Several years ago, I noted to a colleague that the Law of the Real Boss (Secret Rule of Career Success #1!) has some interesting implications for one’s love life. I’ve been getting some questions and comments recently, so it seems like a good time to describe how that can work.
Caveat here: the world of love and relationships is a complex one. The reason to pay attention to the Law of the Real Boss is that it is completely ignored most of the time when think of mating and marriage. It’s not the end of all discussions. It simply adds something that has been missing.
Let’s take a look at how this happens for 21st century romances.
The Problem of Divergence Over Time
According to the various parts of the Law of the Real Boss (“LoRB”), people have different levels of handling uncertainty. This capacity for handling uncertainty is correlated with the level of uncertainty (or length of it) in work. Different people can do different levels of work.
(If you’re new here, you may want to read some of the archives to catch up.)
This statement produces some controversy but it’s very well supported in the research.
A corollary of this is that most people tend to grow according to certain trajectory bands. This is about a trajectory rather than a growth rate. Some people are on higher trajectory, as if they were shot out into the growth world from a cannon at a steeper angle. People may be able to transcend their trajectory, but the vast majority of us don’t: once we get into our 20s, our growth in handling uncertainty at work is pretty predictable.
So people have different growth trajectories, as if they were shot from canons at different angles or with different initial force. Everyone starts off at ground level, so to speak, but then have different angles up.
Imagine that you are an archer shooting different arrows to a distant and extremely high cliff. If you angle your bow level with the ground, the arrow will naturally tend to fall over its flight and hit the cliff a bit lower than your bow. If you angle the bow up slightly, the arrow may land at the same height on the cliff as your bow was where you shot it. And if you angle the bow up very high, and shoot with great force, your arrow may never reach the point where gravity pulls it down, and it hits the cliff high up.
Y’all’s problem is that you were shot from the bow with a lot of force and with the it pointing almost to the sky. Your growth trajectory is very high. This means that as time goes on, you continue to go up and up, handling every more complexity while most of us start falling towards the ground from our “peak”.
Why Your Trajectory Matters
As you continue to grow at a high rate, everyone else around you at your age levels off. You continue to grow away from us. We don’t change: you do.
Now imagine that you started a relationship with someone when you were very young. You were both in the same level back then, but you had different growth trajectories. The difference at the young age isn’t so much. The difference at 25 becomes a full level. At 45 it may be two or more. That’s a big difference in how you see the world. You see the world as more complex, more uncertain, with more to worry about. Your partner doesn’t.
Now imagine a case like that of the 19-year-old Newt Gingrich who married a woman several years his senior who had been his high school math teacher. (Yes, I find this creepy.) Gingrich, whether you love him or hate him, has a very steep growth trajectory: the guy is a very complex mind. As time went on, the marriage to this woman grew rockier because they really were “growing apart”. He was continuing to grow, but she was slowing down.
This isn’t an excuse for Gingrich to have abandoned his commitments to his first wife. I’m simply pointing out that the difference in their trajectories made it hard for them to keep their relationship going. It was going to take a whole lot more work than a relationship between two people on the same trajectory.
Finding Someone In Your Trajectory: The Problem of the Selection Pool
Y’all are people in the higher trajectories. Unfortunately, this also means that there are few people in those trajectories. If you want to marry someone who will have a similar growth pattern over time, you have a lot fewer people to choose from. There just aren’t that many options as there are for people on normal growth trajectories.
Special Problem of Women: Men Marry Stupid
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something that works against women who are on steeper trajectories: Men tend to marry women who are not as smart as they are. I’m not entirely sure why this is dominance seems too simple, but maybe that’s all there is — but it does seem to hold. Men marry younger women partly for reproductive reasons, but also because younger people are dumber than you are.
If you are one of the extremely attractive people, this isn’t that much of a problem. It still plays a part, and you will still find it difficult to find someone in your trajectory. But you will be given options others don’t get.
And let’s not even try to find someone who is similar and to whom you are attracted. This is just finding someone in your trajectory who doesn’t want to marry stupid.
Of course, men who marry stupid don’t get off the hook. They start having the problem that Gingrich had. It’s really exhausting to keep on having to shift down to Level 1 when you want to think at Level 4.
The solution seems to be that men marry women who are 5 years younger but in their trajectory. That way they grow at the same rates over time, but the man is always “smarter” than his wife because she is a few years down the curve from where he is. Not advocating, just pointing out what I see.
(Things may or may not play out differently for homosexual relationships.)
I feel bad for heterosexual women who are on these high growth curves. If women in contemporary America have a hard time “settling” for a man who isn’t perfect, these women have to settle even harder since there just aren’t that many good candidates (read: in their trajectory) for them to choose from. I’ve been wondering if that was the compounding issue for that single-mother who recently wrote the “Don’t Wait For Mr. Perfect” article for The Atlantic.
What To Do
There are several suggestions for people, and I can tell you that they are met every time with complete disgust. “Why should I have to do [thing Forrest recommends] when [friends’ names] don’t have to?”
Because you are different. It really is you. It’s not your personality but your trajectory. You can develop a drug habit, or try to damage your brain (both effective at reducing capacity) but otherwise you’re stuck. You’ve been given a mighty gift but it often seems like naught but a curse. Almost no one describes this dynamic because y’all only make up a small percentage of the total population.
Like I said, relationships are hard enough without this added weirdness. Add it in and it can really tip the scales into loneliness, whether because you never have a permanent relationship or because you have to live in a relationship where you are not really understood or “seen”.
Sometimes it’s a curse to be the killer app.
Image credit: “Men of Fort Story operate an azimuth instrument, to measure the angle of splash in sea-target practice”. 1942. Via Library of Congress. (reversed)