A good friend of mine markets condos in downtown Montreal. He has a Masters of Economics and wears a nice suit and spends his days calculating how much to charge for different condos that are being built around the city. Using data from the Real Estate Board, he works out exactly how much people are willing to pay for a southern view over a northern view, or for an extra few square feet of window space, or for the 1st floor vs the 40th floor. And his job is important: if he gets the prices too high, the development sits on the market for ages and stagnates. If he gets the prices too low, he leaves money on the table. If he gets the prices right, the development sells out quickly at maximum profit, and everyone is happy.
Anyway, I was asking him about the secrets of selling condos, and he let me in on this little one, which I think is really important to dating.
“One of the secrets to marketing” he told me “is that revealed preferences are better than stated preferences“.
“Let me give you an example” he continued “We did a focus group once, for a big project overlooking the mountain. I brought in eight Real Estate agents, real experts, to discuss pricing. These guys had sold hundreds of condos each. The told us that a view of the mountain was worth about 5% more than a view of the city. That didn’t sound right to me, so I checked it using the MLS data of units that had sold nearby. And do you know what I found? Units facing the mountain were going for 40% more than units facing the city, and that’s controlling for size and light and everything! Those Real Estate agents were off by almost a factor of ten. We would have lost millions of dollars if we had listened to them.”
Marketers everywhere know this: stated preferences (what people tell you they want ), and revealed preferences (what people have shown they will pay for) are often wildly different.
To put it another way: people don’t really know what they want.
Back to Dating
“The things you do scream so loud I cannot hear what you say”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
A little while back I was sitting at an outdoor cafe in Montreal with a lovely young woman who had messaged me on an online dating site. I don’t do a lot of online dating, but I have a profile up on a couple of websites that is pretty badass (inspired by Cajun’s Guide to Online Dating), combined with some pretty awesome photos and I wait for women to message me.
“I’m just out of a serious relationship, and it was bad for the last year at least.” she confessed as she stirred her coffee “I felt ignored and kind of abandoned. I think I’m looking for a guy who’ll just be nice to me and give me a lot of positive attention”.
I looked up from the menu with a raised eyebrow, and smiled to myself. My dating profile makes me out to be a total arrogant asshole (in real life, I’m only 50% asshole). In fact, I’m pretty sure that in the first paragraph, I say explicitly “I’m an asshole”. Had she even read it?
“That’s what I liked about your profile, you just seemed like the kind of guy I could relate to”, she cleared her hair from her eyes and looked at me sweetly. I searched her face for a hint of irony or sarcasm, but I couldn’t find any. She was 100% sincere and it was cute.
What we had here was a clear case of stated preferences coming into conflict with revealed preferences. She has an idea of the kind of man she wants to meet in her head – her stated preferences, but her revealed preference is for a completely different kind of man – the confident, no bullshit, assholish guy who goes for what he wants image of me that is on my dating profile.
I’ve seen this a hundred times: women who think they want A, but are actually responding to B. The classic example is of the girl who reveals on a date that she is sick of dating assholes, and wants something different. Invariably, these women respond in an almost Pavlovian fashion, salivating at any hint of the kind of asshole behaviours that drew them to their exes. Sometimes it’s so transparently obvious it’s almost comical. This is a real conversation I had on a date once.
“…my ex used to ignore me constantly and….”
“What?” I look up from my cellphone.
<giggles> “Nothing! Is that angry birds?” <puts her arms around me>
“yeah” <looks back down at screen>
“…anyway, he just used to ignore me all the time! I remember once…”
Now, I don’t want anyone to take this advice to mean that you should treat women badly. When women complain about their exes, they usually sincerely want something different. Stated preferences do mean SOMETHING, even if they’re not as meaningful as revealed preferences. But in the end, if you are dating a woman who has a history of dating type X, you need to be aware that there was something that drew her to type X, and she probably still responds to that.
Giving your girl just a *little bit* of the kind of asshole behaviour that she is craving helps keep things hot, but since your behaviour is coming from a rational understanding of what your partner needs, rather than a deep seated personality flaw, you can control yourself in a way that her ex couldn’t. You can get her hot and press her buttons while also being a guy who treats her right.
But most importantly, you have to make a point of seeing through her stated preferences, and digging down to the revealed preferences beneath them. If you take her stated preferences at face value, you’re never going to understand how she really ticks.