What a catch, or what’s the catch?

I don’t know if you’ve read or watched Moneyball. I haven’t read the book, since I have no interest in baseball, but I’ve watched the movie once and heard enough about it that I broadly know the concepts. I strongly believe that those concepts are tremendously useful in the world of partner-hunting, and thought I should share them with you here.

The basic plot of Moneyball is simple - Oakland Athletic (“Oakland As”) are a baseball team who have far less money compared to their more illustrious rivals such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. This meant that for the longest period they couldn’t compete.

Then their former player Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt in the movie), who had been their first draft pick but had struggled to establish himself in the Major League, became general manager. And they discovered analytics. And they discovered that they could use analytics to compete with the richer teams despite having far fewer resources. And they did rather well.

Everyone thinks of Moneyball being an analytics story. Based on my limited understanding of the movie, however, it is not so. It is the story of identifying and picking up undervalued assets. It is the story of defying conventional wisdom. It is the story of figuring out the right set of parameters to evaluate a player (no pun intended) on.

One concept from Moneyball is that the traditional baseball scouts looked at things that were generally assumed to be correlated with high performance, and would evaluate potential recruits based on these. They paid attention to how the player looked. They gave high marks to elegant batting stances. They looked for the swing, and the way that players ran. And so on and so forth.

The magic of Moneyball is that using analytics, the Oakland As figured out what parameters were truly correlated with performance on the field. By dispensing with the conventional set of proxies for performance, they were now able to pick out undervalued assets. This scene from the movie summarises their approach.

Now, I’m by no means proposing the use of analytics in picking your spouse - admittedly there’s a lot of feeling involved. What I’m telling you is that if you start looking at what really matters to the relationship, and your life with your potential partner, then you might be able to spot undervalued assets, and then get them to like you back.

Let’s consider some cases. Think of a guy who is well educated, has a good job and has been brought up with good values, but who has a receding hairline. When someone looks at this guy in the market, the first thing they will notice about him is the hairline, and immediately write him off. However, will this receding hairline have any impact on the relationship? Unlikely. You can see value in the market there.

Similarly, a smart and successful woman born under an unfavourable star might be seen unfavourably in the market. The star she was born under doesn’t necessarily affect your relationship, and so if you can look beyond that, you have an undervalued asset right there.

The thing with undervalued assets in the marriage market is that they are usually aware that they are undervalued. They are likely to have been in the market for a while and faced a number of rejections thanks to their “but”, and consequently, they may have lower expectations from a spouse. This means that if you look beyond their but, they may be willing to waive off your but.

What buts are not really buts?

It is human instinct to value someone based on how highly they are valued by everyone else (economists call this a “Keynesian beauty contest”). So, if someone is single and in the market, you can sometimes jump to the conclusion that “something must be wrong with them”. Instead, a better way of approaching such people is to try and figure out what their “but” is, and whether this but is something you are willing to ignore.

The most common “buts” are to do with physical appearances. Everything else remaining the same, less desirable looks (baldness, height, girth, etc.) have the least impact on the nature of your relationship. So that represents easy undervaluation.

Then, there is background and family background. People seem to get written off because of things that they didn’t choose - birth stars, parents’s jobs, size of the town they grew up in, or the social class that they belong to. If you are willing to look beyond these, once again you can get yourself a good deal.

However, the real unicorns in my opinion are people who are willing to accept you with your buts. The normal consensus is that if you have too many buts, or a major but, you are better off finding someone on your own, and completely avoiding the arranged marriage market. Yet, if someone in the arranged marriage market is willing to look beyond your but and accept you for who you are, you have a real winner in there.

Very often, however, I have seen people miss this opportunity because, well, no one wants to be a member of a club that accepts them as a member. People assume that if someone is willing to look beyond your but, they must be doing a good job of hiding their own but.

Whether that’s true or not, only time will tell.

Disclaimer: For those of you who are reading this and wondering who I think I am, I’ll try and articulate my thoughts. I am just an ordinary spectator of the marriage market. I do not possess any special powers apart from the will power to keep coming back and penning down my observations about the marriage market here for the world to snigger at on a weekly basis. If what I write triggers you, don’t read it.

More from Shapely Gal

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

  1. Dinner Club - Very happy to see that people are still curious about Dinner Club even after its completion. It’s immensely gratifying for an introvert like me (INTJ for those who care about MBTI) to have pulled off three months of intense social interaction with hundreds of people at a time.

  2. Ask Auntie: I am not a matchmaker. I mentor people who are looking to get married, and sometimes assist them with their search on matrimonial websites. People often ask me why I don’t have an exclusive database of my own that I use to matchmake. So, I decided to make a video explaining why.

  3. Shapely Gal: It’s been a year since I started writing this newsletter. Your constant feedback and encouragement has been immensely gratifying. Thank you. There isn’t a dearth of things to talk about love, relationships or marriages, but turns out creativity and discipline are usually orthogonal to each other. So, this issue onwards, this newsletter will be monthly rather than weekly.

In general, I am taking the next one month off from all side-projects and simply focusing on my day job, resting lots, travelling and learning new things.

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

Introduction to Psychology: I just started this course on Coursera, should be super interesting given that I’ve done some practicals before theory.

Mating in Captivity: About to finish off my current book, and planning to pick this up next. I find Esther Perel’s views pretty insightful in general.

Shapely Gal is a 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.