Excerpt from Chapter 1, by Glen Whitman
Bella and Edward. Buffy and Angel. Buffy and Spike. Sookie and Bill. Sookie and Eric. Elena and Stefan. Elena and Damon. It seems you can’t crack a book, flip on the TV, or walk down a dark alley these days without finding a human girl and a vampire boy making googly eyes at each other.
Society has clearly evolved a great deal since the late 1800s, when the romantic relationship between Count Dracula and Lucy Westenra led a small group of fanatics to stake her, behead her, and stuff her mouth with garlic before tracking down Dracula himself. Until recently, romantic relationships between the living and the dead were regarded with sheer horror. But Buffy, Bella, Sookie, and Elena have blazed a trail that many young women are eager to follow. The human-vampire dating scene is taking off.
It’s a competitive environment out there, and a girl who wants a vampire beau can no longer simply wait for a soulless mate to fall in her lap. You have to choose a search strategy that will enhance your odds—not merely of landing a vampire mate, but of landing a good one.
But how much advice can economists possibly offer to those interested in dating the undead? You might be surprised. The economic literature on “marriage markets” offers a great deal of insight on finding, keeping, and even breaking up with undead lovers. In this chapter, I’ll focus on the process of finding a mate; in the next chapter, I’ll consider staying together and breaking up.
As a matter of inclusiveness, I should mention that some vampire girls might want to date human boys (for example, Jessica and Hoyt in True Blood), and other vampires might be interested in same-sex relationships (as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel). I’ll address my advice primarily to human girls seeking vampire boys, because that seems to be the most common case, and it avoids confusion over pronouns. But many of the lessons here apply to any relationship with the undead—and, perhaps, even to more traditional relationships.
Is the dating scene truly a “market”? Yes. All potential mates seek something of value, and they offer what they have in return. In that sense, a relationship is a special kind of exchange. As Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker observed in 1973, the situation is fundamentally competitive, as “Each person tries to find the best mate, subject to the restrictions imposed by market conditions.”1
Not all markets are alike, of course. In the mating market, money is usually not on the table, at least not explicitly.2 Without monetary prices, transactions take the form of barter. Each romantic partner offers his or her own qualities—looks, intelligence, personality, and so on—in exchange for his or her partner’s. In the human-vampire dating market, some other attributes might also be involved; for instance, the human girl may offer a risk-free source of warm blood, while the vampire boy offers superior physical protection. Most importantly, both sides hope to benefit from the trade.
Despite its unusual features, the mating market shares key features with other markets. The most salient of these is competition. In general, more competition on the other side of the market is good for you, because it improves your options and increases your bargaining power. If vampire boys outnumber the human girls on the market, then even an average girl has a chance of snagging a truly sparkly vamp. Moreover, she can command a higher “implicit price” in terms of a potential boyfriend’s behavior. If he’s the kind of vampire who feeds on other girls, or he doesn’t keep that fresh-from-the-crypt odor under control, there are plenty of other vampire boys ready to step in. On the other hand, if the human girls outnumber the vampire boys on the market, then some girls will have to do without. Those who do successfully reel in a vampire mate may have to make greater sacrifices, such as tolerating greater broodiness and nineteenth-century fashion choices.
If this seems hard to believe, consider the effect of the increasing ratio of women to men at American colleges and universities. “On college campuses where there are far more women than men,” writes sociologist Kathleen A. Bogle, “men have all the power to control the intensity of sexual and romantic relationships.”3 This result is dependent, of course, on most of the women being heterosexual. A similar situation has occurred in nursing homes, another environment where women tend to outnumber men.
1. Gary Becker, “A Theory of Marriage, Part I,” Journal of Political Economy 81, no. 4 (1973): 814.
2. For an exception, see Vampire Hookers.
3. Alex Williams, “The New Math on Campus,” New York Times, February 5, 2010, accessed October 18, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/fashion/07campus.html.
4. Karensa Cadenas, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 Crushes the Box Office,” Indiewire.com, November 19, 2012, accessed October 18, 2013, http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/twilight-breaking-dawn-part-2-crushes-the-box-office.