The more cynical (or perhaps realistic) of us would argue that there's a fair amount of game theory going on in the dating game.

For example a classic ploy is 'Don't ring for three days, because you don't want to come across too keen'. Of course this rule is now widely considered obsolete (as would be natural in any game).

A fairly straight forward hypothesis I would put forward is:

  1. Everybody in the dating game is looking to get hitched with their highest possible value match.
  2. By conveying unconditional interest in the other partner, you let them know that they can safetly 'get you' and so it's safe to pursue higher value mates knowing that they can score at least as highly as you.

  3. Therefore, the smarter strategy is to not let your dating interest know how available you are for them, so that they are incentivised to make commitments to you.

Now I know, this seems like a deeply cynical and flawed way of thinking. I'm not looking for a social criticism of this thinking. Rather I'm interested if there have been any studies carried out, where by the attractiveness of someone is assessed according to the availability they've communicated, etc.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I added the reference request tag, I hope you agree. Btw, your hypothesis depends on some very strong assumptions either on the information one has or the kind of preferences. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2015 at 6:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think you need to do some more primary research :) as (1) isn't remotely true (at any given moment, quite a few participants are looking for things other than, or in addition to, a sole long-term match), and (2)s problem isn't the non-exclusivity it permits, but rather that "unconditional interest" equates to "willing to be treated extremely badly", and that doesn't go well. $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Jun 19, 2015 at 7:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This well known paper doesn't speak exactly to the questions you ask, but might contain some things of interest: faculty.chicagobooth.edu/emir.kamenica/documents/… $\endgroup$
    – Ubiquitous
    Jun 20, 2015 at 9:37

3 Answers 3


Sending costly signals may work, at least when the recipient is less attractive than the sender.

There's also a nice popular science book by Paul Oyer called Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating that covers some of this ground, including the paper linked above.

Another theoretical paper suggests that costly signals that are worthless to the recipient work nicely, because the cost signals to the recipient that the donor has resources and values her highly, but by being worthless, it screens out "gold-diggers" that merely want the gift. Perhaps setting a pile of cash on fire would do the trick?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hey thanks heaps for recommending this. I've just picked it up, and it's excellent! $\endgroup$
    – dwjohnston
    Aug 11, 2015 at 20:39

In serious economics journals, no, as far as I know of.

In other areas there has been done something, but it concerns availability and communication with God: The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied

Perhaps one problem is that several assumptions should be addressed, like:

  1. Why shouldn't we date many partners in the first place? (so you have two types: monogamic and polygamic --- there are scientific hints that human's are polygamic).
  2. That the other partner regards the other's "unconditional interest" as truthful (it can't be truthful to begin with).
  3. That they think that making commitments is indeed incentivizing (which is also related to 1).

To estimate the "correct" answer would obviously be a very interesting idea.


Dr. Gary Becker does work on marriage. So does Dr. Scott Drewiankia. I believe both have high quality publications on the sorting and matching processes of marriage.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.