In Friday’s blog, I outlined the factors that influence/promote liking:
Similarity (the more similar two people are on a number of dimensions, the more their liking endures)
Relationships that offer more rewards than costs
Surprise, surprise: these are the underpinnings of love as well! And although liking and loving share roots, people seldom confuse the two. The difference is largely a matter of degree: love is more intense than like. It’s more personal and more important to one’s well-being.
Love comes in many guises.
Love for dearest friends
Love for family, one’s children in particular
We use the word loosely and often. We love chocolate, theater, gardening—whatever we feel strongly about. But no one seriously confuses these feelings with love.
Although beloved friends and family are direct extensions of liking, romantic love is in a category largely by itself.
A key ingredient of romantic love is arousal. According to Psychologist Elaine Hatfield (1988, and not contradicted since), emotions have two ingredients: physical arousal plus cognitive appraisal. Arousal from any source can enhance any emotion, depending on how we interpret the cause of the arousal.
Note for writers: at least part of the arousal from any source (fright, heavy duty workout, viewing erotica, listening to humorous or repulsive readings) will be attributed to a suitable object of affection.
Intense romantic love per se doesn’t last. Romantic love reaches a fever pitch of obsession—infatuation, if you will—early on. This is the period of constant calls, texts, letters (whatever fits the time period), exchanging love poems, giving personally meaningful gifts, etc.. For one thing, it gets exhausting! But a case can be made that continued total focus on one’s partner/mate bodes ill for the well-being of any children they might have.
Men focus more on physical attractiveness. Although interested in appearance, women generally value their potential mate’s status/ financial security over physical beauty. These findings hold cross-culturally and even when someone is seeking a same-sex partner.
Age also matters: men value youth more than women do.
Men are much more willing to engage in casual sex than women are, and their standards for sex partners are lower.
Gender differences in mate preferences may be accounted for by social norms and expectations. The different socio-economic status of women and the level of gender equality within a society is also a factor in what attributes are prioritized when seeking a mate.
I’ll start with the Mating Gradient. As long ago as the mid-1950s, Margaret Mead wrote about the propensity for couples in which the men were older, taller, smarter, better educated, higher earning, and of higher socio-economic status than the women. Decades later, I conducted an experiment in which I had men and women respond to a hypothetical love relationship with either the traditional pattern (as outlined) or the opposite.
As expected, people in the traditional hypothetical relationships were comfortable and positive.
When men responded to a loved one who was two years older, two inches taller, better educated, higher earning, more intelligent, and higher socio-economic status, they were surprisingly okay with it! A typical response was, “If a babe like that loves me, I must be pretty hot stuff!”
When women responded to a loved one who was lesser on all these dimensions, they were generally negative. A typical response was, “I couldn’t respect a man like that. How could I love him?”
One interpretation of all this is that, traditionally, women are supposed to be taken care of by their mates and men are (perhaps) threatened when of an inferior status. But the upshot of men marrying down and women marrying up is that, overall, the least marriageable men are at the bottom of the heap while the most capable, successful women remain unmarried at the top.
Consider the implications of the traditional relationship. Feeling constantly inferior leads to depression and feelings of inadequacy. Feeling constantly superior leads to lack of respect and perhaps a power grab.
There is research evidence that enduring relationships are based on equality. So how can these things be reconciled? One way would be for the man to be “superior” on at least one dimension while the woman is “superior” in one or more of the other areas.
And speaking of the relationship of respect to liking and loving: Zick Rubin introduced the concept back in the 1970s, published as Measurement of Romantic Love in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Rubin created scales to measure liking, loving, and lusting. Each item was rated on a 5-point scale from “not at all true” to “very much true.” Examples of these statements are below:
Liking scale items: I have great confidence in X’s judgment. X is one of the most likable people I know. I think that X and I are quite similar. I think that X is unusually well-adjusted.
Loving Scale items: I would do almost anything for X. If I could never be with X, I would feel miserable. I feel responsible for X’s well-being. When I am with X, I spend a good deal of time just looking at him/her.
Lust Scale items: I can’t stop thinking about having sex with X. The best thing about X and my relationship is that we let our bodies do all the talking. X’s attitudes and opinions don’t really matter in our relationship. The best part of my relationship with X is the sexual chemistry.
We tend to like people more when we are in a good mood, and we like them less when we are in bad moods. As partners stay together over time, cognition becomes relatively more important than passion. Over time, close relationships are more likely to be based on companionate love than passionate love.
Bottom line for writers: if you’re writing a love relationship, be clear on what kind of love it is!