Sunk Cost

We humans are awful at probability. We’re even worse at logical decision-making for our own benefit.

An example is the power of a sunk cost. A person, A, dates person B for two years and finally figures that the current nature of, and likely future path of, their relationship is unsatisfactory. Person A is much more likely to reason that it’s worth staying together because of the time spent together. This is simply the way we work. That two years is the sunk cost, meaning the investment of time and energy and emotion.

A logical person would say: It matters not a whit what has transpired for me to find myself at this point. Only the future matters. The fact of my having invested time in this joint venture is irrelevant, because it’s not what I want. Now is the time to cease investing time with this person and go find a better candidate.

Instead, because we aren’t logical, we continually justify ongoing efforts to either make the relationship work, or hope that something changes to make it work. Letting go of the sunk cost appears to mean a loss, but it isn’t and never was. That time is necessary to figure out if B is in fact the right one.

To be clear: the process of getting to know someone is all about seeing how we fit together for the rest of our lives. Until we marry, it’s not a sunk cost, it’s just the cost of familiarization, and should be counted only that way.


Nobody tells the juvenile male how much their life will revolve around women. We all expect the post-pubescent bloke to focus much of his energy on pursuit of the mystery that is female, but even decades later only the intensity changes, and not by that much.

Friends of mine who work with men in their 90s tell me this doesn’t change many decades later.

Let’s be clear: marriage, commitment and children change the patterns of behaviour, but not the overall thinking process. And if they don’t, we’re all in trouble. We notice and speculate about women in the same way that cats sense mice; it’s automatic.

Unlike cats, we filter the instinct to a higher plane. Cats will pounce when the probability shifts to their satisfaction. Men don’t. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t evaluate the world through the lens of possibility.

Love At First Taste

Wine is fun because every wine is the same, and yet every wine is different. Does that remind you of a bipedal mammal with whom we’re all familiar?

Blind wine tasting ups the fun factor because it hobbles much of the circuitry we normally use to decide whether we like or dislike a specific bottle.

Remove the label, the price and everything else and we have to judge based on the only criteria that matters: smell & taste. Is the fragrance appealing? Do I like the way this mouthful tastes or not?


Wine is one thing, because we only commit until the bottle is empty; that upright bipedal mammal is quite another.

Podcast #75 Optimist or Pessimist?

Who would want to date or couple with a pessimist? Presumably we’d all rather be with someone of sunny disposition, but is there a point at which too much Pollyanna is too much?

Then again, do we want to continually face the logic of a realist? Kregg and I bat the idea around here:

Sticking With It

The idea of it is daunting.

Imagine choosing one person in your twenties or thirties, getting to know them for eighteen months or two years and then committing to share your lives together forever. Through good times and bad, failure and success, happiness and sadness, the plan is to stick together.

Absurd as this concept is to the clear-eyed, it works. People make this institution a success and go on to have children who make it a success; that, BTW, adds an additional layer of stress and complexity unimagined at the start.

What’s the secret? Why do we long to make this happen, and how do we claim some of the magic for ourselves?

I wonder if the key isn’t flexibility. Our vision of two people merging into one isn’t helpful. A better simile might be of two dolphins moving together through the ocean. Our dolphins move in generally the same direction, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes in looser formation. Oftentimes they know when the other will change direction, and they change direction instantly or, when they get the picture, after a while. They hang around in the same area playing together, but not necessarily with each other, and they always have their mate’s back.

The two of them are individuals, but it’s clear that even if they’re apart, they remain together…a fact acknowledged by them and their tribe.

That’s a long way of suggesting that flexibility in the face of change might be an under-represented part of the secret to success. Whomever changes must help the other to join them on the path, that’s their responsibility. Whomever is being helped must absorb the change and do their best to keep up.

Obvious caveats about legality, morality and danger apply, but recognizing that we all change is a big step. It opens the door.