You want to have sex. You’re not sure if she’s in the mood. What do you do? Turn out the lights and put on Marvin Gaye? Haul out the leather and lace? Switch off John Stewart and gaze at her longingly?
One thing economists might recommend is using clear signals to indicate that you’re in the mood. Here are a few effective signals couples told us they use:
“She gets naked and ditches my college track t-shirt”
“He’s quiet. He usually talks a lot.”
“I put a condom on. That seems to give her the idea I want a little more than good conversation.”
Signals promote transparency, which is a good thing. They also avoid coordination failures. That’s when people make decisions based on incorrect assumptions about how other people will behave. Four drivers arrive at a four-way stop sign at exactly the same moment and all go at once; two outfielders run to catch the ball, slam into each other and miss the ball altogether; you start ravaging your spouse and she yells at you for interrupting her Stieg Larsson book right when the dragon tattoo girl is about to catch the bad guy.
To avoid such coordination failures, use good signals. Good, being the operative word. Relationship guru John Gottman told us he once suggested to his wife that it was a “little cold” in the room, thinking that might make her see that he wanted to have sex. She told him to turn up the heat.