Author: Denitsa Velkova
How do we fall in love?
There are different theories and concepts on this subject, and various factors influence our choice. It is hardly possible to construct a universal theory on the choice of partners.
The romantic answer would be that our instincts naturally lead us to people who are right for us. Love is kind of an ecstatic sensation that we experience when we feel we are in the company of a helpful and nourishing soul, which meets our emotional needs, understands our sadness and supports us during the difficult tests of life. According to this concept, we should let our instincts guide us, and make sure we never interfere with them via meticulous psychological analysis and introspection or ignore all scrutiny of status, wealth, and origin. Our feelings will make it clear enough when we reach our destiny. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
Psychoanalysis argues the opposite to this idea. The theory is that we do not fall in love with those who look after us with perfect care; rather we fall in love with those who offer care that we are familiar with. It is believed that our idea of love and care is informed by a pattern created in childhood. We may think that we are looking for happiness in love, but what we are actually looking for is the familiar. We seek to recreate within our relationships the very feelings we are used to since childhood – oftentimes they are not limited to receiving only affection and care. Many people’s childhood experience of love is different, confusing, contradictory and destructive. That is why we may find ourselves in the situation of ‘rejecting certain candidates’, not because they are wrong, but because they are ‘too good for us’ – they seem too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable. We even have a saying for this: “Too good to be true…” We tend to pursue the more exciting candidates, not driven by a belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but by a subconscious feeling that our lives will be comfortably familiar with the patterns of frustration, we know so well from childhood. In psychoanalysis the process by which we identify our partners is called ‘object choice’ – and it is recommended that we try to understand the factors that semi-consciously control our choices in order to break the more unhealthy patterns we can lose. Our instincts – our strong underwater currents of attraction and loathing – stem from complex experiences we’ve had when we were too young to understand, and which linger at the back of our minds. As paradoxical as it may sound, without this complex but familiar behaviour, we may simply not be able to feel loved or affectionate with someone. We might have been so hurt by a parental figure that we have become intolerant to certain qualities or traits, which are not necessarily negative or positive. Every time we recognize a negative, we link it to an association in our own minds. This way we risk making choices based on associations from the past, projected on the present.
How to make a choice?
In order to choose our partners wisely, we must dive into the peculiar depths of our own psyche. So we might find that some seemingly good things get caught in our love filters because, for one reason or another, they trigger alarms from our past.
To begin with, it may be good to ask ourselves who are the people that we really find repulsive. Which traits and qualities are we intolerant of? We will probably find out that some of the traits that repel us are not necessarily negative, and yet have a strong influence on us. Thus, a gentle or reliable partner can appear as something scary we want to run away from. By reasoning, we may establish that, to some degree, cruelty or aloofness are qualities to our partner, which we list as desired in order to fall in love and feel loved.
What factors really influence us?
The topic of how and to what extent the factors that influence us have changed historically is very interesting. Back in time and in some societies up to this day, the older members “settle”/ agree on the connection between two people according to various standards. But nowadays, this choice has become more private. It is personal, but at the same time influenced by the changing norms of society. Factors vary: origin, age, social status, place of residence, education, religion, cultural environment, etc.
Yet, it seems that physical attractiveness and similarity of interests, opinions, and values are regarded as the most important factors.
Physical attractiveness is the culturally accepted standard of beauty for men and women. And yes, we can say that beautiful men and women are more sought after than others, regardless of their personal qualities. Sociologists describe the main reasons for this as: cultural norms, the prestige of a good-looking partner and the stereotypical opinion that beauty is associated with other desirable traits.
The similarity of interests, opinions and values also proves to be extremely important when choosing a partner, as it affirms one’s own integrity, strengthens their sense of value, increases confidence, thus one feels socially accepted.
There are a few theories to explain this. According to the theory of exchange, for example, the choice of partner follows the laws of the free market, with a basic principle – reward – maximum pleasure and minimum loss (1). It is believed that each person seeks out a partner who tends to increase their reward. One clarification – all social behaviour is to some extent an exchange. Research in this area shows that women’s highest market value is physical beauty and men’s is the ability to prosper through status, career, wealth and family background.
Another theory claims that people tend to associate with those similar to themselves because the drive for self-affirmation is paramount. The theory of additional needs (2) states the exact opposite. According to it, people connect with those who have different opinions, assessments, and judgments. The Filter theory, on the other hand, seems to combine the latter and former ones, arguing that the factor of similarity of interests, opinions and values is important in the initial stages of the courtship period, whilst later on during the course of the relationship it is important that everyone’s needs be complemented (3).
Another important aspect to consider when choosing a partner is the motivational reasons behind two people’s choices to partner up. They can also be very different (socialization, gender roles, creating habits for relationships with the opposite sex, status). These can also be considered as conscious and unconscious motives (4).
It has also been proven that culture and environment have a major influence on the image of the desired partner, so it is hardly possible to make a universally applicable list of personality characteristics. (5) And yet – to be physically attractive, to be in good health, to be a reliable person, to have an amicable character, to be an accomplished and emotionally stable person, with a desire to settle and have a family, sophisticated, etc. (6)
What type of partner are we looking for?
Should they be a reflection of the ideal image we have painted in our heads, or should they be someone we meet and are able to bond with, regardless of that ideal?
What kind of needs do we satisfy with this choice?
Whether this is the person easiest to live with (to support our personal identity, to provide emotional and economic security) or be the person who will have to make sacrifices in order to provide a sufficient lifestyle.
What type of partner can we choose in terms of our abilities? (Mostly from an emotional point of view, rather than finances or class)
Attraction is inherently a reciprocal process. In this sense, one cannot make a choice if one has not already become an object of attraction to someone else. There is interest and attraction to this other person, who has the highest hopes that the choice will fall on them.
To summarise the brief overview on the topic, regardless of which of the theories you like the most, or which of the factors you find the most rational, it seems that one of the most important things you could gift yourself with is a long enough period of courtship, to be able to get acquainted with your partner very well – when the initial elements of curiosity and mutual adornment of the personality traits fade away, and the picture is clearer and more complete. To a large extent the type and quality of relationships that will be realized later in marriage or cohabitation, depend on this initial period of attraction. Of course, this does not necessarily determine the entire stability or quality of the relationship, because it is a continuous process of interaction and development. On the other hand, healthy relationships are very important for the emotional well-being on an individual level.
1.Huston, T.Foundations of interpersonal Attraction, N.Y., Academic Press, 1974.
2.Winch, R.F. Thr Modern Family, N.Y, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc.,1963
3.Bowman, H.A., G.B. Spanier. Modern Mariage. McGraw-Hill Book Comp, 1978.
4.Nass, G.D. Marriage and the Family. University of Connecticut,1978.
5.Bossard,J.N., S.Boll, Familly Situations. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962.
6.Kephart,W.M. The Family, Society and the Individual. N.Y., 1972