Why Not Dating Coaches?

From the New York Times last week:

"We have business coaches, dietitians, accountants, but we don’t have an expert for our love life?" said Lisa Clampitt, a dating coach and a founder of the Matchmaking Institute, which trains matchmakers in Manhattan. "It doesn’t make sense. It is really the single most important aspect in our life."

Ezra Klein adds:

The idea that folks who need a bit of coaching or advice on these matters are painted as pathetic and weird has always struck me as deeply unfair. This idea that our romantic lives should be organic and spontaneous is rather nice, but for some folks, quite unlikely, and for others, quite self-deceptive. … That society suggests those who haven’t had free guides or good luck should be too ashamed to seek outside help is pretty cruel.

Tyler Cowen counters:

Many of the people with dating problems are their own worst enemies.  Paying for advice won’t much help because self-sabotage is the goal and the advice-giver can’t disassemble the relevant weirdnesses.  …  Second, I do not believe it much benefits "losers" to learn additional slickness.  The more likely result is that the coach tells the loser about seven of his mistakes, thereby discouraging him altogether. … It is much easier to sell aspirational goods than honesty.

This looks like this is a job for … <ta da> signaling man!  It seems obvious to me that:

  • dating couches can help individuals a lot,
  • it looks very bad to have a dating coach,
  • we dislike even distant strangers using a coach, and
  • who mates with who is largely a zero-sum game.

People think that those who choose dating coaches have something seriously wrong with them, and so we try to avoid seeing ourselves as such a person.  And since dating is mostly zero-sum, if this reduces dating effort then its seems to me a case where self-deceptive signaling makes us better off.  But I don’t think we dislike strangers using dating coaches because of the zero-sum aspect.  I instead suggest we think games are more fair when winning correlates better with genetic quality, and that coaching reduces this correlation.

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  • NG

    Programs like this learn people to fake inner confidence. It is an infinite loop of “Women like me, so I’m attractive. If women turn me down, I’m worthless”.

    I think it’s ridiculous that people would thousands of dollars for something like that. Anybody with an ounce of common sense can just work on their game or social skills over time by continually putting themselves in situations that require them to use them.

    I’m not saying that the advice that different people can offer on women and on social skills can’t be useful.

    I think these types of scams appeal to people’s laziness. They don’t want to tryout the advice they get, evaluate it, experience failure, develop confidence in them selfs… They want a guide to women like it’s a rubik’s cube.

  • anonymous

    Anybody with an ounce of common sense can just work on their game or social skills over time

    Ah, but how do you consistently improve on your “game” or social skills without coming off as standoffish or creepy or supplicating? This kind of information has only been widely available for a few years. (Of course, anyone who would call themselves a “dating coach” is probably missing the point – the term would seem to endorse “dating” as an end in itself.)

    who mates with who is largely a zero-sum game.

    It’s not a zero sum game when you factor in transaction costs and non-trivial incentive effects (do “nice guys” finish last? Answer – it depends.) It is very possible that improved information will reduce wasted effort, since dating outcomes are not encompassed by a rational choice paradigm.

    I think these types of scams appeal to people’s laziness. They don’t want to tryout the advice they get,

    I don’t know of any serious “coach” who does not stress long-term effort, determination and responsibility for one’s emotions. You’re probably referring to something completely different.

  • anonymous

    I instead suggest we think games are more fair when winning correlates better with genetic quality, and that coaching reduces this correlation.

    Wouldn’t job-interview and “motivational” coaching reduce correlation with economic productivity in the same way? If so, why aren’t MBA graduates distrusted in a business context?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Anony, I meant zero-sum mating outcomes, negative sum when effort is included. MBA coaching improves employee ability to deal with others, and not just to match with employers.

  • Pseudonymous

    Perhaps, then, we should have coaches on making yourself more valuble to your partner, as MBAs teach you to be more valuble to your employer.

  • anonymous

    Anony, I meant zero-sum mating outcomes,

    OK, but the notion that exogenous quality is central to matching outcomes is extremely speculative. The consensus seems to be that such coaching improves one’s genuine desirability; otherwise dating coaches would stand nothing to lose (and everything to gain) by focusing on outright connivance and covertness.

  • http://blogjack.net Glen Raphael

    Anybody with an ounce of common sense can just work on their game or social skills over time

    Some people who practice over time will end up just reinforcing their existing bad habits, making it ever harder to fix what’s actually wrong. There are *physical skills* involved in making other people comfortable just as there are physical skills involved in learning to play guitar or tennis or golf or skiing. If you try to learn to ski on your own and realize you’re just not getting it – you keep crashing and aren’t having any fun – the sensible thing to do is seek out an instructor. This is just as true if you find you’re hopeless at dating or meeting people or being “social”.

    In times past, the well-to-do spent the equivalent of thousands of dollars on cotillion classes preparing their children to be presentable in polite society. The current figure-it-out-yourself system works quite poorly by comparison, especially for men. The modern equivalent of cotillion classes is a Pickup101 seminar.

  • anonymous

    In times past, the well-to-do spent the equivalent of thousands of dollars on cotillion classes preparing their children to be presentable in polite society. The current figure-it-out-yourself system works quite poorly by comparison, especially for men. The modern equivalent of cotillion classes is a Pickup101 seminar.

    Interestingly, Thorstein Veblen famously described cotillion classes and other similar institutions as snobbish and ultimately wasteful. However my hunch is that pickup seminars can easily escape this concern, given the consumerist tendencies of mainstream “dating”.

  • NG

    [q]I don’t know of any serious “coach” who does not stress long-term effort, determination and responsibility for one’s emotions.[/q]
    Really?
    This is a quote from one of the pick up, dating coach websites google came up with:
    [q]I walked up to the blonde, whispered 15 words in her ear, then we left arm in arm seconds later. What followed was the hottest night you could ever imagine!…all will be revealed to you just minutes from now.[/q]
    Followed by links to buy this guys books, videos and thousand dollar seminars.

    I do not see anything wrong with teaching people better communication skills or how to relax and mingle and not be an asshole but these “coaches” promise a magic formula for picking up women. It’s a dating equivalent of Get Rich Quick schemes.

  • anonymous

    Except that the original article is from the NYTimes, which is a fairly reputable publication. Search engine results are not very relevant.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Anony, “the notion that exogenous quality is central to matching outcomes” is the central element of evol psych theories of mating, which is the most successful application of evol psych.

  • anonymous

    Anony, “the notion that exogenous quality is central to matching outcomes” is the central element of evol psych theories of mating, which is the most successful application of evol psych.

    Evol psych makes useful predictions about human behavior, however it is not a normative theory of utility or preference. If our preferences no longer match evolutionary predispositions (due to our progress from “the rude state of society”), the supposed zero-sum character of dating has no normative significance.

  • Ben

    NG: There are always going to be people selling snake oil. The fact that there are ten thousand products to magically lose weight in your sleep does not mean hiring a nutritionist will not work. I believe that’s why “serious” was used as an adjective (though there’s kind of a no true Scotsman problem going on there).

    More generally, what is meant by zero sum? I’ve been thinking about it and I cannot see any meaningful sense in which dating is zero sum. There are definitely more and less efficient outcomes that can come from it. Maybe I’m missing something obvious.

    I could see zero sum meaning: Person A is 5 units better than person B, so if they end up together, Person A has a loss of 5 and person B has a gain of 5. The only problem is that dating does not have transitivity, so a linear numerical concept of it seems extremely misleading. That is, person A and person B would might both have gains from being together, and person C and person D might both have losses, and person A might prefer C over B, but person D might prefer B over C. So I don’t see how zero sum could be meaningful and accurate here.

  • http://www.NewYorkDatingCoach.com Art

    I am a dating coach, and do it full time in NYC and i can tell you that dating coaching is a hard job requiring a lot of time investment and skill. I spent years honing the skill on zeroing in what exactly needs to be changed or adjusted in a guy. it might be how he comes of to people and doesn’t realize it, and his friends wont even know that its negative behavior. There is a lot of psychology in it and awareness. I was loser with women when i started, and i was able to change those behaviors and now i can teach it. Magic formula? not likely.

    You can read my book http://www.ParkBenchDating.com

  • http://www.newyorkdatingcoach.com Art

    This is site for 1-on-1 dating coaching in New York

    http://www.NewYokDatingCoach.com

  • http://www.AssetSearchPros.com Alex22

    Thank you for sharing the article, “Why Not Dating Coaches?”….