Over the last couple of months I have been exploring some of the criteria we use in selecting potential mates. As I see it, physical attractiveness is the primary factor in the initiation of most dating relationships. Once the dating relationship has been initiated, the certain something that makes the heart flutter and the stomach queasy should lead to feelings of romance. The couple then falls in love and is in a head long rush into a relationship that will ultimately succeed or fail, based on factors that have little to do with physical attraction or romantic emotions. Therefore, alternative criteria in selecting a mate may be more suitable in achieving successful and enduring relationships.
There has been no shortage of controversy and criticism regarding my article on the role of physical attraction in a dating relationship. Although readers are in agreement that physical appearance is not sufficient to ensure the long term success of a relationship, many are loathe to admit that physical attraction plays any role in their selection of potential mates. Supposedly, they never even notice looks. I afford the same credibility to such emails as those that clutter my inbox claiming that I have won millions of dollars in African lotteries.
Somewhat surprisingly, reader feedback has been in nearly unanimous agreement that romance is not only an unreliable basis on which to base a long term relationship, but that the dominance of romantic love may be an un-Christian (or extra-Christian) concept. Most surprisingly is the aspect of my article on romantic love that seems to have captured the attention of most of my readers, that most Biblical examples of marriage were arranged. Although I was in no way advocating a return to arranged marriage in my article, a significant percentage of my readers seem to favor this concept.
Given pause by reader response in favor of arranged marriage, I have been forced to examine the cause of such sentiment. If physical attraction is insufficient and romance is unreliable in ensuring long term, committed and loving relationships, some other criteria must be preferable. Commonality of interest, background and religion would seem to be of primary importance, as would mental and emotional maturity and stability (a willingness and ability to commit). So much of who we are is dependent on our genes. It would make sense that a father, in selecting a mate for his son or daughter, would select a pool of potential candidates from families with which he was intimately familiar. Traditionally, this has meant a cousin, but it would not preclude the offspring of a business partner, a political ally, close friend or member of the same ethnic background and social circle.
Before readers bombard my inbox with outraged accusations of racism and classism, I would point out that I am not advocating against interracial dating or inter-class dating. I am merely making a common sense observation that if the father wishes to choose a spouse for his son or daughter based on a criteria of positive attributes that would lead to a strong marriage, he would choose from those with whom he was familiar. He would say, "I know this person. I know the family. He/she comes from a long line of stable, hard working, successful, church-going people. His/her family is opposed to divorce. Alcoholism and insanity are rare in his/her family. I held him/her as a baby, watched him/her grow up and I know his/her character. He/she would make a good spouse and would produce smart, healthy, attractive children. He/she would be a good parent and would pass on the ideals I have instilled in my children to his/her children."
You and I, the potential spouses, are unqualified to make such selections on our own. It takes years to have such knowledge of a person. It takes years to get to know someone, to learn their character and their family history. Although this may be the most effective means in mate selection, it is almost impossible for those of us in modern times to imitate it on our own. Occasionally one comes across a couple who grew up together, who attended the same church, same schools and who knew each other's families almost as intimately as their own. Such tight knit communities and neighborhoods are increasingly rare in our mobile, economically motivated and secular society. We may be able to get to know someone almost as well in a "start from scratch" dating environment, but the time involved in coming to thoroughly know someone is prohibitive. We would have to date each person for a number of years, which would limit the number of potential mates to a pool far too small for a suitable sample.
So, what to do? Well, instead of turning the clock as far back as arranged marriage, why not advocate a resurgence of matchmaking? An older family member, priest or similar figure in the community is well positioned to "know the families" and may have sufficient knowledge of potential mates to suggest suitable dates. This is not an unheard of or even rare concept.
In the South, the country club set has its cotillions, in which the debutants (the young women of similar class and background) are presented to their community as suitable mates for young men of the same class and background. Although prohibitively exclusive and even frowned upon in our time, the cotillions ensured the stability that has carried the South through the Civil War (we prefer to call it The War of Yankee Aggression), Reconstruction (in which the wealth and property of those before the war was forcibly taken and re-distributed), the modernization which displaced the farmers and disrupted the agrarian society and in to the modern era of national homogenization. Outside of the country clubs, most matchmaking is done in the churches (both black and white –all Protestant) by little gray (or blue) haired ladies. Up North (so I've learned from television) there is the omnipresent old Jewish, Italian, Polish, etc. grandmother who says, "You should meet my niece/nephew".
Most people have been fixed up at some point. What we may not realize is what a compliment it is for someone to think we are worthy to meet their niece, nephew, son, daughter, cousin or friend, a person who they truly love; depending on the relationship, it may be an invitation into their family.
Some years ago, while living in a small town in Georgia, I met the subject of a matchmaker's work. He had moved to town a year earlier from out of state. He was handsome and athletic, hard working, humble but charismatic, well liked by everyone and shy around girls in that kind of "aw shucks" manner that many country boys used to have. He had been raised by his divorced and remarried father in sparse circumstances. He moved to town to care for his ailing grandmother who was old money, old family and a pillar of the community. The Youth Minister, at the Methodist Church that his grandmother attended, introduced him to a young woman from a nearby town who attended the church where the Youth Minister had previously worked. She was beautiful, smart and confident. She came from an old family and her father was a wealthy doctor. The Youth Minister encouraged them to date. They quickly fell very deeply in love, married after college and now have two children. They were from different states, lived in different towns, and were in very different social circles and economic backgrounds. Not only would they likely never have met without the help of the Youth Minister, but my friend never would have dared approach so beautiful a girl from such a moneyed background. She probably wouldn't have looked twice at the country boy who drove an old pickup truck and wore work boots. The matchmaker's mutual vouchsafe and encouragement made the difference.
What an integral, important and esteemed role a matchmaker can play! As with all human endeavors, matchmaking will not work out with equal success every time. It does, however, have much better odds than going it alone. Let's encourage the resurgence of matchmakers in societal prominence. How better to foster strong families, counter the trends of divorce and societal decay?
Some have taken issue with the frankness of my opinions. "Politically correct" rules of communication dominate our culture, and are especially prevalent in Christian circles. Those who point out even obvious truths to which one may take offense are quickly reprimanded by a sort of subtle Orwellian "Thought Police". We are indeed fortunate that such issues as slavery were dealt with by more courageous generations than our own – our culture would hesitate in recognizing such evil for fear of offending the slave owner and hurting the feelings of the slave by reminding him of his sorry lot in life.