Season of breakups
Christmas is often not the most wonderful time of the year for couples.
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If you find yourself unexpectedly single this week, then you are not alone; evidence culled from Facebook status updates finds that the term "We broke up because …" is more popular in the two weeks prior to the Christmas holidays than any other time of the year, reports TIME magazine.
While there are many reasons why relationships end, the timing of the surge in breakups in the pre-Christmas season can be explained by wholly unromantic economic theories that illustrate how we behave when it is difficult to observe the intentions of others.
Imagine we have a couple that is looking forward to the Christmas season. Each person in the relationship knows how committed they are to the relationship, but does not know if their lover is fully committed; only the individual themselves has that information.
Relationships require an investment of time and energy and so each would like to know with certainty if the relationship is going to last before investing too much. As a rule, we only give our hearts to those who we feel are likely to reciprocate.
The two people in our imaginary couple might tell each other they are in love, but words are cheap. In order to feel truly secure in the relationship, each will look for indications of the other's devotion; they expect their partner to send costly signals that they are committed.
The Christmas holidays are replete with opportunities to signal how committed we are to our relationships. If many couples are breaking up this week, the most likely explanation is that they are either finding themselves unwilling to pay the cost of sending the appropriate signals or they are not receiving the signals they would expect from a partner who really cared about their relationship.
Take, for example, gift giving. Christmas gives us the opportunity to buy gifts that demonstrate how invested we are in meeting our partner's needs.
A person who is fully committed to his or her relationship probably already knows what those needs are and so can find a perfect gift fairly easily.
A person who is less committed to the relationship, however, will find looking for the perfect gift less of a pleasure and more of an unwelcome chore.