Loss Aversion

Written by Austin VanKirk—

Once people have something, they hate to give it up. For instance, Dear Reader, let’s say I gave you ten dollars. Also, let’s say, I gave you the opportunity to answer a series of questions in increasingly difficulty, which would double the amount of money with each question answered correctly. However, if you got just one question wrong, you wouldn’t win any money at all. Studies show that you’d most likely walk away with the ten dollars without answering any questions at all. And I don’t blame you; I would probably do the same.

This is what is known as loss aversion. As the name suggests, it means that people hate to lose things. It could mean money, grades, or possessions, but I find the most violent loss aversion occurs in the realm of relationships. Loss aversion could surface in a variety of ways when it comes to relationships, however I am most interested in discussing now loss aversion as it relates to cheating.

So let’s say we have Judy and Anne in a relationship. To prevent the loss of Anne to another woman, Judy is doing everything in her power to prevent that. “Judy, I’m going to Rosie O’Grady’s tonight with some of my friends.” “Hell if you are! There will be too may other girls there.” Judy is already afraid that she is going to lose Anne. Even though Anne has only said that she is going to a bar with friends, Judy is already foreseeing the worst.

As you can imagine, those two phrases are the impetus of a long and violent argument between Judy and Anne. But wait, there is yet more to examine. “Are you saying you don’t trust me?” asks Anne, throwing her bag onto the couch. She’s speaking calmly, but her shoulders are tense and angled, ready to shoot pointed words. “I trust you, Anne. It’s the other girls I don’t trust.”

This last sentence uttered by Judy, in my opinion, is a lie. If she really did trust Anne, there would be no question. “Then come with us,” Anne offers. “You can keep an eye on the other girls. I promise I’m not looking to meet new girls. We’re only going out tonight because Rhonda is in town for a few days and we want to all get together like old times.” Anne is hoping that this truthful logic and rationale will win over her lover. No such luck. Judy is blinded by loss aversion.

“Don’t you think it’s inappropriate that you’re going out to a bar on lesbian night with a bunch of girls you’ve used to fool around with! Don’t you think that makes me uncomfortable?”

Now Anne is angry, and begins to yell her responses. It’s not the wisest course of action, but I can’t say I blame her for reacting to such unwarranted paranoia this way. “So I can’t go out with my friends! Is that what you’re saying? I’ve been hanging with that crew for over five years. Should I just throw that all the way because it makes you ‘uncomfortable’! You’re being stupid, Judy.”

“You’re my girlfriend, Anne. If I don’t want you to go out to the bars tonight, you should respect that and not go.”

And before you know it, Miller Lite bottles are being smashed against walls, paintings ripped of the walls. And maybe even the next day, a U-Haul is called to move Anne’s stuff out of Judy’s apartment.

Neither partner in this scenario is entirely blameless. Indeed, the situation, the misunderstanding could have been handled better. However, I still have to side with Anne. All she wanted to do was to go hang out with her friends. Judy might be onto something when she says that Anne should respect Judy being uncomfortable with her going out. However, that feeling is trumped by Anne needing Judy to respect that she needs to be trusted and needs to have a social life outside of Judy. I mean, studies show that relationships are healthier when each partner has his or her own life outside of the relationship. The key here, of course, is to not keep any secrets about those lives.

I think it’s important to remember that no person is ever “yours”—unless we’re talking about some kind of slave-master scenario. If we keep in mind that our significant others never belong to us to begin with, and in fact belong to themselves as individuals, we cannot be too upset if we do “lose” them.

“If you love somebody, let them go. If they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” I find this quote to be a bit menacing, because it brings back in that possessive language, but in principle, it’s a sound idea. How can you mourn as lost somebody who never was yours?

But what do I know?

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