Dating and Mate Selection — 04 July 2009
Mate selection is important, but not fully understood

Throughout life people make many important decisions. Who you choose as your life partner is probably the most crucial life choice of them all. Most common life options impact one segment of your life and may even have serious consequences, yet none are as profound as your mate selection.

Researchers, Veroff, Douvan, & Hatchett state: “In conducting research on the quality of life of the American population, time and again we came to the conclusion that for most adults the cornerstone of a solidly constructed satisfying life free from overwhelming tensions is a happy and stable marriage”.

Since our lifelong physical, emotional, mental, vocational, spiritual and overall happiness is markedly impacted by our love relationship, one would assume that we would have great knowledge and defined skills for making this choice. Regrettably, much of mate selection is physiologically programmed, intuitively propelled and often made at a young age. Yet, choosing a life counterpart, even in second marriages made by mature and experienced individuals, does not improve the chances for a successful, long-term union.

As we all know, love relationships often start with infatuation. David T. Lykken, Professor of Psychology, University of Minnesota, in “How Relationships Begin and End
A Genetic Perspective” points out that selection criteria of: attraction, similarity of traits, common tastes, interests, likes and dislikes and personality attributes, are not sufficient criteria for mate selection in assuring marriage stability and happiness.

Professor Lykken’s research findings led him to conclude that mate preferences are attributable to genetic preprogramming: “So relationships begin with the blind unpredictability of infatuation and they end with the apparent biological inevitability of genetic determination”.

However, to discredit his own assumption about genetics, Professor Lykken discovered that monozygotic twins with identical genetic blueprint and environment who make very similar other life choices, do not do so “when they make the most important choice of all” selecting their mate.

Helen Fisher of Rutgers University found that various hormones determine the three stages of love. Lust is energized by estrogen and testosterone. Attraction is fueled by adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Oxytocin and vasopressin cement couples’ Attachment.

Despite all the genetic and hormonal programming, mate seekers are not powerless:

• Use the courtship time to familiarize yourself with each other. Professor Lykken says: “Infatuation is like a three-year trial period in which the two apprentices are expected to learn the business, to learn to live together amicably, and to really get to know and value one another.”
• Know yourself well, to guard against what you can predict will be unacceptable to you on a steady diet. Take responsibility to set limits and speak your mind during courtship to lower the risk of future divorce. Observe how your needs and limits are dealt with. Respectful adherence to each other’s wishes is a positive predictor for healthy relationship.
• Familiarize yourself with your intended’s strengths and weaknesses. Professor Lykken believes that it maximize “the chances for romance to grow into respect and for infatuation to mature into a partnership of enduring deep affection.”
• Keep the list of desired attributes alive. Professor Lykkes adds, “The evidence indicates that, when love’s arrow strikes, the elf that shot that arrow will not have consulted one’s list. What one can do, however, is to try to limit one’s associates to the kinds of people who at least roughly meet that list’s criteria. Then the person one is standing next to when the arrow strikes will be easier to cleave to when the delirium abates.”
• Become familiar with the true nature of your future mate. David Lykkes points out that: “By really trying to get to know one’s mate, the differences as well as the similarities, the weaknesses as well as the strengths, I think one maximizes the chances for romance to grow into respect and for infatuation to mature into a partnership of enduring deep affection.”

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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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