Do we use our heart, our genitals, or our brains in mate selection? We idolize romantic love
Clearly we humans have some major problems selecting a mate (see Dreyfus, 1994). For one thing, in America since about 1800 (before that many marriages were arranged) romantic love has been idolized more and more. We expect to "fall in love:" our hearts should instantly throb, our thoughts constantly dwell on the lover, and our sexual organs continuously moisten. Many of us hunger for this kind of intense, consuming love, even if it isn't our nature to be wildly romantic. We believe that some magical day it will happen: we'll "meet and instantly recognize the right person" and "live happily ever after" until "death do us part!" How do these notions from movies and novels fit with reality? Poorly! It takes weeks or months, maybe years, to get to know another person and to find out how the two of you will get along. We can hardly do both--be madly in love and objectively assess our future with the partner--at the same time. So, this is another paradox. Is there a solution? Maybe not.
Few of us would want a marriage arranged by relatives, a dating service, or a computer, although these approaches are worth researching. Perhaps, in some situations, some of us can be cautious, rational, and able to avoid getting prematurely infatuated. But half of us or more are "head-over-heals" before we know much about the person; our heart (and/or genitals) has overwhelmed our brain. Tragically, this highly romantic person often lacks the will or self-confidence to withdraw from the relationship if problems appear. In this case, this wonderful phenomenon called love (maybe mixed with fear, shame, and dependency) has lead us into serious trouble. This is the basis for the often repeated advice to lovers: "date for a while," "get to know each other," "don't jump into anything," "live together for a while," etc.
Another important point: the belief that intense romance is necessary for a marriage causes many people to overlook or discount the romantic possibilities with good friends for whom they do not have a wild sexual craving. With a close friend, you know you have common interests and similar views, you trust and understand each other, you care about and like each other. These are good characteristics for a lover too. The sexual attraction may have been suppressed (or isn't there), much like with a brother or sister, in order to preserve the friendship. It is possible that a good friend is an excellent choice for a lover. In 75-80% of good marriages the spouse is the best friend. But it is also possible that a friend is a bad choice, primarily because getting romantic and sexual with a good friend could end a valued friendship. So, do not try to convert a friend into a lover without careful consideration: Are both of you interested? Explore why you have been just friends--there may be good, continuing reasons for remaining just good friends. Explore the reasons for considering romanticizing the friendship now--is one of you temporarily feeling lonely or rejected or vulnerable or low in self-esteem? Don't act rashly. If you decide to try becoming more romantic, go slow to protect the friendship (this is hard to do if one person becomes deeply involved and is rejected).
Mate selection is a difficult task for many reasons: each person may pretend to be something he/she isn't, each may honestly describe him/herself but change later on, each may change his/her mind about what he/she wants and on and on. Let's consider the selection process further. It might seem, from what has been said thus far, that being a slow starter (a friend long before becoming a romantic lover) would be an advantage. The friends could objectively get to know each other. That sounds reasonable but recent research has suggested that persons who have stronger needs for emotional intimacy and who have already been in love (with someone else) are more likely to be warm, caring, sincere, appreciative, loving, and happy (McAdams & Vaillant, 1982). Perhaps such people would fall in love rather quickly and become very desirable partners.
Conventional wisdom has it, however, that marriages based on romantic "love at first sight" don't last, but there is no clear data for or against this dire prediction. There are many couples who fell in love instantly and it lasted forever. On the other hand, most of us have known immature people who impulsively become infatuated, getting into trouble repeatedly. (And we all know the opposite: wonderful people who avoid fast intimacy.) In short, the advantages and disadvantages of quickly getting emotionally involved are complex and not yet well researched. Perhaps, the pros and cons of instant infatuation doesn't matter much because you may not be able to change that basic part of your personality anyway. (You can learn to rationally control it to some extent, however.)
Regardless of whether we get into love quickly or slowly, once we are intensely involved with the other person, from that point on, while we may continue to experience ups and downs in this relationship, the issue becomes condensed into a simple question of staying or leaving: Will I stick with this person (and make the best of it) or leave and lose him/her forever? Thus, we often stay with a person even though we are unhappy and fear there will be serious problems. We have limited experience with other partners and, thus, can not be assured of a better option. We become stifled by our own indecision and dependency or fears or possessiveness. Love is powerful, especially when threatened; it isn't something we can turn on and off (while we try out another relationship). Maybe some of us can't make objective decisions while in love, but I don't believe that is entirely true. We can't eliminate all the craziness of love, but we can learn to be much more realistic by recognizing our denial and our needs (and by listening to others' opinions).
Sternberg and Barnes (1988) illustrate some mis conceptions common among persons looking for a mate: "We've lived together--so, no problems," "Other couples have different religions, it won't be an issue with us," "We both come from close families, so we'll get along well," "He/she really enjoys sex, so it will be great," "I'll build his/her self-esteem by always praising him/her," "If we love each other that's all that matters," "I wish he/she loved me more, but that is the way men/women are," "I'm sure he/she will stop drinking/smoking/gambling/loafing/driving dangerously...after we are married," etc., etc. The human capacity to deny and self-deceive is truly amazing. Be on guard.
We need to use our brain a lot more (without taking our heart or genitals out of the loop); we need to know a lot more about love, the different kinds of love, what kind of lovers we are, and many other things.
Some theorists see the selection and staying with a partner as a kind of trade-off or exchange based on (1) rewards received, (2) sacrifices made, and (3) a belief that the benefits from this relationship are better than each partner has been accustomed to or could get from another partner (Huston & Cate, 1979). What are the goods in this trade? Things like physical attractiveness, a nice personality, wealth or a good income, social status (e.g. a cheerleader or a "star" player), being fun to be with, a sexy build, a sense of humor, and many other traits. In general, we display our good points for which we try to get as much in return as possible. Thus, we may try to get as good looking a partner as we can, based on our looks plus our money, personality, or loyalty. It is common to see wealthy men with beautiful women. It is a trade-off. No doubt this kind of bargaining occurs at first, but if the love matures, one focuses more on giving (and enjoying doing so) than on receiving. Also, people in good relationships find things to do together that both enjoy, that reward both.
Being aware of the exchange theory may help you avoid some pitfalls. First, you can realize that thinking in these terms may encourage phoniness. You may try to impress someone but being deceptive is likely, in the long run, to hurt the relationship and may hurt your own self-esteem (Maier, p. 202, 1984). If the other person is deceptive, you can be hurt. The classic example is when the male professes to love the female as a means of getting sex. The woman later realizes the truth and feels used. Second, as we just discussed, some people, called romantics, are strongly dominated by a strong love response, but there are others, called non-romantics, who are not. Romantics go with their feelings; they don't even think of leaving the person they love. Certain types of non-romantics may not feel strong love; they may simply value economic, appearance, or social factors more than love, so if a better looking or higher status person comes along, they leave the relationship. Such "bargain-hunting" non-romantics mystify romantics and scare the hell out of them. In truth, romantics probably can't avoid occasionally getting hurt, partly because they forget that they could find another wonderful lover (or be happy alone or with friends). Romantics can learn to fully enjoy the gush of thrilling and happy emotions, while accepting reality and the risk of being dumped sometimes.
Romantics may need to seek other kinds of lovers. They could try a different approach and seek good, lasting friendships with women/men that do not trigger their infatuation reflex. As discussed above, good friends can become good lovers. Unfortunately, it is not possible to instantly recognize what type of lover another person is, but by knowing that several types exist (see below) we should become a better judge of people. We can surely learn to select our lovers more wisely. See Sills (1987), Coleman (1972) and Cowan and Kinder (1985).
If I... have not love, I am nothing... I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
-1 Corinthians 13
Love and infatuation; Love and dependency
According to Tennov (1978), infatuation is unfulfilled desire, i.e. your infatuation fades away if the person unconditionally and fully returns your love. It is the hard-to-get person that really turns you on. If they spurn you completely, however, you are crushed. It's a delicate situation. In addition, there are other problems with being "head-over-heels" in love. First, the infatuated person exaggerates the loved one's good traits and ignores the bad ones. It seems as though this is the only person who could satisfy his/her needs. One is infatuated with a fantasy, not the real person. Second, infatuation involves many of the same sensations and experiences as love--preoccupation with the loved one, strong attraction, an aching heart, butterflies in the stomach, restless sleep, etc. Not surprisingly, infatuation is likely to be interpreted as "true love" by inexperienced persons even though they do not know much about the lover and their needs are not being met. It is important to mentally realize (contrary to what you feel ) that being infatuated with someone tells you very little about your compatibility with that person. How can one tell if it is true love or infatuation? There is no sure method. Tennov suggests it takes time and honest sharing of feelings in a variety of situations to know love. Eventually, you discover that besides yearning to touch them, you genuinely like, enjoy, and respect each other as friends (if it is love and not just infatuation).
Peele and Brodsky (1976) liken love to an addiction. If you feel someone is necessary to make your life bearable, you are addicted to that person. As they say, "The ever-present danger of withdrawal creates an ever-present craving." Certainly the thought of losing our loved one would traumatize many of us. What is the difference between healthy love and addictive love? Consider your answers to these questions: Is each person his/her own person, i.e. equal and independent? Are both improved by the relationship? Is one dedicated to serving, improving, or "saving" the other? Do both have outside interests, including other friendships? Do they foster or resent the other's growth? Are the lovers also good friends? Refer to the discussion of codependency in chapter 8. And, see Bireda (1992) and Forward & Buck (1990) for advice about obsessive love.
As there are as many minds as there are heads, so there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.
-Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Beliefs about Love
There is limited research and very little truly usable knowledge about love. However, there are many beliefs--often contradictory or paradoxical--about love. Examples:
- Love grows after marriage--or--Love leaves after the marriage ceremony.
- People in love are crazy--or--A wise person marries for love.
- You know within minutes or hours if you can love a person--or--Love may develop after you have known each other for months or years.
- Love solves most of life's problems; it's the way to find happiness--or--You can't live with a man/women and you can't live without them.
- Love is nature's trick to insure the species--or--Love and sex are two different things.
- Love is the only thing needed for a good marriage; love conquers all--or--Constant work and many coping skills are needed to maintain a marriage.
- Love is blind; it is an addiction--or--Marriages are made in heaven.
- People in love shouldn't have sex until they are married--or--Sex is the most intense and noble expression of love.
- Love blots out all other interest in other people--or--You can love two people at the same time.
- Love is just between a man and a women--or--Love between two women or two men is exactly the same as between straights.
Sometimes both of these different statements are true. Often both of the "beliefs" are questionable. Yet, they may play a role in our thinking about love. Skepticism about any "saying" is usually healthy; we know very little for sure about love. Borcherdt (1996) tries to help us be rational about love.
I will briefly review for you a sampling of the additional research available. Some of the findings may be of little more value than the contradictory "wise sayings" above, but what other knowledge is available? There are interesting classifications for types of lovers (Goldstine, et al., 1977) and for types of loves (Fromm, 1956; Lasswell & Lobsenz, 1980; Brehm, 1985). Being aware of these types may help you recognize some aspects of your own love relationships.
Kinds of lovers
There are many kinds of lovers. Love is expressed and felt in many ways. Falling in love can be frightening, as we become vulnerable. It can also be ego-boosting, reassuring (that we are OK), and fun. So, courtship becomes a complex combination of approaches and avoidances, of come ons and defenses. The specific ways we protect ourselves often determines what kind of lover we are. A prime example is the dance-away lover (Goldstine, et al., 1977) who is an expert at wooing but fears permanence so he/she fades away after a few months. This lover, although initially successful, assumes the relationship will fail and he/she will be rejected in due time.
The anxious ingenue or beginner is also so insecure he/she rushes into romances without honestly evaluating the partner. Later, when the relationship settles down, he/she begins to see the mistakes he/she has made. The disarmer is warm and understanding, he/she tries to protect the lover from all stress and pain, often denying his/her own rights and emotional needs in order to please the lover. This self-sacrifice may get tiresome in time. The provider is more action than words, more tactile than verbal. Because of underlying insecurity, he/she takes care of the loved one, provides well, and thinks this is the way to show love. When the partner says, "you never tell me you love me," he/she is taken aback. The prize winner seems to do everything right. He/she is "the best," doing well at work, a great lover, and a good parent. However, the self-confidence and emotional security may gradually change into a callousness towards the spouse.
The fragile lover is so scared of life's problems he/she feels helpless and seeks a partner whom he/she can depend on, who will protect him/her. Since the fragile one feels unworthy of attention with minor concerns, he/she develops big problems and "falls apart" repeatedly for attention. Such helpless dependency creates serious problems in the relationship (chapters 6 & 8). Like the fragile lover, the victim suffers much trouble but the purpose is to arouse guilt in the partner. Each problem is a statement blaming someone, e.g. "I'm unhappy because you don't care." Few partners will tolerate that for long.
The pleaser is different--he/she lives to please others and asks for nothing in return (seemingly). This may originate in a fear of failure or in needs to be a martyr. Eventually the pleaser may get tired of being taken for granted and try to change the "rules of the game." The ragabash is a rebel and wants to be different, different from his/her parents and ordinary people. He/she doesn't like to lose or win; he/she frequently runs away from trouble and does poorly at work. In relationships, which are often plagued with financial problems, he/she avoids dealing with problems and may seek another partner.
The tough-fragile appears strong, assertive, confident, and adventuresome on the outside. Inside he/she is self-doubting and needs an even stronger partner for support (but this capable partner threatens his/her self-esteem). Such a person is hard to live with; they act like they need no one; if support is given, it is resented. The tough-fragile inexplicably shifts from being a warm, delightful companion to being an angry, demanding, critical, competitive, and temperamental partner. Therefore, the tough-fragile's lover may "walk on eggs" and anxiously try to please, but this weak knuckling under only results in disdain and hostility. There is no way to win with a tough-fragile unless he/she learns to recognize his/her own internal fears and controls the anger.
Every man carries in himself the germs of every human quality and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man becomes unlike himself while still remaining the same man.
From the above descriptions it is obvious that most of these lovers change as the romance develops. Also, these descriptions are very "clinical," many of these lovers are surely destined for Goldstine's and Zucherman's couch. It would be a mistake to assume that all of us as lovers have such serious problems, but it would be wise to look for some of these tendencies in each of us. Each lover has his/her "favorite" emotion--anger, helplessness, blame, etc.--and emotions he/she carefully avoids. Each of us might be better off if we controlled certain emotions, usually our dominant feeling, and expressed other emotions more, usually feelings we avoid.
Which lovers get along best? The provider-disarmer combination may have the best chance of surviving in a marriage but that is the traditional marriage. More progressive families are often pleaser-tough-fragile combinations. To last, this type of couple has to learn how to handle the underlying emotions, e.g. realize "someday the pleaser expects to cash in on all the points he has earned" and "the tough-fragile isn't as mad as she is insecure." Goldstine, et al., believe a successful marriage is the result of awareness and hard work, not chemistry.
A simpler classification system is: (1) Secure lover--comfortable, trusting, doesn't worry about being hurt, (2) Anxious lover--wants closeness but others seem to hold back, "I'm afraid I'll care more for them than they care for me," (3) Avoidant lover--"I don't need a lot of closeness," "I'm independent and don't want to depend on others or have them depending on me." Which one best describes you? It is thought that your style of loving depends on your very early relationships with your opposite sexed parent. A warm, attentive parent produces a secure lover; an aloof, rejecting parent leads to avoidance; an ambivalent (hot and cold) parent makes us anxious. Almost 50% of us are secure and we make the best mates. Avoidant lovers select anxious lovers, and, actually, an avoidant man and an anxious women often have a stable relationship. One value of this classification is that it reminds you that relationship problems have a history. Another value is that some of these traits of lovers are related to marital satisfaction 2 or 3 years later. Examples: disengaged (quiet) persons have rocky marriages but lovers who are expressively outspoken about conflicts while dating have the more satisfying marriages.