This Freakonomics post is very interesting. For very many reasons.
A business exec told me that he thinks of consulting firms a bit like Charlie Sheen thinks about prostitutes. When I asked him to explain, he said that when Sheen was being sentenced for using a prostitute, the judge asked him why a man like him would have to pay for sex. And Sheen reportedly replied: “I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.”Excerpt 2:
But Sheen’s (possibly apocryphal) quotation has me thinking that there may be contexts in which people would pay a premium to avoid a relationship. Some people may at times prefer A.T.M.’s to tellers in part because they don’t want to speak to tellers. Some people may prefer Merry Maids to a regular housekeeper (or may prefer to be absent when the cleaning is done). Or some people may prefer buying at Amazon.com in part because of the lack of human contact.Excerpt 3:
Of course, there are other ways to spin the demand for non-relational contracting. Restricting and regulating our contractual relationships allows us to control and concentrate our limited relationship energy on those people who matter most to us. Surely this is sometimes the case. But conserving our limited relationship energy may backfire. Our capacity to interact with others may atrophy if it goes unused.
I think about the idea expressed in the third excerpt often. I want to put my "relationship energies" in the right place because I get so extremely busy throughout the year. Yet choosing which relationships are "worth the cost" is often hard to tell; for one, because how could we possible know which relationships will end up being meaningful--conserving our energies only to ignore a perfect friend/loved one? And secondly, the unfortunate truth is that we might end up spending too much time/affection/energy on the wrong person and end up being jaded, lonely, and socially inept. I do believe the problem lies in the concept of "relationship energy" itself.
I suspect it is only a myth that relationship energy can run out. It's probably more like conservation of energy: Energy can not be destroyed, just transferred. Hence we ought not avoid certain relationships in favor of others. Or should we? While the concept seems cruel, isn't it something people do every day? We decide who we will spend time with; and those people are often the ones we have deemed "worthy" of our time. Oh, it's so confusing. Since when did time management and relationships get so intertwined? It's unfortunate really.