Love is one of those things everybody feels but nobody can define completely. (Test yourself: Can you explain fully what you mean when you look at someone special and say, “I love you”?) One way researchers have tried to understand love is to think about what components are essential. In an interesting series of studies, Sternberg (2006) found that love has three basic components: (1) passion, an intense physiological desire for someone; (2) intimacy, the feeling that one can share all one’s thoughts and actions with another; and (3) commitment, the willingness to stay with a person through good and bad times. Ideally, a true love relationship has all three components; when couples have equivalent amounts of love and types of love, they tend to be happier. As we will see next, the balance among these components often shifts as time passes.
Love through Adulthood. The different combinations of love can be used to understand how relationships develop (Sternberg, 2006). Research shows that the development of romantic relationships is a complex process influenced by relationships in childhood and adolescence (Collins & van Dulmen, 2006). Early in a romantic relationship, passion is usually high, but intimacy and commitment tend to be low. This is infatuation: an intense, physically based relationship in which the two people have a high risk of misunderstanding and jealousy.
But infatuation is short-lived. Whereas even the smallest touch is enough to drive each partner into wild, lustful ecstasy in the beginning, with time it takes more and more effort to get the same level of feeling. As passion fades, either a relationship acquires emotional intimacy or it is likely to end. Trust, honesty, openness, and acceptance must be a part of any strong relationship; when they are present, romantic love develops.
Although it may not be the stuff of romance novels, this pattern is a good thing. Research shows that people who select a partner for a more permanent relationship (e. g., marriage) during the height of infatuation are likely to support the idea that “love is blind,” and those couples are more likely to divorce (Hansen, 2006). But if the couple gives it more time and works at their relationship, they may become committed to each other. By spending much of their time together, making decisions together, caring for each other, sharing possessions, and developing ways to settle conflicts, they up the chances that the relationship will last. Such couples usually show outward signs of commitment, such as wearing a lover’s ring, having children together, or simply sharing the mundane details of daily life, from making toast at breakfast to before-bed rituals.
Lemieux and Hale (2002) demonstrated that these developmental trends hold in romantically involved couples between 17 and 75 years of age. As the length of the relationship increases, intimacy and passion decrease, but commitment increases.
Falling in Love. Everybody wants to be loved by somebody, but actually having it happen is fraught with difficulties. In his book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran points out that love is two-sided: Just as it can give you great ecstasy, so can it cause you great pain. Yet most of us are willing to take the risk.
As you may have experienced, taking the risk is fun (at times) and difficult (at other times). Making a connection can be ritualized, as when people use pickup lines in a bar, or it can happen almost by accident, as when two people literally run into each other in a crowded corridor. The question that confronts us is “How do people fall in love?” Do birds of a feather flock together? Or do opposites attract?
The best explanation of the process is the theory of assortative mating, which states that people find partners based on their similarity to each other. Assortative mating occurs along many dimensions, including religious beliefs, physical traits, age, s ocioeconomic status, intelligence, and political ideology, among others (Sher, 1996). Such nonrandom mating occurs most often in Western societies, which allow people to have
more control over their own dating and pairing behaviors. Common activities are one basis for identifying potential mates.
Does commonality tend to result in happier relationships? The research findings are mixed. Jenkins (2007) found that couples higher in marital satisfaction were similar in terms of their openness to experience, but not on other aspects of personality. However, a study of 12,000 Dutch couples showed that healthy people tended to be in relationships with other healthy people, and that unhealthy people tended to be in relationships with unhealthy people; these results may have been due to couples’ similar levels of education, which were related to shared circumstances (Monden, 2007).
People meet people in all sorts of places. Does where people meet influence the likelihood that they will “click” on particular dimensions and will form a couple? Kalmijn and Flap (2001) found that it did. Using data from more than 1,500 couples, they found that meeting at school was most likely to result in the most forms of homogamy, or the degree to which people share similar values and interests. Although meeting through other methods (being from the same neighborhood or through family networks) could promote homogamy, the odds were that these methods did not promote most forms of homogamy other than religious. Not surprisingly, the pool of available people to meet is strongly shaped by the opportunities available, which in turn constrain the type of people one is likely to meet.
The advent of online dating provides a way for adults who have social or dating anxiety to still meet people (Stevens & Morris, 2007). Emerging research indicates that virtual dating sites offer both problems and possibilities. On the one hand, researchers note that the content of member profiles may be suspect (Small, 2004). On the other hand, many couples have met and formed committed relationships mediated through online sites (Mazzarella, 2007).
Once people have met someone compatible, what happens next? Some researchers believe that couples progress in stages. According to Murstein’s (1987) classic theory, people apply three filters, representing discrete stages, when they meet someone:
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• Stimulus: Do the person’s physical appearance, social class, and manners match your own?
• Values: Do the person’s values regarding sex, religion, politics, and so on match your own?
• Role: Do the person’s ideas about the relationship, communication style, gender roles, and so on match your own?
If the answer to all three filters is “yes,” then you are likely to form a couple.
It also turns out that whether a couple find each other physically attractive is more important in love relationships than most people realize. Research shows that women tend to choose a more masculine looking man as a person with whom to have an exciting short-term relationship but tend to select more feminine looking men as better options for being their husband or as the type of man their parents would want them to date (Kruger, 2006). These findings support a study of nearly 2,000 Spanish respondents showing that physical attractiveness was important in sporadic relationships, but it also influences the way in which people fall in love and is linked to feelings and thoughts associated with love (intimacy, passion, commitment) and to satisfaction with the relationship (Sangrador & Yela, 2000).
How do these couple forming behaviors compare cross-culturally? A few studies have examined the factors that attract people to each other in different cultures. In one now-classic study, Buss and a large team of researchers (1990) identified the effects of
Physical attraction is a major component in the development of love relationships.
culture and gender on heterosexual mate preferences in 37 cultures worldwide. Men and women in each culture displayed unique orderings of their preferences concerning the ideal characteristics of a mate. When all of the orderings and preferences were compared, two main dimensions emerged.
In the first main dimension, the characteristics of a desirable mate changed because of cultural values—that is, whether the respondents’ country has more traditional values or Western-industrial values. In traditional cultures, men place a high value on a woman’s chastity, desire for home and children, and being a good cook and housekeeper; women place a high value on a man’s ambition and industry, being a good financial prospect, and holding favorable social status. China, India, Iran, and Nigeria represent the traditional end of this dimension. In contrast, people in Western-industrial cultures value these qualities to a much lesser extent. The Netherlands, Great Britain, Finland, and Sweden represent this end of the dimension; people in these countries place more value on Western ideals.
The second main dimension reflects the relative importance of education, intelligence, and social refinement, as opposed to a pleasing disposition, in choosing a mate. People in Spain, Colombia, and Greece, for example, highly value education, intelligence, and social refinement; in contrast, people in Indonesia place a greater emphasis on having a pleasing disposition. Note that this dimension emphasizes the same traits for both men and women.
Chastity proved to be the characteristic showing the most variability across cultures, being highly desired in some cultures but mattering little in others. Interestingly, in their respective search for mates, men around the world value physical attractiveness in women, whereas women around the world look for men capable of being good providers. But men and women around the world agree that love and mutual attraction are most important, and nearly all cultures rate dependability, emotional stability, kindness, and understanding as important factors. Attraction, it seems, has some characteristics that transcend culture.
Overall, Buss and his colleagues concluded that mate selection is a complex process no matter where you live. However, each culture has a describable set of high-priority traits that men and women look for in the perfect mate. The study also shows that socialization within a culture plays a key role in being attractive to the opposite sex; characteristics that are highly desirable in one culture may not be so desirable in another.
In the How Do We Know? feature, Schmitt and his team of colleagues (2004) had 17,804 participants from 62 cultural regions complete the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ), a self-report measure of adult romantic attachment. They showed that secure romantic attachment was the norm in nearly 80% of cultures and that preoccupied romantic attachment was particularly common in East Asian cultures. In general, what these large multicultural studies show is that there are global patterns in mate selection and romantic relationships. The romantic attachment profiles of individual nations were correlated with sociocultural indicators in ways that supported evolutionary theories of romantic attachment and basic human mating strategies.
The power of culture in shaping mate selection choices must not be underestimated. For example, despite decades of sociopolitical change in China (the socialist transformation in the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and the economic reforms in the 1990s), research indicates that the same status hierarchy norms govern mating patterns in urban China (Xu, Ji, & Tung, 2000). Clearly, cultural norms are sometimes very resistant to change. Arranged marriages are a major way some cultures ensure an appropriate match on key dimensions. For example, loyalty of the individual to the family is a very important value in India; consequently, many marriages are carefully arranged to avoid selecting inappropriate mates. Data show that this approach appears to work; among urban professionals polled in one study, 81% said their marriages had been arranged, and 94% of them rated their marriage as “very successful” (Lakshmanan,
1997) . Similarly, Islamic societies use matchmaking as a way to preserve family consistency and