble, it's smooth sailing at all times. We have safely reached cruising altitude and here we hang, suspended, but unjarred. Sometimes it's not even clear whether or not I'm moving--the ride is just that smooth.


Naturally, I have started to periodically jerk and start and flip around manically, searching for some impending crisis, some horrific crash, some little blip of turbulence on the radar. But I haven't found it yet. So, problems? Really any, but particularly those of the romantic variety? Like I used to stomp around, and wring my hands, and gnash my teeth over? None here! All clear! All good! Sure, someday in the near future, I'll have some again. Definitely of the romantic variety. I feel push coming to shove and that little imp, infatuation rearing its cute little head again...but its horns have yet to get within popping distance of my little bubble. I'm still, technically at least, problem free. For better or worse.


Luckily, for all who know me, this leaves me available to listen and mull over any problems YOU may be having. Particularly those of the heart. And you will not be disappointed. I can obsess with the best, I can perseverate until the cows come home, I can over-analyze, reconsider, and play devil's advocate as many times as you may need my services. The doctor is in. (Please remember this when I am in your same, leaky boat at some point in the future. Because you know I will be.)


Second of all, not only do you get my undivided OCD tendencies devoted to unraveling your particular personal problem, you also (for no extra charge!) get my ability to kick it into left field and muck around with weird comparisons to famous writers and authors, philosophical movements, general sophistry, and yes--your absolute favorite: Economics! I know right now economists are as publicly maligned as courtroom lawyers were in the 80's or investment bankers were last month but c'mon. Humor me. Pop open the twist off on that bottle of Zinfandel, light some candles, and cozy up to the economists to learn of love. Really, you can't go wrong.


O.K. Let's think about romance. Ah yes, There's no trick to falling in love. At the outset it all comes down to dumb, blind luck. You meet "the one" and it all takes off from there. Although past the blind, dumb luck part, well, it's not so simple, is it? Really, outside of bumping into your paramour while they are buying a wooden chicken (a la the faux art film tour de force 9 and a 1/2 Weeks) or lounging in a field of poppies with the towers of Florence in the distance (a la the literary tour de force Room With a View, currently on the nightstand) or continually peeping at your poor, unaware crush across the crowded room (a la my own pathetic tour de force), the rest of the dance of love is really quite unromantic.


Because after the first splash of amore hits you, you must pursue a course of actions. Yes, you must make choices. And you make choices based on a series of questions: Is this the right person for me? Am I the right person for this person? Are they considering other options? Should I be considering my options? What are my options?? Oh. That's right. EVERYONE ELSE.


Overwhelming? Don't panic. In steps economics, suave and self-assured (don't mind that ink stain on the front pocket of the rumpled shirt and the ill-fitting, geeky trousers). Economics holds all the answers. Most people get through this Q&A period of love one way or another. For many, you've just completed the summer circuit of their happy weddings. For others, the questions remain overwhelming and unanswered and they teeter dangerously on their 9-inch heels on my street, sobbing into their cell phones at 1:30 a.m. underneath my bedroom windows, sporadically yelling sad, unanswerable questions like, "Why didn't you pick up your phone then?" and "Did you know her roommate before tonight?"


Anyway, the economics can really help all of you out--both camps are well-served; the lovesick and the lovelorn can rest assured that nothing out there happens as a result of pure, dumb luck.


Economics is just like life, really. It's all about the idea of maximizing utility. Maximizing utility, you say? Good thing, because I'm dating a tool. Nyuck, nyuck, and yes. I'll be here all week. But no, utility in the economic lingo just means the effectiveness of your choice. In other words, is your choice producing optimal satisfaction? Are you happy based on the outcome of your decision? This is a tough call. In life, there are always trade-offs, it seems. Who hasn't weighed the balance of pumpernickel versus rye? Reasoned through the pickle of 'Should I go out and squander my time and money, or stay in under the false pretenses of working on my latest project, but instead just squander my time watching stupid tv about overstuffed sandwiches or something, feeling like I should have gone out anyway because how is this helping anything?' And so forth. Economists have a number of useful calculations for assessing utility, including running things along ye olde "indifference curve," (love that) but the long and the short of it is that ultimate maximization of utility is a rare bird indeed.


But forget Mick and Keith Richards whining that they can't get no satisfaction. Economists have long since solved this prob. Here's what you do. You consider your choices and you think about the trade-offs. Welcome to the bounded rationality zone. It's a nice, logical place to find yourself. After a while, you realize that nothing is perfect. After all, even Jane (Bridget Jones?) and Mark Darcy had to realize that there were some less than poetic aspects of the other's personality, but screw it. They went for it anyway, once they weighed the alternatives. But the consideration of those trade-offs made for a pretty swoon-worthy proclamation of ardor in the middle of that book. Movie? Whatev. (In love, after all, nothing is impossible. The only thing impossible is to love and to part. Sigh. E. M. Forrester wrote that.) ANYway, in these cases, you don't get pure Stones-style satisfaction. Instead you settle for "satisficing." Seriously. This is a real economic jargon. Satisficing means that you are mixing up a nice little cocktail of what satisfies you and what will suffice. And usually this does just the trick.


If you find this notion completely distasteful, don't worry. You don't have to settle, just like your momma says. Economists say it's ok to shun those pretty little cost-benefit analyses and just jump into the abyss. You can do this one of two ways. You can rely on heurstics, the economists' way of saying 'go with your gut' and then they all snicker at you behind their little hands. Or you can go with rational ignorance. Rational ignorance. Ah. Seriously, if you think economics is dry, dull stuff, you are missing out on some real gems of theoretical knowledge to toss around in the back of your mind in a completely useless manner! Get with the program! How can you turn up your nose at a discipline that provides you with a perfectly acceptable rationale to justify your own stupidity? And no, I'm not an economist. But sometimes they let me talk to them.


Where was I? Right. Rational ignorance is key to considering the economics of romance. Rational ignorance arises when you decide that the process of exploring your other options becomes more onerous than simply going with the most promising option at hand--perhaps the ultimate last call of the econometric bar hop.


While satisficing means you scout it out for a bit and then just say, well this is good enough, rational ignorance is different. You know there are other fish in the sea; you know there's got to be someone who gets you; but you just can't hack the prospect of the interminable. Of all. those. dates. you'd have to go through. This is your classic, I've been dating since I was 15-where is he already?-my hair hurts moment. (See: Sex and The City, Season 4?) In many ways, love basically is an act of rational ignorance. Because there are so many, myriad, countless, endless other choices of potential mates, you sort of have to clamp on the blinders and rose colored goggles and just go for it.


Here's where things get interesting though. So, rational ignorance is a big thing in political election analysis, where the field of choice--say for presidential candidates--is pretty limited. Even in this shallow pool of poor choice, apparently many of the masses act on rational ignorance. But where this theory really earns its economic chops is in marketing research. Studies have shown that consumers who are faced with a dizzying supermarket aisle-full of choice between brands, generally just give in to rational ignorance. Are you really going to read the calorie counts on 5 zillion different kinds of cereal bars? Or will you just grab the closest one in the diet aisle?


And here's where things get sticky. Literally. Market research studies on consumer choice have also demonstrated that people, when faced with too many choices, not only pull rational ignorance, in many cases, they will engage in what the economists like to call "preference reversal." Which is to say that rather than picking and choosing among a wide array of options, people will tend to just not to make a choice at all. Too many options = too overwhelming. In a now infamous jam tasting study among the economist set, people who were confronted with more choices of jam to sample tended to leave without buying any, while those who got less of a jam smorgasbord, could make a choice. The term "infinite choice" was coined not too long ago. You can file this under the "be careful what you ask for" category, because when you get it, you often don't know what the hell to do with it.


(Interestingly, economists do love to mess with your mind and have concocted a whole range of conditions in which people tend to act in true preference reversal--in conflict with their own self-interest because of perceived gambles and pay-offs. This is your classic prisoner's dilemma...and the lesser known Let's Make a Deal probability problem, i.e. how to over think your way out of winning the game. But I digress. This is theory to save for when my friends are in a relationship and can't figure out if it's ultimately worthwhile...good times.)


Anyhoo. What on earth am I babbling about? The point of all of that? For me? That being single is utterly supported by sound and tested theoretical constructs. That just because I don't have my jam jar of gooey sticky lurve doesn't actually mean that much at all. And also, you know, don't sweat it if you're one of two loverbirds out there. Love the one you're with and all that. Because when you leave the safety of your little nest for the single's roost, it's crazy to take a look around and realize how far you can see, how limitless your choice of direction might be, how distant the horizon seems. It's dizzying.


reflect - reinvent ....rayclaire@gmail.com... what i used to think... what i hear... what i see... where i'd like to be...


the black apple... the girl who... sarah brown... thunderpie... evany... jenny b harris... posie... claude le monde... artsy... fartsy... jeff... random person in texas... another rachel... smitten kitchen... more of me... still more of me... even more of me...and yet still more of me...more of me but not for free...


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