Choosing a Mate

By | May 29, 2007

(Note: my writing here has to do with my wrestling with what the reality of matter seems to be, not what I might think is an ideal.)

A while back I was wondering how people choose who they want to marry. This may seem obvious, and of course there are the people who say, “You’ll just know,” but I’m not sure it’s so straight forward. I think in part that the ideas you have about marriage and who you want to marry go into “knowing” when you come to that point.

I think perhaps the biggest factor affecting who you might want to marry is tied to the answer of the question, why get married? It’s my understanding that marriage was more of a practical necessity in the past. Due in part to less technology and affluence, it generally took a whole family to be able to provide for the needs of life. Also, culturally, it seems that there were fewer opportunities for single women especially.

Now days it is not too hard to live quite comfortably by oneself. If you have a decent job at all, you can purchase many of the services that previously may have been provided by other family members. Even sex has been removed from its attachment to marriage.

So, what do you get by being married that you can’t get otherwise? Well, a commitment (though that too has been weakened in our society). Perhaps not a lot else though. (True, in christianity people are supposed to wait until marriage to have sex, but many don’t and the social consequences of such action seem to be minimal.)

So, why get married? Well, really the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is because you want to. If you happen to connect with someone you enjoy being with, and they feel the same, then go ahead and get married. In other words, there aren’t real practical reasons for getting married. It seems that it’s primarily just a matter of boosting one’s quality of life.

Considering this, it is easy for me to understand some of the trends which some conservatives complain about. For example of the fact that people are waiting longer on average to get married and that the divorce rate has increased overall. The other reason I can see for getting married is that it is a good context for having and raising children. This may explain why more people get married in their thirties, and some people no doubt avoid divorce because of kids.

So this being the case, the criteria for choosing a potential spouse have more to do with feelings than with a rational assessment of a person’s character for example. I don’t think this is really a good thing, but in our cultural context, I don’t see much of a way around it. This is why it’s all about the feeling of being in love. That feeling isn’t bad in my opinion, but perhaps problematic when given too much weight.

The reason I’ve thought about all of this is in order to try and better understand attraction. I’ve decided that attraction is a complicated assortment of different elements, mixed together into something like a soup, chili or gumbo. In order for it to come out right, you have to have the right amount of each ingredient. It takes the talent of a chef to make it well.

Attraction comes from a mix of personality, physical attraction, style, context, thoughts, beliefs, desires, timing, pheromones, etc. Basically it’s a complex mix of influences, many of which we aren’t even consciously aware of. But I think that it is experienced in a large way as being “turned on”. This is why relationships often seem so complicated.

The problem with attraction is that it is something which can be quite difficult to manage. It’s difficult to create that feeling in yourself by will power, and can be even harder to turn off once it’s begun. It can also be difficult to try and create the feeling in someone else. Also, it isn’t necessarily the best criterion for choosing a potential mate. We often end up being attracted to people who may not be the best choices, for us at least.

In summary, feelings seem to be the main reason for getting married, and therefore attraction is the main criterion for choosing a mate. This probably isn’t ideal, because attraction doesn’t necessarily choose the best mates. However I’m not sure I see a way around it, because being aware of this doesn’t change the way you feel. Even if you decide not to base a relationship on the feeling of being in love, you probably would want to have it anyway, and it’s almost certain that you’re significant other would want to feel that way.

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