Is Choosing a Mate an Art or a Science? (Part One)

Why do we choose the romantic partners that we do?  And what shapes the choices we make?   While scientists have been weighing those question for decades (and philosophers have been doing the same for centuries), nobody has managed to come up with a clear answer yet - but not for want of trying.  

According to evolutionary psychologists, for example, humans are seen as primarily attracted to sex partners with specific characteristics that will boost reproductive success.  This means that females seek out potential partners who bear primary and secondary sex characteristics they regard as signs of genetic fitness (deep voices, masculine characteristics, indicators that they are good providers etc.) while men seek to make themselves as attractive as possible through competition with other males and acquiring resources to attract mates.   

But that's just one perspective regarding human mating behaviour.   According to the concept of assortative mating, we are most likely to be attracted to partners with whom we share basic similarities.   These similarities can take the form of genetic characteristics (eg., research showing that men prefer females whose faces are similar to their own) or can involve similarities in cultural, ethnic, or socioeconomic factors.  Then again, if you don' t happen to agree with evolutionary or assortative theories relating to mating, there is always the self-deception model of romantic behaviour.  

According to this model, lasting relationships are formed when people develop positive illusions that make them less likely to recognize the flaws in their romantic partners.  Much like William Blake's poem, "Love to faults is always blind/Always is to joy inclin'd/Lawless, wing'd, and unconfin'd/And breaks all chains from every mind," cultivating positive illusions can help individuals turn a blind eye to their partner's flaws.   In other words, looking at potential partners through rose-coloured glasses.  

But most people won't just settle on one partner.  As we grow and mature, we tend to acquire multiple romantic partners over the course of an average lifetime.   Which then brings us to how consistent we are in our mating choices.  Do the kind of partners we select as teenagers match up with the partners we might choose when we are older and, presumably, wiser?   


To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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