It strikes me that most people in love, sex, romance, and family formation choose much the same path they do in investing: putting all their eggs into the medium-risk medium-reward basket. What if that was the very worst strategy you could possibly choose? What if there were far better alternatives? It’s not nearly as far-fetched as it might sound: in the realm of investing, Nassim Taleb has proposed the barbell portfolio as the optimal strategy. To wit, invest the bulk of your assets into low-risk low-reward assets, and a small minority into high-risk high-reward assets, reaping the best of both worlds. The idea is that while the all medium-risk medium-reward strategy might seem like a good compromise, that appearance is deceptive: you’re foregoing the possibility of great rewards, and at the same time it’s, courtesy of “black swan events”, much more vulnerable than it seems.
Taleb’s proposal might seem specific to investors, but in fact it’s an emanation of a much more general concept he calls “antifragility”. While a fragile system will fall apart under stress and a resilient system will weather stress, an antifragile system actually benefits from the stress of uncertainty and volatility. Life is full of uncertainty and volatility, and that most certainly includes your love, sex, and family life. There are even strategies with different risks and rewards. So the same principles from finance should apply!
The unbearable Bleakness of an average Relationship
And indeed, the medium-risk medium-reward strategy pursued by average people does seem to be the worst possible option. I’ve recently considered how, of all the people I see coupled up, 80% or 90% aren’t happy, 99% are devoid of the bright sparkles of sexual attraction in their eyes, the passion of romantic love in their body language.
It’s struck me that “there aren’t that many marriages whose dynamic I’d wish to be part of”, as one commenter put it in the single mothers by choice subreddit. Recently I’ve been looking around at people out and about, even those who look nice and/or are coupled up, and thinking “would I want to be this person’s ‘partner'”, and the answer is almost invariably no.
Admittedly in women as in the rest of life, I’m a man of extremely discriminating tastes, feeling visceral attraction to only the cream of the crop. Additionally the whole process of dating, chasing after women, and struggling with these “relationships” has always struck me as a crushing bore. And I eschew, without regret or apology, anything that’s a crushing bore.
I always assumed I was just different from most people and most people genuinely did like and take pleasure in the conventional way to do these things, but lately I’ve been wondering if I haven’t taken into account how much more independent-minded I am compared to most people. Aside from picky tastes, that’s another thing I have in common with the single mothers by choice subreddit‘s members: a much more independent mindset.
Consider also how prevalent “settling” is in relationships. Now we’re starting to get into the thick of the “all medium-risk medium-reward” strategy in romance. Average people in average relationships try to convince everyone, most especially themselves, that they are genuinely in love with and feel genuine attraction to the “partners” they select, but if you ask me it doesn’t really add up:
Are most couples even attracted to each other? It might sound like an odd question, but consider that most people are not sexually attracted to most other people; people are primarily physically attracted to the best and most beautiful of the opposite sex (who tend to be the same people; people’s tastes vary but nevertheless they mostly overlap), but they generally “settle” and take what they can get. These propositions are not particularly controversial.
Yet the implication is that people don’t find those they settle down with to be particularly attractive. Ah, now we’re getting spicy; in this Reddit thread as elsewhere, people desperately evade the question, and the all-but-inevitable conclusion: that most will never be married to somebody they truly love in a sexual sense, and most marriages have little to no true marital love or lust.
People spin rationalizations all day about how it might not be a huge physical attraction most people have but they’re attracted to each other in other ways, about how such affection is a higher form of love than mere infatuation, blah blah blah, but the truth is can we really call a feeling (romantic and sexual) love if it’s not an intense physical attraction and deep emotional connection? I most certainly would not, and nobody else would either in the abstract, only when they have to rationalize settling for what they can get. Telling, isn’t it?
A big reason for this is the “settling” mindset: that people should be married and should have children, and a mediocre partner, who will no doubt produce mediocre children and be a mediocre parent, is better than no partner, so if that’s the best you can do by a reasonable age you should take it. It’s kinda surprising just how many people marry and/or have kids with somebody because they sort of fall into a relationship for a few years with someone who’s just sort of okay and then think it’s the logical next step and it’s the appropriate time in their life to tie the knot or have that baby.
If you ask me this whole picture is rather horrifying, with or without the coin-flip odds of a divorce or a child custody dispute people take on these days. The high failure rate of the relationships and marriages average people settle for is a quintessential example of how the “all medium-risk medium-reward” strategy gives you a false sense of security. Don’t be like these people: be better. But how?
The left Side of your Barbell: low Risk, low Reward
Looking at the experiences and lives of people with partners they have no passion for, i.e. 99% of the population, makes single parenthood by choice (for both mothers and fathers) look better and better to me. I share the opinion of many “choice moms” that if everybody were fully aware of it many more people would opt for that path: no partner means you can select the best donor to be the other blood parent, no partner means no compromising your parenting choices (no child custody disputes either), no partner means no compromising your lifestyle (e.g. you can relocate to wherever you want), and no partner means you can keep pursuing your dream girl or guy.
What society tells you is a lie: if you want to start a family and have children, you don’t need to compromise. You don’t need to be with someone else to have children. Even if you do feel a burning desire to be with someone else, consider that paid companionship is a thing, and is much more likely than conventional dating to result in a pleasant experience with someone you’re actually attracted to.
To me at least that seems like a much better alternative to settling for less than what you really want. This “be a single parent and hire escorts” path is the low-risk low-reward strategy: sure, you won’t get what you really want that way, but you will accomplish your minimal objectives (i.e. children and companionship) at minimal risk.
Critically, you don’t have to put all your eggs in this basket; unlike having children with a partner like conventional people do, which demands total commitment, you can save some of your resources to simultaneously pursue a different strategy, one that will prove synergistic with the low-risk low-reward strategy.
The right Side of your Barbell: high Risk, high Reward
I’m talking, of course, about the high-risk high-reward strategy of holding out for your dream guy or dream girl. On its own, never settling for less runs the risk of failing to find anybody, leaving you all alone and childless. Which I honestly believe would be preferable to a relationship with someone you don’t really like (from whom half the blood of your children would come from; blech!). But no matter: if you simultaneously pursue the low-risk low-reward strategy outlined above, the entire case for “Mx. Good Enough” disappears; since you’ll have companionship and children anyway, you can now afford the best!
Never settle for someone who falls short of visceral tingly attraction. Never settle for a life lived less. I think it’s so important to not only save yourself for someone who has a gorgeous body, can hold an intelligent conversation, and has a personality you vibe with, it’s very important to save yourself for someone with a hot girl (or hot guy) vibe, a certain ineffable stage presence that’s just magnetic.
That’s what the object of your quest in life should be as far as love, romance, sex, and family is concerned; if you don’t have that, that’s the universe telling you you should keep looking.
Want to be one with attractive members of the opposite sex but feel like you don’t measure up yourself? Then level up yourself. Glow up! Get that fit body, lose that weight, build those muscles, change that wardrobe, get those fillers, undergo that surgery, whatever it takes! Try to make more money too. Invest well! Glow up your life: get a hobby you can be passionate about! You only have one life to live; live it as the best version of you you can be.
Too many people settle for what they can get as someone far short of the beautiful them they could be in a not-so-prime location full of ugly underachieving people. Settling is bad period, but it’s truly stupid to settle for “the best you can realistically get” before you’ve seen the world, moved up to better locations and social circles, and improved yourself to be the best and most beautiful you can be. So many people settle for less even when they could do better if they applied themselves for years!
And make no mistake; as I’ve touched upon in a previous post, most people are nowhere near where they could be if they glowed themselves up. Living in a society filled with incurious fat slobs hunched over in poor shape who dress in what might as well be rags really drains the soul, but the upside is that it’s downright easy to stand out from such a crowd given any modicum of effort.
How much you stand out, and how high you can ultimately go, depends on the features and body type nature gave you, but no matter what your endowments are you’ll be far better off as your best self than if you did nothing; you’ll not only look better, you’ll feel better too!
If you continually work to improve yourself, challenging yourself to take a new level in hotness with every new year, before you know it you might find yourself in the sky among the stars. That’s where the real magic starts to happen! And by saving a piece of your efforts for the high-risk high-reward strategy, you capture your odds of getting there someday.
Despite having intuited since childhood that settling for less in love is the worst of all possible worlds, and having been aware of the barbell portfolio concept for perhaps a decade, I never really correlated the two until I sat down and started to write this post. Indeed, this is the first time I’ve elaborated upon what I wrote two years ago here, that “the general approach of experimenting with a small segment of one’s resources and exposing that segment to uncertainty, volatility, and ‘black swans’ is sound and can be applied throughout life”.
Don’t risk all your life on something that has a mediocre payoff, i.e. the average committed relationship that produces children. Instead, risk most of your life on a guaranteed small payoff, and risk a little of your life on a long-shot high payoff. Harness the world’s uncertainty and volatility to your advantage, by crafting a strategy where no matter what happens, you win in the game of life.