Kind of in-between philosophy and psychology.

I am interested in the topic about why it is always "first come, first served" in life. Especially in relationships.

I'll take one anology with respect to food.

Many years ago, mankind had to compete to get food (just as most animals nowadays). Have you guys never seen how pigeons fight to get the piece of bread that's on the ground of the street ? In this sense, they were in a 'first come, first served" state (with respect to food).

My question is do you guys have references of books or articles (or anything else) on why we are in a "first come, first served" state in relationships ?

I actually suffer from the observation that the world of relationships is like that, and would like to know how to cope with this fear.

Many thanks.

Edit: here's an example that illustrate the "first come, first served" principle. Imagine a man meets a woman (or another man, but for the sake of simplicity we'll say it's a woman) at time "T". And they get married. Let's also suppose faithfulness in marriage must hold. Then, the woman can't leave the man (for she is faithful). From the perspective of the man, he was "first come, and first served".

If the man hadn't met the woman at the time T another man could have married her at T'>T (at a time after T).

  • Your analogy is not very good. In nature there are territories shared between predators and for the rest, there exists a kind of symbiotic state. ex. lions first, then smaller animals, then birds, then insects, then bacteria. Dec 2, 2023 at 10:46
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    I believe this question is best suited for the psychology site rather the philosophy one. Dec 2, 2023 at 11:21
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    I do not understand what you mean by relationships being mostly "first come, first served". Surely we have all juggled multiple relationships, putting some on hold or even breaking them off when more interesting ones cross our paths.
    – user69249
    Dec 2, 2023 at 11:25
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    @IoannisPaizis As written, it'd be closed on Psychology & Neuroscience for requesting personal advice. If it's reworked to get rid of "fears" and requests of guidance as to how to cope, it would then also need to show prior research and its relevance to the field of academic psychology's existing models - it may then work there. Else, the OP could try Interpersonal Skills. Dec 2, 2023 at 12:26
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    In both of your examples there is limited resources to be acquired: one piece of bread, or one partner. So of course once this resource has been acquired it's not available anymore. It's like if you were asking why 1 is less than 2.
    – armand
    Dec 5, 2023 at 4:11

3 Answers 3


Going by your definition of "first-come first-served" relationship, I find this "arrangement" as more stable, more predictable with less uncertainty; so it feels more safe for the participants.

  • You could say that it is related to fairness and justice. Relationships are like a contract, and it doesn't work well when one participant just flies off and does something else. Similar to Game Theory with iterated interaction, cooperation benefits everyone more. Without cooperation and an expectation of continuing the relationship, all you can do is take as much as possible in each event. Not very 'relational'.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 2, 2023 at 13:16
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    Sounds like a game-theory picture. But I don't think the premise should be accepted.
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 4, 2023 at 22:03

Relationships aren't entirely "first come, first served", and this also seems to suggest that women just offer themselves to the first man that expresses interest, and that eventually the world will run out of eligible women.

But in reality, you have to be a good-enough match. Many women are single because they haven't found a good match yet, and you may (or may not) be that good match for them. This is also reciprocal: two people like each other enough to want to spend lots of time with one another. It's only practical to agree to a relationship. In as much as "we're running out of eligible women", we're also running out of eligible men (but we aren't, really, and those somewhat cancel each other out).

There's also an emotional commitment, and breaking that tends to be painful for one or both parties involved, and you also learn a lot about someone and whether they're a good fit for you while you're in a relationship. So as long as someone considers their partner to be a good match, it tends to be preferable for them to stay in that relationship, rather than trying to "upgrade" to someone who may be a better match.

The other part of this is that this is just how time works. It wouldn't make much sense to reject your first good-match in favour of the second one, when you haven't met the second one yet (although one can certain deem a match to not be good enough).

There is also a constantly flow of newly-single people, new people/new adults and people who just recently decided to start dating. If you're in a particularly small town, one could temporarily run out of single people at a particular point in time, but that isn't going to happen in any reasonably-sized city.

* For the purposes of this answer, I was focusing on monogamous heterosexual relationships, even though those obviously aren't the only kind of relationships.


So, the class of references you are seeking is game theory applied to relationships. In fact, if you do a search on your favorite search engine with the terms "game theory" and "relationships", you'll be flooded by materials on the topic. One that came up for my search is this link on how to view relationship communication through the lens of game theory.

When a person is in a relationship, they have preferences or values. When we reason about how to maximize that value, especially through the lens of cooperation and competition, we are thinking game theoretically in the mathematical sense. From WP:

Game theory is the study of mathematical models of strategic interactions among rational agents.1 It has applications in many fields of social science, used extensively in economics as well as in logic, systems science and computer science.2 Traditional game theory addressed two-person zero-sum games, in which a participant's gains or losses are exactly balanced by the losses and gains of the other participant. In the 21st century, game theory applies to a wider range of behavioral relations, and it is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, as well as computers.

There is a certain economics to relationships. For instance, would you spend 50 years lonely for 10 years of high quality relationship, or 10 years lonely for 50 years of a poor quality relationship? My experience is that the latter is more common. Thus, there are factors we balance, and when we consider the costs, it gives us an explanation why we often choose as we do.

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