Figure 1: Choosing the right partner is cultural. The ideal partner is defined by one’s local culture. (“Pre Wedding” by arztsamui [Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net])
Choosing the right partner is closely connected with one’s cultural taste and socialization in life. Every individual has his/her own “wish list” of traits they hope to find from their suitors, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses or lovers. In sociology, every person undergoes a socialization process or social upbringing in order to become a productive human being in a particular society. A person’s “wish List” of an ideal romantic partner is influenced by his/her socialization to romantic love, particularly by his/her exposure to love, from childhood up to the moment s/he starts to fall in love. A person who is socially isolated and rarely exposed to romanticism, for instance, would be less interested in romance than one who is addicted to romantic film, novel, music and other romantic materials. And since the process of social learning is a lifelong process, this wish list is also evolving as the person matures with age and moves up in social stature. Young people, for instance, usually have a wish list of an ideal boyfriend and girlfriend, which is more focused on looks or physical traits, while older adults are more focused on financial stability, compatibility, commitment, and social standing of the partner. Without some sort of a strong spiritual and cultural belief or tradition that binds the love relationship, people can fall out of love with their partners and file a divorce because of some changes of their wish list through time. According to Benjamin Disraeli, the “first magic of love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” A young man who married his sexy sweetheart may fall out of love during midlife when he observed that his wife has become obese or physically unattractive due to work or motherhood and may look for another partner who is younger and more attractive than his wife.
Despite the change of one’s wish list due to changes in age and life situations, it is also possible that a person still maintains some desirable psychological traits of an ideal romantic partner in life. Some research studies show that a person’s positive or negative experience with their parents or family life can determine his or her ideal qualities of an ideal partner. Thus, a girl who is close to her own nurturing father may be looking for a partner or father figure who also possesses this type of personality trait. As Charles A. Stoddard would put it: “We love in others what we lack ourselves, and would be everything but what we are.”
On Physical Traits
Romantic love often begins with physicality. People are embodied beings and communicate with the world through their bodies. In cultures where marriages are arranged, physicality is not a major problem in the selection of partners. But in urban and advanced societies with strong emphasis on romantic love and falling in love before marriage, physical looks play an important role in the selection of partners. Research has shown that it only takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes for a person to fall in love at first sight or fancy someone. And what usually attracts the person during this moment is not what the other says, but what his or her presence projects through body language (55%) and the tone and speed of the voice (38%). The content of what the person says is only 7%.
There has to be some sort of physical basis before two strangers fall in love. People have some minimum standards of beauty which he or she learned through social learning. This is usually attuned to his or her cultural upbringing and taste. Thus, “loving one’s own” is a common pattern in falling in love. People with similar culture, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, geographical location, and social categories usually more disposed to fall in love with each than those with more dissimilarities and cultural incompatibilities. Cultural similarities reduce a lot of social barriers that make the love relationship easier to maintain. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that men who live in cultures where food and money are scarce tend to find heavier women more attractive than thinner ones. These men may see the extra pounds as a status symbol; a buxom figure signals having the means to purchase plenty of food.
People with similar cultural background share similar standards of beauty and are, therefore, more likely to fall in love than complete cultural strangers. Of course, with the advent of digital technology and the Internet, people’s standards of physical beauty may become hybrid or mixed, especially to those who are heavy users of the multi-cultural world wide web. Cultural diffusion through the Internet can change people’s standards of beauty and love and can make them accepting of foreign standards of falling in love.
It’s probable that a person “falls in love for the first time” because of the physical presence of the other as resembling somebody, whether real or imagined, whom he or she idolizes or had a crush, whether a celebrity, a friend, former classmate or officemate or anybody he or she had been attracted to. The person’s wish list of an ideal romantic partner immediately become active during the first encounter and “falls in love” with somebody he or she has not been known acquainted with. Although popularly considered as “love at first sight”, experts and moralists do not generally consider this as love but infatuation and only a first step towards true love. Using biological theory, Helen Fisher of Rutgers University also considers “love at first sight” as only the first of the 3 stages of love: lust, attraction and attachment. For her, the first stage of love is only lust. This is the amazing moment when two people are driven by the sex hormones of testosterone and estrogen. In the second stage, the couple is truly love-struck and can think of little else. And in the third and attachment stage, the couple is bonded together long enough to have and raise children.