The Economics Behind Dating

“I fall in love with at least three girls every passing period,” said Alex Doss, a junior student studying economics at Brigham Young University. “It happens all the time. I would be walking past the Brimhall building on my to the Harris Fine Arts Center and spot and a girl and say “Oh, I love her.” Then 15 seconds later, I would spot another girl and say, “Oh, I love her.” Then eventually, another girl passes and I see her and think, “I love her.”
For those pursuing a BA in Economics, the “search model,” or the economic theory that describes the aforementioned circumstance, should be familiar. With this model, a point arrives where it is no longer beneficial to continue searching for a better deal because any possible gain would be marginal at best. Search models can be applied to several circumstances, such as housing, unemployment, and of course, dating. 
The “search theory” won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Paul Oyer wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the scientists who formulated the theory:
Basically, they analyzed the economic consequences and trade-offs that people face regularly when deciding whether to accept the best option available or to keep looking. In the online dating world, this means that looking at another profile may unveil someone who will make you happier than anyone you know. When you think of it that way, you almost feel a responsibility to look at another profile. How can you sit here reading this column when the very next profile you look at could be the best match for you? But we all know that logic doesn’t work—we don’t spend an unlimited amount of time looking for “the one” because we also want to eat, earn money, and watch “Homeland” (well, we used to).– Paul Oyer
Generally, students at BYU date an assortment of candidates in the quest for “Mr. Right or Mrs. Right.” Wisdom dictates that most individuals can “fall in love” with a handful of complementary individuals. BYU students are known for cleanliness, beauty, and most important, intelligence. “There are so many talented and driven people here,” Doss says. “Any one of them is worth the time of day. But, too often we feel that there is someone ‘even better’ out there.”

Doss says that he feels the fear of missing out on someone who is potentially better is  irrational. “More often than not you will only find someone who makes you equally happy in different ways but never much happier.”

Consider the following tips for application of the Search Theory in one’s personal life, offered in the article Paradox of Choice by our own Relate Institute (citing American psychologist Barry Schwartz):

  • Figure out your goal or goals. Without knowing what you want, making a decision is almost impossible.
  • Evaluate the importance of each goal. Look at your goals and decide which ones are most important, and which ones you can probably do without.
  • Array the options. Date. keeping your dating goals in mind.
  • Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals. No one will fulfill your entire wishlist but if someone hits your top 3 or 5 priorities, you may have a keeper.
  • Pick the winning option. Focus on a person who has strengths that you cherish and weaknesses that you can live with.
  • Modify goals. No matter how winning your option is, there will be things about your partner that you like less than the things you love.

Some additional tips:

  • Develop your sense of self-awareness and self-compassion,
  • Determining if your overall goal is just to have fun, develop long-term relationship, or find marriage)
  • Determine your optimal time frame for getting married.


What dating tips have helped you the most?

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