Friday 28 August 2009

After much aimless wandering through the Internets, I came across the article “Why We Love Who We Love”, supposedly by Dr. Joyce Brothers. (Though it’s on roman​tic​-lyrics​.com – not exactly the most scholarly source).

The topic is endlessly fascinating to me, as someone who spends a lot of time putting imaginary characters together and documenting the attractions. Here’s a part that stuck with me (emphasis mine):

What about opposites? Are they really attracted to each other? Yes and no. In many ways we want a mirror image of ourselves. Physically attractive people, for example, are usually drawn to a partner who’s equally attractive.

In addition, most of us grow up with people of similar social circumstances. We hang around with people in the same town; our friends have about the same educational backgrounds and career goals. We tend to be most comfortable with these people, and therefore we tend to link up with others whose families are often much like our own.

Robert Winch, a longtime sociology professor at Northwestern University, stated in his research that our choice of a marriage partner involves a number of social similarities. But he also maintained that we look for someone with complementary needs. A talker is attracted to someone who likes to listen, or an aggressive personality may seek out a more passive partner.

It’s rather like the old, but perceptive, saying on the subject of marriage that advises future partners to make sure that the holes in one’s head fit the bumps in the other’s. Or, as Winch observed, it’s the balancing out of sociological likenesses and psychological differences that seems to point the way for the most solid lifelong romance.

I think we all grasp that intuitively, but I’ve never been able to articulate the “sociological similarities” /​ “psychological differences” dichotomy before.

Of course, as the author points out, there are plenty of examples of happy marriages from people with hugely different social backgrounds, but they are presented almost as anecdotes.

I wonder: are these sorts of unlikely-​​couple relationships more prevalent in fiction? The “love against all odds” angle certainly makes a good story. People love reading anecdotes after all.

And of course, most stories end at the “happily ever after” and don’t deal with the realities of living 15, 20, 50 years with someone so religiously, culturally, morally, socially unlike you. (Though I guess we do that in my story.)

Also, are there as many anecdotal examples of happy marriages of people who are psychologically all wrong for one another but socially a perfect fit? Actually, this may be the case in a successful arranged marriage, but that isn’t what I would call love.

Anyway, it is food for thought as I examine my own fictional couples – especially the couples that aren’t working out.

Malcolm and Iylaine alone.