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How do we find that perfect partner?

By Peter Curson - posted Tuesday, 1 August 2017


Marriage is a vital population, geographical and social event. It involves the creation of a new social and economic unit as well as an often long association of persons previously separate.

In Australia today the basis for choice of a marriage partner remains romantic attachment. While one might think that this provides a wide arena of choice, in reality it is limited by law, social attributes, geography and a bevy of social and economic factors.

Romantic attachment is also a relatively recent phenomenon. Up until the end of the 19th century, marriage was primarily a loveless thing with little emotion or tenderness shown between man and woman or indeed between parents and children. Unions were often lineal and economic rather than personal.

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But really how much choice do we have in finding and selecting a marriage partner? Looking for the ideal mate absorbs everyone's time and energy at some time or other.

There are a number of theories advanced to explain why different pairs of people end up married.

Freud insisted that men sought in their wives an image of their mother but there is little evidence to support such a view. Like is also said to attract like and indeed many married couples have similar personalities. But in other cases opposites attract as well.

But leaving aside the romantic or psychological aspects of a person's search for the right partner it is interesting to speculate on just how people meet in the first place and what different places and backgrounds are linked by marriage. How far afield, for example, do people search for that ideal partner?

In many countries there would seem to be two ways people can find their search for a partner restricted. Firstly, population size, density of settlement and means of transport play a role. Secondly, choice of spouse is also restricted by tradition and prejudices which can prevent meetings between different peoples and/or indeed register some people as ineligible because of class, ethnicity, religion or blood relationship. In countries like Australia the choice of an ideal mate is only restricted by the number of people one meets and interact with.

Prejudices do remain, however, and today probably about half of all marriages would appear to be between people of the same "social class". Ethnic and racial considerations are also important in helping determine the choice of mate. For a long time Southern European migrants in Australia, for example, showed a high level of intra-group marriage compared to persons of British or North American background. Presumably something akin to this also applies for Polynesians in New Zealand.

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But where do people meet?

There would seem to be plenty of opportunities for people to meet prospective mates in places associated with pleasure or social life, such as pubs, coffee bars, sports grounds, Universities, colleges and restaurants, and inrecent years on-line dating has become of some significance.

A marriage survey carried out in Britain some years ago asked people where they first met their wife. In some cases the circumstances were odd such as the man who met his future wife in the street – head on in a road collision. Another was charmed by a disembodied voice over the phone.

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About the Author

Peter Curson is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University.

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