Finished products, please.

As the more perceptive among you might already know, the week before last I wrote about unambitious boys. That post led to some interesting conversations, which I am going to synthesise for this one. 


The fundamental concept is that traditionally, men have married for "finished product" while women have married for "potential". The theory goes that every woman picks her man based on her perception of "how she can improve him", and mould him, or "train" him. 

For example, last weekend I had this wonderful Instagram Live chat with "Bangalore's Natalie Portman" Urvashi Goverdhan. During the course of that chat I mentioned to her about how my husband had been a wee bit apprehensive when I went to Barcelona all alone to do my MBA, and about how I told him that he need not worry because I wasn't going to throw away 4 years of training him so easily. 

Now, I'm not saying that he has improved considerably since the time we got married (it’s been 10 years), or that he has lived up to the potential that I saw in him when we got married. However, that never stops me from trying to improve him. I constantly believe that all his quirks are a phase, and that I can train him to get rid of them and become the man I thought he might become. 

As a part of research for this piece, I asked the husband this morning… 

P: Why do you think I nag you or tell you what to do with your life?

K: I like you for who you are but you like me for who you can make me. 

P: I am sorry I came with a pretty face.

K: which isn’t changing for the better either, you know.

P: So, I guess we’re even?
P: No, wait. I married you for potential. You weren’t even good to start off with.

K: Haha, that’s your f*ck up, not my problem.

P: Sigh.

And I'm not alone when it comes to this. I’ve seen tonnes of wives like these. At least traditionally, most women have been this way - they marry based on potential (ability to earn a living, encourage their hobbies et all) and constantly try to improve and train their husbands. This is also one reason why it is rather common for women to nag their husbands, but seldom the other way round - husbands don't usually try to improve their wives. 

This is because men and women look for different things when they are looking to get married (OK I'm generalising here, but this applies to most).

What we look for

Women want a man who is well-educated, well-settled, ambitious, but risk averse, takes initiative, but encourages women to have equal opportunities, is independent thinking, but consults the partner in all major decisions, is charming, but loyal, looks good, but doesn’t care about a woman’s looks yada yada yada. 

A man wants a woman who looks pretty, and who cares to like him back (this latter constraint puts a limit on how pretty a woman he can get - remember we are in a matching market here). 

Notice how long each list is. The length of the woman's wants means that it is next to impossible to find someone who satisfies each of those criteria, is single AND likes back the woman. Hence, women have, over the years and decades and generations, settled for evaluating the man based on potential. 

It's OK if the man is not well-settled if he shows the potential (based on his degrees or whatever) to be well-settled at a future point in time. 

It is OK if a man is not risk-averse but can be made to be one (think about the dad in Paddington, the movie). 

It is OK if the man doesn't yet encourage the woman to have equal opportunities but can be suitably incentivised (or "trained", maybe) to be encouraging. 

And so on. 

So what's different Now? 

The reason this age-old formula where the woman evaluates a man based on potential has broken down. Witness the twitter reactions to Sima Aunty's exhortations to her clients to "compromise" - it was largely women who were triggered by these exhortations.

Independent women who are doing well in their careers today believe that they have earned the right to not want to compromise (they damn right have), and one way in which they will execute on that is to marry a man NOT for his potential but for who he is (if this were the 90s I could have cracked a bad joke about the man's Kinetic, but never mind). 

While every woman has every right to want what she wants, what people in the market for relationships need to remember is that they operate in a matching market - it is no use liking someone if that person doesn't like you back. And no - liking you back isn't something that can be "trained". 

What is potential? 

While marrying based on potential is all good, some women (like myself) make the mistake of evaluating potential solely based on the man's education, and the "institutes of national importance" that he studied in. What we fail to account for when we mistake education for potential is that some education is possible only at the cost of significant sacrifices in terms of social life.

Think about someone preparing for highly competitive undergrads - they spend the better part of standards XI and XII (prime age for starting the process of finding partners) buried in their books. If their preparation for the highly competitive undergrads is successful, it means four more years in a largely male environment at the end of which they are pretty much incapable of marrying a woman. 

In other words, by the time these men come to the arranged marriage market, they might show significant potential on professional grounds, but little on the emotional front. 

Investing in these men, in some ways, is like making an early stage angel investment (except that you are the only person investing and you get a pretty large stake - at a high price). If it pays off (you are able to train him, basically), it will pay off spectacularly. In case it doesn't (their lack of social and emotional skills being a much higher barrier than you had imagined), it can lead to you questioning your decision-making every other day. 

In other words, you should go for angel sort of investment if and only if you have high self-esteem, an appetite for risk, confidence to influence and persistence. 

Investing for potential 

Based on people I've encountered in the last few months,  I find this massive gulf between what women want and what they get. Once again - I need to remind you that you can want what you want to want, but you can only get what the market can provide you. 

One simple solution I'm proposing here is to go traditional - and trade based on potential rather than on how the person is now. Look for the basics (alignment on the type of relationship you both want to build), and the ability to get trained. Remember that the more you deliberate this decision, the worse the market gets for you.

And no, men are not going to be the ones marrying for potential - all they need is to be physically attracted to you, and it is only in the very rare case that that can "improve" over time. 

Age is a bitch.

More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - This is the last week of Dinner Club. It really is a bitter sweet moment. No doubt I’ll get to finally sleep a whole night, but I’ll surely miss orchestrating serendipity everyday.

  2. Ask Auntie: Since I spend most of my mornings foraging matches for my assistance clients, I have realised that some people just cannot write a good bio. So, I decided to make a video sharing insights on how to make a simple, yet effective bio for your matrimonial profiles.

Sneak Peak into what I’m reading/ watching/ listening to:

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.