The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Have you ever heard of the Sunk Cost Fallacy? It is an interesting economic theory that can easily be applied to dating and relationships.

Often, women will stay in a relationship because they don’t want to feel that the time they have already spent with someone is a waste. To better explain the theory, I am going to use Wikipedia’s example of how the sunk-cost fallacy can be applied to everyday living.

In the case of a movie ticket that has already been purchased, the ticket-buyer can choose between the following two end results if he realizes that he doesn’t like the movie:

1. Having paid the price of the ticket and having suffered watching a movie that he does not want to see, or;
2. Having paid the price of the ticket and having used the time to do something more fun.

In either case, the ticket-buyer has paid the price of the ticket so that part of the decision no longer affects the future. If the ticket-buyer regrets buying the ticket, the current decision should be based on whether he wants to see the movie at all, regardless of the price, just as if he were to go to a free movie. The economist will suggest that, since the second option involves suffering in only one way (spent money), while the first involves suffering in two (spent money plus wasted time), option two is obviously preferable.

By applying this to relationship dynamics, it becomes apparent that using the length of the relationship to justify staying together is simply irrational. You’ve already invested the time, so why invest even more time if you are not happy?

For some reason, it seems that a lot of women think that the only way to determine a “successful” relationship is to measure the length of the relationship.  Let’s stop using this as a metric.  Why not start thinking about whether or not you learned something about yourself or the type of partner you want?

One of my favorite bloggers, David McRaney, has written even further on the subject of the sunk cost fallacy on his blog, You Are Not So Smart.  I highly recommend his blog if you are interested in challenging yourself to think about things in a more rational manner.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in Dating and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Seems like women also tend to think of relationships in terms of investments – “I’ve invested so much time and energy into this relationship, why would I abandon it?” It doesn’t make much sense to think of it as an amassed commodity! That doesn’t leave any room for the joint aspect of building a relationship.

  2. Oh I’ve been so guilty of this! I can honestly say I’ve lost a decade of time to these types of fallacies. I’m glad that I recognized this in my 30’s & I just won’t settle anymore. I’m way more sure of my self esteem & worth now than before. I know exactly what I want & don’t want in a relationship as a result of that wasted time, so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste, but I learned the lessons in a few months to a year, yet persevered thinking I could change the dynamic. I couldn’t do it alone w/o my partner meetting me half way. I feel I too have found someone who I can grow with now & it isn’t always perfect, but we are working on it & ourselves too in growing together & having realistic achievable relationship goals.

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