In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, Milan Kundera explores the distinction between the epic and the lyrical womanizer. The epic womanizer desires conquest of an ever expanding sexual territory. The lyrical womanizer is eternally in search of perfection or true love.
A girlfriend recently asked me which one I am. I found it hard to answer. The idea of conquering the world one flag at a time has a definite appeal to me. While deciding which of two women to pursue on a given night, I have found myself thinking: This is a new country. The life of an epic womanizer promises to satisfy a traveller’s curiosity and to confer great power: The feeling that they’re all mine, that the world is mine. But what originally motivated me as a young man was the romantic ideal of the perfect love relationship. My original motivation was more lyrical than epic, and I can still relate to this earlier self.
Chasing fresh pussy indefinitely appears immature to most people under either motivation. So a womanizer can expect to encounter concern, mixed with envy, in those around him. Conventional wisdom holds that developing a single deep relationship brings happiness and stability. Although the classical monogamous relationship is in a global crisis, we need not dismiss the wisdom that lasting relationships are valuable.
I like my relationships with women to have potential beyond sex. I don’t like to compartmentalize and set definite limits on the type of connection that may develop. I prefer to develop emotional and intellectual connections along with the sexual connection – although this complicates matters and is often better explored after initial seduction. I also don’t like to limit my relationships to a particular time frame.
If the goal were simply to find the single best attainable mate, there is a rational solution. The optimal approach is to sample the field, estimate a realistic aspiration level, and then choose the next contender exceeding that level. This sequential choice problem has been deeply investigated and is variously referred to as the dowry, secretary, or marriage problem (
). If the number of contenders is known, their order is random, and the objective is to maximize the chance of picking the absolute best (i.e. hitting the jackpot), the optimal strategy is to sample 37% (more precisely a proportion of 1/e), set the aspiration level to the best within that sample, and pick the next one exceeding it.
In reality, the order may not be random (options could get better over time and then worse) and the total number of contenders is not known. Instead of optimizing the chance to hitting the jackpot, the objective should perhaps be to balance the expected value of the match against the chance of finding no match. The greater the sampled proportion, the higher the aspiration level. And with our aspiration level both rise: the expected value of our match and the chance of finding no match (which equals the sampled proportion).
Simulations suggest that the expected value is quite robust to changes of the sampled proportion, so sampling 37%, the solution to the classical dowry/secretary/marriage problem, is perhaps a good rule of thumb even when optimizing the probability of hitting the jackpot is not the main goal and we instead would like to optimize the expected value of our match.
A good strategy is one that works on multiple time scales. I’d like to be both an epic and a lyrical womanizer, and to be realistic about life. My sampling may serve to set an aspiration level, but it is also a pleasure in its own right and heightened by a dream, attainable or not. As I age, quality and depth gain priority over quantity and breadth. I enjoy the journey, realize the journey is the goal, but continue to entertain the notion that one day I may journey on into depth with just one.
This answers the question as best I can today. However, it does not answer how best to answer the question to a woman we intend to seduce.
Kundera’s narrator notes that the lyrical womanizer has women’s sympathy. Women deeply relate to the unattainable dream of perfect love. Moreover, his dream of perfection renders him unattainable to her, and thus lends him a key feature of her fantasy mate – for as long as he does not degrade her dream to a mere reality by declaring his love for her.