In “Amazon is killing my sex life: The tech boom in Seattle is bringing in droves of successful, straight single guys — all of them insufferable,” Tricia Romano writes about how she “wasn’t going to be able to get it up for a boring tech dude” and says that “as Amazon grows, the number of (boring) men grows too.” In Palo Alto, men “had money, but they were boring.” Meanwhile, “On the dates, they flash money around.” By now you sense a theme. In Romano’s narrative—which I don’t entirely buy, but let’s roll with it—these guys could make an effectively infinite amount of money and that money in her view wouldn’t improve their dating prospects. They are yuppie losers to a refined writerly sensibility.
Romano doesn’t make an interesting connection to national income inequality. By now much of that argument is well-known, and Piketty’s Capital is one surprisingly famous take, though I am a bleacher skeptic. Still, there is a lot of media noise around income inequality, perhaps in part because media people tend to congregate in very expensive cities like New York and L.A., where making six figures can feel genuinely middle class and where the proximity to the stupendously wealthy invites invidious comparisons.
Nonetheless, Romano’s article should be required reading for anyone who writes about or inveighs against inequality in purely financial terms. In the U.S. there are many different status ladders and finance is only one. For many, like Romano, it’s not even the most important one.
Income is not the only thing that one can choose to optimize and indeed of the guys I know the ones who get or seem to get more / better women tend not to be the richest. Artists or the artistically inclined tend to have lower income but higher-seeming satisfaction. The “seeming” qualifications are important because it’s hard to tell from the outside what someone really feels, but in the absence of better measures I tend to accept what appears on the surface.
Elliott Rodger, the guy who murdered half a dozen people at UCSB, apparently “Led A Life Of Luxury” but still felt like he couldn’t get laid. Clearly there were many things wrong with Rodger, but money did not alleviate those things. He was on the right side of monetary inequality and the wrong side of dating inequality.
I don’t have a major point in this except to note that there is a (media) obsession with income inequality. That obsession tends to gloss other status ladders and other things people value. Some kinds status can also convert into money: certain kinds of fame, for example. Attractive women can earn supernormal wages through stripping or prostitution; I’m not arguing those are desirable life choices but they are viable options for some people and not others. There are still some strength- and endurance-based jobs that guys find within reach—think commercial fishing and fracking.
I’m focusing on sex in this post but that is merely a salient one and there are others, like academia. Romano probably values being a writer more than making a lot of money. In “Taxing a Professor’s Privilege,” Megan McArdle writes about how job guarantees are financially valuable even if that value isn’t traditionally measured in dollars (she also wrote the post that gave this post its title: “The Inequality That Matters“).
If those guys Romano dated imbibed the messages that a) their earnings matter tremendously to women and that b) being at the top of the financial heap matters most, then they’ve presumably misallocated resources. They’d be better off with less time working at Amazon and more time reading Starting Strength and hitting the gym.
Romano’s post doesn’t sit alone. It’s got a similar vibe to “I Got Shipped to California to Date Tech Guys,” which sounds like the beginning of a romantic comedy but is really a jeremiad about what it seems to be about.
To be sure, everyone seems to like to complain about dating, so maybe everyone, everywhere, complains all the time. For most of my life I’ve heard straight women complain about men and straight men complain about women. The specifics of the complaints change but the complaints themselves remain.
Finally, as with so many modern social issues this is tied into building restrictions and real-estate issues, since many guys who are exciting but not rich presumably can’t afford to live in Seattle. Seattle and many other areas (New York, L.A.) could improve both dating prospects and finances through increasing the supply of housing, as Matt Yglesias argues at the link, but they choose not to.