Addicted to Love

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Alyson Hurt

When I asked my students for examples of diminishing marginal utility, one wiseguy freshman stated, “Time with my girlfriends after a relationship of five months-I drop them after that.” (I should have told him that it’s hard to distinguish quits from layoffs, but I wasn’t fast enough on my feet!)

His example got a good laugh, but it also allowed me to introduce the notion of addiction, my next lecture topic. How can we explain addiction, in his case the fact that he went out with another girlfriend, and probably even liked her more initially than the first girlfriend? I assume that he had become addicted to falling in love, not staying in love, so that he enjoyed the first few dates with the next girlfriend even more than those with the dumped girlfriend. After a while, however, the marginal utility of his time with her diminished, and their relationship ended too.

Mark Nelson

Economists seem to able to ruin everything they touch. Please stay away from love!

Ian Kemmish

Perhaps like Omar Khayyam's elephant? To a neurobiologist it probably looks quite complex but rational; to an economist it probably looks irrational.


i would guess addiction is a short circuit in pre-behavior cognitive checking of ramifications- that is, an fMRI of an addict's brain pre behavior will be missing a reflective process that normal brains have when deciding whether to throw it all away for another hit (or lover)

Eric M. Jones

Did you hear the one about the Playboy Magazine for married men? ...The same centerfold every month....

...bah dum...

David Chowes, New York City

Wait until your student either loses interest in his new girlfriend or visa versa... The original girlfriend will look a lot better.

We are all addidted to love!

Imad Qureshi

Although his actions are not as funny but how you rationalized it is hilarious. And it certainly changes the definition of love.


Perhaps the women become boring once he takes them for granted...

Harrison B

So what's your recomendation about marriage?


...and your point is?


The young lad's story is still being written.

Even the first few dates have diminishing marginal utility; so much so, in fact, that one day he'll find a girl he likes and just stay with her!


"I assume that he had become addicted to falling in love."

maybe he is a addicted to something other than love or falling in love. omg

Sean Cooper

Pretty astute for a frosh.
While his callous attitude may be off-putting, I think we can all relate to his story, though. Not many of us marry the first person we go out with. How many times have we realized that what we were getting out of the relationship wasn't worth what we were putting into it?

Lawrence Villamar

Basic romantic dilemma: Are you in love or are you in love with falling love!


Addiction in love has been shown pretty convincingly by having increased hormone oxytocin levels, the same hormone that makes parents fall in love with their babies the first time the see them. In love it lasts 18-24 months and then declines which is why infatuation stage ends about then. So don't marry someone the first 24 months you know them to really see if the relationship, now built on interests,liking each other, etc., will last. (I am a physician so writing with some knowledge on the issue)


I'm not sure I would describe what he is feeling as love. I dated a guy like this - it was all about the chase. Once he caught his prey, the hunt was over and he lost interest. So, maybe he is addicted to the hunt? Doesn't change the definition of diminishing marginal utility though!


When is your book about attractiveness coming out?

wm christie

Economic terms to describe everything are really useless. He is just enjoying the power the women he dates have given him - they probably think he smells after three days.

Daryl Choy

True love never runs smooth, but it never dies. @choypw

plain spoken

Someone slap a label on this guy which includes his analysis of the diminishing marginal utility of relationships, so potential girlfriends don't waste their time on him.

Sonja S.

The note was funny, made me laugh out loud. Economy is maybe not as prominent in falling in love, but in considering a relationship and staying in relationship. What about deciding to leave after years of investment? Some people seem to be attached to their investment, not to the person they are married to. Is there an economic term to cover that?