Dating and Mate Selection — 10 November 2003
Marriage is a head and heart choice

Marriage choice is a complex and important process. Some people are swept off their feet with attraction, excitement and emotions while others think and weigh and decide that this mate is a good marriage choice. Since each option has advantages and disadvantages, it is wise to use both in making this critical life decision.

The free choice of mates is a relatively new phenomenon that started in the last century and emphasized love and attraction as major components of mate selection. Prior to it, most marriages were not only based on logical choices, but were made by the families of the couple.

Arranged marriages were based on cultural and religious influences to secure the strength of families. Marriage was often the union, not only of two people, but also of families, values, lifestyles and groups. The parental opinions about the “appropriateness” of the match was the basis for mate selection.

The culture often insisted upon marriage of people “within the group” to maintain it’s uniformity and continuity. Whether “the group” was cultural, religious, economic, ethnic, educational, or a blend of several of these criteria, most people believed that maintaining their culture was crucial in guaranteeing a better future for their children. Families were eager to connect with new family members who resembled them. Perhaps some of these marriages were not within the best interest of the young couple, but this was not a concern for the elders.

Children were indoctrinated very early in life with messages of uniqueness and greater or lesser value of their family as compared to others. They were also programmed to believe as their parents did about the nature of “others”, and the caution about intermingling. The family status within the group molded the growing children’s sense of self-esteem, worth and expected match choices.

Despite the fact that many young couples initially did not know or sometimes did not even like each other, they often grew to love each other and live happily together. Arranged marriages, which are still estimated to be up to 60 percent of the world’s marriages, result in a very small number of the world’s divorces, while free choice marriages in the United States are less than fifty percent successful. It must be noted that divorce is and was less of an option in cultures that have arranged marriages. Many of these couples endure a loveless marriage as their only option. Therefore, the lower rate of divorce is not necessarily an indication of successful, happy marriages.

In the twentieth century there was a shift from arranged marriages to chosen ones, from making a decision with parental logic, to selecting mates with emotions. The necessity of love as the primary component for marriage, was the new century’s pattern and it replaced the arranged marriage formula. Now the choice of marriage partners shifted from the parents, community and family, to the young adults.

The introduction of love, which only the future groom and bride could claim, provided a boost of autonomy for young adults, albeit not necessarily a more successful marriage. When young people began to use mostly their hearts and secondarily their heads in mate selection, they abandoned many other group considerations and often allowed their emotions to do the talking.

Once the choice to marry lost social and family influences, greater room for errors occurred. Though the older generation was no longer empowered to arrange marriages, their opinions about the suitability of their children’s choices still existed. A couple who did not receive the full blessings of their parents and communities, ended up more isolated, unsupported and up to their own devices. Marriage is hard enough, but without the emotional support, guidance, and assistance of the senior group, the chances for success are greatly diminished.

New ideas, which are now being researched, suggest that perhaps love can be developed as a compliment to a logical mate choice, as it seems to have occurred in many arranged marriages. Robert Epstein, a Harvard trained psychologist is one of the researchers studying whether love for an appropriate partner may be induced. He postures that perhaps, the modern emphasis on “falling in love” is not a necessity and may not even be a pre-condition to marriage. Perhaps parents and elders, who have a broader perspective, may be better able to assist their children with mates’ selection and allow the young couple to learn to love each other?

The research results as to whether logical choices need to prevail and love can grow later, are not available yet. Love can occur “across a crowded room” and /or from appreciation, understanding and sharing life with a partner. Perhaps the best choice is to combine attraction and excitement with the objective factors of compatibility, shared values, respect and fondness for each other.

For the time being, if you are making a mate selection:

  • Consider both your head and heart in making a wise choice.
  • Consult your respected elders. Be open to their opinions and weigh their input carefully.
  • Remember that love alone is not enough.
  • Remember that a logical choice is only enough if you feel that love can grow.
  • Be sure that your choice is pure, not a rebellious reaction.
  • Imagine spending a lifetime with this partner- is the image positive?
  • Pick your partner as though divorce is not an option. Picture the strength of your bond holding up forever.
  • Commit to being logical and loving throughout your marriage- it will help your marriage succeed.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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