Deconstructing Takeout

More proof that Hillary Clinton and I are, like, totally soul sisters. Speaking to Australian radio hosts Hamish & Andy about life at home with Bill, she explains that even ordering takeout can be fraught:

If he says to me, “What do you want for dinner tonight,” I will say, “What do you want?” Then he’ll go, “Well, I was thinking of maybe picking up some Thai.” And if I’m in a good humor, I’ll say, “That’s fine.” But if I am feeling not enthusiastic about Thai, I’ll say, “Well, maybe we should consider something else.” And he’ll say, “Well, then you choose.” (Laughter.)

Here’s how the conversation might go in my house:

Him: “What do you want for dinner tonight?” Me: “Whatever you want is fine.” Him: “Whatever I want?” (tone: skeptical) Me: “Yeah, sure, I’m easy.” Him: “You’re easy? (tone: skeptical-plus) Ok then, how about tacos?” Me: “Tacos…not so sure I’m in the mood for tacos.”

Economists would describe this kind of jiu-jitsu as a problem of revealed vs. stated preference. My stated preference is that I don’t care what we eat. But my revealed preference–which I reveal when push comes to shove–is that I do care, and quite a bit. The problem is, the more my revealed and stated preferences contradict each other, the less my husband believes a word I say, like, “I’ll be home by 6, I swear,” or “No thanks, I already ate.” Fortunately, he’s a fast learner.  He never waits up, and always makes enough for two.

photo courtesy of scriptingnews at flickr

Posted in marriage, strategy

7 Responses to Deconstructing Takeout

  1. K in TX says:

    I like where this is going… but where’s the meat? How do you suggest couples find equilibrium? How do you and your spouse find comestible bliss?

    • Paula says:

      One person is in charge. The other gets a single veto, as in, no, not in the mood for tacos, knowing that that’s his/her one and only chance to veto. After that he/she has to settle for what the decider decides.

  2. Jessie K says:

    when do you guys NOT eat tacos. btw, i preordered your book.

  3. twicker says:

    Re: not believing a word you say: that depends on whether or not one demonstrates unreliability across domains.

    If you only have a differential between revealed and stated preferences when it comes to a few areas (e.g., food, whether or not you’ll be hungry), then he’ll learn that, in those particular areas, he should assume something different than what you said. However, if you’re always on time while being wishy-washy about the other stuff, then he’ll learn that, too.

    Without our ability to understand context dependence, we humans would be toast.

    FYI, for him, he might think of using a strategy I formulated in college whenever I got together w/a particular friend for supper. I realized that he and I would keep trying to be polite by letting the other person choose (which ended up being a perpetual loop). I’d thus have a choice in mind when we got together, and would let the, “I don’t care, where do you want to go?” routine go through only iteration before making a suggestion. He could then either accept or refuse it (if he refused it, then he generally provided an alternate), and we’d actually be able to get to supper.

    As an alternate to the single-refusal followed by required acceptance (which I think is likely accurate, BTW), your husband could also use the strategy of leading with several alternatives (something I use w/my fiancee when she isn’t in the mood for something specific — she has no problems telling me if she wants a specific type of food). I’ll provide, say, three or four alternatives (“El Buen Sabor Taqueria, Thai Cafe, Sitar Indian, or Rick’s American Diner?” — all different enough that I can actually make sure our preferences are aligning), and she’ll pick — or she will discover and reveal some other preference (“actually, I really want to go for sushi tonight. Does that sound good?”).

    That last bit is crucial: sometimes, until you hear alternatives, you don’t know what you want. Thus, the initial statement of, “I don’t know/don’t care” is perfectly accurate — you’re not yet aware that you have a preference. Once provided more information, you have less uncertainty, and discover that, indeed, you do care. Which also goes back to the context-dependency of accepting what the other person says: you may need prompting to reveal a preference (or even be aware that you have a preference), but you may be very accurate in, say, determining how long task X will take (which isn’t a preference).

  4. Matt K says:

    I would like to know if the “one veto” system is more or less efficient than the system I use to solve this problem. It sounds like less work than my system, but seems like it would get worse results in terms of building consensus. My system is: Husband gives Wife three specific choices. Wife either chooses one or roles are reversed and Wife must offer three (different) specific choices to Husband.

    One complication is that the 8 year old participates now that she has preferences more various than Steak-n-Shake every time. The two people selecting from the three options must be unanimous.

    I am not an economist. My wife is. Don’t know if that matters.

    • Paula says:

      i like your system. if i was the one being offered the 3 choices, i’d pick one rather than have the pressure of coming up with 3 of my own. kind of genius. reminds me of the ultimatum game.

  5. Pingback: What I Want vs. What I Say I Want | Spousonomics

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