Worthy of respect, but outside your field

2010-06-23

in Psychology

The psychology of romantic attraction is a topic that has arisen here before, but I thought I would share an idea of my own.

Healthy long-term relationships probably always need to be built on a basis of mutual respect. Many of us respect people who show knowledge, talent, or skill in a field that we consider admirable – from academic accomplishment to music to athletics.

At the same time, being in a relationship with someone in too closely related a field seems likely to cause problems for many people, as a consequence of inevitable competition. Two academics might find themselves feeling competitive about publications or grant money, for instance. While, for some people, that might be a spur to greater accomplishment, I think it would be more likely to be a source of strain for most people.

That makes me wonder whether perhaps we spend too much time looking for partners within groups of people overly similar to us. Students in the same program have social events together and meet through classes; people in the same profession socialize together; participants in the same sport meet during training and competitions. Less commonly, we spend time socially with those ideal candidates: people who are admirably skilled in an area we respect, but do not excel in ourselves.

I think perhaps aristocrats everywhere have learned this lesson. Aristocratic events (insofar as I know anything about them) do tend to mix together successful and influential people from many walks of life, from prima ballerinas to up-and-coming diplomats. It seems plausible that many successful romantic unions could arise from this.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

XUP June 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

I think the key is not so much to find someone with the exact same knowledge, talents or skills, but to find someone of a similar, familiar background whose knowledge, talents or skills complement our own. We need to have enough common ground on which to base a relationship, but also need to have enough differences so that we’re not, as you say, in competition. And not just professionally, but personally, so that someone who is very thrifty for instance is better off with someone who maybe spends too readily and that person is better off with someone thrify — the balance each others’ strengths and weaknesses out.

R.K. June 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

Obviously, I should show up at more aristocratic events, while looking dapper.

Emily June 28, 2010 at 11:54 am

I agree that becoming romantically entangled with someone who shares similar focus can be frustrating. Your approach seems to be to avoid the conflict altogether by choosing someone with totally different interests, so competition is almost impossible.

This discounts some possibility for personal growth. Perhaps instead of avoiding the competition altogether, it would be wiser to cultivate a less competitive nature when it comes to relationships.

Sometimes vast differences can be alienating, as well. Especially when it comes to sharing moments of personal importance.

Matt June 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I think perhaps aristocrats everywhere have learned this lesson. Aristocratic events (insofar as I know anything about them) do tend to mix together successful and influential people from many walks of life, from prima ballerinas to up-and-coming diplomats. It seems plausible that many successful romantic unions could arise from this.

What evidence do you have that these relationships are ultimately successful? I suspect a lot of them end badly.

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