The ideal persona?

I’ve been thinking about the stuff in this post on and off for a long time. I probably shouldn’t post this and I may still change my mind and pull it down later on.

Anyway, to function well in their daily lives, most people deceive themselves to some degree. They tell themselves that their work matters a great deal (/more than it does); that they make a (/much bigger) difference (/than they actually do); that they are smarter and more accomplished than they really are.

The deluded optimist looks for opportunities he wouldn’t have sought, had he been more realistic. And the deluded pessimist misses options he might have had a shot at, had he been more realistic. If we’re thinking only about maximizing opportunities, it seems that systematic overconfidence/optimism is the strictly dominant strategy. At least if we don’t include costs in the equation. We can’t just ignore those of course, because most people know that if you ask out a girl and she says no, it will hurt. The girl may not feel any pain, but the rejected suitor will. The interesting thing here is that whereas one could in theory say: ‘I should just ignore that it hurts and try finding another girl’, for most people an optimal strategy would seem to have to include previous encounters and previous outcomes because those previous events contain important information that should ideally be included in the decision making process. A low-quality male who does not change his strategy after the first ten rejections will have a lower likelihood of being successful in terms of finding a partner than will a low-quality male that decides to mostly target low-quality females after the first three rejections, although the expected quality of the former’s potential partner is higher than the expected quality of the latter’s. One could make some corresponding remarks regarding the female’s problem; a female who’s never approached should ideally probably have a lower rejection rate than a female who’s approached all the time.

Most people do take previous information into account to some extent and this is, I believe, a huge part of why self-confidence is such a big deal for humans when it comes to figuring out who’s attractive and who isn’t. If you’re very self-confident, it’s most likely because you’ve been given reason to be; if you’re a male, the natural inference to make is to assume that you’ve not been rejected very much in the past and that you’ve had success with attractive partners before – if you’re female, self-confidence means that you’ve been approached a lot and have had to say no to a lot of males and thus you can afford to be picky. Another thing to note is that it takes at least some experience to become self-confident; you can fake it if you’re unexperienced, but that’s not quite the same thing – and females are generally good at spotting fakers because they have to be. Why do they have to be? Because if self-confidence is a very important variable when it comes to assigning value to a potential match, it becomes obvious that males will try to cheat and signal that they are self-confident even though they haven’t had a lot of success in the past. Females who couldn’t spot the cheaters had offspring with the low-quality guys in the past, so they had fewer offspring.

Low-qulity males are telling themselves they’re high quality. High quality males know they are high quality, and that they’re higher quality than low-quality males who tell themselves that they are high quality. And it’s not just ‘high quality’; every male around will try very hard, with a great deal of success, to convince himself that he’d be the best partner of all the potential partners the female would ever meet in a relevant time-frame. The more successful his self-deceit is, the higher quality partner he will gain access to. There’s the truth, and then there’s the truth plus X %. At some point, say X-upper bar, the risk/reward-relationship will become unfavourable to him given his risk profile (he’ll have less success than he would with a lower self-deceit level because all females can see that he’s much lower value than he thinks and put him in the faker category) – but if all other males have a positive X, an X of zero is strictly dominated. In expected terms the worst strategy a male could pick would probably be to try to be completely realistic about his options and not engage in any kind of (self-)deceit at all; a male who doesn’t even pretend to be higher quality than he is will have lower chances than most lower quality males who pretend to be high-quality.

Self-deceit helps on the dating scene. It helps when it comes to finding reasons for getting up in the morning. It helps when you’re telling your own story about how great you are and how every mistake you ever made was really somebody else’s fault.

I know I engage in a lot of self-deceit. We all do. But somehow I seem to have this impression that I’m a lot worse at using it constructively than are most people. Instrumental rationality is all about using rationality to solve problems, to achieve goals. So not to engage in the proper type of and level of self-deceit is not instrumentally rational. But I still much prefer the current me to a me who thinks much more highly of himself – I really dislike that guy whenever I see him in myself. Self-deceit incidentally isn’t the only relevant variable here. Telling myself that I should be more dominant and aggressive would also likely help my options. But I don’t want to be more aggressive or dominant because that’s not who I am and it’s not who I want to be.

I find it frustrating that the person I want to be don’t seem to be able to have the options I want to have. Either I need to change who I am or I need to change what I want. I find changing what I want very hard.


September 21, 2012 - Posted by | Personal, rambling nonsense


  1. Maybe you could try to reframe the useful aspects of ‘self-deceit’, ‘aggressiveness’ and ‘dominance’ in words with less negative connotations?

    Comment by Stefan | September 23, 2012 | Reply

    • Reframing is an interesting idea, I’ll have to think about that.

      I’m not entirely sure there are enough degrees of freedom here for something like that to make a significant difference; current me will dislike the implied behavioral changes and I’m not sure calling them something else or deliberately focusing on other aspects of the changes will make much difference, especially not if I’m fully aware that doing such things is part of a strategy I’m employing to facilitate the change.

      Comment by US | September 24, 2012 | Reply

      • Miao’s definitions (below) of the terms are akin to the reframes I was suggesting. Especially being more assertive.

        Comment by Stefan | September 24, 2012

  2. I fail to see how aggressiveness and dominance have negative connotations? They are very positive traits.

    Comment by Miao | September 24, 2012 | Reply

    • 🙂

      Your response makes good sense. Many females prefer males with these traits to the alternatives, just like they prefer the rich powerful guy to the alternative.

      Here’s wikipedia:

      “Aggression, in its broadest sense, is behavior, or a disposition, that is forceful, hostile or attacking. It may occur either in retaliation or without provocation. In narrower definitions that are used in social sciences and behavioral sciences, aggression is an intention to cause harm or an act intended to increase relative social dominance. […]

      A number of classifications and dimensions of aggression have been suggested. These depend on such things as whether the aggression is verbal or physical; whether or not it involves relational aggression such as covert bullying and social manipulation;[5] whether harm to others is intended or not; whether it is carried out actively or expressed passively; and whether the aggression is aimed directly or indirectly. Classification may also encompass aggression-related emotions (e.g. anger) and mental states (e.g. impulsivity, hostility).[6] Aggression may occur in response to non-social as well as social factors, and can have a close relationship with stress coping style.[7] Aggression may be displayed in order to intimidate. […]

      The term aggression comes from the Latin aggressio, meaning attack.”

      Lots of pleasant connotations, right? Regarding dominance, in general it’s probably much easier to behave in a dominant manner if you like to consider yourself higher status than the other party you’re interacting with (i.e. you also implicitly like to judge others), and if you like to have power and use it to tell other people what to do and how to behave. I don’t like to judge other people and I don’t like to tell people what to do or how to behave.

      Comment by US | September 24, 2012 | Reply

      • Well, Wikipedia sure doesn’t describe aggression in a positive way! I understand aggression to imply a go-getter, proactive attitude, but obviously my definition is inadequate. 🙂

        I also equate dominance with assertiveness and confidence — i.e., demanding what is rightfully yours without being a doormat. But of course there could also be negative connotations that I’m missing out on.

        Comment by Miao | September 24, 2012

      • Again from wikipedia, a definition of assertiveness:

        “a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.”

        So you’re probably not missing out on any negative connotations there. Even if you do, what you seem to imply is that I should try to adopt more of a ‘go-getter, proactive attitude’ and to be more assertive and confident. Reframing the changes that way does make them sound better, but of course the problems that will be related to such behavioral changes will just be different from some of those I envisioned, not non-existent; tradeoffs are everywhere. To take an example, right now I care very little what other people think about my ‘point of view’ on anything, and I believe this attitude is incredibly helpful when it comes to being less invested and more dispassionate about my beliefs (which makes it a lot easier to let go of bad beliefs); becoming more assertive could easily make it harder to remain dispassionate though the benefits might still outweigh the costs.

        Comment by US | September 25, 2012

  3. “Many females prefer males with these traits to the alternatives…”

    Well, this may be true, but is heavily conditional on your definition of “prefer”. I hate to dabble into the ideas and terminology of PUAs (you know, alpha and beta males, etc.), but they are on to something with the observation that many (how many?) females prefer one kind of males for dalliances, and quite a different one for settling down with – and the same of course is true of many (fewer?) males. Moreover, these preferences, naturally, evolve with age, and there’s Albert Einstein’s quip: “Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.”

    US, I think you should ponder in a bit more detail what kind of woman you would be comfortable with. As Sheldon Cooper said, your soul mate is probably Chinese and works in a government lab, so the odds of meeting her are quite slim. What are you looking for, and what compromises are you willing to accept to get it? Hookup with a dumb fun-loving girl? Relationship with a soul mate? A true friend and then we’ll see where it leads? BMI 40 – okay? She has a child – okay? Of course, these and many others are questions for you to think about, not to answer here 🙂

    Comment by Plamus | September 26, 2012 | Reply

    • I have given such things a lot of thought. I have a very good idea about how ‘an ideal girl’ would be like by now. I also know that I’ll never get anywhere near a romantic relationship with such a girl, which has naturally sparked some personal interest in which type of girl I should then try to settle with; this is also a question I’ve been grappling with. I’ve recently become much more aware of the importance of the display of flexibility regarding partner requirements than I was in the past.

      I’m thinking about deliberate marginal personality changes like the ones described because unless I change at least marginally along these dimensions, I find it unlikely that I’ll be able to find a reasonably good match in the next decade. I don’t have a high income or good career prospects at this point in time, and a male with almost none of the traditional short-term-partner type qualities and many of the long-term partner type qualities, but without the income and with uncertain career prospects – well, to a girl that’s just a potential friend, not a potential partner. Guess who made me realize that? – one hint, not my male friends.

      Unrelated to your comment, but I figured I might as well add that observation here: Some might say that there’d be an added benefit from becoming more ambitious, proactive, and assertive in that it would likely help me obtain higher income and increase my level of conventional social status (which is part of why such qualities are considered attractive). I prefer to disregard such indirect effects because I don’t really care very much about them except to the extent that they affect the available mating pool.

      Incidentally, I think the idea of soulmates is stupid.

      Comment by US | September 26, 2012 | Reply

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