The Economy of Love

by Jessica Lohafer

“When I told my boyfriend in high school I loved him, he told me he had to do his taxes.”


I am fairly fiscally responsible. Not always. Most days I can find a way to justify the purchase of a third glass of wine, another novel, or even truffle cake to share with friends. However, throughout my life I have developed a wicked strong ability to deny myself one thing in order to enjoy another. Call it the Lutheran in me, I find great pleasure in withholding.

In economics, we might call this an observation of opportunity cost, a notion that says the cost of my choosing one particular activity is “measured in terms of the value of the best alternative that is not chosen.” (Thanks wikipedia/my college econ professor!) For example, let’s say I want to buy a gorgeous pair of boots from Mi Shoes. They may or may not be made of beautiful brown leather and cost nearly as much as my rent, but that’s besides the point. I could buy these boots. No, actually, I could not. But let’s say I could. Let’s say I could buy these boots but my next best alternative was a plane ticket to New York to visit my lovely friend Kristin. While the monetary cost of the boots would be $180 (!), the opportunity cost of the boots, if I chose them over the plane ticket, would be one plane ticket to New York City. Make sense?
Theoretically, then, if the opportunity cost of something was too great, I wouldn’t choose it.

It seems, lately, that the women in my life are experiencing great difficulties of the heart. Their romantic dissatisfaction is almost so rampant that I could call it a mid-twenties phenomena. What is it that’s so easily observable, you ask? They meet someone, someone they’re interested in, and they hit it off immediately. This individual has them excited, which is saying a lot. These women are fantastic, intelligent, witty, beautiful, and wildly independent. They are not people who base their self-worth on relationship status, so for them to express genuine interest in someone new is significant. They open up. They make dinners, make plans, make out. They recognize the occasional scarcity of what they’re experiencing and so they appreciate it fully. The person of their interest acts similarly, gushing at the romance of it all, but also expressing sincere sentiment.

Unfortunately, what happens next is a little disheartening.

Their interest becomes suddenly distant. No, in fact, this isn’t really working for them. It’s too much, too fast and they definitely don’t know what they want. Ties are cut. Break-ups ensue. Go ahead and cue the confusion. But what’s to be done? These are my friends. I would do anything to prevent them from feeling this sort of rejection. So I tell them, you need to be Barcelona. You need to approach this situation like you’re one of the best soccer teams in the world. A team that’s able to get into the heads of their opponents, and direct the course of play in the way that benefits them the most. Moreover, you are Barcelona!

And while they appreciate my sentiment, this soccer analogy doesn’t necessarily do it for them. Cue more confusion.

So I say, let it go. If they don’t know what they want, then don’t stick around for them to figure it out. The opportunity cost is too great; we’re talking about your own personal power here. You’re missing out on the next best alternative while this man or woman works through their quarter life crisis. You? Wait? Never. You cut it off, and walk away. If you want them, you can have them. They’ll be back. And then you get to make the decisions. Sure, maybe they don’t come back. But then they weren’t worth it, to begin with. Do not let them string you along.
At this point in the conversation, I usually shoot the rest of my whiskey and scream “Barcelona!” for effect.

If we considered love like we consider economics, all answers would be simple.

I will stand my ground with this advice; I know there are people who need to be shut down. Sometimes, you have to walk away from something to make a point. No one should take away your personal power. I know what it is to lose your own identity to love, to forget the outline of your own shape but for the shape of someone else. To answer the question, how are you doing, Jessica? with a retelling of your partner’s latest endeavors. In the end, that loss of self is just as much your own fault (if not more) as it is theirs. And so I tell my women to hold their ground, to keep their passions like a lighthouse.

That being said, here’s what they don’t tell you in economics. Human beings can measure decision making with math all day long, but they can not predict desire. Maybe I too have known love that’s left me confused. Did I return to it? The self-preserving idealist in me doesn’t want to tell you the truth. So instead, this: I am grateful that these earth bound equations don’t dictate what I’m allowed to feel. Which is much. Which is more than I expected. And the opportunity cost of preserving my ego, what I would lose if I didn’t allow myself this experience? That cost is too great.