Turning a Hook-Up Into a Partner — the Economic Analysis


He-s-Just-Not-That-Into-You-hes-just-not-that-into-you-16685877-949-625So I recently met up with a friend who was telling me a little bit about her personal life. Without giving away any of her identifying details, I’ll simply say that she mentioned that she had a hook-up buddy that she now wanted to consider as a longer term partner, like somebody to date not just f*ck. Inherently, the success of this conversion seemed unlikely to me. It almost seemed like a scenario that would end up in the movie (based on the book) “He’s Just Not That Into You.” In fact, if I’m going to play all my girl cards, I think it might have been a plotline on Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw tries to make a hook-up buddy into a boyfriend but then realizes the reason that he was always a hook-up was because he was incapable of holding a conversation or otherwise caring about another person.

Please keep reading. I swear: this gets better.

Now, I made a commitment when I started this blog that I wouldn’t use it to indirectly comment on things that I should really address directly with a person. I didn’t say anything to my friend because in truth, I don’t know enough details about her personal situation and who am I to be a naysayer about her quest for true love? I hope things worked out with her and her paramour and if they didn’t, then I wish her the best because there are many sexy fish in the sea, many of whom are not averse to monogamy and commitment.

I continued to mull over the situation and (because I’m a big nerd) I thought it could be analyzed using basic economics principles. And considering this is probably something that other people have thought about or a situation that they have found themselves in, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a post exploring this concept. Admittedly I am writing this woman to woman as I don’t tend to think men have the same issue. I could be wrong but that is how I have chosen to frame this post. You can feel free to interpret as it suits your needs.

Now the way I see it, when you set your boundaries and allow a guy to be just a hook-up, you are basically selling your shit for crazy cheap. You are saying to a guy: “I’ll sell you this bag of beans for $1” and a guy, depending on his needs and price sensitivity might say, “Ok, that sounds good to me.” Now, there are various motivations in this scenario that we need to take into account.

1) Why the girl is selling her beans for so cheap

There are many reasons the girl may sell her beans for such a low price

  • The girl might be running a promotion. She knows that her beans are actually worth $3 but she discounts the price to induce trial. Once that guy tries her beans, he’ll be hooked! Then she can raise her price back up to her intended $3 and the guy, assuming he likes her beans and feels that the $3 is a worthy price, will happily pay more.

Now, I just want to make sure this metaphor is clear (and that I am not inadvertently promoting prostitution). In this scenario, the $1 is letting a guy give you as minimal of a relationship as possible. So you basically hope the guy will be relationship material and you want to get him close enough for you to be able to assess his viability as a long term partner. So to get him to try you out, you basically offer sex (that’s the $1). And just so that we’re on the same page: the $3 is him actually committing something to you, being something closer to a boyfriend or partner and trying to establish a relationship. We are assuming that you want $3.

Promotions work but under certain circumstances. [I should admit here that while I went to business school and am a marketer by profession, I’m not a consumer marketer and I am not an expert on selling to the masses (like a CPG marketer or brand manager would be). So I’m going to do my best to talk about these consumer marketing principles but I’m by no means an expert.] Promotions work if you target the right people (if they are customers that would likely continue purchasing your product into the future, despite the end of the promotion) and if the pricing is right (they would continue buying the product at the expected full retail price). The promotion has not worked ideally if a person doesn’t buy beyond the discounted period. In essence, they got what should have cost $3 for $1 and you basically lost $2 in profit on that single transaction without the possibility of them making additional purchases at the $3 price point.

So this strategy of offering your beans for $1 might work (and probably has worked for a lot of people) if the guy is the type of person who would pay $3 for your beans beyond the discount period. And let’s be honest, ladies: there are guys out there who just want cheap beans.  I’m going to talk more about men’s motivations later on in this post. But suffice it to say, if you are going after a promotional strategy, you should know what you are getting yourself into. Because trying to get a guy to pay $3 for beans when he has previously paid $1 is not going to work on some guys. That’s just the truth.

  • The girl has excess inventory of beans. Like, she just NEEDS to get rid of these BEANS. So she is discounting not to induce trial but really just to be free of these damn beans.

Now, I have a lot of girlfriends who say that they just had an itch that they needed to scratch and they weren’t looking for anything serious, they just wanted to have some fun. And within weeks of intermittently having this “fun” with a guy, the girl is proved to be an absolute liar because she is waiting by the phone wondering why he isn’t returning her calls, wondering what this cryptic Facebook update he just posted could possibly mean, {insert borderline clingy behavior of your liking here}, etc.

I don’t know you and I don’t know what your current bean inventory looks like. I should also preface this by saying that I am older and I think I probably grew up kind of sheltered. I didn’t grow up surrounded by the Snapchats and Tinders of today so I am frequently kind of surprised (appalled?) by dating behavior that is currently the norm. (On a side note, I suspect that this whole YOLO bullshit was invented by a very stupid person who has probably lost all his teeth and/or used up all his life savings and/or prematurely expired and why you young people are going along with it, I will never understand.) So I don’t want to lecture you, kind reader, about this burning need to get rid of your beans.

But I will say that in business there are two concepts that are worth noting: there is price and there is value. You can for sure get rid of your beans for $1 per unit and be perfectly happy. You got rid of your beans in a transaction that you felt was fair and everybody is pleased. And whether or not you made a return customer, who will continue to buy beans from you moving forward, is not something you care about. You sold your beans. You’re done. However, if you know in your heart of hearts that your beans are worth $3 per unit, a value higher than what you are selling it at, that is not a good situation. Because you will find yourself with no beans and probably no return customers. You will be full of regret because you know the full value was not met and all you will be focused on is the deficit between what could have been and what actually was.

  • The beans were legitimately that cheap

Now, I’m not saying that offering your beans for cheap makes YOU cheap. I’m just stating a final reality: some beans are just easily purchased. That’s it. There’s no artifice, there’s no underlying motivation or strategy. The beans were worth $1, they were sold for $1. Everybody is happy. If this is you and all you want is $1 for your beans, then I say: get it, girl.

2) Why the guy is willing to buy cheap beans

  • Primarily, because the beans were cheap

Ok this one is pretty easy to explain: there are guys who will jump on cheap beans whenever they are offered. They don’t care about quality or consistency or even have a preference for beans. They’ll go for a navy bean, a pinto bean, a kidney bean. If it’s really late and they have a craving, even a snap pea will do. They are incredibly price sensitive and will buy whatever cheap beans they come across. And come on, ladies: you can tell these guys from the start. They tend to wear a lot of hair products and smell like they dumped cologne on every part of their body. These guys are not going to be long term customers. These guys are not going to be brand loyal (more about brand in a minute). The $1 beans, no matter where they are coming from, are good enough. And to ask this guy to pay $3 for your beans? Forget it.

  • He views the beans as a commodity– they’re all the same

So this is where my example gets a little confusing because beans are literally kind of a commodity. When it comes to products, you have branded products and you have unbranded products (which are the commodity items). For example, you can go to the store and buy a package of Mahatma brown rice which is a branded product. You are purchasing the cleanliness of it being prepackaged, the brand, and maybe some special aspect of the product itself that is distinct, like the flavor or the chewiness. For all this, you pay more. I personally (because I am cheap) buy brown rice from the bulk bins at Sprouts even though I know that hundreds of little kids’ dirty hands have been in there while their parents are distracted. I know this because I see them. But I don’t want to pay more for what I consider a commodity item and I figure that I can give it rinse before cooking and just pray that e coli is killed in the cooking process.

Commodity items are the same and therefore the price is lower. When it comes to commodity pricing, I believe the rule of thumb is that the price can go down to the point of cost so the winner will be the one with the most competitive cost structure. I know: economics is pretty exciting. But this is basically saying, when you have things that are the same, and they fight for business, the price will go down, down, down. You don’t want to be that person selling those beans because your ability to generate any value will be low.

And that’s where branding comes into play. Now, a lot is said about personal branding– about distinguishing yourself in the world and communicating your value. And this is basically the sexy version of that lecture. When you’re seeing a guy, you want him to know, “Hey– I’m greater than the sum of my {lady} parts.” You’re more than a pretty face and incredibly sexy body. (At least I am.) It’s not like he can just turn to the next bag of beans and have exactly the same experience. NO. You are NOT a commodity. If you have established your allure and kept him your prisoner of seduction, when you turn to him and say, “Yo, the beans are $3. Take it or leave it”–his response will of course be to say, “Yes, I’ll pay the $3. Don’t take your beans away from me. I need your beans!!!” He’ll also probably cry a little bit at this point, at just the stress and terror of possibly losing your beans. And if he doesn’t want your $3 beans and you’re not willing to accept anything lower, then leave it be. Let him go off and be with that slutty snap pea.

What we have learned

So at the highest level, we have learned, friends of mine, that you should never share with me any aspect of your personal lives because I will ruminate on your situation and then produce one of the most ridiculous blog posts ever.

As it relates to the economics of hook-up buddies, however, here are our major takeaways:

– Sometimes a hook-up buddy is only going to be a hook-up buddy. You should know in advance if this is ok with you and then you should accept when that is the reality.

– A hook-up buddy can become a long term partner but a lot of that is dependent on what he values.

– Be special and you should be able to expect more from a guy.

– Be honest with yourself about your worth and what you really want from your life and from others.



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