Range of possibilities

After I wrote about “love and arranged jobs” last week, an old friend got back saying he quite appreciates the concept and he’s seen it in his career as well. He’s fundamentally a researcher, with a PhD, who then made a transition to corporate jobs.

He told me that back in his research days, he had many “love work relationships”, where he would come across and meet people, and they would “flirt” (in a professional sense), and that could lead to a wide range of outcomes. Sometimes they would just have discussions without anything professional coming out of it, sometimes it would result in a paper, sometimes in a longer collaboration, and so on.

Now that he is in the corporate world, he told me that it is mostly “arranged jobs” for him now, and that meeting people for this is much less enjoyable in that sense.

The one phrase that he used in our conversation stuck with me, and has made it to the title of this post. He said that “love jobs” work when people meet with a “range of possibilities” in mind.

And that is precisely how it works in terms of romantic relationships as well. When you go out on a date, you are open to exploring a range of possibilities. It could just be an evening out. It could be a one-night stand. It could result in friendship, with or without benefits. There could be a long-term relationship that is possible. Gene propagation is yet another possible result. There is a rather wide range of possibilities and that is what I suppose makes dating fun (I suppose because I’ve hardly dated. I randomly one day met my wife after three years of blog-commenting, orkutting and GTalking, and we ended up hitting the highest part of the range).

Arranged marriages are not like that – you go into the “date” with a binary possibility in mind – you either settle into a long-term gene-propagating relationship with this person or you wish you never encounter them in life again. There is simply no range, or room for any range.

Job interviews in an arranged sense are like that. You either get the job or you don’t – there is one midpoint, though, where things don’t temporarily work out but you keep open the possibility of working together at a later date. This, however, is an incredibly rare occurrence – the outcome is usually binary.

It’s possible I’m even thinking about this “love jobs” scenario because I’ve been consulting for the last 8 odd years now. In all this time I’ve met several people, and the great part of this has been that the first meeting usually happens without any expectations – both parties are open to a range of possibilities.

Some people I’ve met have tried to hire me (for a job). Some have become friends. Some have given me gigs, some several. Some have first given me gigs and then become friends. Others have asked me to write recommendation letters. Yet others have become partners. And so on.

And this has sort of “spoilt” me into believing that a job can be found through this kind of a “love process” where a range of possibilities is open upon the first meeting itself. And when people try to propose the arranged route (“once we start this process we expect to hire you in a week”) I’ve chickened out.

Thinking about it, that’s how a lot of hiring works. Except maybe for the handful of employers which are infamous for long interview processes (I love those proceses, btw), I guess most of the “industry” is all about arranged jobs.

And maybe that’s why so few people “love” their jobs!

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.

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.

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!

Pudina family

Sometimes they say that opposites attract.

But more practically, I think it’s impossible to louvvu someone unless you have lots of similar interests, and that also means lots of similar ambitions. And in that sense my wife and I have shared quite a few ambitions.

First we wanted to become celebrity bloggers. Then (ok the order gets messed up here) there was the MBA. And before all this there is Ganeshana Maduve (which we re-watched perhaps for the 50th time this weekend).

And adding to all this, there’s the desire to write in newspapers. I remember that over a decade ago I wanted to regularly write in newspapers, and about “policy issues”. I didn’t follow up on that ambition, of course, but through lots of twists and turns and happy coincidences meant that I started writing for Mint in 2013, and some of the stuff I’ve written there are about “policy issues”.

And the wife has had similar ambitions as well, though her methods have been vastly different, and much more focussed. She’s always wanted to write a column on relationships. Rather, she first wanted to be a relationship blogger, and then a relationship columnist, and she’s gone about the process with single-minded ambition.

So, first there was the MarriageBrokerAuntie blog (now hosted here). Then it turned into a Facebook page. It even led to a business that she ran during her maternity and post-childbirth periods (imagine running a business while nursing a tiny baby). And now she’s in the papers. Yay!

It so happens that it’s the same paper that I write for. And it also happens that the edition of the paper where it was published (Mint on Sunday) also happened to carry an excerpt from my book two-three weeks back. And that also happened to be about relationships.

So a long long time ago, a couple of days after we’d first met, she had written about “Arranged Louvvu“. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first piece she’s written for Mint is about “Love, and other arrangements“.  It’s about dating apps, and how what they lead to is not “real love” and it’s no different from “other arrangements”. That people think arranged marriage is uncool, but dating apps lead to basically arranged relationships. And so on.

Read the whole thing, it’s damn well written. Oh, and it features 1-6-1 calls, Panchatantra and George Akerlof’s “market for lemons”, among other stud fundaes.

Now the only thing left is for Berry to start writing for Mint. They don’t have a children’s issue (where they feature drawings, poems, etc. written by kids) so I guess she’ll have to wait a while. But I’m damn hopeful!

In any case, for now massive pride is happening on account of the wife!

7/13: Dashing

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post about my biggest concern about hitting on Pinky – I always thought she was “too young”. Coming to think of it now, what I didn’t realise back then was that marrying someone much younger can actually help give you a “second youth”. In other words, Pinky makes me feel much younger!

It’s possibly because of the way it started. Pinky pinged me on Orkut with a link to her blog. She was barely nineteen then, and her posts back then looked like what a teenager would write. Bad spellings. Horrible capitalisation. Trying to sound cutesy. She even spelled her name as “Preanca”!

It was over a year later that we started talking regularly, but the image had been fixed – this was one cute kid who liked to chat to me, and I treated her thus. We used to speak about just about anything, from hugging techniques to bra fits (that one slightly creeped her out, I think).

When I entered the arranged marriage market, she became my go to person for discussing what was happening in the market. She loved it as well (showing early signs of becoming a Marriage Broker Auntie), and told me I was giving her the kind of insight her older cousins who had gone through the market had denied her.

At one point of time, she asked me if she could think of me as a “brother who is getting married” which kinda creeped me out, and I’d blown my top. Soon after she gave me my first cutesy nickname (and she continues to come up with new names every one month or so).

The net result of all this was that while she was 22, and employed, when I first met her, I still thought of her as a “cute kid”. I’d assigned to her the voice of a little girl, which is why I got positively surprised when I first spoke to her on the phone. And when I met her, I realised she was mature beyond her years, and it was an easy decision then to start hitting on her.

Soon after, though, I realised the joys of being with someone so young, one who hadn’t yet been through a quarter life crisis (though I had to live through yet another quarter life crisis when she inevitably went through one). Her thoughts were fresh, and unharmed by the harsh experiences of life. That made her positive, and fun-loving, and hanging out with her became a lot of fun.

She had habits and hobbies one would expect of someone in their early twenties, and I quite enjoyed partaking in them and feeling young again (though one activity she’s consistently refused to share with me is partying!). And of course, I also later realised that marrying a young woman meant that I could put off making babies to a bit later, and we had Berry when we thought we should have a kid, rather than getting spooked by a biological clock.

I still find Pinky cute. There are times when she makes that cute face that reminds me of the cute kid who I didn’t want to hit on! And she finds random things funny and laughs in a girlish manner, and reminds me once again of that “kid” I met in Gandhi Bazaar back in 2009!

I’m suddenly reminded of the day in March 2015 when we were walking down the middle of Avinguda Josep Taradellas in Barcelona, and we suddenly held hands and spontaneously start running. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me young, though my hair and waistline sometimes try to tell me otherwise!

PS: when I met her, I was 26 and she was 22. So we’ve never come close to violating the “N/2 + 7 rule“.

1/13: Leaving home

2/13: Motherhood statements

3/13: Stockings

4/13: HM

5/13: Cookers

6/13: Fashion

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

 

Asking people out and saving for retirement

As early readers on this blog might be aware of, I had several unsuccessful attempts at getting into a relationship before I eventually met the person who is now my wife. Each of those early episodes had this unfailing pattern – I’d somehow decide one day that I loved someone, get obsessed with her within a short period of time, and see dreams for living together happily ever after.

All this would happen without my having made the least effort on figuring out how to communicate my feelings for the person in question, and that was something I was lousy at. On a couple of occasions I took a high risk strategy, simply approaching the person in question (either in person or online), and expressing my desire to possibly get into a long-term gene-propagating relationship with her.

Most times, though, I’d go full conservative. Try to make conversation. Talk about banal things. Talk about things so banal that the person would soon find me uninteresting and not want to talk to me any more; and which would mean that I had no chance of getting into a relationship – never mind “long-term” and “gene-propagating”.

So recently Pinky the ladywife (who, you might remember, is a Marriage Broker Auntie) and I were talking about strategies to chat up people you were interested in (I must mention here we used to talk about such random stuff in our early conversations as well – Pinky’s ability to indulge in “arbit conversations” were key in my wanting to get into a long-term gene-propagating relationship with her).

As it happens with such conversations, I was telling stories of how I’d approach this back in the day. And we were talking about the experiences of some other people we know who are on the lookout for long-term gene-propagating relationships.

Pinky, in one of her gyaan-spouting moods, was explaining why it’s important that you DON’T have banal conversations in your early days of hitting on someone. She said it is important that you try to make the conversation interesting, and that meant talking about potentially contentious stuff. Sometimes, this would throw off the counterparty and result in failure. But if the counterparty liked the potentially contentious stuff, there was a real chance things might go forward.

I might be paraphrasing here, but what Pinky essentially said is that in the early days, you should take a high-risk strategy, but as you progress in your relationship, you should eschew risk, and become more conservative. This way, she said, you maximise the chances of getting into and staying in a relationship.

While I broadly agree with this strategy (when she first told me this I made a mental note of why I’d never been able to properly hit on anyone in the first place), what I was struck by is how similar it is to save for your retirement. 

There are many common formulae that financial advisors and planners use when they help clients save for retirement. While the mechanics might vary, there is a simple principle – invest in riskier securities when you are young, and progressively decrease the risk profile of your portfolio as you grow older. This way, you get to maximise the expected portfolio value at the time of retirement. Some of these investment strategies are popularly known as “glide path” strategies.

Apart from gene propagation, one of the purposes of getting into a long-term relationship is that there will be “someone who’ll need you, someone who’ll feed you when you’re sixty four”. Sixty four is also the time when you’re possibly planning to retire, and want to have built up a significant retirement kitty. Isn’t it incredible that the strategies for achieving both are rather similar?

Getting candid at coffee day

I have a reputation for occasionally saying outrageous things, and things that I shouldn’t be saying. I frequently make people uncomfortable by saying what I say, including what I sometimes write on my blog. I’ve been long wondering, though, if it is more rational to say shocking stuff to people you know well, or to those you don’t.

I remember this party from ages back where I had just been introduced to this couple, and within ten minutes I’d started expounding the inner beauties of the Goalkeeper Theory (which states that it is okay to hit on someone already in a relationship). I remember the female half of that couple visibly shudder and cling on to her boyfriend within minutes of my exposition.

Some people might recommend higher discretion when you are introduced to someone new, since you don’t want to create a bad first impression. The other way of looking at it is that people you are meeting for the first time, at a cafe or a party or something, are also people you are unlikely to ever encounter once again in life. Consequently, the downside of saying something outrageous is limited. On the other hand, there is a chance that they might be genuinely impressed with your fundaes and you might end up in a stronger relationship (at whatever level) than if you never said the outrageous thing.

On the other hand, while you might be comfortable with people you know well, the danger with saying outrageous or uncomfortable things is that there is a lot at stake. You have already invested significantly in the relationship, which gives you the comfort to say what you want. But if the person genuinely gets offended, you’ve lost a friendship or relationship or more!

So from a risk point of view, if you are the types that likes to make “bold” conversation, and potentially outrage or upset the counterparty, do so when you are still building the relationship. After all, it makes sense to invest in high volatility instruments when the downside is limited!

PS: Don’t try this at a job interview.

Women are like edge triggered flipflops

Every once in a while, we talk about (in some wonder and amazement) how we came to meet each other, and eventually got married. Most of it is usually the same story, (chinese-whispers induced much-mauled) versions of which are known to quite a few people. But each time we talk about it, there’s something new that comes forth, which makes the discussion enlightening.

So the part about how we first got talking is well-established. Priyanka was excited to find Manu, a distant relative of hers, on Orkut. From his Orkut page, she landed at his website, where back then there was a list of “blogs I follow” (in the standard of mid-2000s websites).

And from there she ended up at my blog (the predecessor of this blog), where she chanced upon this one-line post:

noticed a funny thing at the loo in office today. a number of people tie their janavaaras (sacred thread) around their ears while peeing or crapping!!

She got interested and started reading, and presently landed at this post. Then she started her own blog, scrapped me on Orkut and then disappeared after I’d scrapped her back. And so it went.

A year and half later I saw her at Landmark Quiz, and she messaged me a few days later (when I didn’t know it was the same cute chick I’d seen at the quiz) asking if I remembered her and giving me a puzzle, and then we got added to each other on GTalk, and got talking.

Cut the story two years forward, and we met for the first time in Gandhi Bazaar in 2009. A day later, I wrote this blogpost on “Losing Heart“.

Yesterday I met a friend, an extremely awesome woman. Once I was back home, I sent a mail to my relationship advisor, detailing my meeting with this friend. And I described her (the awesome friend) as being “super CMP”. I wrote in the mail “I find her really awesome. In each and every component she clears the CMP cutoff by a long way”. That’s how I’ve become. I’ve lost it. I’ve lost my heart. And I need to find it back. And I don’t know if I should continue in the arranged scissors market.

And a couple of days later I apparently told her I liked her (I don’t remember this, and our GTalk conversations had gone “off the record” then, so there is no evidence).

And today’s conversation revealed that Priyanka completely misunderstood my “losing heart” post and assumed that I didn’t like her. In her hurry of reading my post (perhaps), she had assumed that I had “lost heart” after meeting her, and had taken it to mean that she was unattractive in whatever way.

Then, when I told her a couple of days later that I liked her, it was a massive boost to her confidence, which had been (rather unintentionally) “pushed down” by way of my blog post.

She had been skeptical of meeting me in the first place, afraid that I’d turn out like “another of those online creeps who hits on you the first time he meets you”, and said that if I’d directly told her I liked her after meeting her, she would’ve got similarly creeped out and never married me. But coming after the blog post that had pushed her confidence down, my telling her that I liked her was enough of a confidence boost to her that she stopped seeing me as “yet another online creep”. There’s more to the story, but we ended up getting married.

From my point of view, the moral of this story, or at least the part that I discovered during our conversation today, is that women are like edge-triggered rather than level-triggered flipflops (the wife is an electrical engineer so I can get away with making such comparisons in normal conversation).

The reason Priyanka liked me is that something I told her caused an instant and massive boost in her self-esteem. The level to which it was raised to wasn’t as important as the extent by which it was raised. And she said that it’s a standard case with all women – it’s the delta to their self-esteem that turns them on rather than the level.

She went on to say that this is a rather standard trick in “the game” – to push down the potential partner’s self-esteem or confidence so that you can raise it by a large extent in the next move and win them over. I admit to having no clue of this back in 2009 (or even now). But like in a typical comedy movie, I had unwittingly stumbled into a great strategy!