Pepsi vs. Coke: The Psychology of Dating vs. Marriage

Back in the 80s, there was a massively successful advertising campaign executed by Pepsi, called the Pepsi Challenge. It was simple: take random people, have them taste-test a few brown carbonated drinks, and have them pick their favorite. Pepsi was overwhelmingly the victor, and it made for a hell of a series of commercials. So much so that it inadvertently spawned New Coke, which was possibly the biggest soft-drink failure of all time.

But while this bit of commercial history has been constructed and deconstructed by Madison Avenue, it took one of our favorite rogue scholars — Malcom Gladwell, in his book Blink — to look at why it happened. Not why Coca-Cola freaked out and overreated, or why Pepsi came up with the taste-test idea in the first place, but why people preferred Pepsi in taste-tests but Coke in 24-packs.

The answer turned out to be that when we experience a small amount of something, we prefer that small amount to be powerful. But when we get more and more of it, that same power quickly becomes overwhelming, and then as we adapt to it, actually gets monotonous. Pepsi is measurably sweeter than Coke, which makes it great for taste-tests — and much less great for drinking an entire can (much less 24-pack) of.

So why are we talking about all this on a blog that purports to be about family law? Because we’d like to talk a bit about dating and marriage — and the parallels are startling.

Who Makes for a Great Date?
Dating is like a taste-test: you get to sample someone, and frequently, we get the most out of a date when the person on the other end is powerful. Not (necessarily!) literally ‘a person with a lot of power,’ but we like it when our dates can bring powerfully alluring elements such as intrigue, novelty, possibly even a hint of danger, and definitely a “skillful self-presentation” to use the words of Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage: A History.

But a Great Date is Not a Great Spouse
Marriage, however, is like a basement full of 24-packs. The qualities that are so exciting when you’re dating are simply not at all the qualities you want in a spouse. Novelty inherently stops being novel after prolonged exposure. Intrigue either melts away as the mysteries are solved, or becomes grounds for a long-term obstacle to trust and communication. Danger is simply not something you want to continuously expose yourself to, especially if you have children to care for.

And perhaps most damningly of all, a strong presentation of self is almost always a selective presentation, because we all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like (or think others don’t like!) and thus hide from our dates. But marriage doesn’t often allow for a terribly selective self-presentation — at some point, you’re going to have to either give up entirely on your dream of catching up on every single episode of Detective Conan/Case Closed or admit to your spouse that you’re a secret anime nerd and hope they can live with it.


If you’ve just found out that your spouse is a Pepsi and you cannot, in fact, live with it, you need a family attorney. Call Gucciardo Family Law at 248-723-5190 — we can help you decouple.

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