WhatsApp Profiles and Wandering Spirits

As the more perceptive of you might know, the wife runs this matrimonial advisory business. As a way of developing her business, she also accepts profiles from people looking to get married, and matches them with her clients in case she thinks there is a match.

So her aunts, aunts of aunts, aunts’ friends, aunts’ nieces’s friends, and aunt’s friends’ friends’ friends keep sending her profiles of people looking to get married. The usual means of communication for all this is WhatsApp.

The trigger for this post was this one profile she received via WhatsApp. Quickly, her marriage broking instincts decreed that this girl is going to be a good match for one of her clients. And she instantly decided to set them up. The girl’s profile was quickly forwarded (via WhatsApp) to the client boy, who quickly approved of her. All that remained to set them up was the small matter of contacting the girl and seeking her approval.

And that’s proving to be easier said than done. For while it has been established that the girl’s profile is legitimate, she has been incredibly hard to track down. The first point of contact was the aunt who had forwarded her profile. She redirected to another uncle. That uncle got contacted, and after asking a zillion questions of who the prospective boy is, and how much he earns, and what sub-sub-caste he belongs to, he directed my wife to yet another uncle. “It’s his daughter only”, the first uncle said.

So the wife contacted this yet another uncle, who interrogated more throughly, and said that the girl is not his daughter but his niece. As things stand now, he is supposed to “get back” with the girl’s contact details.

As the wife was regaling me with her sob stories of this failed match last night, I couldn’t help but observe that these matrimonial profiles that “float around” on WhatsApp are similar to “pretas”, wandering spirits of the dead (according to Hindu tradition), who wander around and haunt people around them.

The received wisdom when it comes to people who are dead is that you need to give them a decent cremation and then do the required set of rituals so that the preta gets turned into a piNDa and only visits once a year in the form of a crow. In the absence of performance of such rituals, the preta remains a preta and will return to haunt you.

The problem with floating around profiles on WhatsApp, rather than decently using a matrimonial app (such as Tinder), is that there is no “expiry” or “decent cremation”. Even once the person in question has gotten taken, there is nothing preventing the network from pulling down the profile and marking it as taken. It takes significant effort to purge the profile from the network.

Sometimes it amazes me that people can be so nonchalant about privacy and float their profiles (a sort of combination of Facebook and Twitter profiles) on WhatsApp, where you don’t know where they’ll end up. And then there is this “expiry problem”.

WhatsApp is soon going to turn us all into pretas. PiNDa only!

The Base Rate in Hitting on People

Last week I met a single friend at a bar. He remarked that had I been late, or not turned up at all, he would have seriously considered chatting up a couple of women at the table next to ours.

This friend has spent considerable time in several cities. The conversation moved to how conducive these cities are for chatting up people, and what occasions are appropriate for chatting up. In Delhi, for example, he mentioned that you never try and chat up a strange woman – you are likely to be greeted with a swap.

In Bombay, he said, it depends on where you chat up. What caught my attention was when he mentioned that in hipster cafes, the ones that offer quinoa bowls and vegan smoothies, it is rather normal to chat up strangers, whether you are doing so with a romantic intent or not. One factor he mentioned was the price of real estate in Bombay which means most of these places have large “communal tables” that encourage conversation.

The other thing we spoke about how the sort of food and drink such places serve create a sort of “brotherhood” (ok not appropriate analogy when talking about chatting up women), and that automatically “qualifies” you as not being a creep, and your chatting up being taken up seriously.

This got me thinking about the concept of “base rates” or “priors”. I spent the prime years of my youth in IIT Madras, which is by most accounts a great college, but where for some inexplicable reason, not too many women apply to get in. That results in a rather lopsided ratio that you would more associate with a dating app in India rather than a co-educational college.

In marketing you have the concept of a “qualified lead”. When you randomly call a customer to pitch your product there is the high chance that she will hang up on you. So you need to “prime” the customer to expect your call and respond positively. Building your brand helps. Also, doing something that gauges the customer’s interest before the call, and calling only once the interest is established, helps.

What you are playing on here in marketing is is the “base rate” or the “prior” that the customer has in her head. By building your brand, you automatically place yourself in a better place in the customer’s mind, so she is more likely to respond positively. If, before the call, the customer expects to have a better experience with you, that increases the likelihood of a positive outcome from the call.

And this applies to chatting up women as well. The lopsided ratio at IIT Madras, where I spent the prime of my youth, meant that you started with a rather low base rate (the analogy with dating apps in India is appropriate). Consequently, chatting up women meant that you had to give an early signal that you were not a creep, or that you were a nice guy (the lopsided ratio also turns most guys there into misogynists, and not particularly nice. This is a rather vicious cycle). Of course, you could build your brand with grades or other things, but it wasn’t easy.

Coming from that prior, it took me a while to adjust to situations with better base rates, and made me hesitant for a long time, and for whatever reason I assumed I was a “low base rate” guy (I’m really glad, in hindsight, that my wife “approached” me (on Orkut) and said the first few words. Of course, once we’d chatted for a while, I moved swiftly to put her in my “basket”).

Essentially, when we lack information, we stereotype someone with the best information we have about them. When the best information we have about them is not much, we start with a rather low prior, and it is upon them to impress us soon enough to upgrade them. And upgrading yourself in someone’s eyes is not an easy business. And so you should rather start from a position where the base rate is high enough.

And this “upgrade” is not necessarily linear – you can also use this to brand yourself in the axes that you want to be upgraded. Hipster cafes provide a good base rate that you like the sort of food served there. Sitting in a hipster cafe with a MacBook might enhance your branding (increasingly, sitting in a cafe with a Windows laptop that is not a Surface might mark you out as an overly corporate type). Political events might help iff you are the overly political type (my wife has clients who specify the desired political leadings of potential spouses). Caste groups on Orkut or Facebook might help if that is the sort of thing you like. The axes are endless.

All that matters is that whatever improved base rate you seek to achieve by doing something, the signal you send out needs to be credible. Else you can get downgraded very quickly once you’ve got the target’s attention.

Shapely Gal

Well, you didn’t expect a relationships newsletter named after a game theoretic algorithm, did you? In any case, the wife has started one such, and I strongly urge you to subscribe.

The first edition, published today, is awesome, and I’m not saying this because it was my impression with this kind of awesomeness that took both of us out of the relationship and marriage market. Sample this:

You could just go onto a dating/ matrimonial website, set your preferences and end up with 100s of matches. But it mostly only worked for NRI boys in the US trying to find domestic help from India. It wasn’t too common for resident Indians to find each other on these sites in the 90s.

Or:

They’re the types who’ll be too shy to tell you they met their partner on one of these sites as if it was admission of failure. They’ll pretend like they “dated” for a while and got married, but truly, there’s no way to know who they really dated – the spouse, the parents or the random relative who created their profile on these sites.

You can subscribe to the newsletter here. I’m told this will go out once a week.

Active aggression and passive aggression

For the record I’m most often actively aggressive. I believe passive aggression is a waste of energy since not only do you end up fighting but you also end up trying to second guess the other party, which leads to suboptimal outcomes. This post is a justification of that.

Let’s say you and I are trying to decide the price of something I want to sell you. There are two ways we can go about it. One way is for us to have a negotiation. I can name my asking price. You call your bid. And if the two meet, well and good. Most often they won’t meet. So one of us will have to budge. We start budging slowly, in steps, until a time when the bid and ask are close together. And then we have a deal.

In most situations (except exceptional cases where there are very few buyers and sellers – read the first chapter of my book. This is within the Kindle sample), this will lead to an efficient outcome. Even if the final price were a little too close to the bid or to the ask, both parties know that under the circumstances they couldn’t get better. And the transaction takes place and the parties move on.

The other situation is where one party publicly states that they are unwilling to negotiate and will do the deal if and only if the counterparty comes up with a good enough offer. If the offer is not good enough, there is no deal. This is similar to the ultimatum game popular in behavioural economics. In this case you are also required to guess (and you have exactly one guess) what the counterparty’s hurdle rate is.

When there is a liquid market, there is no issue with this kind of a game – you simply have your own hurdle rate and you bid that. And irrespective of whether it gets accepted or not, you get the optimal outcome – since the market is liquid, it is likely that your quote will get accepted somewhere.

In a highly illiquid market, with only one buyer and one seller, the ultimatum setup can lead to highly suboptimal outcomes. I mean if you’re desperate to do the sale, you might bring your price “all the way to zero” to ensure you do the deal, but the thing is that irrespective of whether you get a deal or not, you are bound to feel disappointed.

If your ask got accepted, you start wondering if you could’ve charged more. If you didn’t get your deal, you start wondering if reducing a price “just a little” would have gotten the deal done. It is endless headache, something that’s not there when there is an active negotiation process.

Now to build the analogy – instead of a sale, think of the situation when you have a disagreement with someone and need to resolve it. You can either confront them about it and solve it “using negotiation” or you can be passive aggressive, letting them know you’re “not happy”. Notice that in this case the disagreement is with one specific party, the market is as illiquid as it can get – no negotiations with any third party will have any impact (ignore snitching here).

When you express your disagreement and you talk/fight it out, you know that irrespective of the outcome (whether it was resolved or not), you have done what you could. Either it has been resolved, which has happened with you telling what exactly your position is, or you have given it all to explain yourself and things remain bad (in this case, whatever happened there would have been “no deal” or an “unhappy deal”).

And that is why active aggression is always better than passive aggression. By expressing your disagreement, even if that means you’re being aggressive, you are stating the exact extent of the problem and the solution will be to your satisfaction. When you’re passive aggressive, nobody is the winner.

PS: I realise that by writing this post I’m violating this own advice, since this post itself can be seen as a form of passive aggression! Mea culpa.

The Old Shoe Theory of Relationships

When our daughter was young, some friends saw uncanny resemblances between her and me, and remarked that “Karthik could have married an old shoe and still produced a child that looks like this”, essentially remarking that at least as far as looks were concerned, the wife hadn’t contributed much (Bambi eyes apart).

Over time, the daughter has shown certain other traits that make her seem rather similar to me. For example, she has the practice of sticking her tongue out when performing tasks that require some degree of concentration. She laughs like me. Screeches like me. And makes a “burl-burl” noise with her fingers and lips like I do (admittedly the last one is taught). I’ve already written a fuller list of ways in which the daughter is similar to me.

If you are single and looking to get into a long-term gene propagating relationship, you inevitably ask yourself the question of whether someone is “the one” for you. We have discussed this topic multiple times on this blog.

For example, we have discussed that as far as men are concerned, one thing they look for in potential partners is “consistent fuckability“. We have also discussed that whether someone is “the one” is not a symmetric question, and when you ask yourself the question, you either get “no” or “maybe” as an answer, implying that you need to use Monte Carlo algorithms. Being married to the Marriage Broker Auntie, I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed this topic on this blog several other times.

This is a tubelight post – at least two years too late (the “old shoe” comment came that long ago), but this is yet another framework you can use to determine if you want someone as your long-term gene-propagating partner. Basically you replace yourself by an old shoe.

In other words, assume that the genes that you will propagate along with this person will result in kids who look like them, talk like them, act like them, and rather than a “next best thing”, might just be a superior version of them. Ask yourself if you are okay with having a child who is like this, and who you will be proud of.

This is another Monte Carlo type question, but if the answer in this case is no (you may not be particularly proud of a progeny who is exactly like the person under consideration – for whatever reason), you don’t want to risk propagating genes with this person. In case the answer is yes – that you are willing to parent a child who is exactly like this counterparty, then you can seriously consider this long term relationship.

Again, this applies if and only if you’re looking for a gene propagating relationship. If that isn’t an issue (no pun intended), then you don’t need to worry about old shoes of any kind.

The market for gay relationships

The market for homosexual relationships is an interesting one from the analysis perspective. Like the market for heterosexual relationships, it is a matching market (we are in a relationship if and only if I like you AND you like me). Unlike heterosexual relationships, it is not a “bipartite” market, since both the nominal “buyer” and the “seller” in a transaction will come out (no pun intended) of the same pool (gay people of a particular sex).

The other factor that makes this market interesting (purely from an analysis perspective – it’s bad for the participants) is that there is disapproval at various levels for homosexual relationships. Until today, for example, it was downright criminal to indulge in gay sex in India. Even where it is legal, there is massive social and religious opposition to such relationships (think of the shootout at the gay bar in Florida, for example).

Social disapproval has meant that gays sometimes try to keep their sexuality under wraps. Historically, it has been a common practice for gays to enter into heterosexual marriages, and pursue relationships outside. In fact, there is nothing historical about this – read this excellent piece by Srinath Perur on gays in contemporary hinterland Karnataka, for whom Mohanaswamy, a collection of short stories with a gay protagonist, was a kind of life changer.

Organising a market for an item that is illegal, or otherwise frowned upon, is difficult, since people don’t want to be found participating in it. If I were a gay man looking for a partner, for example, I couldn’t go around openly looking for one if I didn’t want my family to know that I’m gay. So the first task would have been discovery – “safe spaces” where I would be happy to expose my sexuality, and where I could also meet potential partners.

When demand and supply exist, buyers and sellers will find a way to meet each other, though often at high cost. One such “way” for homosexual people has been the gay bar. Though not explicitly advertised, such bars act as focal points (I have a chapter on focal points in my book) for gay people.

They also act as an “anti focal point” (a topic I HAVEN’T covered in the book, for a change!) for heterosexual people who want to stay away because they don’t want to be hit on by gay people (thus reducing market congestion – another topic I cover in my book). Similarly other cultural activities have acted as focal points for gay people to get together and meet each other.

Like in heterosexual relationship markets (this is the link to a sample chapter from the book), the advent of dating apps has revolutionised gay dating, as apps such as Tinder and Grindr have provided safe spaces where gays can look for relationships “from the comfort of their homes”. There are studies that show that Grindr has changed the nature of relationships among gay men, and how these apps have “saved lives” in places such as India where homosexuality was criminal until today.

Today’s Indian Supreme Court ruling will have a massive positive impact on gay relationships in India. For starters, there are still millions of people in the closet – while apps such as Tinder and Grindr allowed more people to participate in these markets (since this could be done without really “coming out”), that gay sex was a criminal act would have led to some people to err on the side of caution (and deprive themselves of the chance of a relationship). Gay people who were worried about criminality, but not that much about social sanctions, will now be more willing to come out, leading to an increase in the market size.

Barring congestion (when “bad counterparties” prevent you from finding “good counterparties”),  the likelihood of finding a match in a market is generally proportional to the number of possible counterparties. Since gay relationship markets are not bipartite, we can say that the likelihood of finding a good match varies by the square of the number of market participants (and this brings in the Indian Prime Minister’s infamous 2ab term). In other words, it not only allows the people now coming into the market to find relationships, but it also allows existing players to find better relationships.

Then, there is the second order effect. Decriminalisation will mean that more people will come out of the closet, which will mean more people will find homosexuality to  be “normal” leading to better social mores (to take a personal example, I used to use the word “gay” as a pejorative (to mean “uncool”) until I encountered my first openly gay acquaintance – someone with whom I share on online mailing list). And as social attitudes towards homosexuality change, it will lead to more people coming out of the closet, setting off a virtuous cycle of acceptance of homosexuality.

In other words, today’s decision by the Indian Supreme Court is likely to set off a massive virtuous cycle in the liquidity of the market for homosexual relationships in India!

PS: It is a year since my first book was published, so we are running a promotional offer where you can buy the Kindle version for one dollar (or Rs. 70).

 

Tinder taming and Incels and blogging

So Takshashila has launched a new group blog called “Pragati Express”. It’s basically old-style blogging, with lots of links and short posts and not necessarily making a coherent argument – rather than blog posts that try are basically attempts at writing OpEds (like how blog posts in a lot of places have turned out to be).

I’m one of the contributors for this blog, and wrote my first post today. Copy-pasting it here below the fold!

And thinking about it, I’m so glad about this attempt at reviving old-style blogging – I see that the bug of making blogposts coherent and and wannabe-OpEd has bit me as well, and my posts have been getting longer and more serious.

Hopefully  I can bring back the joy into my blogging.

Continue reading “Tinder taming and Incels and blogging”

There’s no way out

One thing relationship gurus parrot often is the need for compromise. Conflicts are inevitable in a relationship, they say, and so sometimes you need to compromise. While sometimes it’s possible to hold back a thought or a statement, and prevent a situation from blowing up, at other times, there’s simply no way out.

Consider the situation last night, for example. The wife wanted to make Maggi for dinner. Now, unlike most Indians of my generation I don’t like Maggi, and I can at best tolerate it for a snack – definitely not for dinner. And so I definitely wasn’t pleased at the proposal that we have Maggi for dinner. The question was how I should react.

I had two choices – either to grudgingly accept, eat Maggi for dinner and feel unhappy about what I had for dinner, or to tell her I would make my own dinner, which would come at the cost of her getting upset that I wasn’t going to eat something she was going to lovingly prepare.

So one way I would feel unhappy, and the other way she would – so the moment she uttered the proposal to make Maggi, some kind of conflict or unhappiness was given.

That, however, doesn’t mean that it was her fault either – to propose that we eat Maggi, because the same tradeoff applies there as well. She could either propose we eat Maggi, with the result that either she’ll get upset or I’ll get unhappy, or she could hold back the thought and silently bottle it in. Both would incur a cost.

And it happens all the time – there are days when I want us to go out, knowing fully well that the wife likes to stay home. If I voice my desire to go out, it will lead to conflict – either I get upset that she refuses or she’ll grudgingly accompany me. If not, I’ll sulk silently at not having explored the option to go out. And it goes on.

How do you even resolve such differences? By backward induction, the conflict happens at the moment a thought is planted in your head – you could say that we should train ourselves that we don’t even get thoughts that could potentially lead to situations that potentially lead to conflicts, but isn’t that possibly taking things too far?

Anyway, last night we “monetised” our anguish, when I said she should go ahead and make Maggi, but only for herself and Berry (who also loves Maggi). I made myself a Halloumi sandwich. As it happened, all three of us woke up in the middle of the night feeling incredibly hungry!

Seven

It’s a little over seven years ago that we got married. It was a traditional Hindu ceremony. It was so traditional that we began at around 11am and finished with a ceremonial lunch only around 5:30 pm. And tradition meant that the priests hurried through the mantras, not bothering to explain what they were supposed to say (it’s another matter that had they bothered to stop and explain, we would’ve been getting married for another two days).

It was later that I got to know that some of those mantras were rather insightful, though archaic and backward if you go by modern sensibilities. Like this one Mantra the search for which led me to a website titled “6 noble virtues of an ideal wife“. As the website explains, it is from “Neeti Saara”, written by a Telugu poet Baddena in 13th century (yes, some of the wedding rituals are only 800 years old).

I won’t go into explaining these “noble virtues” here, but as I look back at our seven years of marriage, I realise that Pinky has been a brilliant wife. And she has done so while either studying or keeping a (mostly demanding) full time job for most of the duration of our marriage.

I’m reminded of the time when we lived in Rajajinagar, when I was working as an independent management consultant. I would work from home, and having disposed of our cook a few months earlier, I had the task of making my own lunch.

Pinky would have none of it. She would wake up at 5:30 and painstakingly make tall stacks of chapatis (I was going through one of those “I don’t want to eat rice” phases at that time) before she ran to catch her factory bus, so that I could have a good meal. And the dutiful husband I was, I’d finish the full day’s quota in the afternoon itself which meant she would be forced to cook again once she was back after a tiring day and 40-kilometre commute.

I’m also reminded of the time earlier this year when we’d moved to London and I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to do here. Pinky not only supported our family financially, but also ferry Berry all the way into town each day so that I could figure out life, possibly find a job and finish my book. And on most days it would be Pinky who would cook dinner after another long commute (usually with a screaming baby).

During my consulting life, every time I had to strike a deal or go through a tough negotiation, I would turn to Pinky. Each time she would unfailingly help me sort out my demons and give me sage advice. On several occasions she saved me from pricing too low. When she would see that I was getting into a bad deal, she would firmly pull me back.

She was insanely supportive when in late 2011 I decided to quit my job and lead a portfolio life. She would find her own cute ways of supporting me in every endeavour, like buying me a new fancy notebook when I was going to meet my first prospective big client, or trying to find me a fancy water bottle prior to my bike trip across Rajasthan.

When I would wake up at 4am to catch the first flight out to see outstation clients, she would wake up along with me, make coffee for me and polish my shoes. On two such occasions she wasn’t around. I almost missed my flight on one of those occasions, and missed my flight on the other!

From time to time she plans fun activities for us to do together, like the time she took me to the A-Paul-ogy art gallery, or when she took me for a Japanese meal to Matsuri and totally bossed the menu (before I knew it she’d ordered a host of dishes which made for a wonderful and complete meal!).

In some senses, I feel I haven’t held up my side of the bargain at times. One thing she absolutely enjoys is for us to watch movies together, but we almost never do that since I don’t generally have the patience to watch movies. She would love to spend a Friday evening cuddling on the couch watching something together, but I prefer to be on my computer instead. She loves being surprised, but my ineptitude means that on most occasions I’ve tried it’s been a shock rather than a surprise.

And then I have my occasional bouts of extreme anger, and she’s borne the brunt of it on several occasions. Usually it involves shouting (I’m an absolute shouter and love to went out my frustrations; she’s the quiet types) and I have to try hard to not get violent at times (on some occasions I don’t succeed in restraining myself). On some occasions it starts with something seemingly silly. On others, I fuck up like crazy. Either ways, it occasionally gets ugly – something I’m definitely not proud about.

I know I have driven her insane. I know that my negativity and NED has rubbed off on her. It is normal for a married couple to influence and change each other, and I know I’ve changed her in ways she absolutely hates.

Yet she’s always been the forgiving sorts. She’s stood by me thick and thin through the seven years of our marriage. Thanks to her adventures during her MBA, I’ve managed to increase my country count (and also got to move to a new country!).

And she’s been a wonderful mother to Berry. One old friend who met Pinky for the first time last year later told me, “man, she is so sorted!”. She remains cool, and seemingly without taking much stress, has managed to turn Berry into a bright and naughty toddler – I’ve mostly been a freerider! Oh, and do you know that she writes an absolutely delightful letter to Berry each month?

It’s mostly been a wonderful seven years with Pinky so far! I know we’ve had the odd low moment, and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to her for that. But in my mind, these have been far far outweighed by all the wonderful times we’ve been through, and all the fun we’ve had together! I hope to get another seventy such wonderful years with this wonderful woman!

And for after that, there’s this:

PS: The more perceptive of the readers here will know that this blog (its predecessor, rather) played a not insignificant part in us meeting. One of the posts that drew her attention, and which got us talking was this.

3/13: Stockings

It is rare that someone completely blows you away on the first date. To be fair, the first time I met Pinky wasn’t the first time I’d interacted with her. She and I had been “chat friends” for nearly two years then, periodically pinging each other on Google Talk, and making arbit conversations. Yet, the first time I met her, things changed so much for the better that I was overwhelmed.

She hadn’t wanted to meet me. The evening before we finally met, we had spoken on the phone for the first time, where she had tried to reason out to me as to why she didn’t want to meet me. She had been afraid that she might lose “a good chat friend” after the meeting, since our opinions of each other would inevitably change after meeting (there was a recent cartoon on Twitter I saw to this effect, but I don’t recall it enough now to link).

I wasn’t going to let go of her so easily – given that I was in the market then, and on the verge of giving up, and that I’d always found her cute, I HAD to meet her (incidentally, while I always found her cute, I’d never thought of her as a potential “bladee” because I thought she was too young. Her voice convinced me otherwise). So I made up some reason as to why it was important for us to meet the following day, and even convinced her to come to my part of town.

Thinking back, while I did grab my opportunities and “go for it”, most of the credit for Pinky and I getting married should go to her. It was she who first reached out to me, and contacted me again when I had reacted indifferently and arrogantly at first. It was she who made me talk to her, and made me fall in love with her over time.

And every time I’ve fucked up (and that’s been a lot of times, and fairly often at that), it’s she who’s compromised and made up, and made adjustments so that our relationship goes on. She’s given me multiple let-offs and chances, while I continue to occasionally fuck up.

I’m not of the religious sort, so let me just say that I consider myself extremely lucky to have met her, to be married to her and to make babies with her. The credit is all hers.

Anyway, let me take this opportunity to re-share this video I had made about our first date.

 

1/13: Leaving home

2/13: Motherhood statements