Woman works out formula for the true cost of falling in love

Haley set out to discover the true cost of love (Picture: Thea Courtney)

Four years ago, Haley McGee had an awkward conversation with her credit card company.

‘I needed to show them I was doing things to actively pay back my debt,’ says Haley, an actress and podcaster from Canada who lives in London, ‘at which point I blurted out: “I’m going to have a yard sale!” It soon dawned on me that the sellable items were gifts from exes, and pricing those was trickier than expected.’

As she looked at the different objects, she wondered how the price might be affected by the relationship so enlisted the help of a mathematician to create a formula. That journey evolved into a one-woman show and now a book that lies somewhere between a memoir and maths tome.

In The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, all the numbers relate to sex, romance and heartbreak as Haley sets out to find the formula for the cost of love.

‘It looks at all the ways I’ve paid for love and all the ways I’ve benefited from it too, so hopefully it will resonate with people like me who don’t really get off on pure mathematics alone,’ remarks Haley, 35.

‘People have said, “Oh Haley, it’s so unromantic trying to quantify love. Why would you want to put a number on these things?” but we talk about our relationships in monetary terms all the time. We say, “I invested so much”, “I don’t know whether it’s worth it”, “I don’t know whether it will pay off”, so we’re constantly doing these cost-benefit analyses.’

Haley is author of The Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale (Picture: Thea Courtney)

To pull it together, Haley explored the monetary and emotional cost of eight of her relationships. To save any blushes, these exes go by the names of their gifts, from her first love, Mix Tape, at 17 to her last relationship with T-shirt at 30, via Necklace, Ukulele, Bicycle, Typewriter, Backpack and Jewellery Box.

Opening the Pandora’s box of failed relationships might sound like the stuff of nightmares but Haley found it a cathartic and eye-opening experience.

‘You live with a memory and you tell yourself a story, and that story gets solidified in your mind,’ she says. ‘I hadn’t considered the other person doing the same.

‘There was one ex who told me he could feel I was going to break up with him so began to physically withdraw. I’d presumed he wasn’t attracted to me any more and I held that story for almost a decade. It was such a gift to be told that wasn’t the case — that he was attracted to me.’

It’s one of the many times she has paid a price in a relationship, one of which is the time, as a teenager, when she first told someone she loved them and he hesitated.

The final draft formula

‘Lining up my exes I realised that, since then, I’ve never been the first one to say “I love you” and that’s something that’s cost me a lot of time,’ she says.

It’s these realisations that proved more illuminating than the formula itself, a bamboozling mix of 87 variables broken down into different sections that serve as mathematical functions, such as monetary value, narrative impact, relationship index and time invested.

‘I do get a mathematical answer but it feels limited and hollow,’ she admits. ‘It’s a bit like being single and feeling I need to find someone, and then you do and think, “Well, you’re just a flawed human being like everyone else.” It’s why at the end of the book it was important to show how the cost of love recalibrates my own self-worth.’

The cover of Haley’s book

Haley also examines the intersection of love, money, sex and relationships in her podcast, The Cost Of Love.

‘I hope the conversation helps people who are in a relationship they are not enjoying or single and having a hard time of it to realise it doesn’t mean you have nothing or you’re at zero,’ she says. ‘There is value in things that don’t work out and also in moving on.’

Haley’s tips on a good breakup

  • Remember that everything you want lies on the other side of an uncomfortable 15-minute conversation.
  • Don’t attack, blame or list faults.
  • Thank them for the good stuff they gave you.
  • Agree to a period of no contact and keep your word.
  • Understand that you can’t control another person’s reaction and that they’re entitled to their reaction.
  • Make a list of reasons why you split and when you feel lonely, look at it to remind yourself.
  • Consider what the relationship taught you about yourself and what you want. Also think about how you were complicit in creating something that wasn’t satisfying and how you can integrate that moving forward.
  • Don’t dovetail one relationship into the next.

The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is out now

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing

MORE : What to do if you’re nervous about having sex again after lockdown

MORE : From reconnecting with exes to breakups, here’s how lockdown has affected love

MORE : The Sex Column: ‘Should I tell my date about how nervous I am?’

How to get your Metro newspaper fix

Metro newspaper is still available for you to pick up every weekday morning or you can download our app for all your favourite news, features, puzzles… and the exclusive evening edition!

Download the Metro newspaper app for free on App Store and Google Play


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more