Long Term Short Term Commitments: Which is Better? (Part II: Social, Housing, and Kids)
In the first part of this two part article series, we looked at the horizon of short term versus long term on the aspects of work and life that I think are more closely aligned to work. We discussed education where short term vs long term considerations looked like getting certificates versus getting college degrees. When you get your education and move into the working world, we made the case that short term is really about having that job hopping lifestyle and long term thinking is more about finding a workplace to call home for decades. Trying to grow your investments through directly working them verses a set and forget strategy is the financial aspect of short term versus long term. Now we are delving more into the life side of short term versus long term and we’ll start with social.
Out of all of the topics I’ve discussed in this series of articles I think the options for your long and short term horizon with social interactions is the most interesting. When I say social, I’m really discussing interpersonal relationships, and when I use the word interpersonal I’m really talking about significant others, life partners, or spouses. The short term isn’t as engaging simply because the topic of sex is so prevalent when discussing relationships in the greater media landscape. Also, for me at least, I think it is because, like the topic of children, I’m very clearly targeting a long term horizon. I’ve have over twenty years in with the same person, eighteen of which we have been married. I honestly forgot what it was like to date, and even if I didn’t, the connected dating world of today has little in common with dating in my day.
I have several friends who have taken the short term approach to life partners. They enter into serial relationships which average about a year or less. They complain about their chosen lifestyle but from my vantage point there are some very real benefits. One of them is that they get to enjoy the more stimulating early parts of a relationship again and again. All the firsts are always fun including the first long talks, the first date, the first kiss, and of course first sex. There is also the excitement of the first time meeting the significant other’s family if it gets that far. Sometimes they cohabitate for a short period, sometimes they don’t. When things go south in the relationship they cut and run and start the search again for the next beau if they haven’t already. The short term horizon with dating has a great deal in common with financial investing for the short term in that they both require time and active management to navigate the numerous ups and downs. The people who seem to only be in a relationship for a short period of time tend to get better at hook ups and break ups as well as limiting the down time between relationships. I’m sure the nearly countless number of dating apps helps with keeping time as a single down to a minimum. Today’s apps are so varied you can zero focus on just your type and have four more dating opportunities in an hour.
With folks who choose this route there never seems to be life debilitating depression after a breakup. There is always some sadness, but nothing that will keep them out of the game for months or years. It seems that the emotional connection when we think of a relationship is continuing to go down. I’ve even talked to one friend about giving up the dating lifestyle all together. Their is a school of thought that recomends professionals for meeting sexual needs and same-sex friends for meeting social needs. He figures this will be much more efficient. The negatives I see really have to do with dry spells in between relationships but as I said, after a few years with a short term outlook on a relationship, even this goes down to practically nothing.
The obvious long term perspective on relationships is just that, a long term relationship, usually cemented socially by the construct known as marriage. There are real benefits here when it comes to sharing the risk of life. Shared money, shared housing, and shared child rearing all help people navigate the ups and downs that work and life throw at you more easily. As an example, if one spouse needs to work and have someone watch the kids, the other spouse naturally does it. If you are a single parent with an absentee baby momma or baby daddy (editor’s note, I hate that term but don’t know a good alternative) then you have to figure out child care or it can severely hamper your work or social life. Another benefit is that the social interactions are much more stable. Couples tend to find parity with other couples at the same point in their life. There is also the stability of life. Typically the sharing of risk and effort over time creates a sum that is more empowering than it’s parts. An average couple that spends their life together will usually have a greater net worth than two average individuals who just were in serial relationships. Statistically it’s the same with child rearing outcomes and other aspects of life. The negative as most long term couples will tell you is that routine and life grind will set in. After a period of time you’ll be fantasizing about piña coladas and gettin’ caught in the rain.
I’ve talked mostly about interpersonal relationships but it doesn’t have to be about couples. Sometimes you can go through platonic relationships using the same long and short term philosophy. I find this is almost automatic and can’t be controlled. Our personality quirks define our ability to be the type of person who has friends for life or goes through them quickly. Both of these areas of human connection including platonic friendships and relationships could warrant several other articles, but the bottom line is that the short term perspectives bring more excitement but less stability, long term takes away that excitement but definitely adds a measure of stability that can’t really be accomplished in any other way.
Housing is probably the easiest topic when you consider having both a long-term and a short-term horizon in your thinking. This area equates nicely between rent and home ownership.
I know many people who rent with no intention to ever buy a home of their own. There are parts of the world where rent is just the assumed normal. The benefits for renting are well known and so are the negatives. In the benefits column, it really boils down to flexibility and theoretically, assuming a quality landlord who is responsive, less stress about keeping the property up. I get renting if you’re single and in one of those jobs where you’re bouncing around to different locations every few years or less. There are definitely some companies that like to move people around with regularity. I never quite understood my more stable friends who chose to rent, especially when they live in environments where most people can easily afford to purchase a house, In a recent example, one middle-aged family member who just purchased a nice new car with six years worth of payments, lamented that maybe one day they will own a home. If flexibility and lower stress are the benefits of renting, ever escalating payments is the negative.
The long-term horizon when it comes to housing is simply purchasing a home. Even if you move a few times over the course of your life the average tenure for home ownership is 13 years. Compare this to the 2.5 to 3 years an average person spends in an apartment or rental house. A huge benefit there is you don’t have to go through the process of moving too often in your life. You also don’t have to deal with the transaction cost of renting which usually includes a large chunk of cash you may or may not get back when you move out. Finally there’s also the tax benefits which is one of the last remaining big tax breaks your average individual gets.
All the positives of having a long-term horizon bear out in the numbers. The ratio of households choosing home ownership versus renting is about 70–30. There are definitely some edge cases where renting is preferable, but in housing the longer-term horizon has definitely won out.
When you think of kids, most people don’t really think about having a short-term horizon, but it’s absolutely there. The short-term I think is more interesting than the long-term as it’s not the default way to think about having children in your life. The longer-term horizon is basic and well-known. It’s simply to have children and raise them until they are independent. This is truly long-term as it will take the majority of your life. It’s 18 years legally and probably closer to 20 plus years for each child. If you have multiple kids then you have to look at the child rearing horizon from when the first child is born to when the last child is independent. This could take thirty years or more. As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is one huge benefit to the longer-term commitment to having your own kids. So many people have them it’s an instant way to connect with other adults in your age bracket. As much as various parenting styles can cause disagreement between families whose kids interact, it can also be the root of very strong connections.
Alternatively, I know several people who don’t have children. In one case, a woman I know has an innate love of children and tremendous mothering skills yet she chose a career instead of kids. She says it’s because her husband didn’t want them. I have to admit I’ve always questioned that in the back of my mind. I’ve witnessed first hand how strong a woman’s desire can be to have children. It doesn’t make sense. Regardless of what is going on that I don’t know about, the point is she gets her fix in at work as her job requires her to spend a ton of time around kids. That is one way that you can have kids in your life short-term. There are many jobs where you are exposed to kids with regularity but not committed for the majority of your life. Examples include Teaching, daycare, and even high dollar jobs like pediatrician. If you think about it, how many teachers refer to their students as “my kids”. Another short-term way to parent is to be the auntie or uncle to kids of your siblings. This way your co-parenting something that is a lot like your own kids. I think another way to be more deeply engaged with raising a child, but still have a short-term horizon is foster care. I’ve had personal experience with this and it definitely comes with the ups and downs of raising your own children. Until I really considered this topic, even with my exposure to foster care, I never would have thought about kids as a short-term option. I wish I would have thought about this before I had them. I don’t know if I would have made any different decisions but like it or not, I’m in for the full ride and have about twenty years to go.
It’s really difficult to summarize everything I’ve talked about over these two articles. I think the best conclusion seems to be that short term horizons allow for lots more opportunities for new life experiences but have little real growth in areas that take years to develop. It’s the opposite for choices where the investment is over a much longer horizon. I have come to some conclusions with all this reflection. No matter if your preference is short term or longer term, and no matter what part of your life you are concerned over, your horizon should be an active consideration. With some deep introspection the things that keep you in short term or long term loops in your life can change, or at least most of them can. I’ve also concluded that, except maybe for housing, the pro’s and con’s of the different horizons are pretty well balanced. That’s why most people stay where they are at even though they talk about wanting the other side. What they have is comfortable and they know how to act and react. So I guess my ultimate conclusion is this: When you next run into a challenge or something that makes you unhappy in work or life, take a moment to really reflect on if you are in a short-term or the long-term behavior pattern. It may give you a new perspective and new options to pursue that you haven’t thought about before.
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