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!
Think about two people: a close friend and someone you are attracted to romantically. How are these attractions alike and how are they different?
Both platonic and romantic love have been extensively studied by psychologists, including myself when I was earning my PhD in experimental social psychology. Though there will likely always be more to explore, psychology has a huge breadth and depth of information available. I’ll start with liking. The information provided here is a summary drawn from Psychology (10th Ed.) by David G. Myers.
Caution: all of this research relies on group data; the behavior of individuals varies widely.
Proximity (geographic closeness) increases the likelihood of
The mere exposure effect: more frequent exposure to anything and virtually any person increases attraction: nonsense syllables, photographs, music, geometric figures, etc., etc., etc.
Familiarity increases attraction
We prefer the mirror image of our faces to the one other people see.
We prefer others who share some facial characteristics with us.
We seem to be hard wired to bond with the familiar and be wary of those who are different.
After familiarity, physical appearance is the most important factor in attraction
Physical appearance matters to both men and women, although women more likely to say it doesn’t.
Physical appearance predicts how often people date and (no surprise here) how popular they feel.
Attractiveness affects how positive a first impression is
Good looking people are perceived as healthier, happier, more sensitive, more successful, and more socially skilled
Attractive, well-dressed people make a better impression in job interviews
Attractive people tend to be more successful in their jobs: income analyses show a penalty for plainness and/or obesity
In a study of the 100 top-grossing films since 1940, attractive characters were portrayed as morally superior to unattractive characters
Based on gazing times, even babies prefer attractive faces to unattractive ones
But there are limits to the attractiveness effect
Attractiveness does not affect how compassionate we think someone is.
Physical attractiveness is statistically unrelated to self-esteem
Attractiveness is unrelated to happiness
People generally don’t view themselves as unattractive
Attractive people are more suspicious of praise for work performance; less attractive people more likely to accept praise as sincere
Culture and beauty
Beauty is culture bound: think piercings, tattoos, elongated necks, bound feet, dyed or painted skin and hair, ideal weight; body hair, breast size
Cultural ideals change over time; for example, consider the feminine ideal in the U.S.: 1920s was super thin and flat chested; 1950s, the lush Marilyn Monroe look; currently, it’s lean but busty
Those who don’t fit the ideal often try to buy beauty: Americans now spend more on beauty supplies than on education and social services combined, not to mention plastic surgery, teeth capping and whitening, Botox skin smoothing, or laser hair removal
Men in many cultures judge women as more attractive if they have a youthful, fertile appearance (the latter suggested by a low waist to hip ratio).
Women are attracted to healthy-looking men. When ovulating, women are more attracted to men who seem mature, dominant, masculine, and affluent.
People everywhere prefer physical features that are “normal”—i.e., not too big, too small. Average is attractive.
People prefer symmetrical faces—even though virtually no one actually has one.
Across cultures, women are 2-18% more likely than men to say they “Constantly think about their looks.”
Women have 91% of all cosmetic procedures.
Women recall others’ appearance better than men do.
Similarity is greater among friends/partners compared to randomly matched pairs
Opposites virtually never attract
The more alike people are, the more their liking endures: similarity breeds content.
People like people who like them
True for initial attraction
Self-fulfilling loop: A likes B, who responds positively, making A like B more, etc.
Especially true for people with low self-esteem
The effect is enhanced when someone moves from disliking to liking us
The reward theory of attraction: we like people whose behavior is rewarding to us, and we continue relationships that offer more rewards than costs.
BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: if you want to write a realistic relationship, follow the principles above. If you choose to go against the norm, take care to make it believable to the reader.
I’ve never been a fan of February. For one thing, the weather can be all over the place. And then there’s the question of whether to pronounce that middle R. As far as I am concerned, the best thing about February is that the days are getting longer.
But in all fairness, I must admit that many people and organizations feel otherwise. February, in fact, is a very popular month. You can celebrate any of the following for the entire 28 days.
American Heart Month
An Affair to Remember Month (Is there any other kind of affair??)
Black History Month—more widely celebrated than any of the others
Canned Food Month
Creative Romance Month
Great American Pie Month
National Cherry Month
National Children’s Dental Health Month
National Grapefruit Month
National Weddings Month—which is odd, given that February is one of the least popular wedding months. (The most popular is June, followed by August, September, and October.)
If—for some reason—you prefer weekly celebrations, the 3rd week in February is International Flirting Week. And FYI, the internet makes international flirtations available to virtually everyone.
February Writing Prompt
Your assignment is to write a story involving as many of the romantic aspects of February as you can work in: an affair, creative romance, Valentine’s Day, an international flirtation, and/or a wedding!
Alternatively, write an essay on the theme of why any of these things should be tagged to February!