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June 26, 2008

In my last post I argued that when we choose our mate we’re simply discovering a part of ourselves. I felt I used some fairly loose logic (as blog sites do), so I thought I would revisit my thought and discuss a few ways in which we choose our mate, and the various factors that go into the decision. 

One could argue against my claim that we look for ourselves in others; that either people cling onto unhealthy or unsatisfying relationships without second thought or that people sometimes choose a mate who is completely different from themselves. On the first point, on could merely point out the myriad of bad relationships that exist out there, be it from friend, family, or former-self. I would point out that unhealthy relationships do exist but don’t usually last. I would also argue the person in the relationship could not have a full grip on their own identity, who they truly are. This flaw could be for various reasons, whether it’s a low self-esteem, immaturity, inexperience, or simply because they don’t know themselves. As they say, “You must learn to love yourself before you can love others.” As for the “opposites attract” argument I would say that claim simply strengthens my own argument. If I choose a mate who’s a morning person when I’m clearly not, it may actually be a good thing. Sure we’d have the difficulty of having only a few good hours of the day, but through time I would learn to wake early and have coffee with her, or she would learn to stay up late and watch the stars. We’d share parts of our own world, and together we would expand the facets of ourselves. In fact when people are too similar it can sometimes be a bad thing. Imagine if two heavy drinkers got together, surely a more stabilizing force for one or the other would be better. But I think both scenarios can exist, and do exist. We choose our lovers not only similar interests/habits, but we choose them because they fascinate us and teach us in areas we don’t know. 
But how do we choose our significant others? What qualities in ourselves are we looking to compliment or suppress? I believe among the various reasons we have in choosing a mate there are three primary selection factors: aesthetic, moral, and familial. Clearly there is the aesthetic factor. We choose a mate largely based on looks alone. This fact can be placed firmly into the ‘behaviorism’ camp. We look for a mate that we are sexually attracted to, which of course is the main argument for any behaviorist on relationships in the first place. But aside from sexual attraction there are other factors we could argue for as well. Women choose tall men for their strong genes, men like curvy hips for childbearing ability. But outside of the behaviorists camp we can also consider the way it effects our own aesthetic identity. Of course who we choose will be spending a significant amount of time with us in social settings, and as a result we want our mate to look good so that we in turn look good. We also choose our mate based upon their moral compass. We want a partner who has similar morals to ourselves, for morality is a huge part of our identity (in fact another facet: ethical identity). I can’t imagine a pro-lifer and a pro-choicer staying together very long. We want a partner with similar familial ideals. The end goal to all relationships deal with family, and therefore the familial ideals can always make or break a relationship. 
The above mentioned factors are necessary for any successful relationship, the following factors I shall discuss can vary in degrees. I’ve already discussed the blacks and whites, so here are the greys. We choose mates with similar interests, hobbies, and activities. Surely I could be completely happy with someone who doesn’t know how to ski, but they better at least enjoy the snow. Of course there could be some people who believe this to be a make it or break-it quality. We choose mates for similar tastes in arts and culture. A foodie would have a very hard time dating a chain-restaurant fan, and an art lover would have a hard time with a die-hardcore (I just made that word up) sports-fan. We choose mates on sexual compatibility. A guy or girl who follows strict “no premarital” would obviously place this one in the factors above. But that rule aside, the two persons involved must be one the same wavelength physically. We’ve all had bad kissers, but what we need to realize is they are simply bad in the subjective sense, not objective (although I’m sure plenty would argue that one). What we may not be into could completely true for another lover, and visa versa. We choose mates for background reasons, whether they be cultural, national, or economical. As a general human rule of thumb we surround ourselves by the familiar. All of these are factors, but as I’ve mentioned they can easily be overlooked or compromised. As they say, “Love conquers all.” So with all of these factors determining how we choose our mates it should be easy right? If only life were so kind. I think there are two very important, and intangible,  elements that play as factors as well: timing and chemistry. 
I was recently talking to a dear and old friend of mine about a recent break-up he had. We were talking about love, and relationships. He loved the girl he was with, she loved him, he loved her family, and she treated him ten-thousand times better than his last girlfriend. They had similar interests, similar backgrounds, all of the factors I mentioned above lined up, but they just didn’t “click”. I’m sure every reader knows what I mean by that term. It’s the feeling when you just feel comfortable with the other person. Communication flows like water, and it’s like you’ve known each-other forever. Sometimes it can be felt across the room, sometimes it comes out from behind a smile or eye-contact, sometimes it needs to be discovered like a precious stone deep in the earth. Either way that “click” is essential to a good relationship. I told my friend that as much as his ex-girlfriend may line-up and make sense, love isn’t a logical thing, it’s an emotional thing. It can make all the sense in the world why you should be with someone, but if you’re just “not feeling it” then it’s never going to be a successful relationship. 
Timing is a very important factor in life in general. In sports if the goalie mistimes his action in accordance to the speed of a ball he gets scored on. If a musician is off rhythm she spoils the song. Like in life, our love lives are determined by timing. Meeting a loving potential mother to your children after she’s already had kids, finding a perfect match who is already matched up, coming into a coffee shop just as a a potential companion is leaving, being separated from someone by or more years of school, coming up with the right thing to say to her just as she leaves the bar. All of these are examples of how timing can adversely affect the selection process. But of course the opposite is always possible as well. By listening to the same song on the radio you two begin speaking, bumping into someone entering the building, being at the same party on the same night, taking the same class together, waiting in the same line together. My friend asked me if he met someone whether he was ready for another relationship, or whether he needed to heal himself, and do some soul searching before he could move on. I responded that he should go for it. Meeting someone with chemistry and matching factors at the right time is such a rare thing I think you should do everything in your being to capture it while it’s there, for you never know when it’ll come back around. I’ve regretted the times I didn’t say something far more than the times I’ve regretted not saying anything (although regretting not saying the right things is a completely different matter). Like the last verses in the Tim Churchard poem “I Never Held Your Hand” eloquently states:
How many people I don’t know
How many chances I let go
Passing strangers, we might be friends
Even lovers… it never ends
The people I don’t know.
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