These approaches to mate selection are associated with important economic aspects of the family. We will discuss some of these trends later in this book. For now, we note that the family in traditional societies played an important economic role (Frederick and Dunbar 2019; Sweet 2014). The family in these societies was an economic producer, and children would be taught the family’s business, making them productive members of the community. Additionally, arranged marriages would benefit both families as they would be joined via the new marriage. In the maintenance of the family and community, arranged marriages played an economic, not emotional, role.
In this postmodern world, the modernization process has challenged the tradition of parent-arranged marriages. Rapid advancements in technology have driven profound changes in the workplace, which resulted in a transformation in the family (Frederick and Dunbar 2019; Lee 1998). This transformation of economics and the family is referred to as industrialization. As a result of industrialization, families have been transformed from centers of economic production to centers of consumption. More time away from the family and going to work has allowed for individuals to maximize personal choice and benefit. As societies increasingly value individual freedom, mate selection becomes a personal choice instead of a parental one. A by-product of accepting these modern trends has been the gradual erosion of parent- arranged marriages and the emergence of romantic love as the basis for marriage.
Young people in traditional societies are increasingly exposed to a Western view of romantic love through the mass media. Many of these youth are quite familiar with American and Western European movies, popular music, and magazines that glorify romantic love. When youth in traditional societies begin to embrace the concept of romantic love, they do not immediately challenge the time-honored mate-selection procedure, but on an unconscious level these new ideas begin to undermine the old ways. Acceptance of these new ideas occurs in a sequential order: (1) two people should be romantically in love before they marry; (2) only the two people directly involved can determine if romantic love is present in their relationship; and (3) romantic love is most effectively cultivated within a social environment where unmarried youth can become acquainted with members of the opposite sex through dating.
In response to these modern notions of mate selection, parents may be willing to consider the opinion of their children and even seek their approval of a selected mate. They may even allow a courtship time for the young people to become acquainted and fall in love. However, most often these young people gradually assert themselves regarding their future mate and demand a say in the matter. This changes the entire process. The Western value that compatibility of personality should be a factor in mate selection is adopted. Thus, unmarried youth want the freedom to become acquainted with potential partners for the purpose of determining whether they are in love and compatible. It is at this stage that dating enters the picture. Dating is often a major point of contention between parents and children because it signals
that control of the mate-selection process is passing from the hands of the parents to the hands of the unmarried youth. When two unmarried young people believe that they are in love and want to marry, the parental arrangement will be only a formality. In time, perhaps over several generations in traditional cultures, the formality of parent-arranged marriages will most likely cease to exist.
Mate Selection and the Role of Romantic Love As we transition to discussing mate selection in postmodern cultures, we will focus on mate selection as a prerogative of the two people directly involved. In our postmodern era, many people believe finding a mate is primarily about personal attraction and romantic love. The popular internet matchmaking business also emphasizes personality compatibility as a major factor, so taking personality tests, indicating preferences, writing autobiographies, and viewing photographs are all part of the mate-finding process.
Although some would argue that romantic love is not unique to Western cultures, the concept of romantic love is generally thought to have had its beginnings in European societies during the eleventh century, when “courtly love” became fashionable among the privileged class. Courtly love usually involved a romantic relationship between a married aristocratic lady and an unmarried knight or troubadour. The concept of courtly love introduced the element of affection into male/female relationships. Affection was uncommon in most marriages of the day because they were primarily economic arrangements. By the sixteenth century, courtly love had changed to include sexual involvement between the lady of nobility and her paramour. The emerging middle class of European society during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came to value romantic love yet held to faithfulness as a value in marriage. This dilemma was solved when the love object changed from a married person to a single person. Thus, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, parent-arranged marriage and romantic love existed side by side. By the twentieth century, it became proper and somewhat of a formality for a man to ask for parental permission to marry the daughter.
Romantic love and erotic love are very similar. We can understand their relationship in three ways. First are feelings of longing for the other person and the desire to be sexually and psychologically intimate; second, the
beloved is idealized and regarded as necessary for one’s happiness; and finally, preoccupation with the relationship results in an overestimation of the other person.
In fact, romantic love leads to rather dramatic changes in one’s character. Studies suggest that an area of the brain known as the caudate is associated with romantic passion. Neuroscientists have produced brain images of this fevered activity prior to long-term commitment. Brain imaging reveals that pictures or thoughts of the object of one’s desire are the only things that can “light up” certain areas of the brain. Based on these findings, Helen Fisher and her colleagues (2002) suggest that what we call romantic love develops over three sequential stages, beginning with lust (sexual drive), then attraction, and finally emotional attachment. Such “falling in love” is a romantic attachment that differs from one’s relationship with family or friends and changes one physiologically as the body increases the production of hormones and chemical substances known as peptides, vasopressin, and oxytocin (Fisher et al. 2002). Romantic love is similar to drives such as hunger, thirst, or drug craving rather than to emotional states such as excitement or affection. During this intense time, emotions may shift from euphoria to anger to anxiety and become even more intense when love is withdrawn or one is rejected. As a relationship deepens, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters to long-term attachment.
Some have argued that romantic—or what is better considered erotic or lustful—love should not be the sole basis for mate selection. Rational decision-making and identification of other loving behaviors is important to this process. Aaron Beck (1989), the father of cognitive therapy, wrote a book called Love Is Never Enough, emphasizing the cognitive aspects of being in love and how these cognitions either increase or decrease marital satisfaction. Christians have traditionally understood three dimensions of love from ancient Greek culture: agape, philia, and eros. C. S. Lewis has written eloquently about these dimensions in The Four Loves (1960a). The self-giving agape corresponds to commitment; philia, brotherly friendship, corresponds to soul-mate connection; and eros, deep desire to know and be known by a specific person, corresponds to passion and desire for that person.
Using these three dimensions, four types of love relationships can be conceptualized. The first, complete love, embraces an equal portion of all three loves: commitment/agape, intimacy/philia, and passion/eros. In most
cases, passion is likely to dominate at the beginning of a relationship, followed by a surge in emotional and friendship intimacy, and finally, commitment. While all three dimensions of love are important for a Christian marriage, it is a commitment to the other person that provides an environment in which intimacy and passion can grow to full maturity. The ideal relationship exhibits equal amounts of commitment, intimacy, and passion prior to marriage.
In self-giving love—a second type of love relationship— commitment/agape is dominant. In many societies (including those with parent-arranged marriages), the resolution of a couple to be faithful and self- giving in their love is the most desired prerequisite for marriage. It is noteworthy that marriages based on faithful commitment end in divorce far less frequently than those based solely on romantic love. However, this fact should not imply that parent-arranged marriages are more likely to achieve the Christian ideal than love-based marriages. For while intimacy and passion may develop in arranged marriages, the familial structure and cultural values promoted in traditional societies may also hinder such development. The commitment that keeps these marriages together may be less a self-giving commitment to one’s spouse than a commitment to the extended family and community. When marriages lack a personal covenant, it is unlikely that the spouses will achieve true intimacy.
A third type of love relationship, friendship love, is when emotional intimacy/philia is dominant. Although few relationships move into marriage on the basis of friendship alone, it is an essential factor in a good marital relationship. Many people describe their spouse as their best friend, an indication of being an emotional companion to one’s mate. Others complain that the friendship is so strong they find it difficult to feel passionate with their partner, and it compromises the sexual passion.
In infatuation love, a fourth and final type of love relationship, passion/eros is dominant. Some relationships get off to a passionate start: two people connect on the basis of immediate attraction and sexual response, which may lead to an impulsive marriage. Such relationships do not ordinarily have the emotional core and stability of commitment to sustain the marriage. But since passion by itself cannot carry a relationship over time, infatuation often burns itself out before a couple decides to marry.
Theories of Mate Selection In view of the flexibility and complexity of the modern courtship system, family researchers have been challenged to explain the mate-selection process. One of the most studied aspects of present-day mate selection is the degree to which people choose mates who are similar or different from them. If we believe both clichés, “like marries like” and “opposites attract,” there will be similarities and differences in the couple. In this section, we will describe several theories of mate selection.
“Like Marries Like” Theory Studies have shown that endogamous factors, or similar social
backgrounds, are key components in mate selection. These factors include race, ethnicity, religion, education, occupation, and geographical proximity. It should be noted that some of these factors directly relate to the opportunity to get to know another person. Close contact in the workplace, for example, affords the opportunity to view someone as a potential marriage partner. For this reason, it is fairly common for people in the same occupation to marry. It has also been shown that homogamous factors, or similar personal characteristics and interests, are of importance. Included here are religious and political beliefs, moral values, hobbies, intelligence, height, weight, and physical appearance. Another important finding is that most people seem to marry partners with a similar amount of ego strength; that is, a person with low self-esteem tends to marry a person with low self-esteem, and a person with high self-esteem will marry another person with high self-esteem. Internet matchmaking sites that take these important factors into account are more likely to yield good matches than those that rely on more superficial indicators, such as photographs or autobiographies.
Bowen Family Systems Theory In chapter 1 and 2, we introduced the concept of differentiation of self
(DoS), which is part of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST). Bowen (2004) developed a clear understanding of the role of DoS in mate selection. For mate-selection purposes, Bowen theorized that individuals would marry those who have similar levels of DoS. This is based in part on the idea that individuals would have similar propensities to manage anxiety and maintain certain relationship roles. As marital relationships have a high survival
level, meaning that marriages perform important psychological functions, DoS allows individuals to cope with anxiety while maintaining these crucial relationships. The research on this aspect of Bowen’s theory is mixed at best (Rodríguez-González et al. 2016). There have been four studies that have demonstrated a connection between levels of DoS and mate selection (Bartle 1993; Kear 1978; Rovers et al. 2007; Tuason and Friedlander 2000) and four studies that do not support this connection (Day, St. Clair, and Marshall 1997; Lal and Bartle-Haring 2011; Peleg and Yitzhak 2011; Skowron 2000).
Theoretically, BFST understands that as individuals develop in their families of origin, DoS mediates the relationship between maintaining one’s relationships to others, especially one’s parents, and anxiety. One’s level of differentiation is highly influential on one’s ability to manage anxiety while engaging in relationships with others. In families with higher levels of DoS, individuals are able to maintain developmentally appropriate responsibility —that is, children learn to feed themselves while parents provide the meal and maintain their relationships with their families. When anxiety arises, rigid relational patterns emerge in an attempt to manage anxiety. These rigid relational patterns demand that individuals maintain relationships with parents at the expense of personal autonomy and development. As an example, a child may develop and maintain more chronic behavioral issues that function to distract family members from developing peer relationships based on mutuality and interdependence. That is, chronic behavioral issues function in relationships so that parents and children maintain rigid relationship patterns characterized by over- and underfunctioning. These rigid patterns prevent both the parents and children from developing relationships based on mutuality and interdependence. When disagreements arise between parents, anxiety increases, which is disseminated throughout the family. The child responds symptomatically, creating a distraction from the differentiation work the parental partners need to engage in. When this child leaves his or her family of origin, BFST posits that a spouse with similar relational patterns and lower levels of DoS will be sought.
Personality Theory Personality characteristics have been an increasing focus for
understanding mate-selection preferences.