Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mate Search

"I didn't size him up and think 'Here's a guy who, with a little encouragement, can become a deadbeat of dazzling proportions.'"

Karen Karbo, "The Accidental Breadwinner," New York Times, December 14, 2008.

What advice do you offer your children about how to find and keep a mate? What advice or process about finding a mate has worked for you? Is dumb luck as good as professional matching or getting set up by friends? Do we learn through dating and remarriaging? Is it just about having a "success" attitude?

Finding a mate resembles the "quarterback problem" written about in the New Yorker,by Malcolm Gladwell,"Most Likely to Succeed: How do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job." The basic problem is that many first-round draft pick quarterbacks for the NFL do not make it. Some are spectacular failures or non events. This happens even with lots of scouting and assessment. (Substitute "good teacher" for quarterback if you like).

"There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they'll do once they're hired."

A key explanation for this "quarterback problem" is that the professional game is very different than the college game in terms of speed, complexity, skill, and violence. Doing well in the former is not a great predictor of how one will do in this new game.

Likewise, it's probably the case that dating and living together doesn't always predict compatibility when having kids, holding down two jobs, growing old, suffering life's losses, etc.

You would think that there would be a sober analysis and set of recommendations for making such choices about mates. I'm sure there is, although I've never seen it.

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