Date Like You Were Horse Trading

My grandfather Moore was old school, born in the nineteenth century. So he didn’t always answer questions directly. Fer instance, every time the topic of dating or marriage came up, seems like he’d talk about horse trading, instead. Funny old man. I had to grow up a bit to understand that yes, he was still talking about dating, and his advice was shrewd, too.

However that advice cuts against almost everything humans do nowadays. Look at where we are, now!

When I look around, what I think I’m seeing is 80% of women chasing the same 10–20% of the guys. The result? Those guys become extremely spoiled, very quickly. They take all the attention for granted and certainly aren’t inclined to sacrifice for a relationship ’cause they can have another one with an attractive woman whenever they want. They either don’t marry, marry late or marry serially, and leave children behind. Which is to say, they often turn out to be not all that useful, after all!

I know — it’s absolutely true that children can benefit from enormous amounts of money and energy (and good genes.) Of course we want lovely company ’cause it’s a signal for good health and few harmful genetic mutations. Money is genuinely useful when you have kids. But in a mass society with few rules, the upshot of our present chaotic relationship-market is messy, and wildly unbalanced with fewer permanent relationships than children. A lot of good men are neglected, with the most desired men become spoiled boy-men with large bank accounts. In other words, poor results all ‘round. Granted, the small minority of extremely spoiled guys think they’re having a terrific time, but their children don’t have such a great time of it, very often; and they miss out on more than they know.

Which is where my grandfather’s dating-advice-about-horsetrading comes in. My grandfather had a lot of experience buying and selling horses for work-teams before cars existed. He learned one BIG lesson: in a crowded market your criteria MUST be different than most buyers, or you’ll either get a lousy horse or go home alone.

He put it something like this: “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a sleek coat and good teeth in a horse — these really are great signs — but EVERY buyer sees those signs, every time. So you can count on the rest of the buyers bidding the price for those horses up far beyond their real worth. It happens every time; most of the farmers bid frantically on the same few horses everyone else also wants, and then are forced to stop bidding when the price goes too high. Whereupon they go home without a horse, or with a hasty pick from the few left at the end of the auction. Or what may be worse, they WILL “win” the auction and then have lots of time to rue the heavy price they’ve paid for a horse that’s not much above average. They may even find that the shiny coat that sold them on that horse is mostly a dye job.

But smart buyers do something else, said James Moore. They make a study of the rest of those horses, and they make it their business to find unusual tells — that is, different criteria — for which horses will be good workers with plenty of stamina and tractable personalities. Criteria nobody else at the market is using. For example, horses that let you touch inside their ears (no sores) or horses whose legs are cool to the touch everywhere (no inflammation.) Once those smart buyers have found just one or two such tells, they can go home with undiscovered gems at a reasonable price from every auction and market they show up to. But make no mistake, if the usual criteria are still deal-breakers for you “Must have a great coat” or “Must earn more than X”, say) then you haven’t really changed criteria, because you’re still in with the same bunch of bidders, bidding on the same mounts. Your results won’t change.

That beats the usual result — going home with no horse at all (while most of the useful horses go unclaimed or sell for cheap.) It also beats the next most common result: going home with a very expensive horse and later regrets. After all, that good-looking horse was probably available for a reason. After all, even the person selling saw it’s good points. Most likely, they also found out that it was smart enough to slack off when part of a team, as many horses and oxen do. (You don’t always want the smartest horse.)

Change and you can beat the usual result: going home with no horse at all (while most of the useful horses go unclaimed or sell for cheap.) It also beats the next most common result: going home with a very expensive horse and later regrets. After all, that good-looking horse was probably available for a reason. After all, even the person selling saw it’s good points. Most likely, they also found out that it was smart enough to slack off when part of a team, as many horses and oxen do. (You don’t always want the smartest horse.)

tldr: According to my grandfather, if your criteria for a mate are fairly predictable; you’ve already lost, so change it up, already.

Which also means that if you’re male and chasing the very most beautiful women (who are earnestly chasing the top 1% of males for health, wealth and musculature while ignoring you) you’re truly mad.

P.S. You might wonder who my grandfather married. He married a very intelligent, hardworking, God-fearing woman with a broken nose. A school-teacher. As a child, she’d snuck into her father’s workshed, where she jostled a gaslamp that fell on her face and broke her nose. Because she wasn’t supposed to be in there, she didn’t tell her father about the damage, and by the time he noticed it (she was one of 12 children) her nose had set. To his sorrow, it was too late for him to reset it. It was one of the few times she saw him cry. Her genetic material was just fine. Her nose, maybe not so much.

My grandfather lives on, in a way. An actor plays him every summer, as the elevator operator at Alberta’s Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. He also lives on in a cache of good cassette recordings of him telling stories from the old days that I must do something with, one day.

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Russell Irvin Johnston

I've read at least the abstracts of (far) more than 250,000 peer-reviewed medical articles, I studied the history and philosophy of science at University.