Courtship and Mate Selection
Research and theory on premarital relationships and mate selection have a “long and venerable history in family studies, ” and for good reason (Surra, 1990, p. 844). Premarital relationships are not only influenced by family background factors (Seiffge-Krenke, Shulman, & Klessinger, 2001) but also play a major role in the way one experiences family life in the future. Cate and Lloyd (1992) name courtship as the “first (and perhaps most crucial) stage in the family life cycle” (p. 2). An assumption inherent in most premarital relationship research is that relationships do not begin on their wedding day. Some, if not much of the architecture for later relational quality is already present premaritally (Flora & Segrin, 2003; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). What are some of these risk factors for poor marital quality that are evident premaritally? In this chapter, we highlight risk factors such as age, length of courtship, interaction patterns, and many other factors that couples transport from their courtship into their marriages (Hill & Peplau, 1998).
Next, what are the factors that draw two people into marriage? For sure, not all premarital relationships advance to marriage. Some people date knowing they only have a short-term interest in the partner. Some people date having long-term interest, but the relationship does not work out for a variety of reasons we will explore. Both men and women are more selective about their partners in situations that they intend to be longterm (Stewart, Stinnett, & Rosenfeld, 2000). Greater selectivity is warranted when the partners are looking to spend their lives together or raise children together. We begin the chapter by examining individual, dyadic, and external factors that influence the choice of a mate. Over time, these factors have been incorporated into models of mate selection. We review several of these models, including evolutionary psychology, social exchange, stage, and interpersonal process models.
Finally, in what ways are dating couples different from married couples? And do couples ever consider themselves to be a “family” before marriage? Perhaps because serious dating relationships are a testing ground for marriage, we recently found in our own research that serious, long-term dating couples and young married couples were not significantly different in their relationship satisfaction or their relational bond (i.e., their expressions of unity, fondness and affection, negativity, and disappointment; Flora & Segrin, 2003). Further, some premarital partners behave in ways that were once reserved for traditional marital or family relationships (Cate & Lloyd, 1992). There has been a staggering increase in the number of couples who cohabit (i.e., live together) prior to marriage or as an alternative to marriage (Bumpass & Sweet, 1989; Cate, Levin, & Richmond, 2002; Cohan