How and whom to bond with are like trials and tribulations for many singles who do not simply fall ‘madly’ in love. That is, falling madly in love is a done deal. You cannot help but be bonded now and everything else just follows. Many of these fateful crushes do not end that well. I understand ordinary dating as a sort of tryout of close intimacy, it works well enough for adults.

Love, but be careful what you love.

Roman African philosopher Saint Augustine

Unfortunately, a lot of broken teenage hearts are left behind in high school, after estrogen and testosterone did what they must do. Virtuous as these crushes still may be, we will not give much attention to these dating scenes right now.

Let’s consider the many folks who never fall madly in love – they may simply not be that ‘lucky’ ever or too cautious to allow themselves such a delight. Some folks, perhaps, fall only ‘gently’ in love with each other and are still able to look at ‘that checklist’ recommended by elders, coaches, friends, magazines, or even entertainment shows on the flatscreen. They still can help themselves and wonder: “Is this going to work out?”

There are also those who will approach the task of finding Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect much more deliberately. They do not recklessly date, or date until it has worn them out, they engage in concerted courtship to find and select a partner. Courtship may be understood as the coordinated effort by both singles, under the auspices of their families, to get acquainted and assess their prospects without getting overly intimate right away. This ‘falling gently in love’ should and might take a bit of time!

Courtship could encompass finding someone likable – let’s say in church – and then hoping to fall gently in love with that person after the decision to bond. Strictly arranged marriages are not that common anymore in the Western world, but marriages as an outcome of that kind of courtship are. These marriages are not so much about two independent and private people bonding with each other on their own terms, but more about communal affairs that significantly involve family and even the tribe as well.

What, then, can be said about why and how people chose their partners?

It is all very involved, no matter what. The good news is that, according to many psychologists, people are very adaptive, or malleable, to given circumstances and often able to work ‘things’ out. In other words, people deal and cope with the imperfections of life. Whether having fallen madly or gently in love, or being told who to marry, or being compelled to marry someone from within the tribe, or never marry, or anything in between, people can and will and must make due.

In general, however, there is an antipathy among many parents against dating. Parents, especially many Christians, hate the appearance of promiscuous dating, and perhaps for good reasons. A lot of young folks have their dating hearts broken early on in life, and too many children are born without a caring dad. That sort of thing. Yet, the mature generations do not realize that young people may experiment in intimate relationships for good reasons as well.

The economic, cultural, and social straightjacket of the past have come off starting perhaps with the sexual revolution in the ’60s. Women are now emancipated to advanced degrees, not having to submit to pre-ordained roles as the ‘submissive wife manning the kitchen at home’ anymore. Men used to be more equal than women. Men, I will argue, are a bit confused by that new reality. Compounding that conundrum is the situation that both men and women are sexually mature as teenagers, that is, way before being able to now stand independently in a competitive economy. Saddled with debt from years of college, both men and women are on a road less traveled. Especially men are unlikely to make enough money to support their amorous and other passions until they get into their mid-twenties.

Many parents are unprepared to help or guide their offspring. What parent has the tenacity to tell their son or daughter to practice abstinence for some 10 years? The olden, time-tested ways − no matter how crummy − are hardly relevant to the younger generations. Youth must experiment, and many do so.

Divorce rates are fairly high in the Western world. Separations, as a last resort, are legit as part and parcel of ‘making due.’ Yet, can singles be better prepared for one of the most consequential decisions in their life? An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Modern courtship, then, may come to the rescue.

Modern courtship to the rescue

First of all, modern courtship is better not thought of as only finding a compatible Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect so as to reduce any risk. What could compatibility be based on? To mind, quickly, come character traits. But what kind of character traits are compatible and why? Who knows? What kind of virtue are compatible with another? Limiting one’s thinking to character traits or reading Aristotle on virtues gets one into a rabbit hole quickly.

It is the nature of the desired relationship that matters foremost. The pressing questions are: “What am I looking for in that relationship, for as much as I can anticipate it, and is that promising other compatible less so with me but more so with my vision?” “Am I compatible with the other’s vision for the relationship?” Without any such clarity, singles may not be able to evaluate if the promising relationship with another has long-term potential.

Most of us stumble from adolescence into adulthood in possession of selves that are half-formed, unexamined, and buffeted by the winds of the world. If you remain too much of a mystery to yourself, you will rebound and ricochet through life with no sense of how the thing you call you is producing your life.

Herman Hesse

Not to envision a life or relationship as going forward is perilous. Simply hitching up with a likable, good-enough single from next door and hoping for the best is as risky as playing Russian roulette. One will not have the upper hand over fate.

In other words, it is not the compatibility of character traits or personality types that matters foremost, but the compatibility of the two individual visions for the relationship. Generally speaking, courtship is the time set aside to get acquainted with each other to discover any compatibility. Noteworthy, however, is that strong expectations and strict demands by one make a romantic relationship unlikely to ignite, transform it into real love to outlast − like true love − the ups and downs on the shared path of life.

Recent academic research on the psychology of love backs up my general insight on the issue of compatibility and makes clearer why and how people might choose their partners.

Next, ABCs of Love –
7. How and Whom to Bond With