My seventh-grade health teacher cautioned our class that none of us were likely to have an original thought in our lifetimes – not because we were exceptionally dim-witted, but because virtually every thought worth thinking has already been thought of. So I was not surprised to see an article on CNN.com confrming a pet theory regarding marital satisfaction I advanced in my novel, An Ordinary Man – that of “mateness points.” As explained by the protagonist, Richard Wilson, to his wife Liz:
“It has to do with what I’ve been calling mateness points.”
“Maintenance points? What are those?”
“No, not maintenance – mateness; mateness points.” He chuckled; she could be fun. “Matability. I don’t know; I’m going to have to coin a term if this idea has any legs. Anyway, the idea is that each female assigns each male a certain number of these points, based upon whatever makes males attractive to her, just as each male assigns them to each female based upon whatever makes females attractive to him. A guy would give points for beauty, grace, wit and style, along with intelligence and, you know, whatever. Same thing with a woman; she’ll assign points as she sees fit, and only those guys with a certain number of points will get the time of day from her. Let’s say her threshold is five hundred points; she’d obviously like Mr. Wonderful, who has maybe a thousand, but Mr. Wonderful isn’t likely to look at her because he wants more points than she is likely to have. If she’s only looking for five hundred, she’s probably a little down-market for him, so even if she does snag Mr. Wonderful, it’ll only be for a night or two. He’ll drop her as soon as a girl with more points comes along.
“Of course all kinds of complications arise. People give themselves too many points, don’t give others enough points, base their points on attributes not as meaningful as they think, don’t give the same attributes the same point values, et cetera. It’s like a cosmic balance with really funky counterweights. But the bottom line is the scale must balance, or look like it’s balanced to the couple involved. If it’s not, one of them is going to become dissatisfied at some point and cause trouble. So you strive for as many points as possible in your mate, but if you overreach, you won’t have enough points to sustain his commitment.”
“So the tipping point is when the couple’s mateness points balance gets out of whack?”
“So how many points did I have when you met me?”
“You? You were way up there. And that might be part of the problem. I wanted a high number, but wasn’t that high myself, so I fooled you into thinking I had more.”
“You had enough.”
“Thank you, but the metric can change as the relationship progresses. Sometimes points are gained, other times they are lost. I have a feeling I’ve lost points. Andrew obviously thought he had points to spare.”
“So is that what you think women do, go around calculating point values and then offering themselves to the highest they think they can get?”
“Not consciously, no. Well, some do. But I do think, I do believe, that there is at least some residual deep-seated instinct guiding a woman’s response to men. It only makes sense, to me anyway. But it’s time for me to go to work.”
It turns out, as CNN.com points out, that “[i]n social psychology, there is a classic theory called ‘exchange theory.’ It is a bit cold-blooded, but it predicts that a person’s actions will be based on trying to find a balance of give and get. Each person’s resources — of all kinds, including money, looks, background — are traded back and forth for a ‘good deal.’ For example, a ‘good deal’ scenario could be a woman who makes an excellent living pairing up with a man who is a writer and is willing to work at home and be the primary child care person.”
It’s not cold-blooded; it’s how we work. Well, maybe that is a bit cold-blooded.