Conditional Love

In the traditional stereotype, a mother’s love is unconditional, while a father’s love is conditional.  Mom loves you no matter what, but dad loves you because you live up to his standards.  Moms who resist disciplining their kids, but instead say “wait until your father gets home,” seem to want it this way.

Women apparently initiate most divorces, and in my experience also most breakups.  I feel tender toward every woman I’ve ever been involved with, and would be happy to talk to any of them, but many of them do not reciprocate such feelings.  On average women’s love for men seems more conditional that men’s love for women.  Which helps explain why men seem to signal more to women than women do to men.

So when a mother and a wife compete for a man’s affection, the mom has the advantage of offering the less conditional love.  A husband competing with with his wife’s father has a similar advantage.  What else follows from this gender role flip?

P.S.  We’ve passed the 3 million visits mark!

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  • Carl Shulman

    “On average women’s love for men seems more conditional that men’s love for women. Which explains why men seem to signal more to women than women do to men.”

    Male mate affection is often quite conditional on female attractiveness/youth/fertility, but those traits are visually obvious so that not much needs to be done to signal them when they exist.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Yes, that is also contributing factor.

  • http://www.intrade.com John Delaney

    Can’t wait to show my wife and then wait for skin and hair to start flying. You may be the cause of a ferocious Irish row. Congrats on the 3MM mark.

  • Peter Twieg

    On average women’s love for men seems more conditional that men’s love for women. Which explains why men seem to signal more to women than women do to men.

    Could you elaborate on this? My intuition would be that this would lend itself to the opposite conclusion – if the love of women is more conditional, then there’s probably more room for uncertainty (about whether the given conditions are still fulfilled in her eyes) which may require signaling on the part of the woman to dissipate.

    I’d suspect that one reason that women might initiate more divorces/breakups is simply because a man who’s unhappy with a relationship is probably more likely than a woman to not bother ending it, ie. not being in love doesn’t lead to the dissolution of the relationship as often for men as for women.

    • anon

      Could you elaborate on this? My intuition would be that this would lend itself to the opposite conclusion –

      In fact, most field experts agree that men should be screening their relationship partners for affection. Few people want to be in a severely deteriorating relationship or get caught on the wrong side of a divorce/breakup.

      • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

        [citation needed], although I’m mostly curious about how anon defines “most field experts.”

      • http://liberalvichy.blogspot.com/ Vichy

        One of the problems would be that there is a severe shortage of people who are consistently tolerable in any relationship. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but most people will find them subtly poisonous.

    • Neil

      I’m not sure that one explains the other, but both could reflect that a woman wants a man’s love more than a man wants a woman’s love. This would mean men would accept a more conditional love than a woman would, and that women would demand stronger demonstrations of love than a man would.

    • Psychohistorian

      Simple. If men love women unconditionally, women have no conditions to meet, and thus no need to signal. If women love men conditionally, men need to signal to show that they still meet the relevant conditions.

  • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

    Women apparently initiate most divorces, and in my experience also most breakups.

    I don’t see this with breakups at all – it seems quite symmetrical to me, but often there’s no clear “initiator” of breakup, so if one’s not careful data can be interpreted to suit whichever theory.

    I always thought this inequality in divorces is primarily due to well known bias of family courts. Is the ratio much more even for couples without children or significant assets (so courts won’t screw the ex-husband), or in places where family courts are less biased (and use shared custody of children mostly etc.)? That would be pretty good evidence for or against this theory.

  • Mike

    I have similar feelings toward women… but I’ve always thought this was due to details of my personality, largely acquired through unusual circumstances of my childhood. Perhaps Robin is projecting his own personal quirks on other people.

  • Rob Hicks

    ‘O frailty thy name is WOMAN!’

  • jonathan

    A simpler explanation is that a mother takes care of the little boy when he’s very young and forming emotional bonds. Ever been to a pre-school drop off? There may be some role for the classic sexual competition ideas of boy versus father for the mother’s attention, but you don’t need to get that deep to see a female caregiver who alternately lavishes attention and withholds it. That is a pretty simple mechanism for creating need – and believe me you see it at pre-school.

  • http://informationfeasible.blogspot.com Ranjith

    I don’t know about the father’s love being conditional and mother’s love being unconditional, but the second one is quite popularly spoken of……and congrats on the 3 million mark….

  • mattmc

    I find it interesting that you feel affection for multiple women, while they presumably only feel affection for one man. Perhaps something arises from the difficulty in signaling to the one woman that you have selected how the affection you have for her differs from the affection you feel, or could feel, for any number of other women.

  • Adam M

    What else follows from this gender role flip?

    I suppose that if a man values his relationship with a mother and a wife equally, it would follow that he would devote more time to the more conditional woman, the wife. So you would typically see men siding with their wife over their mother, which…is hard to measure, but in my experience is probably the case.

    Any time these topics come up, they just makes me hate “Everybody Loves Raymond” so much. That man has a horrible life.

  • Thus Spake A Woman

    Robin, I wonder if you aren’t overlooking/confounding a few things in your attempts to compare ‘love’. Respect and/or a feeling of responsibility for the other person should not be confused with (though perhaps often is) the desire to mate and/or experience erotic gratification with that person.

    “Brotherly love is love among equals; motherly love is love for the helpless. Different as they are from each other, they have in common that they are by their very nature not restricted to one person… In contrast to both types of love is erotic love; it is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal…” – The Art of Loving

    Chalk it up to trying to write a blogpost at midnight. 😉

    • George

      I agree.

      The English language has one word, “love”, but it really has multiple meanings. If romantic love was called “x” and familial love was called “y”, your blog post would read very differently.

  • Female

    More empiricism, less speculation, please.

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  • http://www.thethoughtfulape.blogspot.com Jay Thomas

    “I feel tender toward every woman I’ve ever been involved with, and would be happy to talk to any of them, but many of them do not reciprocate such feelings.”

    I don’t think this is as universal at you imply Robin. I for one have do not want to see the women I was involved with in the past again, allthough I remember most with affection and have many pleasant memories I treasure. What would be the point? If physical or mental chemistry still exists in one or both directions, seeing my exes will result in awkwardness and emotional turmoil I could well do without. If the chemistry between us has completely died, I am faced with the prospect of a banal and probably superficial friendship which sort of tarnishes the memories of the intimacy we had in the past at least for me.

    Meeting exes also has the potential to upset my current partner who I love very much.

    No, on balance I want to steer clear of seeing these people again, much as I value the time I spent with them.

    • a female reader

      I agree with Jay’s comment (and I do still have some feelings for almost everyone I was ever involved with) — so Robin, I wonder how you know the women do not reciprocate, unless they have told you explicitly.

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  • PCD

    For a site called “Overcoming Bias” there’s a lot of biased and subjective statements here… “Women apparently initiate most divorces, and in my experience also most breakups.”

    Instead of speculating can we just stick to the facts?

    • Rob Hicks

      I’ve followed the posts here for some months, and I think this site is increasingly in this vein. However, I think it’s not necessarily less valuable for being so, because it loosely fits into Popper’s “conjectures and refutations” style of knowledge building which is most appropriate in social sciences.

      My frustration is mostly that the authors seemed to have stopped replying on the comments when they’ve said something wrong or highly contentious, seemingly except when it’s easy for them to refute (i.e. “you’ve misunderstood my point”) or when the comments come from fellow academics. I think this is a by-product of the sites popularity though.

    • Divided Line

      Uh, women initiate 70% of divorces. It is fact.

  • tg

    Hanson,

    Between this and your pieces a few days ago on Unwed Moms and Unsexy Men, I suggest you get a makeover. Your personal experience is clouding your judgement of men, women, family and sex.

    Are these posts for real or is this some experiment on how otherwise intelligent people will respond to drivel.

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  • Granite26

    Perhaps there’s a cost of sex issue with how people treat their exes. Old feelings die hard, and ex-sex is better (evo speaking) for the guy than the girl.

    • tg

      For ex-sex to promote the species’ survival (that is, be “better”), it would require the promotion of a trait which would make future generations more likely to survive. To speak on an evolutionary benefit, it isn’t enough to look at a single act of reproduction. Are the children of single parent families more or less likely to reproduce at a younger age, more frequently and with healthier offspring than those of monogamous, two-parent families?

  • Tracy W

    On average women’s love for men seems more conditional that men’s love for women.

    Ah, but then you are a man. Jane Austen, in Persuasion, famously hade her heroine Anne Elliot maintain that women’s love for men is less conditional and lasts longer than that of men’s.

    As for mother-in-laws, in the interests of domestic peace I try to adopt my mother-in-law’s side against my husband in most disputes. It seems to work.

  • Sara Martin

    Love is rarely unconditional.

    For example: women generally search for status and financial comfort before they open themselves up for the possibility of love. Why do you think one of the first questions most of us ask you is what you do for a living? We are determining if you are worthy of allowing us to consider you for the possibility of love.

    Many men don’t realize that their income is mainly what keeps their “sacred bond” together. Sacred my tush.

    Sorry ladies, but I feel as if most of us are living in denial. We say one thing and do another. We are ruthless, financial exploiters of the opposite sex. Men are completely in the right to call us gold diggers.

  • Rosemary

    This is very sadly true for my father. He loves my mum unconditionally, but she only loves him conditionally. Therefore, he loves ME conditionally, yet her unconditionally. The saddest thing of all is, I love him unconditionally… if my mum left him, cheated on him, and said she never wanted to see him ever again, I would still love him, take care of him and make sure he was looking after himself. Why then Dad, can you not return it????

  • Greene Kenya

    Just like my mother she love all her kids unconditionally. My dad don’t give a damn about his kids he is conditionally after my mom died he begin to verbally abuse claim I am his late uncle or aunt and I don’t think that he is the most ugly one and I resemble his late mother.