The Institution of Marriage and Family holds all of the rules and guidelines by which we pair off, support each other for a lifetime, have and rear children through to adulthood. It's out there in the culture - white weddings, double ring ceremonies, 'til death do us part, wifely duties, the responsibilities of husband and father. All this information was placed into the culture via a marvelous social invention called the process of institutionalization, which is the process of collecting together behaviors that work to the good of society and individuals. In the case of family relations, we as a society have been gathering behavior sets and thinking about marriage and family goals by trial and error. We'll try a new tradition out for a while and it will work, so we keep it around, or doesn't and we discard it. In Darwinian terms - institutions evolve out of social living - resulting in the survival of the fittest, most tenable methods for satisfying social and individual needs.
Mate selection practices are just such methods. We need some process of mate selection to propagate society. If we could design a mate selection method, what might it be like? How about this: In every town, a committee of older adults would select young men and women for each other on the basis of physical characteristics - big ones with big ones, tall with tall, redheads with redheads. At 18 years of age, we meets a future spouse who, provided we've completed our college requirements, will ultimately marry us and begin to rear a family with us. After twenty years of marriage, the children would be nearly grown and we could begin phase two of our lives, this time registering our interests with the national spousal correlation service. Our new spouse would be close to us in desire levels, hobbies, and visual/perceptual scores. Sound boring? Contrived? That's just because the description above isn't among our cultural definitions of love and marriage. Mate selection in American culture can be described as similarly contrived, but it is our contrivance.
So how do Americans select someone to marry? First, for almost everyone, we date around for a while. This is so we can try out some of our newly found hormonal attributes and social skills before making any long-term choices. We have our culture's permission to do this--in fact, our culture almost demands that we do it! Hundreds of years ago we might have taken the partner our parents selected, or we might have purchased our bride, or been purchased by our groom, or we might have selected our spouse based on a rigid chaperone system. But today, in America, we date anyone we want (right!, and a master's degree is your ticket to that big bucks job!). How did dating come to be a major part of the mate selection process? It evolved over time with many different competing paradigms vying for popular support.
An Oversimplified History of Mate Selection
A couple of thousand years later, property became more important, at least among the landed gentry, and social classes began to be recognized. The introduction of agriculture into the cultural way of doing things made land ownership crucial to success ( Keep in mind that only the life and times of very rich aristocrats were documented during this period). Marriages were seen as a way to cement loyalties between people not tied by blood relation. One could amass a wealth of farmland by having a son marry the daughter whose father owned the next farm over. Also, it is a little more difficult to make war on your relations. Marriage, then, became arranged to insure loyalties and increase personal wealth.
Romanticism was first linked to love (not marriage - love) in about 1500 A.D. and continued throughout the centuries. The ownership of property became even more important to the greatest number of people as a middle class of merchants began to emerge. People came to North America seeking new fortunes and freedom from oppression. They mixed old European cultural norms with existing Hispanic and American Indian cultural norms, resulting in a new culture and a new feeling of freedom. Soon the industrial revolution had folks moving into densely populated cities. There were more places in cities to court a sweetie pie out of sight of disapproving friends and relations. Interestingly, while more people lived in cities, there seemed to be more isolation there as well. As children were defined less as beasts of burden and more like financial liabilities, they were encouraged to choose their own mates - with limited parental approval.
Perhaps one of the most devastating events to the preservation of chastity and parental control of mate selection was the introduction of the mobile sex palace into our culture in the form of the automobile. It represented freedom of movement to anyone tall enough to see over the steering wheel. Where young people would have met each other at church or school and in the presence of extended kin, they could now drive off - all alone - into the night with each other. So dating emerged out of the 1920s as a device by which youngsters may get to know a wide variety of potential mates. At first, dating was just one of many avenues for meeting potential spouses. However, as institutionalization of a mating practice occurs, spontaneous and experimental behaviors like dating sometimes become the preferred patterned behavior.
In order for dating to become part of the institution of marriage and family, individuals must have social roles to play on a date. Social roles are sets of behavioral expectations which limit expression of personal eccentricity in favor of normally recognized behaviors. Our personalities are modified to fit the expectation, rather than being allowed to freely be expressed. By and large, social roles are strictly adhered to. While there is a fair amount of personal latitude allowed on dates (i.e., color of clothing, choice of activities within reason, topics of conversation within reason), there are specific elements of dating behavior that must be met. For example, boys have to be sensitive to what the culture defines as a girl's special handling - he has to be clean, polite to her, and dating activities must allow for conversation.
There are cultural ideals that generally define a good date and a proper mate selection practices. While we may differ on some superficialities surrounding appearance, we could make a list of absolute musts in a choice of date for our children - money or job potential, solid work values, a pleasant personality, loyalty, absence of a prison record, drug free status, and so on. What we want for our kids is someone who is good marriage material. This cultural ideal of the perfect date sometimes backfires on us because the cultural ideal of a perfect spouse is different from the ideals describing a date.
Here's a scenario that happens all too often. A young man and woman marry - each the picture of perfection to the other. Somewhere in midlife, he becomes bored with the wife he married, begins to find fault with her behavior, and divorces her to marry a jazzier, younger woman (actually he'd like a version of the same person he married the first time twenty years earlier) only to find that the new wife has adopted the traditional wife role upon the occasion of the marriage. Similarly, she married him because he was knowledgeable, strong willed and could make decisions quickly. Over the years these qualities are reinterpreted as his being a know-it-all, stubborn, and one who jumps to conclusions.
What would happen, if college sweethearts, immersed in university life (frat parties, casual and revealing dress codes, spontaneous make-out sessions) eventually marry. The wife continues to drink heavily at company parties, wear short skirts, tube tops, no stockings, and smacks chewing gum and smooches on her hubby in front of his colleagues between her telling of sophomoric jokes. She's failed to adopt the role of Spouse, which will put the marriage in peril. Whether or not we like them, there are very specific roles defined by our culture that govern our behaviors at times along the path of marriage and family. We have little choice in these matters because failure to follow them often results in the dissolution of the marriage and the break-up of the family. These are simply values in conflict.
Socialization for Marriage (not Family)
One strong contention I'm making here is that we socialize children up to the marriage ceremony, then sort of stop teaching them about actually living in a family. And the statistics bear this out:
A consistent 83% of men and 77% of women cite love as the reason they married the person they did, while only 23% of the married persons surveyed say they would not have married the person they did if they could do it over again. Most of us emerge from adolescence with a positive marriage orientation, due to a romantic love complex of norms. These emphasize romantic love and attachment as the only basis for a lifetime commitment to marriage, which is the only legally supported way of publicly announcing romantic interest and exclusivity. Included also is a preponderance of marriage-like experiences:
The Search for a Mate
At sometime during late adolescence, people begin to consciously prepare themselves for marriage. Their expectations are unrealistic, and certain entire areas of family life are left unattended. Hormones course through their bodies, with the culture defining the feelings associated with puberty as love. Researchers have defined the common elements of "good" or successful marriages with happy, satisfied spouses:
Propinquity refers to the tendency of people to meet and marry
those with whom they have the most contact. So we usually find mates
in school, in the neighborhood, at church. This puts to rest the
notion of there being a "Mr. Right" - or a "one and only" just for us.
We make that happen. We also find prospects through friends,
at work, through fix-ups, at bars, at laundromats, and at the
grocery store. Because of strong social norms surrounding who we
date, there are some
sociocultural factors, in addition to propinquity, that influence our choice of mates:
According to Murstein's Stimulus - Value - Role theory of mate selection, we begin dating those in our immediate viewing area, selecting dates from our pool of eligibles. We select those to date who first strike our fancy in terms of physical and personal attractiveness. These fall through our "filter" to the next level of seriousness as we move away from casual dating to comparisons for mate selection. In the Value filter we compare our dates' values to our own in broad strokes. Here, the purpose of conversation is to hold our own investigation, so we always keep our ears open for value conflict. Those who hold similar values in what we consider to be important areas fall through to the next level - Role comparisons. Here we start playing house a little, attempting to gauge whether or not our sweeties could be our spouse or not. We imagine ourselves married to these people and decide whether or not we like what we perceive. If we are lucky, we pick one person through this whole process to exclusively date, engage ourselves to, and eventually marry.
If we are unlucky, we wind up at the end of our search with too many partners having successfully made it through our filters. We may raise our standards and quickly pass our candidates through the system again with more rigorous tests. Conversely, we may wind up at the end of our search with no potential partners. Here we may have to lower our standards and research the pool having realized we were too hard on its membership.
The Clock Spring Theory - love develops between two people
as their relationship progresses through a series of related and mutually
reinforcing stages. This theory is more of a couple oriented idea,
beginning, perhaps, after extensive dating in the field has begun.
This model assumes propinquity, exogamy and endogamy, and homogamy principles.
The people in this model have met, dated some, and they have built up some
mutually comfortable feelings about each other. These feelings lead to
intimacy as they talk about themselves and their goals in life. These
events lead to the development of mutual habits and some interdependency
which they find fulfilling because their needs are being met. Each
realization of fulfillment leads to further establishment of rapport, more
disclosure, more dependency, more fulfillment, blissful rapport and finally
commitment to the relationship.
What it doesn't include are fights, conflicts over minor irritations, feelings of insecurity in the relationship and other such nuisances that get in the way of true love. In other words, it doesn't approximate reality very well. Starting with these two theories of mate selection, we could attempt to modify them with an explanation of the individual's Personal Shopping List -a prioritized listing of one's perceptions of absolute musts and nice things to have in a relationship.
Such a list would include a potential mate's:
1) personal appearance (height, weight, hair, eyes)
2) personality traits (intelligence, dependability, sense of humor, integrity, honesty)
3) economic potential (career potential or attainment, future prospects)
4) beliefs and values (attitudes toward sex-roles, religious beliefs, and the values that guide the
5) special interests and abilities (athletics, music, ability to converse)
6) secret hopes and desires (a fantastic lover, someone who will take you around the world,
someone with good taste).
In analyzing how we pair off, we would have to include discussions of traditional or assortative dating. This generally occurs in the context of the Marriage Market - out there, where everyone can be had for a price.
In social exchange terms, dating is "window shopping" - courtship is "bargaining" - marriage is "sealing the deal". Each dating participant puts on a face or "mask" (symbolic interaction) by attempting to project personalities that will please and attract the exact type of person they are interested in, which is known as pluralistic deceit. Over time as dating becomes more exclusive, the layers of falsehood are stripped away (erode away). We begin to know the other more as we show ourselves more.
In our culture, we are initiated early on into dating as preparation for marriage:
Dating teaches us about members of the opposite sex, how to get along with them, and it allows us to improve the communication and social skills that enhance our social attractiveness and promote intimate interactions. We learn about ourselves through dating, get some understanding of our market value, and establish standards for later mate selection. Sexual exploration and some degree of gratification or the promise of it is part of dating, despite what our parents want to believe. Compatibility with different partners and eventual selection of one is achieved by the individuals and their social networks.
There are gender differences in the dating exchanges.
Men feel pressure to "put out" financially.
Women feel pressure to "put out" sexually.
Males approach dating from a psychosexual orientation while females approach dating from a psychoaffectional- affectional orientation. While nobody claims to like this system, it is titillating and takes on a "game" nature. Little in the way of trust is shared early in the dating process. Both males and females fall back on traditional norms, developing skills in the playing of complex "games" to manage themselves.
Traditional dating has its critics - it is sexist, it is superficial, it is deceitful , and it is unfair and arouses anxiety. Problems in dating range from difficulty in getting dates, leaving the initiative to the male, who may not possess the skills, to aversive dating experiences, violence and date rape. Still, dating persists with little changes in the past decades. As we move from casual to serious dating, we move into an exclusive dating relationship. Here, more investment is put into the relationship, matched in more or less equal parts by each partner. Friends who are not in serious relationships tend to be pushed away, replaced by "couples" who will do "couples" things recreationally. We have couples over for dinner parties, instead of catching a buzz with our friends down at the tavern.
Engagement and/or Cohabitation as a part of the courtship process:
My view is that the wisdom of our culture provides us with just enough information to go on to the next phase of our lives. There is a lot of waste and misdirected energy, but through it all, some of us emerge with a full and happy life. In nature, there is more youth than there is age. So it is with human life, except that we humans can alter our lives with thoughtful reflection and logic. These theories of mate selection are badly in need of revision to include the changes that have occurred in the last part of the twentieth century. Equality of the genders, economic fluctuations, and changes in the labor market have their effects. Surely there are many others.
The stuff of Information Theory includes: senders, receivers, noise, feedback, input-output, and environmental factors. Person-to-person communication is very similar to this mechanical description of message transmission and reception. The major difference has to do with the dynamic manipulation of symbolism that all human beings possess.
Family Process and Clinical Experiences in Family Communications
Communications theory is useful in explaining the ways in which families:
The zeitgeist of communications theory -the spirit of it- has to do with the idea of cybernetics (the study of control and communication between the animal and machine interface). Both theories (communications and cybernetics) use the concept of open and closed lines of communication. The discovery of increasingly complex machine systems coupled with the discovery of the basic principles of face-to-face communications. For example: Industrialization and social mobility have led to isolation of the nuclear family from traditional community and family supports. Principles of communication haven't changed, but the hardware used to attempt consensus has changed greatly.
There are, however, big differences in communication between machines
and communication between human beings, especially human communication
in close relationship. Human communication occurs between units dependent
on personal relationships that define the context in which communication
is perceived to take place.
Machines will send and receive messages indiscriminately.
Also, there is more likelihood for systemic distortion in human communication, as the relationship between sender and receiver develops.
Noise in a zero redundancy system would produce errors
with no possible strategy for solution because the noise would be errantly
assumed to be symbolic. The English language is both highly symbolic
and about 75% redundant. The language has evolved so that redundancy
insures better communications (higher rates of successful message transmission).
Thus, we can work crossword puzzles, or fill in the blanks:
K _ _ p _ _ f _ _ _ g r _ _ _
K_ _ _ M_
_ _ _
or mix media:
IWadsworth IMy Garden a Republican today
Communication Channels and Redundancy
A skilled communicator can consistently present information with the two main channels of communication: verbal and nonverbal (one nonverbal channel consists of paraverbal--ahs and ohs and voice tone, one nonverbal channel consists of body language and gestures),
Verbal Communication Channels contain Report Functions - the content of messages (the information part). Think of this as the the digital portion of a message - words, signs, and symbols used to convey information. The meanings of these elements are culturally and arbitrarily assigned. These elements do not carry information about the object except for the conventional way words and symbols are used in the culture and in normal verbal context (i.e., the content of statements previous to the word in question). For example, the word "mad" carries several meanings that, without context are not distinguishable. If one were reading about mental illness (He's mad as a hatter), having a heated argument with a loved one (Why are you always mad at me), or watching a television commercial (The Lunatics at Murphey's Midnight Madness Sale are out of their minds with savings), the meaning of the word would change.
Nonverbal Communication Channels serve a relationship, or Command function, which further informs those to whom we address as to our intent and meaning. Think of this as the analog portion of conversation. When someone wishes to "make fun" of another, they may mimic tone of voice or hand gestures, or ape another's body language. Think of comedian impressionists. What makes them entertaining isn't their ability to use the same words as movie stars. Rather, it is their ability to capture the movie star's way of speaking and moving. In addition to hand gestures and tone of voice, we also use paralanguage (e.g., ummmm, aahhhh, baby talk), kinesthetic aspects of body movement (e.g., pointing, waving, touching), and facial expressions (e.g., eye movements, sneers, looks of anger, pursed lips). Nonverbal channels of communication can be redundant with verbal channels for purposes of insuring transmission of meaning. Nonverbal channels can complicate assurance of meaning transmission by being unrelated or running contrary to the words. Redundance, nonrelatedness, and inconsistency may be purposefully imposed on communication, or may be unwittingly emitted.
I once had a teacher in middle school who had a distracting habit. She was a fair teacher by 7th grade standards, but when addressing the entire class for extended periods of time she would play with the buttons on her blouse, repeatedly unbuttoning and rebuttoning the top two buttons. It was just weird! Once, during the period surrounding the Kennedy assassination, while we were all glued to the radio to listen to news updates, she got completely unbuttoned before starting her slow and steady climb back up. She was so immersed in the unfolding story, she'd lost all self-awareness.
Imagine the power one could bring to bear on others if perfect control over verbal and nonverbal channels were possible. Good sales people know how to do this, as do popular politicians, and movie starts. Efficient communication involves high levels of skill for both verbal and nonverbal channels. The ability to control nonverbal channels is a sort of social intelligence. Willie Loman's life in Death of a Salesman would have turned out quite differently had he possessed this ability.
Over time, patterns of redundancy idiosyncratically develop in family systems resulting in communication styles particular to the individual family. These may be considered in General Systems Theory terms as relationship rules, or Rules of Transformation of environmental input. Some families define yelling and screaming as normal and standard, while other families are extremely tolerant of deviance. Additionally, there are rules governing who initiates and concludes interaction, who occupies family status positions, who performs role assignments. Families who implement too little redundancy, or who do not make full use of nonverbal communication channels, or who have low social intelligence, are prone to inefficient communication - confusion and chaos - taking on the characteristics of a random family system. Families with too much redundancy make for rigid role assignments, inflexibility, and a closed family system.
Symmetrical and Complementary Patterns of Communication
In symmetrical interaction patterns, partners mirror each other's behaviors. There is equality and a minimization of differences. In the extremis, such a relationship can escalate to intense competition over equality--a sort of mini-arms race.
In complementary interaction patterns, one behavior complements the other. Communication is situational and rational, and may evolve a dominant/submissive nature. There will be inequality and maximization of differences. In the extremis, such a relationship can lead to inappropriately fixed roles - grown children still fully dependent on parents. Most family communication is a combination of symmetrical and complementary patterns, however, any relationship - husband-wife, sibling-sibling, parent-child - will be dominated by one or the other type.
The Double Bind - Put down that pencil sweetheart, or mommy will break your little arm! Messages from different channels may serve to create a paradox through the simultaneous assertion of two mutually exclusive messages. Actors pay attention to this or run the risk of poor communication and poor role performance. Double Binds are more significant in the context of close and long lasting relationships.
Disjunctive Communications between command and report functions - Said in a deadpan, disinterested fashion. Honey, what's the matter? I really want to know. This is self-evident, and very common in almost all relationships.
Disqualification -This is a really dumb question, but ...
or I'm just a guy, what do I know, right? Sender invalidates
his/her own message by preceding or following message with a
Disconfirmation or Mystification - You're not sick, just afraid!, or I can see how someone like you would say something stupid like that! The receiver denies sender's message and sender's legitimacy.
Punctuation can refer to the confusion about the nature of family roles, among other things.
The Communication of Intimacy within Families
Intimacy is a special kind of interpersonal sharing consisting of:
- detailed, deep knowledge and understanding arising from close personal contact or familiar, joint,
- a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship.
- sexual expressiveness, where appropriate.
Each family (depending on governing family rules) will express intimacy differently. Relational currencies differ. Patterned intimacy / Conflict cycles, while serving to regulate the amount of intimacies exchanged, are determined by at least two factors. The Freedom versus Security Dilemma - The documented human need for intimacy - to be loved, held, caressed - seems real, but there is also a "fear of intimacy" in humans - fear of being controlled, loss of personal mobility. Family themes, images, and boundaries that are rooted in members' past histories, contributing to varying rates of intimacy development. Touching, consistent use of first names, remembrances, self-disclosure, well-defined role structure are negotiated.
The communication of intimacy and affection is highly regarded, though most people would have a difficult time explaining exactly how it works. For this very reason, self-help gurus and video marketing campaigns are so incredibly successful Find out how to talk to your one true love in my new book and video package: Women are from Pluto, Men are from Uranus! There is room for the argument that the expression of intimate feelings and emotions is a learned behavior. If there is any truth to the assertion that women are better than men at expressing intimacy, it is probably because of differential socialization. Early on boys are punished for such behaviors, thus extinguishing them. Girls, on the other hand, are punished early on for not expressing nurturance, feeling, affection and caring. The neat trick is that by midlife, the process is reversed. Men lose families through divorce primarily because of this deficit, while women lose their standard of living for their over-attention to affection. The standard sociological answer for this gender difference is that expressive behavior is just not functional for men. The fellow who expresses his fears and hopes to a coworker in a competitive job market is doomed to have those fears aimed right back at him when pay raises are negotiated, for example.
If communication skills were attended to during socialization as much
as the superficial aspects of gender, there is a chance that true social
change could be achieved. The facts today suggest no interest on
the part of young people in actually communicating with the opposite gender,
or the same gender for that matter. Girls want to be girls.
Boys want to get girls. Check out the table of contents for any popular
magazine marketed to teen and preteen girls:
Your Ruined Rep - How to redeem yourself
Bikinis - 40 good reasons not to skinny-dip
Bad Hair Day Busters
Bodyline - Confessions of an Anorexic Cheerleader
Getting Intimate - What to do when it freaks him out!
| Seventeen April 1994
Dare to Bare - Go Short Dresses
On the Edge with Aerosmith
Quiz: What Guys Really Think
Mariah Carey Gets a New Look!
Guys & Their Clothes
Plus - Win a day on the set of Melrose Place
Compare this to Mad Magazine (any issue) or a copy of Playboy (any issue):
Debra Jo Fondren: Unforgettable Photos of a Dream Girl Sex in Chicago: Getting it on in the Second city
The Girls of Hawaiian Tropic-Beautiful Broze Bombshells A Real Guy's Interview with Playwright David Mamet
The Stripper Next Door: Undressing for fun and Profit Serial Killer Stalks New Orleans Tracy Hampton: the O.J. Juror with Difference - Her story, her photos Playboy Interviews John Travolta
Normal socialization of children within our culture leads to
this, and it always has.
On a daily basis, nobody talks about anything of much importance. It isn't that men express themselves differently from women. The idea here is that men and women don't express themselves at all, by and large -they express an expected image of men and women. They express themselves as a reasonable facsmile of what they see & read in the popular culture. At the risk of commiting a sweeping generalization, I urge you to look out into the faces of a large class room of college freshmen. The young women all smell good, look good, have one of the valid hair styles, and are quiet and relatively shy. The young men all wear some version of a rock 'n roll, sports, or college t-shirt, have a team ball cap backwards on their heads, and have a relatively short attention span (due primarily to their parents reliance on television as a companion and babysitter). Like it or not, these are the leaders of tomorrow.
They are scared to death someone will ask their opinion, scared that
someone will point them out, scared that someone won't point them out,
scared that they have an inappropriate odor, that their body isn't the
right shape, that their nose looks dumb, that the wrong person will
find them attractive, or that the right person will ignore them.
And each one believes that they alone have these problems. How'd they get like this?
For one thing, and this is just one thing, they've spent the last 12 years of their lives sitting in rigid class rooms with desks welded to the floor in straight lines, waiting for the bell to ring. Every authority figure they encounter is only interested in their ability to give the right answer instead of in what they think. Most of the older people they encounter have it out for them - this development within an environment that is hostile to their self-concept.
Venturing an opinion in sucn an environment is threatening at first. Over time, the environment kills off most of the motivation that children might have otherwise developed. Rolling in to fill this void, popular culture replaces individual expression, and also replaces the need to communicate with others to achieve intimacy. As long as everyone thinks like everyone else in an age group, the need to know another person is moot.
Answers and solutions are simple enough.