LITERATURE ON DATING
Dating, or “adult romantic attachment” as this phenomenon is often termed in the scientific literature, is an interdisciplinary area of research. Some of the major contributions to the development of the body of theory in this area came from biology, sociology, economics, communication, and psychology.
In the following sections, we present the major questions that each of these disciplines raised in relation to the meaning of adult romantic attachment and some of the answers that it provided to these questions.
The major contribution of biology is in addressing the question of why people are attracted to one another and the reasons for the strength of this attraction. Thus, the biological literature on monogamy (Gubernick, 1994) suggests that people (and other animal species) are attracted to monogamous relationships because they solve the problem of paternity certainty. Since ovulation is concealed in women, men reduce the risk that their offspring may not be theirs by establishing and maintaining monogamous (romantic) relationships with women. Another explanation that follows this line of reasoning is that monogamous relationships offer protection for immature offspring, particularly given the relatively long time that it takes humans to mature sexually relative to other primates.
Applied to our re search, the maj or contribution of the biological literature is in confirming the importance of adult romantic attraction because of its relationship to our survival as a species.
The major contribution of sociology is in addressing the question of who people tend to be romantically attached to. As indicated by Rosenfeld (2005), the literature on mate selection in sociology since the 1940s has been characterized by an interesting paradox. On one hand, the major theorists Merton (1941) and Davis (1941) promoted the “status-caste exchange” arguments, which perceived marriage as an exchange between unequals (men with money marry women of beauty), but on the other hand, there was little empirical evidence to promote these arguments.
Thus, contrary to this theory, the bulk of the research in the sociological literature in the past 70 years has actually demonstrated that people find mates who are similar to themselves in status, class, and education (Mare, 1991; Kalmijn, 1998); religion (Kennedy, 1952; Johnson, 1980; Kalmijn, 1991); and race (Heer, 1974; Lieberson & Waters, 1988; Kalmijn, 1993; Qian, 1997). In other words, married partners tend to be the same on every dimension except gender.
Applied to our research, the major contribution of the sociological literature is in establishing the principle that romantic attachment is rational and that even when men and women are convinced that they simply “fell in love” their actions seem to follow very predicable and rational patterns that suggest a process of rational decision making rather than pure emotion.
The major contribution of economics is in addressing the question of what considerations affect people’s choice of specific partners. The central concept in the economic treatment of this issue is the concept of “marriage market,” where men and women (agents) are assumed to behave strategically to maximize their outcomes from a relationship. The seminal work in this area by Becker (1974) focused on analyzing the manner in which men and women “sort” each other along characteristics such as income, education, and so forth. The underlying assumption of Becker’s work was that each partner’s “value” is based on the sum of his or her attributes. In order for an equilibrium or a “match” to take place, the two parties have to be convinced that the sum of their attributes or their “value” is the same (or similar) as that of their partner.
Applied to our research, the major contribution of the economic literature is in reiterating the principle that romantic attachment is a rational process ofweighting alternatives and considering choices. Obviously, if this is indeed the case, then it stands to reason that this process would entail strategy, growth and change, which are central to our e-dating model.
The major contribution of psychology is in addressing the question of how people establish romantic attachments. One of the major frameworks for the study of romantic relationships in psychology is the adult attachment theory that was originally proposed by Hazan and Shaver in the 1980s (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The theory is based on an earlier theory designed to explain the emotional bond between infants and their caregivers (Bowlby, 1980). According to Fraley and Shaver, (2000, pp. 134-135) the Hazan and Shaver adult romantic attachment theory is based on the following four propositions:
1. The emotional and behavioral dynamics of infant caregiver relationships and adult romantic relationships are governed by the same biological system. In both cases the motivation for attachment is to promote safety, comfort, and survival. Thus, adults typically feel safer when their partner is nearby, accessible and responsive.
2. The kind of individual differences observed in infant-caregiver relationships are similar to the ones observed in romantic relationships. Following this principle, Hazan and Shaver described three styles of adult romantic attachment: (a) secure, (b) anxious/ ambivalent, and (c) avoidant.
3. Individual differences in adult attachment behavior are reflections of the expectations and beliefs people have formed about themselves and their close relationships on the basis of their attachment histories; these “working models” are relatively stable, and, as such, may be reflections of care giving experiences.
4. Romantic love, involves the interplay of attachment, care giving and sex. These three separate systems serve different functions but together they reflect the same early experiences and attachment relationships that the individual had as an infant.
The Hazan and Shaver (1987) adult romantic attachment theory generated a stream of empirical studies, including research on the impact of working models on people’s perceptions of their partners’ intentions (Collins, 1996), the effect of working models on partner choice (Pietromonaco & Carnelley, 1994), relationship stability (Kirkpatrick & Davis, 1994), and relationship dissolution (Pistole, 1995).
Over the years, a number of criticisms of the theory led to a re-thinking and modification of some of its assumptions, including (1) the suggestion that not all romantic or couple relationships are attachment relationships and that some pair bonding relationships are actually not romantic in nature; (2) the original three “working models” that people can apply to relationships, can be better conceptualized as four “working models” (secure, preoccupied, fearful-avoidant, and dismissing – avoidant); and (3) the stability of the “working models” may not always apply, as some people seem to “overwrite” their early attachment models with new ones that are based on later attachment experiences (Farley & Shaver, 2000).
The Hazan and Shaver theory (1987) is the ma – j or basis on which our e-dating development model is based. Specifically, we accept the principle that “working models” (possibly ones originating from early childhood) affect the manner in which adults establish romantic attachments. Also, given that these “working models” are likely to be different for males and females because of their different socialization, it stands to reason that the behavior of adult male and female e-daters will be different too. Secondly, we accept the principle, proposed by the later versions of the theory (Farley & Shaver, 2000) that “working models” are subject to learning and change and that adult males and females are likely to overwrite them in response to changes in their external environment. Indeed, our conceptualization of e-dating as a change process in which coping mechanisms are adopted to deal with new conditions and circumstances can be seen as an example of the “re-writing” of “working models,” as it denotes the constant evolvement of coping mechanisms throughout the e-dating career.
Building on the early literature on attachment and dating, a number of authors have attempted to explain the e-dating process. In the following sections, we consider some of the emerging research in this area and its implications to our e-dating model.