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The Adultery Puzzle

I saw this puzzle on economist and thought to ask it.

Why hasn’t the lemons problem killed adultery? To be more specific, why would any women want to steal a man who lies to, cheats on, and then dumps his wife? This is particularly clear in Woody Allen’s Match Point – the mistress angrily insists that her boyfriend leave his wife, even though he’s shown her in a hundred ways that he’s a lying, cheating parasite.

In the actual market for used cars, of course, the markets has largely solved the lemons problems using reputation, inspection, and warrantees. You don’t want to sell low-quality products if it will ruin your firm’s reputation, if they have to pass inspection first, or if a dissatisfied customer can return the product and get his money back. But it’s hard to see that mistresses can rely on any of these mechanisms. Few adulterers build up a reputation for standing by their mistresses. Most adulterers wouldn’t pass inspection. And I’ve never heard of an adulterer giving a credible money-back guarantee (“If I don’t leave my wife within a year, you get a full year of your life back!”). So what’s the point of stealing another woman’s man, if you can only steal the bad ones?


One solution: Maybe both are in it for the short-term. But this hardly seems like a plausible explanation for the typical long-term affair.

Another solution is that the typical adulterer is so desirable in all other dimensions that he’s a good catch despite his lack of character. Maybe a segment of women prefer a small chance of marrying a rich, successful liar to a high chance of marrying an honest nobody. There’s probably something to this, although it still seems like a lot of adulterers are nothing special by any measure.

Still another theory is that mistresses are capitalizing on the life cycle. If a 25-year-old mistress convinces a 45-year-old success object to leave his wife, he won’t want to cheat on her for fifteen years, at which point he’ll be too old to attract another 25-year-old, so he’ll stay… and she will probably get the inheritance… but then the relationships are often more serious than what this might suggest.

In the end, though, I think that most of the puzzle has to be resolved with psychology rather than logic. The average mistress is probably overconfident; she imagines that she is a lot more desirable than the average mistress. So if a mistress convinces a man to leave his wife, she tends to think that he left because she is so great, not because he can’t be trusted.

What do you think.. any new theory or proofs/hypothesis?

12 replies on “The Adultery Puzzle”

Married men are bigger flirts. Anybody, whether it be a man or a woman, like things that are out of reach. Married men should generally be more out of reach than a single man. Plus, they are mysterious. (No phone calls, infrequent visits…whatever). It adds to the mystery somehow. Plus, women are attracted to bad boys, I think.

1. a married guy might be attractive/challenge, for the reasons u listed, for a short term relationship.. but not for a long term one.
i agree that its harder to get a married man to drop their pant (ok.. slightly harder than normal men) but then once the guy is urs that charm will vanish…

2. //women are attracted to bad boys//
so that adds to my 3rd theory that psychology rather than emotions rules the mistress mind

There was a research some time back which confirmed girls get attracted to bad boys.

When I was scouting around for used cars, just as you said, my friend opened up the bonnet of a car and said “This one is simple, but you dont get this option when marrying”. This was atleast a decade back when boyfriend/girlfrind concept was in R&D labs and livingIN concept was not heard off.

A very good humorous post which makes one think and tick.

yes..it does’nt .It just came to my mind 🙂

I am trying to analyse it.

In my understanding , no married man who is happy in his relationship would have an extra-marital affair. There should be issues and that makes him vulnerable.

Its only people who are in close contact with each other and when one has a marital problem that they have an affair.

I dont see any other special reason.

Hasn’t nature made most primates polygamous ?
Remember men marry mainly for sex, women for companionship
There is some skill involved in being a ladies man,that involves the je ne sais quoi element… plus love always makes one blind …

Crossing the societal line of adultery is easier for a man than a woman, but those women who do – still seek that companionship dont they?

am i blabbering …..? or making some sense do tell me.

to ur :why a mistress would find the adulterer attractive?

Memorable quote for Don Juan DeMarco (1995)

By seeing beyond what is visible to the eye. Now there are those, of course, who do not share my perceptions, it is true. When I say that all my woman are dazzling beauties, they object. The nose of this one is too large; the hips of another, they are too wide; perhaps the breasts of a third, they are too small. But I see these women for how they truly are… glorious, radiant, spectacular, and perfect… because I am not limited by my eyesight. Women react to me in the way they do, Don Octavio, because they sense that I search out the beauty that lies within until it overwhelms everything else. And then they cannot avoid their desire, to release that beauty and envelope me in it.

//Its only people who are in close contact with each other and when one has a marital problem that they have an affair. //
This reasoning of mine is reflected in all the analysis.

There are many many reasons given for affairs as there are people engaging in them. Some of these include dissatisfaction with the marital relationship, emotional emptiness, need for sexual variety, inability to resist new sexual opportunity, anger at a partner, no longer being “in love”, alcohol or drug addiction, growing apart, desire to get a partner jealous… to name just a few.

Some people have even said that human beings simply can’t maintain monogamous sexual relationships over long periods of time because it “isn’t natural”.

Possibly our inability to remain “in love” with our partners as we grow and mature and our life circumstances change is what drives us to look for another intimate relationship.

The loss of the high level of passion and desire that existed in the beginning of the relationship may result in boredom or develop into a feeling of apathy towards the partner. Combined with all of the other stresses and complexities of long term relationships, such as financial problems, raising children, job changes, death of family members, change in status, etc., the loss of passion may lead to a desire to rediscover it in the start of a new relationship.

Extramarital affairs may be the result of an inability to maintain a satisfying emotional relationship with a partner over a long period of time, and not due to a need for sexual variety. Possibly our need for intense emotional experiences leads to a desire to rediscover the feelings that come at the start of a new love relationship.

Our inability to maintain passion easily in long term relationships, the loss of it appears to be a major factor in the initiation of affairs. Once initiated, the high level of passion experienced in affairs appears to be a powerful component in maintaining them.

It appears that the allure of extramarital affairs is not new sexual experiences, nor are they due to any biological inability to remain monogamous, but rather what drives many individuals to become involved in extramarital affairs is a lack of emotional fulfillment within the existing relationship.

Only after , there has been an eroding of the interpersonal relationship, including a loss of passion, lack of intimacy, and loss of emotional and sexual satisfaction, does the dissatisfied partner look for a new lover to fulfill their needs.

The extramarital affair is a far more complex relationship unlike the usual portrayal of affairs. Real “triangles” involve a great deal of guilt, confusion, anxiety, and pain. In the end all members of the triangle are affected, for better or worse. Whether the marriage survives or the lovers form a new couple, everyone involved in the “triangle” will have been dramatically and permanently affected by the extramarital experience.

So as we think , affairs are not just a straying attitude or a fun activity..there are other underlying issues.

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