Pier Luigi Sacco
3 Computational Human Behavior (CHuB) Lab, Bruno Kessler Foundation, Trento; Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, and metaLAB (at) Harvard, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
We introduce a typological characterization of possible human heterosexual couples in terms of the concordance-opposition of the orientations of their active and receptive areas as defined by the tie-up theory. We show that human mating incentives, as characterized by widely adopted approaches, such as Becker’s marriage market approach, only capture very specific instances of actual couples thus characterized. Our approach allows us to instead explore how super-cooperation among partners vs. convenience vs. constriction may be regarded as alternatives modes of couple formation and cohesion, leading to very different types of couples with different implications in terms of stability and resilience. Our results may have interesting implications for future experimental research and for individual and family counseling.
The human romantic imaginary places a big emphasis on the fact that mating is guided by the search for an ‘ideal’ partner, that is, somebody who not only matches the expectations and desires of those who search but also provides a perfect complementary fit, to arrive at a full harmonization as to intrinsic standards, such as personality traits and attachment styles, as well as to extrinsic ones, such as physical appearance and economic and social status . Tellingly, the literature emphasizes how the conformity of a partner to certain ideal standards seems to have a predictive value for the stability of the couple . However, to what extent do the ideal standards as expressed by the subjects reflect the real characteristics of the partners they will end up matched with, and the reasons that will lead them to match? The literature shows quite clearly that there is a marked sexual dimorphism in the characteristics that male vs. female subjects respectively tend to highlight as especially relevant in the choice of the partner: Women’s reproductive capacity (youth, physical aspect) for men, and men’s acquisitive capacity (wealth, socio-economic status) for women .
The limitation of this kind of analyses is, however, that they explore human mating preferences by directly interrogating subjects about the desirability of abstract partner characteristics, rather than of specific, individual potential partners placed in a specific real context. This implies, in particular, that subjects will tend to emphasize those ideal characteristics that correspond to their own conscious evaluation criteria, which reflect both personal preferences and the interiorization of norms and social conventions at work in their socio-cultural context of reference. The choice of the partner is, however, also guided by sub-conscious motivations whose effect is not appreciated in an abstract experimental elicitation, but that nonetheless play an important role in the specific situation of an interaction with a real potential partner. Once this further, scarcely considered dimension is kept into account, a more complex picture than the one drawn out by most mainstream theoretical approaches to human mating emerges.
At a conscious level, individual preferences and the influence of the social context closely interact in the fixation of the most desirable characteristics of a potential partner. Individual desires also tend to reflect an interiorization of social prescriptions, whereas prescriptions themselves tend to evolve under the pressure of changes in general individual orientations . As human mating is a topic of special importance for so many different dimensions of social order, the collective regulation of the formation of human couples tends to be very prescriptive in many socio-cultural contexts , at times to the extent of leaving little or even no space to individual discretion . In other contexts, and certainly in the contemporary secularized cultures that are typical of market democracies, much emphasis is placed instead on the freedom of partner choice, and on the necessity that people are put in the condition to mate with the partner they deem most congenial, beyond any possible social constraint . Yet, even in societies where freedom of choice is loudly trumpeted, there exists many forms of conditioning whose action is difficult to eschew, and that are generally aimed at socially penalizing excessive differences between partners with respect to certain explicit or implicit ‘critical’ dimensions, such as, for instance, age, social and economic status, ethnicity, educational level, physical attractiveness, religion, and so on.