Sequential choice for epic and lyrical womanizers

January 9, 2012

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.


Optimism, pessism: What is the synthesis?

January 8, 2012







Both Anthony Robbins and Alain de Botton explore how we can maintain emotional stability. Robbins stresses the importance of a positive vision, of instrumental optimism. De Botton stresses the importance of managing expectations, of instrumental pessimism. Both arguments ring true. But this insight begs the question of when to use each.

What’s the synthesis?

“That’s the name of a song, right?”

May 16, 2011

Last summer, I tried to seduce a girl who resisted my charms. We went on 3 or 4 dates within as many weeks. There was a charming dynamic overall, albeit overpeppered (for my taste) with constant heavy shittesting. We danced, we shared stories, I sexualised our conversations, but all that happened physically was one passionate kiss. After that she playfully evaded me, always responding to txts, but not agreeing to meet, until I dropped her. After 9 months of no contact, here’s a facebook chat I had with her the other day.

ME: [her name], how have you been?

[let’s see if she responds…]

SHE: hi, glad to hear from u, to be honest? bad

[genuine response]

ME: why?

SHE: [her current problem at work]

ME: just got back from [job at vacation spot]. great fun.

[truthful dhv]

SHE: jealous about u, what is about ur work, so when will [my cultural achievement] come out?

[bites and remembers previously ignored more substantial dhv from last year.]

ME: oh, [my cultural achievement]. yes, it will come out this year. presentation in [location].

SHE: send me a copy with autograph

[she appears to be in groupie mode here, which would be excellent. but she might just be shittesting: if i were too happy about this fawning response (revealing neediness), she’d lose interest. so i’ll ignore her request.]

ME: what are you up to these days (other than having erotic fantasies about me)?

[unabashed sexualization and prizing. note: if she just answers the question, ignoring the parenthetic remark, then she’s implicitly accepted that i can say stuff like that and that she has these fantasies, making it social reality between us. if she responds (positively or negatively) to the notion that she has erotic fantasies about me, then she is following my sexual escalation. tricky situation for her.]

SHE: ………………….. just having erotic fantasies about u, that is all cuz of [her current problem]

[she bites: accepting the frame, but playfully undermining it with irony.]

ME: i was worried that it might be so.
addicted to those fantasies?  distracted from your work?
baby, we need to have a talk.

[playfully rubbing it in to solidify the frame]

SHE: about the context of the fantasies?

[she plays along, good.]

ME: exactly. i think you need catharsis.

[escalate sexualization]

SHE: keep u arms on pc while writing me pls

[reframing attempt: i am fantasizing about her, not her about me. in reality, it’s mutual.]

ME: this is about YOU. i am concerned about your mental well being.

[playful rejection of reframing attempt.]

SHE: since what time u have been concerned ?

ME: since hearing that you do nothing but fantasize about me. here’s what the doctor prescribes…

SHE: [my name], we havent spoken for a long time, what is going on that u r writing me? cant forgive urself that i may be affected by u 😀

[she had rebuffed my sexual advances. i like the implicit admission here that i might have more deeply impressed her.]

ME: i saw you on chat. something you may not know about me: i harbor protective feelings about friends.

[playfully cheesy – but true. also: comforting her with the friend frame.]

SHE: o really, i fucked up my life, [list of her current problems], so what would the smartest and sexiest [my name] suggest?

[i like her words. she is poking fun at the image i claim for myself: smart and sexy. but really she believes it.]

ME: (1) discipline: no more than 1 hour of sexual fantasizing about me per day from now on.
(2) catharsis

[expand on the plan by which i lead her to a better life]

SHE: just real sex with guys, ok

[shittest: she wants to see if i get jealous or insecure about the idea of her fucking others. i entirely ignore this and continue the program…]

ME: mental catharsis: you write down your fantasy in detail each day and send it to the doctor.
physical catharsis: you may masturbate to your fanatasy one time (but no more) each day.
(3) control: the rest of the day, you get your life in order.

SHE: from 1-2 boyfriend will deal with, 3… there r troubles

[she tries to expand on her shittesting theme of other boyfriends]

ME: boys, boys… [her name]. they are not the solution.

[playful nullification of her “other boys” shittest. note that “boys, boys…” also implies that i am not among them: i am the man.]

SHE: suggest girls?

[i like her playful suggestion of bisexuality: this softens her shittest into a charming tease.]

ME: girls are good, but… not the solution, either.

SHE: r u in conflict with ur girlfriend that now trying to compensate smthng?

[she’s trying to analyse me, but then she’s also happy to try another shittest, namely to put me on the spot. in addition, she might want to find out about my current situation.]

ME: which girlfriend?
it’s complicated.

[you get what you deserve for your shittests, baby.]

SHE: its always complicated so (1) dicipline …. other i think u known

ME: ?

SHE: try your recipe on yourslef

[strong rejection of my attempt to playfully lead her]

ME: i don’t have your problem.

[factual response emphasizing the polarity between us. i realize this is heavy artillery, but she asked for it.]

SHE: my problem??? what is my problem

[i hit her close to home. she is a little upset now.]

ME: as you said: intrusive sexual fantasies about one particular man, who is too far away for direct sexual release.

[i lead it back to the playful sexual frame from before, sidestepping her negative thoughts, and introducing the notion of the two of us fucking.]

SHE: ok, cool, then what do u want ?

[she’s in “whatever” mode, but still hooked.]

ME: a description of your fantasy. i want to see your imagination.

[sexualization, attempt to get her to qualify (does she have imagination?) and invest (work at writing it).]

SHE: i understand that for sexual arousal u need some text from female written with idea about u but sorry i cant write cheap porn stuff – not for me.

[is she mad at me? is it a shittest? or does she feel unable to write well enough? a bit of all of the above, i guess.]

SHE: have to go and dont project on me ur own stuff pls, it makes really bad image of u

[slightly clumsy manipulation attempt: if she says what i’m doing makes me look bad, then i will have to stop. yeah, right.]

ME: not cheap porn stuff.
your unique erotic fantasy.
that’s a big difference, baby.

[combine the sexual frame with the idea that she is unique and important to me. top up with an affectionately presumptive “baby”.]

SHE: dont call me baby

[mad-at-me shittest.]

ME: that’s the name of a song, right?

[i’m proud of this spontaneous response, and i will use it in the future, no doubt.]

SHE: have a good evening, hope u will get better, see longtime flights have an influence

[shittest: she’s suggesting i’m momentarily deranged.]

ME: i am good. and like to see you smile.

[i don’t bite. instead get more serious and positive.]

SHE: see me what?

ME: when you are down, i like to give you some of my good time. so you can smile and be happy for a moment.

[i’m reminding her that i’m spending half an hour entertaining her and giving her my attention. and i do like her.]

SHE: should i understand it directly or read between lines?

[thinks i’m bullshitting – she’s halfright.]

ME: directly.


ME: and between the lines.
both, baby.

[escalate again, by disrepecting her previous request not to be called “baby”.]

SHE: my iq doesnt let me, u know

[playful withdrawal shittest: she’s claiming she lacks the intelligence to converse with me. but then also: she might really be a little insecure in this regard.]

ME: your social and emotional iq is very high. and i like that a lot.

[genuine appreciation of something special about her. true.]

SHE: (scared) sounds like compliment

[how sweet and genuine is that?!]

ME: sometimes a compliment is a compliment.

SHE: that is why i am wondering

ME: why?  

SHE: to easy for u too
have to go  

ME: alright. talk to you later.

[not clinging]

SHE: then have a good evening, have a real girl pls (its more healthy!)

ME: i have enough real girls. i want to be in touch with you.

[true strong frame.]

SHE: u know my fantasies about u r only for me. u wont get them

[explicit admission without irony.]

and i think that [flattering description of me] shouldnt have any relationship with [unflattering description of herself], u know

[this is evasion but might also reveal that she really does feel somewhat unworthy of me. i didn’t fully appreciate this point during the chat.]

ME: societal boundaries only heighten our feelings.

SHE: stop stop stop. we started with instincts lets finish with them also.
feeling theory will try on another one.


[sweet how she negotiates the arc of the interaction: sexual start to sexual finish. she is threatened by the idea of the possibility of feelings between us. this reveals my potential emotional power over her. she is asking now to keep it just sexual. i should have said ” societal boundaries only heighten our attraction” instead of “…feelings”.]

ME: send me your fantasy then. talk to you soon.

SHE: no way! it’s for me can’t share. c u

[she, again, refuses to share. but note that it is now social reality between us that she has sexual fantasies about me. i don’t respond anymore, but leave it for another day.],t=1,mt=video

The concept of “social reality”

April 28, 2011

Reality is a complex concept. We think of the world as fundamentally physical and distinguish between the objective physical reality and our perceptions of that reality, our subjective realities. To understand social dynamics, we need another concept of reality: the concept of “social reality”.

In a room full of people, everyone has his or her subjective reality with respect to the social system: the set of social perceptions and judgments he or she holds. The social reality of a group of people is the set of social judgments that the members of the group agree upon. In other words, it is the intersection of the group members’ subjective realities with respect to the social system.

If you look at a girl and she keeps eye contact, this means she is interested in you at some level – and you in her. But this is not the crucial point for further interactions. The crucial point is that you know she is interested and she knows you know (and vice versa). Social reality is a powerful shorthand for describing this mutual consciousness of mutual agreement about a social situation.

The eye contact makes the mutual interest a social reality between you and her (and anyone who sees and understands it). This social reality is what makes it easy to walk up and talk to her.

But perhaps you hesitate before walking up to her after the eye contact. This would show that you don’t believe in the mutual interest indicated by the eye contact. If it is not your subjective reality that there is mutual interest, then it is not social reality. During the eye contact, mutual interest was social reality between you and her. But your hesitation undoes that social reality of mutual interest. If you approach after hesitating, therefore, she will be unresponsive.

Note that this explanation of her unresponsiveness is subtly different from the more conventional notion that your hesitation indicates lack of confidence and thus makes you unattractive. Both explanations have merit. They could be taken to explain different phenomena. But perhaps they explain the same fundamental phenomenon from two different perspectives.

Let’s take a closer look at this. We can intepret the hesitation from two apparently opposite perspectives. We can say, your hesitation shows that you don’t understand the meaning of the eye contact. From this perspective, the eye contact had an objective meaning, but you suffer from a lack of social perceptiveness. Alternatively, we can say that your hesitation shows a lack of proactivity in defining a social reality that is constantly in flux. From this perspective, the eye contact was ambiguous, but opened a window of opportunity for defining social reality, of which you failed to take advantage.

Both of these perspectives parse the social dynamics into discrete events and emphasize opposite influences. In reality, social dynamics is time-continuous and the two perspectives describe a singular phenomenon. Perception and action merge in the singularity of the social moment.

Just as the meaning of interactions in social reality depends on the swift and fluid formation of implicit mutual agreement, so does a person’s social value, i.e. his or her value in social reality. A person that does not project high social value, cannot have high social value, simply because for the high value to be social reality requires agreement of all parties including the person in question.

Recall that social reality is defined as a function of a group of people. In a room full of people, we can say, there are as many social realities as there are (sub)sets of people. Ironically, a person projecting low social value can have high social value among all sets that exclude him or her, but not among any set that includes him.

Stop trading state and status

April 24, 2011

Someone told me, a good game of billiards consists in a series of easy moves.
This is an important insight, I think.

It means that in choosing each move, you should consider not only the immediate gains, but also the resulting state of the game. A good move is good at all time-scales: it may bring an immediate gain, but it also ensures that the resulting situation allows for further gains. We must resist the temptation of immediate gains that are smaller than the associated long-term costs.

The longer time-scale is harder to predict directly, but there are certain rules of style, or principles of action, that tend to prevent compromising the state of the game.

This insight is relevant beyond the game of billiards. For example, good interpersonal style ensures that we don’t compromise trust and long-term cooperation for short-term gain. Similarly, good programming style ensures that we will never run into confusion about our own code.

These are perhaps widely appreciated truths. But how does all of this relate to “state” and “status”?

By “state” I mean our psychological state, which has a cognitive and an emotional component. In choosing each move within our minds and in the world, we must ensure that we do not steer ourselves into confusion (cognitive cost) or into a negative, demotivated state (emotional cost).

One style of operation is to ignore the cognitive and emotional consequences of our thoughts and actions. If our priority is to understand the world or to get some task done, considering emotion can seem a hindrance. If we are to avoid the negative, we might ask, how can we see the world clearly or get the task done? Won’t we bias our perception of the world? Won’t we paint a rosy picture that will ultimately deceive us?

Yes, if we compulsively avoid negative thoughts and perceptions, we limit our ability to appreciate the world for what it is. This is known as “avoidance behavior” and its internal equivalent is “repression”. Avoidance and repression are central to the models of psychological disorder of behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis, respectively.

If we compulsively avoid something whose consideration promises insight or growth, we might have a problem. However, there is no objective rule that tells us just how much attention a negative thought deserves. What is the right balance between positive and negative?

If we choose to spend a sunny day in the garden, are we avoiding our dark, dusty basement? Are we repressing what’s in the basement? Of course not. As long as we know what’s down there, why dwell on it unproductively. We can prove that we are not avoiding the negative, by spending the sunny day breathing the dust in the basement. But this is not healthy behavior.

Avoidance and repression refer to unhealthy tendencies of turning away from the negative. However, we also harbor potentially unhealthy tendencies to turn toward the negative. This is known as “negativity bias” in the psychological literature.

Negativity bias refers to the fact that we tend to prioritize consideration of risks and losses over consideration of opportunities and wins. If an option is associated with both 50% risk of losing $10 and a 50% chance of winning $10, human subjects tend to decline the option. Similarly, perceived or imagined dangers command our attention more strongly than opportunities. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Dangers require attention. If all is well, we can relax instead.

In the present-day western world, however, physical threats are much reduced. The cost of trading the quality of our state in order to consider a potential threat or get a task done might often not be justified. The cost of constant fretting might be higher than the cost of missing a threat. Or, conversely, the benefit of fretting might be smaller than the benefit of seeing opportunity everywhere, inspiring others with our ideas, and infecting them with our positive and expansive emotional state.

Slipping into a negative state is the psychological equivalent of bad posture. Bad posture can result from overreaching: We might want to reach further than is healthy without first adjusting our posture. As a result, we act clumsily.

How do these considerations relate to status? By “status”, for now, I mean our momentary social status in any given interaction. Status can be considered at different time-scales and in different societal contexts. Here I am interested in the micro-scale of moment-to-moment social interaction, where each participant’s status is constantly in flux.

Every interaction can be seen from the perspective of what it says about status. In his excellent book “Impro” on improvisational theater, Keith Johnstone argues that scenes appear natural and interesting to audiences to the extent that they express status relationships and status struggles.

We may not like the status perspective. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we could just agree to be equals? Certainly. This widely held view is sweet and seductive. And we can strive for equality in our interactions. However, ignoring status doesn’t make it less of a reality.

Status is an aspect of any interaction and to the extent that we ignore or blind ourselves to it, we are socially impaired. No matter how much we try to ignore status, we feel it distinctly when our status rises or falls and this affects our unconscious responses. We might offend people by disrespecting the status they claim. Conversely, we might slip into an unconscious habit of lowering our own status, as this elevates the other party and makes us instantly unthreatening, and perhaps likable – for the cheap validation we provide. This is trading of status for a short-term gain.

When we trade status, we withdraw a little from the scene of improvisation, from the social scene. Perhaps we consider status worthless and thus fool ourselves that there is no cost to giving it up. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the competitive aspect of social exchange, and feel that we need to soften the interaction.

Realizing the ideal of equality requires constant adjustment of relative status from both sides. Lowering our own status might be appropriate when the other party currently lacks status, and we wish to create a sense of equality. Lowering our own status can also be a playful way to highlight a larger social reality of our solid high status. This is the charm of self-deprecating humor from a powerful person. It can be the small weakness that highlights the overall picture of strength. It can make a star approachable and further heighten his glamour.

In any other situation, lowering our own status is inappropriate. When we make ourselves unthreatening, we might expect the other party to reciprocate to maintain equality. However, the other might not play that particular game and prefer to accept the superior position we have assigned them.

Thanking someone slightly lowers your status. Apologizing lowers it more substantially. We should thank when appropriate and apologize when it is really necessary. Thanking is appropriate when the other party has given us something good that we cannot just take without excessively lowering their status. Apologizing is appropriate when we seriously intend to keep the implicit promise to not repeat the behavior in question.

The key thing is to realize that these behaviors lower our status and that this has real consequences. If our status is fragile, these behaviors make it easier for the other party to dominate us.

Trading state and status are the psychological and social equivalents, respectively, of assuming a bad posture. And bad posture can be the physiological expression of these behaviors.

At a local dive recently…

December 30, 2010

At a local dive recently, a guy I’ve seen before at parties comes by on his way to the bar. He’s there with a group and among them is a woman I’ve also seen at local parties. They seem to be getting drinks together. He speaks to me…

“What brings you out tonight?”

– “I don’t know… A deep desire to dance perhaps?”

I’m trying to be playful. Then I decide to step it up:

– “Actually, let me correct that. I think I’m here to take one of these bar sluts home and fuck tonight.”

His face signals shock. He’s dumbfounded.

I was kidding, of course. I would never speak the truth like that in earnest.

But he didn’t get it. And to backpedal now would be uncool. So I continue…

–”You know what I mean?”


He’s short with me now.

–”You’ve never felt like that?”


Rapid-response denial. His face is frozen in disgust, his voice appalled.

– “You never feel like… fucking?”


The playful vibe I was trying to spark is clearly not igniting.

At this point I’m wondering whether I should get him to swear that he has never in his life had an impure thought. Then perhaps I could top it up by getting him to deny the existence of his penis.

I turn to the girl for support. She’s a creature made of flesh and blood; surely she will understand me. But she’s standing a step away, and as I turn to her I realize that it’s probably because of her that he’s a bit uptight.

I should have sensed that this might be too much for him. Especially in the likely case that he’s trying to demonstrate to her that he’s all about poetry and lovemaking, and not at all about evil sex.

I let them off to the bar. He clearly needs a beer now.

Social interaction. The fun never ends.

Defining ‘nerd’

December 21, 2010

A nerd is someone who is focused on developing an explicit understanding of some content, rather than an intuitive feel for social dynamics. Because of the focus on content, a nerd will tend to miss the undercurrents of emotion and power in social interactions. A nerd can appear lost or out of touch, as a result of lacking a feel for what the interaction means to the power tectonics of the relationship with the other party.

Nerds are easily led. They tend to answer questions with naive accuracy.

The female sexual response is her emotional state multiplied by his perceived power. A male nerd is the prototypical anti-seducer because he doesn’t either create an emotional state or project power.

A woman of any sexual vibrancy will instinctually test for his tendency to be led within seconds of the the initial contact. If a tendency to be led is confirmed, she will be lastingly sexually turned off by the man. She might instantly turn cold, or she might remain warm, but in a merely friendly and asexual manner.

Whereas nerdiness is unsexy in males, it can be cute in females. Nerdiness emasculates, and so a man loses sexual appeal, whereas a woman might appear more feminine when her instinctual power play is tempered.

A male nerd can be sexy in a social environment like academia, which rewards his insights with status. A male nerd can also be sexy in conversation through direct intellectual domination of a female nerd who shares a deep interest in the same topics. This requires a subtle balance, as she needs to be intellectually inferior, but intelligent enough to feel her own inferiority. (If she is intellectually superior to him, she will be sexually turned off.)

Defining ‘nerd’ is a very nerdy thing to do. Although such a definition (and this entire blog) is about social dynamics (the nerd’s weak point, and arguably an unnerdy topic), it’s aimed at developing and explicit understanding, rather than an intuitive feel for it (thus nerdy).

Nerdiness becomes a problem, when you can’t switch it off. If you can be a nerd, but you can also play the game of social interaction with a bit of a streetwise feel for the underlying power dynamics, then you’ll be alright.

Julian Assange’s OK Cupid Profile

December 18, 2010

Check out Julian Assange’s alleged OK Cupid profile:

If he set up this profile, he clearly has game.

Humor: sexy.

December 15, 2010

When women say they’re attracted to men who can make them laugh, they’re telling the truth. This statement is within the small intersection of what is true about female sexual preference and what is socially acceptable. So women feel good saying this.

Humor is attractive because it is a demonstration of a good life, of control, and of social power and dominance over her and other people. Humor, like a tickle attack among lovers or siblings, is very dominant, but in a positive and socially acceptable way.

You and your role

December 12, 2010

It’s a fallacy that if you’re playing a role then it’s not you.

You are playing a role in every social interaction. Typically, it’s a role dictated by real or perceived expectations of others. Ideally, it’s a role scripted by you to serve your needs.

The question is not: Is it me or is it a role?

The question is: Does the role I am playing give me the power to express myself?

Clothes make men. And so do roles. You should confuse yourself with your role no more than you should confuse yourself with your clothes.

What role do you want to play?