Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pondering Pasta

My friend Kelly and her housemate Maureen invited me over to their new apartment in DC tonight for pasta. And, of course, I started (over)thinking...

(1) Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, I must be paying a non-pecuniary price for the meal. In this case, my first thought is that I barter with my friendship.

(2) But friendship is reciprocal. It wasn't like I was only giving friendship. I was getting it as well. So I am paying friendship and getting friendship and pasta in exchange. If we assume that we value each other's friendship equally, further explanation is needed.

(3) My conclusion: she expects that at some time in the future I will divert roughly the same amount resources to her.

I think this makes a fair amount of sense. If after a couple months she finds that we always eat at here place--on her dime--and she expects it to be that way forever, she would be less inclined to be my friend. Relaxing the assumption above, we might say that the difference between how much each friend contributes to the relationship reflects the relative value of each participant. She might be willing to give a little more than me in the long run if she finds me to be an exceptional friend worth paying a premium for. And if, at the same time, I value her a little less than she values me, a long run difference in contribution is sustainable.

Her expectations, of course, take into account all future transactions. It could be the case that one friend is in a bind for an extended period of time. If she expects to recoup her losses when this time period ends, the friendship will not necessarily end.

It might even be true that friends don't expect immediate repayment when hard times are over. Just knowing that you would do the same if they found themselves in a similar situation could suffice. This treatment presents friendship as a sort of insurance scheme.

My most important observation stemming from this though is that the temporal nature of the transaction observed serves to illustrate the level of trust required for friendships. She does not know how I will act in the future. But she trusts that I will act in accordance with the social norms of friendship.

In other words: Thank you for dinner.

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