Now, I’m not famed for understanding women. But my hunch is that a man who says: “I can’t be bothered with that Vally day bull. Here's a £100 - get yourself another pair of shoes” will not be getting any action for a while.
Giving women what they want is rational. Women want romantic gestures. And this demand can be rational, especially for a woman who is looking for commitment. I say this for four reasons:
1. The peacock tail effect. Peacocks have elaborate tails because these signal genetic fitness. Similarly, a man who spends money on Vally day is signalling his ability as a provider: “look, I can offer you so much that I can afford to fritter money away on gestures.”
2. Investment in commitment. Love can be modelled as an addiction; the more time a couple spends together, the more likely they are to stay together. Dinner together is therefore an investment, in a way that letting the laydee go shopping whilst you watch the rugby on TV is not.
3. Noise. If a woman is looking to settle down with a man, she wants to learn about him, to be sure he’s The One. However, a man who rejects the social norm of Vally day increases uncertainty about who he is. The woman thinks: “if he rejects this cultural norm, what other norms does he reject. What sort of guy is this?” Her noise-signal ratio rises.
4. Rationality as counter-signalling. If a woman is looking for commitment, she’ll not want a narrow utility maximizer, because such a man will leave her the moment a better offer comes along.
There is, I think, a general lesson here. Although Vally day is daft if understood in narrow instrumental terms, it makes economic sense if we interpret rationality more widely. Could it be that Paul’s mistake is a common one among economists, of construing rationality too narrowly, and being too quick to see irrationality?