Sunday, November 14, 2004

Towards A Systematic Approach to Finding a Mate

Dating is often seen as an enjoyable time. A time where both genders meet up (assuming heterosexual unions) and pair off to see if they form a good “match” in terms of interests, values etc. The ultimate objective of this trial-and-error process is usually to identify someone with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life with (assuming you believe in the sanctity of marriage and it is for life etc…).

I am wondering whether, considering it is a decision that will impact our lives for life…, in the midst of all the fun and frolic, the movies and parties, the dinners and dancing…, are we treating the whole process with the seriousness it deserves? In fact, I am sure there are many who do not feel it needs to be taken all that seriously as it takes all the “fun” out of dating. I find it curious that we all take a job search seriously (well, perhaps not everyone) and we do not really even intend to stay with the employer for until we are 55! However, most of us treat the process with which we choose our life partner with barely any degree of planning, thought or seriousness. I am generalising of course, but that is the way I see it. If we truly believe in this marriage-for-life thing, ought we not approach the process in a more systematic (read: proper) way? Approaching something in a serious and systematic way does not necessarily remove the fun factor. Competitive sport is a serious matter but people still have fun doing it. You could also try having a look at a sex manual and the author will probably suggest that since we all lead busy lives, we need to make time and therefore “plan” for sex.

There is also the argument that marriage is about love, and love is not something that can be distilled into a “system”. Doing so would make the whole process of dating mechanical and the thought of “systematizing love” for want of a better phrase, is just unacceptable. It takes away the whole “spirit” of the process and objective. In summary, many people say that you can’t approach with the head, what is a matter for the heart.

In my opinion, those who voice these kinds of views believe the current hit and miss process has been going on for decades (if not centuries) and we have all lived with it, so why fix what does not appear to be broken.

I beg to differ and I believe this kind of thinking neglects and indeed is even perhaps wilfully blind to a host of issues that arise from the current process. What do we make of the misery of those who are “forced” by societal pressures to stay trapped within a loveless marriage. What about the increasing number of separations and of course, divorces that we are seeing today by people being freed by more liberal attitudes within society. What about the spousal and child abuse that goes on in some marriages? I am aware that there is a cultural shift happening towards views on the institution of marriage and this is partly causes the rise in the divorce rate. However, I also think that our current process of finding a mate is flawed and this leads to many mistakes which could have been avoided. I am advocating that we use more of our heads (not just our hearts) in determining who we partner for life. So, where do we start?

If we are looking for something, it is a reasonable assumption that we should have an idea of what we are looking for… or at least we have an idea of what we do not want. I think many people already stumble at the first hurdle. Many of us do not really go through a thorough self analysis and we therefore do not really know what we are looking for. I suggest we start by asking questions of ourselves.

What values do I hold dear? What do I think is important in a good, solid relationship? What am I looking for in a man/woman? What is my stand on the sensitive but critical issues of race, religion, money, family and children (how many, if any)? We can even extend the questions to touch on issues like educational level, social status/caste, views on bringing up children, role of in-laws etc. Which are the issues that we are “negotiable” on and which are “non-negotiable”? For example, we may want our potential spouse to share the same religion and this may be a “non-negotiable” item. So many questions and this may be just the tip of the iceberg but is any of this being asked at the dating stage? I doubt it.

I am well aware that if such “heavy” issues are raised at the first date, you may not be getting a second one! However my take is that these issues need to be raised and raised at an early stage of the dating game and not prior to a wedding and definitely not after!!

All of us should have an idea on where we stand on these very critical issues. Then our search will be more efficient. How can we search when we do not know what we are searching for?

Once we have “sorted ourselves out”, we can venture into the search process and begin parallel dating. We should essentially start meeting as many people as possible with the objective of “making friends”. This way, there is less expectations, a more informal atmosphere and we can then gather better info. The speed dating concept where a group of people meet up to 10(?) people on one night is interesting as it helps us cast a wider net in a shorter space of time.

In my view, there should be none of this “going steady” nonsense until very much later. The making friends approach allows one to truly date and meet many people simultaneously without giving in to exclusivity before it is warranted. When we meet others on a “friendly basis” we should, of course, be attempting to subtly find out if the person matches our criteria.

Yes, by all means have fun but I fear the fun factor or “chemistry” sometimes clouds out all judgement and we leave out the serious part (assessing the other person against our criteria) altogether, or until it is too late! Again, I am not suggesting we ask the other party how many children he/she wants to have on a first date! However, we should not be asking him/her on the wedding night either.

We really need to be mindful of our core purpose when we date. After all, we do not go for a job interview and not ask the company vital questions about the job and all it entails, correct? We ought to treat the dating game with equal seriousness if not more.

The small fly in the ointment is that we all do change over time and our needs and desires may change. Such things are not easy to forecast. However, if we were to place more effort in the initial part of our search and if we approach the whole process in a more responsible fashion, there is a greater possibility that we will be doing ourselves and our children a great service. As families form the building blocks of society, a more systematic approach may perhaps help us make better and wiser decisions that will ultimately impact us for the rest of our lives and perhaps build a more stable society for the future.


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