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A Psychological Perspective on the Choice of Partners

One of the most basic human qualities is the desire to unite in groups. History demonstrates that throughout the ages, people have tried to join various communities and interest groups. This has included joining groups of hunters to maximize prey, joining mythical communities to search for the meaning of life, and joining groups of explorers to discover new knowledge. In other words, people by nature can hardly exist alone, hence, they often try to find allies. Unification on the basis of solid feelings and attachments is one of the most durable because not only a common goal but interests, views, and plans for life arise between people. From a psychological point of view, it is about the patterns and models that underlie the choice of a partner, allowing a person to choose the individual with whom they are comfortable living and evolving together. This integrative essay will theorize patterns and critically explain several well-known mechanisms for choosing partners, whether in friendships or love relationships.

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One of the first explanations for the formation of partnerships between people is the presence of physical proximity between them. As has been shown, best friends and partners are those people who live close by (Watts and McDermott, 2015). This is not surprising since the implied freedom of choice is actually limited by a person’s demographic and geographic factors. The need to attend school, work, or spend time away from home are all social human activities that are closely tied to interactions with others. We find ourselves limited in these interactions because the range of interpersonal relations is no broader than the connections we make in the course of these activities. This is the reason why at least a third of high school students have a permanent love partner from their environment (Maximets, 2021). In other words, one is forced to systematically spend time with the same people, which is one of the strongest predictors of building partnerships, whether friendships or love relationships. In turn, this perspective means that pseudo-perceived freedom is created in our choice of partner because we tend to believe that we make our own decisions, whereas, in reality, we are constrained by our environment. Consequently, partnerships between people are formed on the basis of their physical contact in their daily activities. There are, however, opposing opinions on this point of view, as the concept of proximity ceases to be universal in the modern world.

Some contradictions can be found in the theoretical study of the above hypothesis, especially in the rapidly developing digital world. With the advent of mobile apps and dating websites, the need for physical proximity is suppressed (Holliman and Critten, 2015; Chien and Hassenzah, 2020). The modern person does not need to be close to a person to get to know them and start communicating, as the use of messengers and video communication is sufficient — in some cases, long-distance relationships can be strong and long-lasting. Another counterargument to the need for physical proximity between people is the forced displacement of one of the partners, such as best friends. If their friendship has been cultivated over many years, and for various reasons, one of the couples had to move to another city or country, the strength of their friendship will not necessarily weaken (Pazil, 2018). The friendship will persist at a distance and will be particularly noticeable when the friends reunite; as a consequence, regular physical proximity may not be an unambiguous and universal predictor of partner choice.

The following psychological hypothesis about mate choice is the idea of homogamy or matching. The essence of this hypothesis is that people tend to choose a partner who is similar to them in terms of cultural background, demographics, cognitive characteristics, or emotional spectrum (Watts and McDermott, 2015). This hypothesis seems intriguing because it suggests that people tend to integrate when they are most similar to each other. The motivation for such integration is obvious: subconsciously, people try to find people who are similar to them, who can share their views and mentally support their moods. In this context, it is impossible not to mention that any groups, regardless of the field, whether they are students, workers, or even church groups, are usually formed on the basis of statistical similarity (Cinelli et al., 2021; Chen and Kuo, 2019). Thus, the likelihood that a group of psychology students will include people who initially had similar goals and intentions may be high. From this perspective, it seems that one is placed in advance in an environment where one is surrounded by people who are similar to them, hence, it may be easier to choose a partner. Consequently, finding partners based on similarity covers the need for close emotional contact and simplifies the interaction between people. However, there is an alternative view to this hypothesis: many people are convinced that opposites tend to attract.

Since forming a partnership is not universal, it is proper to recognize that people with different worldviews or behaviors often come together in love or friendship alliances. Often psychologists turn to the physical example of magnetism to demonstrate how opposing charges — plus and minus — can attract while similar charges repel each other (Field, 2021). The tangible benefits of such alliances cannot be overstated: each person brings a new dimension to the partnership, complements it, and adds unique facets. It has been reported that resolving conflicts arising from differences in attitudes promote a sense of personal well-being and helps to strengthen the bond between people (Holliman and Critten, 2015). In addition, differences in behavior and cognitive traits between people reduce the tone of communication by forcing them to constantly learn and be engaged in the interaction without predicting their partner’s behavior. When we are confronted with new perspectives and opinions, it ultimately contributes to personal development as well, as it catalyzes critical thinking and a willingness to engage in new experiences.

Another intriguing perspective on the problem of partner choice is the subconscious tendency of people to relive their own traumas. It is a fact that many people are carriers of emotional turmoil and trauma rooted, in part, in childhood relationships with their parents (Voith et al., 2020). When a person grows up, the trauma can remain unprocessed, which affects their behavior. From this perspective, it is believed that a person tends to choose partners who will excite these traumas in their minds, as people subconsciously crave healing (Hick, 2019). In this context, it is impossible not to cite Bowlby’s theory, which postulates the evolutionary development of attachments (Holliman and Critten, 2015). It has been reported that attachments tend to be established at an early age as a biological need of children for emotional contact and survival. Regarding the self-healing hypothesis, attachment, according to Bowlby, may refer to a desire to become attached to people who help restore childhood memories and refresh experiences and trauma from the past. The individual seeks to find a partner with whom to recreate emotional attachment, thus facilitating survival in the adult world. Consequently, we are more likely to choose partners who allow us to relive past traumatic experiences because we ourselves unconsciously want to overcome this barrier. It is worth acknowledging, however, that the self-healing hypothesis is incomplete and may reveal fundamental contradictions.

In particular, the idea described above seems logical if the person does have traumas and does not have the resources to deal with them professionally. However, this hypothesis does not explain the scenario if the person grew up in a healthy family and all of his or her traumas were healed through psychotherapy — what is the choice of partners in this case. Moreover, the pursuit of self-healing turns out to be a self-centered perspective since, in this case, the priority in choosing a partner is given not to feelings of emotional attachment or attraction to each other but to a unilateral desire to be better. We may get the impression that subconsciously we are choosing a person who would help us, but such a desire is destructive to a two-way, trusting relationship. Putting the responsibility on the partner to deal with personal emotional trauma does not seem to be a healthy relationship-building strategy, therefore, this psychological perspective does not seem to be universal or defensible.

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To summarize, we must first consider the natural social urge for people to band together in groups and alliances. Indeed, loneliness does exist in modern society, but most people feel the need to make friends and begin loving relationships. There is no single rationale for a person’s decision to seek specific partners in psychology, as there are too many viewpoints and perspectives. This paper has examined at least three hypotheses — physical proximity, affinity, and desire for healing — that may unconsciously drive people’s decision-making. However, a critical look at these paradigms reveals their instability and unpredictability. From this, we can conclude that there is no single model for choosing partners, and each case is unique; moreover, we cannot rule out the possibility of a combination of different motivating forces forcing us to choose certain friends or partners. Ultimately, the fact that not all alliances last forever and breakups occur is evidence of the dynamism of motivation and the existence of many other factors.

Reference List

Chen, C.M. and Kuo, C.H. (2019) ‘An optimized group formation scheme to promote collaborative problem-based learning,’ Computers & Education, 133, pp. 94-115.

Chien, W.C. and Hassenzahl, M. (2020) ‘Technology-mediated relationship maintenance in romantic long-distance relationships: an autoethnographical research through design,’ Human–Computer Interaction, 35(3), pp. 240-287.

Cinelli, M., Morales, G.D.F., Galeazzi, A., Quattrociocchi, W. and Starnini, M. (2021) ‘The echo chamber effect on social media,’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(9), pp. 1-8.

Field, B. (2021) Do opposites attract in relationships?

Hick, K. (2019) Three reasons why people come together in relationship.

Holliman, A. and Critten, S. (2015) Chapter 2: what is the point of childhood? Early experiences and social relationships.

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Maximets, N. (2021) What percent of high-school relationships last? | statistics and facts.

Pazil, N.H.A. (2018) ‘Face, voice and intimacy in long-distance close friendships,’ International Journal of Asian Social Science, 8(11), pp. 938-947.

Voith, L.A., Logan-Greene, P., Strodthoff, T. and Bender, A.E. (2020) ‘A paradigm shift in batterer intervention programming: a need to address unresolved trauma,’ Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21(4), pp. 691-705

Watts, S. and McDermott, V. (2015) Chapter 6: why would I hang around with you? The psychology of personal relationships.

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