Dynomight, You Are Overthinking Why My Parents Don't Care If My Spouse Is Hot
It’s just because I’m me and they’re someone else
Dynomight asks why I want the person I marry to be hot, but my parents don’t really care. Presumably, our evolutionary incentives are aligned—I want children who are genetically healthy (which, we’ll assume, hotness is a proxy for), and my parents want genetically healthy grandchildren. So why would my parents care so much less about the hotness of my mate?
Dynomight gives two possible explanations:
Maybe, uh, something complicated to do with our evolutionary incentives being not actually aligned and the word “niblings”. (The explanation is entirely coherent I just don’t feel like reproducing it here.)
Maybe people just care less about physical appearance in general as they get older.
These explanations seem to totally miss the point to me. I think the discrepancy Dynomight describes, between how much I want my spouse to be hot and how much my parents want the same thing, is just a special case of a much broader class of differing preferences. A few similar scenarios:
I am eating a lot of candy because it tastes good. My parents tell me “stop eating all that candy, it will rot your teeth”.
I buy a motorcycle because it looks cool. My parents tell me “stop riding that motorcycle everywhere, it will get you killed”.
I have a son, and my spouse dies. Later in life, I date someone who is hot but is a bad partner in other ways. My adult son tells me “I think you should find someone who’s a better match for you, even if they’re less attractive”. (The converse, that my son advises me to date someone hotter but otherwise worse, is pretty hard to imagine.)
These scenarios all have in common that a blood relative of mine advises different behavior than I would pursue on my own, even though our evolutionary incentives should be aligned. The first two scenarios demonstrate that this has little to do with differing evolutionary incentives per se (my parents could hardly have a stronger evolutionary incentive to keep me alive than I have myself), and the third one indicates that it’s not strictly due to differing maturity.
So, what’s going on? I think it’s pretty simple: evolution has given me an adaptation that delivers a direct hedonic reward for performing certain behaviors. This is because that behavior was a good proxy for reproductive fitness in the evolutionary environment: eating sugar, looking cool, and mating with someone hot were almost always good ways to maximize my reproductive success. My relatives, in contrast, receive no hedonic reward when I do these things, and so they advise me against doing them under the assumption that they are not in fact in my long term best interest.
This explanation sort of begs the question. Why didn’t humans adapt to also receive hedonic rewards when our relatives pursue those same fitness proxies? Well, I think it’s a little complicated, but I doubt it has much to do with differing incentives. I think it’s more like this:
Rewarding me for the behavior of my relatives is a much more cognitively demanding adaptation than rewarding me for my own behavior, so it only could have developed much later in evolutionary history.
Such an adaptation is also largely unnecessary, because my relative is already adapted to pursue that behavior.
Such an adaptation is also much less useful, since I have far less control over the behavior of my relatives than I have over my own.
So do your parents have no special preferences regarding your mate selection, beyond those your friends would have? No. Parents clearly are adapted to value the wellbeing of their grandchildren, which makes sense, because they could directly contribute to their grandchildren’s wellbeing in the evolutionary environment.
I believe your parents’ special preference for you to marry someone heavily invested in child rearing is basically downstream of this. If the attractiveness of your mate actually was highly predictive of your children’s wellbeing, your parents would presumably care a great deal about it. This may have been the case in the evolutionary environment, but parents never developed an adaptation to care about their children’s mates’ attractiveness per se, because they had little control over it and their children were already trying to mate with hot people anyways.
Now, I think the above is the dominant factor that explains Dynomight’s paradox, but I think there’s also a more subtle secondary factor, to do with how our reasoning differs when we are acting for ourselves versus when advising others.
Say my brother and I have aligned prospects for a hedonic reward based on his behavior: we both want him to do a cool motorcycle jump. My brother will enjoy completing the stunt, and I will enjoy watching it. However, him performing this stunt is not in fact in either of our best interests—the risk my brother will be injured or die is not worth the reward to either of us.
Even though I am privately hoping he will attempt the stunt, if my brother were to ask me for advice on whether he should go through with it, I think I would hesitate. This is because the very act of giving advice compels me to consider my brother’s best interests. Not only would I be ashamed to give advice that was biased by my own desire to see the stunt performed, I would be ashamed give advice that spoke only to his current desire to perform the stunt, and not what is overall best for him.
So too with my son’s hot partner. Even if I (very creepily) enjoy that my son is dating someone hot, I might not advise him to continue dating them if I think he would ultimately be happier with someone else.
In conclusion, Dynomight’s post was bad and I intend to drum up a twitter hate mob to harass them about it.