Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nice Guy Woes II -- Why do nice guys always get dumped?

Benjamin Lee sought to understand why nice guys always end up broken hearted for his term paper two years ago.

Ben uses a similar, although slightly different, definition of nice guys to the one Wei-Jen used (see next post). Ben defines nice guys using generosity. Simplistically, nice guys are givers. Their willingness to give may be exogenous -- i.e., nice guys have much lower costs of giving and, as such, exhibit substantially more giving behavior regardless of partner-- or endogenous -- "nice" guys derive huge benefits from their specific partner (e.g., because she is hot and cool) and thus are willing to give generously (aka be "whipped") in order to stay in the relationship. If I remember correctly, Ben's paper focused more on the second case, but I think the basic story applies to both.

Nice guys end up dumped because their partners experience diminishing marginal returns to their generosity. Starting in the second case, the poor guy manages to obtain the girl of his dreams, but the relationship is not symmetric. The nice guy obtained the girl by being exceedingly generous -- pays for everything, does whatever she wants to do, etc. The girl, not surprisingly, liked all the attention and liked getting her way enough to keep the guy around. However, while his benefit from the relationship is obviously huge (otherwise he should be less generous), she is closer to the margin. The relationship works because the "nice guy" keeps giving. Eventually, the marginal benefit enjoyed by the girl of each specific act of kindness diminishes. As such, the nice guy must find new and better ways to give. If he fails to do this, then it is likely only a matter of time until he gets dumped.

Now, the exogenously nice guy (like exogenously attractive people) should be less likely to end up in such an asymmetric relationship (because high demand for him in the dating market should prevent him from drifting too far from the break-up margin), but he could still suffer from the same problem on occasion. Anytime the nice guy's marginally higher generosity pushes a girl over the margin into the relationship, nice guys run the risk of getting dumped because of diminishing marginal returns. This is particularly likely to be the case if, as in Wei-Jen's definition of nice guy, generosity is positively correlated with preferences for commitment. The preference for commitment moves generous guys far from the break up margin ensuring that they are more likely to get dumped.

I would think that this phenomena of diminishing marginal returns would apply not only to nice guys but also to the jerks, but for jerks the case is slightly different. Often, for players, their skills at the pickup involve their looks and smooth talking. However, looks and smooth talking can only get you so far. I believe that attraction to these two traits would diminish faster than attraction to generosity. Therefore, diminishing marginal returns is a universal problem for all guys. Jerks should be more disadvantaged than nice guys.
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