Forming and maintaining relationships

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Scenes from life

Charles is a 23-year-old rather shy and inhibited man. He lives with a male flat-mate and has a good, steady job in an office. The prospects for career advancement are reasonable although not startling and Charles has a number of outside interests, all of which tend to be pursued alone -reading, running and hiking or walking in the countryside when time off allows. He gets on well with his parents and visits them quite regularly. Like him, they tend to be quiet people who keep themselves to themselves. So far, Charles has not had a girl-friend. He finds it difficult to talk to women and can never seem to strike up the necessary boldness to invite a woman whom he likes out for a meal or to go to the cinema. He hasn't spent much time wondering why this is so, just putting it down to his inherent shyness and quietly hoping that some day something will happen and a relationship will develop for him.

He works in a high-rise building and at the start and end of each day uses the lift to get to the seventeenth floor. It is always crowded and Charles usually travels silently, keeping his eyes fixed to the floor indicator as it moves up and down. Conversations sometimes go on around him in the lift but he finds it difficult to engage in them even when it is with people that he knows. Descending one day after a busy day at work, his thoughts veering off to what he will read that evening and whether or not he will go for a run, the lift suddenly stops between floors. It is crowded as usual and the unscheduled stop instantly causes a small hubbub of conversation, frustrations and witticisms flying around. Charles stays quiet.

After a few minutes, the lift has still not started. Once or twice it has juddered a little, but the collective sigh of relief is quickly stifled as the descent does not begin. Charles can feel the tension in the lift beginning to mount. Voices are beginning to be raised and become a little more shrill. Charles turns and sees next to him a young woman whom he has seen

occasionally travelling up and down in the lift. She looks worried and glances up at Charles and says, 'This is annoying. I hope it starts soon. I have to get home to see my mother. She's not been well.' Charles can hear the strain in her voice and finds himself saying, 'I'm sure it will be alright. It will start in a minute.' He feels slightly excited and does not notice that he has spoken quite normally to the young woman, without his usual shyness. He thinks to himself how attractive she seems, in a quiet, understated way.

The lift does not begin its way down for another 40 minutes and in that time, Charles and the young woman gradually have more and more to say to each other, ignoring the complaining, joking voices around them. As the lift reaches the ground floor, Charles finds that he is experiencing an odd mixture of excitement and disappointment. As they make their way to the front doors of the building, Charles asks the young woman if she likes the movies and whether she would like to go with him some time. She immediately says how nice that would be and they finally swap names and make a date for the following evening. Charles makes his way home feeling a sense of quiet elation.

Imagine a 3-year-old girl, Gail, lively, intelligent and reasonably alert and aware as 3-year-old girls can sometimes be. She spends most days at home with her mother, who decided to take a few years out of her career in order to bring up her children. Gail is the first and another is on the way. Gail does the things that 3-year-old girls do. She plays with dolls, enjoys building things with Lego, enjoys her first brushes with learning to read; she paints, she uses crayons, she plays with friends. In all of this she is encouraged by her mother who consistently helps her and actually plays with her.

When things go wrong and she is frustrated or hurts herself or is upset by other children, her mother is always there to give comfort and warmth and to reassure her. Sometimes her mother tells her off but this is usually in the form of helping her to rethink something she has done. Even when Gail has transgressed some family rule and been 'naughty', her mother deals with this in the same way. She is firm but never rejecting; she draws clear boundaries for Gail but always remains a source of comfort to her. Everybody describes Gail as a happy child.

Gail's overriding image of her mother is of someone who is warm and kind and who smells nice and is always doing interesting things with her. Without yet knowing what 'feeling close' to someone means, she feels close to her mother. Her mother enjoys Gail's company and is looking forward to the birth of her next child. She is content with spending the next few years with her young children and then resuming her career later, if that is what seems right at the time.

Now imagine this same 3-year-old Gail, just as alert and intelligent and again with a mother who has taken some time out of her career to have children. However, she was less keen on having children and became pregnant with Gail by accident. There are times when she enjoys Gail's company but other times when she resents having to be at home, particularly when she sees her contemporaries forging ahead with their careers.

Gail plays at home and with friends, just like the first Gail, but she is much more alone when she does. Her mother spends less time with her and is generally less encouraging of what Gail does. She is simply more absorbed in her own world. When Gail hurts herself or when things go wrong or she is frustrated, her mother sometimes is there to comfort her and sometimes just seems to ignore her or tell her to go away. Sometimes when she breaks a family rule, when she is 'naughty', her mother is quite forgiving and at other times she loses her temper and tells Gail what a thoroughly bad child she is. There are few boundaries set for Gail, or at least the boundaries shift from time to time unpredictably.

Gail's overriding image of her mother is of someone she desperately wants to please but does not know how to. Sometimes she seems to get on with her well and sometimes she doesn't and she never knows what it will be like on any particular day. She is very tentative when she is with her mother and is starting to constantly look at her mother's facial and bodily reactions before she does something. She has no idea that this is what she is learning to do but nevertheless she is doing it. Sometimes she is happy and sometimes she isn't and she is sometimes experiencing strange feelings of discomfort inside and gets a very upset stomach. Everybody describes Gail as a rather moody child.

For all but the most isolated individuals, social relationships are an integral part of life. Human beings are gregarious; they are social animals. The occasional person who seems to shun the company of others tends to be regarded as abnormal, although there will be far more about what is and is not abnormal and how abnormality is defined in Chapter 16. The question of how we form and then maintain relationships is extraordinarily complex. A good place to begin is with the idea of liking.

Why do we like some people more than others? Why do we find some people attractive and others not? How is it that we can meet someone and instantly dislike them and meet someone else and find that we are immediately drawn to them? There are many reasons for these reactions, but mostly they can be gathered under four major topics. The important point to bear in mind is that the question of liking and disliking (and even loving) other people is not based on something mystical or unfathomable.

The first and in some ways the most obvious determinant of liking is physical attractiveness. Some people might not rate it highly or might say that other aspects of people such as their warmth or generosity or whatever are more important, but in practice it counts. Simply looking at studies that have been carried out on the characteristics of a person's first and subsequent dates, sheer physical attractiveness is more significant than intelligence, social skills or personality.

Of course, the question of defining attractiveness is not straightforward. To a large extent it is culturally determined and so attractiveness varies from place to place and from time to time in history. In Western society, for example, compare the rather fuller-figured look that was considered to be the epitome of attractiveness in women in the 1950s with the very slender look that supplanted it throughout the latter part of the twentieth century.

However attractiveness is defined, it is important in dating not least because a person's social standing increases if he or she is seen to be dating a more attractive person. On the other hand, attractiveness is regarded as less important when choosing a permanent partner. It is then that the other personal characteristics such as intelligence, social skills and personality become more prominent. It is interesting that, by and large, we end up with partners who are approximately our equal in physical attractiveness.

Again, in Western society there appears to be an interesting gender difference in the importance of attractiveness. Physical appearance is less important to women than it is to men. This may well be to do with the way in which gender roles have developed culturally. Women are supposed to be and to remain young-looking and attractive and men are supposed to be mature. Taking it to the teenage level, girls are supposed to be beautiful and boys are supposed to be associated with girls. Clearly, where such differences exist, they are the result of social learning and the modelling of social roles. They are not inherent.

Cutting across any possible cultural determinants of attractiveness is the much less subtle, more direct factor of physiological arousal. Much as in the first example from real life at the start of this chapter, physiological arousal of any sort makes men more sexually responsive to attractive women and less to non-attractive. The stopping of the lift between floors would raise physiological arousal and thus embolden the young man in a way that had not previously been possible for him. This was first established with a clever field study that involved having an attractive young woman stop men to ask them some survey questions either when they were on a high, swaying suspension bridge or when they were on a low, steady bridge. More of the men from the higher bridge telephoned the woman afterwards to ask her for a date.

There are a number of ways of accounting for this. It could be that the person misattributes his arousal to the presence of the woman rather than to whatever is really causing the increase in physiological arousal. Or it might be the transfer of excitement or even the facilitation of one type of response by another. Whatever the explanation, the effect is worth bearing in mind for both men and women, either to keep alert to what might be happening to them or even to make some use of the effect.

Proximity is also important as a determinant of liking. The best predictor of friendship patterns is how close people live to one another. Friendships tend to be made between people who live next door to one another or those who live opposite one another. Of course, there are exceptions but generally the rule of proximity holds.

Related to proximity is familiarity. Sheer exposure to other people increases our liking of them. This is, perhaps, one reason why proximity is important. The closer we are to someone else physically, then the more frequently we are likely to see them and the more frequently they see us, then the more likely they are to like us. A rule that can follow from this is that if you are interested in forming a close relationship with someone else, then it is worth being persistent and simply being around them frequently. This is not, of course, a recipe for stalking.

The final and, perhaps, the most important of the determinants of liking is similarity. Similarity in attractiveness has already been mentioned, but there is also similarity in race, religion, social class, educational level, intelligence, and so on. This is to do with weighing up whether or not the other person will want to be with us. So, in general, we have partners who are similar to us in many characteristics.

When liking becomes love and, perhaps, marriage or committed partnerships, then similarity in preferences for daily activities also becomes important. In practice, the similarity factor works well because social norms and situations tend to throw similar people together. There is very little evidence to show that opposites attract despite the perennial conversations that centre on the possibility, but an interesting theory that embraces this possibility is discussed at the end of this chapter. In general, if you want people to like you, then quite apart from the way you behave, it is important to spend as much time as you can being physically close to people who are similar to yourself in attractiveness and as many other characteristics as possible. As will be seen later, liking can then develop into closer and closer relationships and love may ensue.

► Attachments

Any close relationship is based on forming an attachment. To a greater or lesser extent we all form attachments throughout our lives. Some people form attachments easily and firmly, others have great difficulty in forming attachments at all. Some people form many somewhat superficial attachments and others form lasting and deep attachments. Some people seem to be fickle in their attachments and never to commit fully to close relationships. Why should there be these differences? Where do they stem from?

Not everything goes back to the early years, but some things clearly do and attachment patterns are among them. Our capacity to form attachments later in life depends heavily on the type of attachment experiences we had in the first few years of life. John Bowlby (1973, 1980) was the psychologist whose name is most readily linked with the importance of our early attachments. It was he that first drew attention to the importance of these initial social encounters, but others have developed the ideas considerably.

Essentially, three patterns of attachment have been identified and these are discussed further in Chapter 14. Of course, the subtleties of an individual's experiences are more profound than would simply be describable in three categories, but, nevertheless, to a greater or lesser degree, they do represent the only possibilities. Attachment is either secure or it is insecure. If it is insecure, then it takes the form of being either avoidant or anxious-ambivalent. The training ground for two of these types is portrayed in the second of the two examples from real life at the start of this chapter - the secure and the anxious-ambivalent. For the most part, the initial attachment, whatever form it takes, is to the mother, but it may be to the father, or grandmother or to some other caregiver or in some instances might be to multiple caregivers.

Securely attached babies seem delighted when their mothers return from being out of the room; they protest if she leaves and they search for her when she is not there. They clearly demonstrate their firm bonds of attachment (and affection). The insecure avoidantly attached babies rarely cling to their mothers and do not become upset if she leaves the room. They appear to be indifferent to her and show no pleasure if she returns after being away.

The insecure but anxious-ambivalent type of attachment is a mixture of the other two. Such babies cling to their mothers but they do not take pleasure in her return after being out of the room, continuing to cry if they have been upset. They give the appearance of being disorganised, negative and very anxious.

The picture of these three types of attachment comes largely from a series of investigations carried out over the past two decades using what is called the 'strange situation test'. Essentially, this involves observers watching an infant's reactions to mildly unusual and disturbing ('strange') situations in a room in which the mother is also present and can be used by the child as a way of relieving stress. It is important to note that much of the importance of the initial attachment depends on the sensitivity of the caregiver. If she (or he) is sensitive to the child, then a secure attachment can be readily formed even though (s)he is not available 24 hours per day.

Following this brief description of early attachment styles, the important question is, how do these relate to the formation of relationships later in life? Essentially, those who have had a secure early attachment are much more likely to form secure committed relationships as adults, whether these are romantic or simply based on liking, attraction or friendship. Again, as the names suggest, those who have early avoidant attachment tend to avoid close relationships as adults and those who have had anxious-ambivalent early attachments tend to have difficulty in forming adult relationships and when they do, not to be fully committed to them.

Love will be discussed in more detail later in Chapter 14, but it is worth making brief mention here of one set of ideas that are based on seeing adult love as a basic attachment process. The idea is that there are four possible patterns of adult attachment and that these follow from the possibility that any one of us will have a particular level of dependence on other people and a particular level of the degree to which we seek or avoid intimacy with others. This, in turn, might depend on whether our image of ourselves is positive or negative and whether our image of other people is positive or negative.

The secure style of adult attachment comes in a person who enjoys and seeks intimacy but who does not depend on others for their own positive self-view. There is a dismissing (avoidant) type of attachment and a fearful type, both of which avoid intimacy, although the dismissing person still depends on others for their own self-view. The person who is 'fearfully' attached tends to avoid closeness or intimacy in case the result is disappointment. The preoccupied style of attachment is characteristic of a person who depends on other people and seeks them out but, nevertheless, remains insecurely attached.

A final point about the relationship of early attachment to later attachment is that it is not set in cement. Although early attachments are the breeding round for later attachments, it is possible to learn to be securely attached later in spite of early insecurities. Similarly, and unfortunately, it is possible to learn to become insecurely attached because of one's adult experiences with attachment.

Role models

There are other influences on the question of whom we like and dislike or with whom we form intimate relationships other than our early attachments. These influences come from our culture, whether it be the broad culture within which we live (say, Western or Eastern society) or the more narrow sub-culture within which we spend our formative years. Cultures and sub-cultures have their customs and values; they have their heroes and their villains. They have their leaders and followers. In short, all cultures have those who provide role models for others.

In a simple and relatively restricted society, these role models come largely from close family members and friends. However, in a more complex society, they come from the mass media, from literature, and from advertising. To take the obvious examples in the Western world, the cinema and television have an enormous influence. It is not by accident that eminent sportspersons or others who are in the public eye are persuaded to front the advertisements for various products. This is in a clear attempt to persuade us all to buy whatever it might be because X has endorsed it. If the captain of the national team uses it, then it must be good. And the captain of the national team, whatever the sport, is a role model.

Moreover, television and film drama not only reflects society but also helps to shape it. So, again our television heroes provide role models for how to look, how to behave and for the type of person with whom we might most like to develop a close relationship or attachment. Ask anyone in the Western world in the last few years if they would prefer to 'go out with' someone who had abdominal muscles that looked like an old-fashioned wash-board than with somebody who had no such muscular definition and the chances are that they would say 'yes'. Ask somebody in Polynesian society the same question and the answer might be different.

In summary, our liking and disliking of other people depend on physical factors such as proximity, familiarity, similarity and physical attractiveness. The way in which we form attachments once we have established whether or not we would like to become attached to someone depends largely on the nature of the attachments that we formed early in life. However, the patterns of liking and disliking and the general overall attractiveness of various characteristics and types of person are also determined by very broad cultural values, beliefs and opinions.

► Love, intimacy and much more

Our initial attachments in life come about through force of circumstance. Then our later attachments start with liking that is based on attraction that is, in turn, based on the many factors already discussed. Sometimes liking develops even further and we find ourselves 'in love' or having 'fallen in love'. This seems to be a very different state from simply liking someone. And its opposite is hate which is much more than dislike. There is an active urgency about love (and hate) that is not there in liking (and disliking). There is also almost always a large increase in intimacy. What is love and why does it seem to be qualitatively different from liking?

The sociobiologists argue that love might be little more than the human word for the pair-bonding that goes on throughout much of the animal kingdom. So, from an evolutionary perspective, human beings bond into long-term heterosexual relationships in order to ensure that their children survive until reproductive age. Thus the species is prompted to continue.

This evolutionary-based argument is taken further. What they refer to as mating strategies differ between males and females. From a male perspective it is an evolutionary advantage to impregnate as many women as possible in order to optimise the chances of passing on their genes. From the female perspective it is an evolutionary advantage to select a mate who is both willing and able to protect and raise her children, thus increasing the likelihood of her genes being passed on. So, in behavioural (and somewhat judgemental) terms, men are likely to be more promiscuous and less discriminating than women in their search for sexual partners. It also suggests that men prefer more fertile (therefore, younger) women and women prefer higher status and better resourced (therefore, older)

men. By and large, it does seem to work out a little like this, at least as far as preferences are concerned.

This is all very well from a biological or evolutionary perspective and perhaps begins to account for some of the urges for sheer sexual activity that occur, but there is far more to love and intimacy than this. To begin with there are various types of love, not all of them involving a sexual encounter. Consider these examples.

A young couple have been worried about their first child's first day at school. He has been a quiet child and they think of him as being quite sensitive. He is very close to them and they are concerned that he will be unpleasantly buffeted about by the demands of school. He goes in readily enough in the morning but with some backward glances at them that they interpret as a sort of wistful longing. They decide that they will both meet him after school and wait anxiously for the children to come out. Their son comes bouncing out and rushes over to them talking and laughing. He is obviously very happy and they glance at one another over his head as he prattles on.

Picture a young man of 17 or so. He has seen the woman of his dreams who seems to be like an amalgam of all of his favourite film stars. She is a few years older than him and she lives close by so he can see her quite often. He believes that she is the most wonderful being he has ever seen and simply wants to be able to gaze at her occasionally. He knows that she is beyond his reach but he does not mind this. He does not lust after her; in fact, the idea of that type of intimacy with her seems quite wrong to him. But he can think of little else than her.

Love might reasonably be said to be involved in both of these situations, but they are very different types of love. And in their turn they would differ from the type of love one might feel for one's parents or for one's ageing grandmother, or for one's new partner or for one's partner of 20 years. In and of itself love is not an emotion; it is far more complex than an emotion, even though emotions (such as anxiety) can be quite complex. It certainly involves emotion, or perhaps it is better to say, many emotions. Whatever form it takes, it seems to involve attachment, loyalty, protectiveness and nurturance, although romantic love is special because it also involves sexual behaviour, which love for one's parents or siblings and so on does not.

For many years, psychologists left the topic of love strictly alone, regarding it as in the domain of novelists, poets and philosophers. In other words, they threw it squarely into the too-hard basket. More recently, though, some psychologists have begun to engage with the study of love, appropriately enough, since it is one of the most significant aspects of human life. Concern to study love, whether with field research or in theoretical terms, also fits with a gradually developing movement in academic psychology to consider what some call positive psychology.1

One of the foremost psychologists to have studied love is Richard Sternberg (1986). He attempts to bracket liking and loving and has created a three-part or triangular model of them. The three parts are: intimacy, passion and decision-commitment. Each of these three parts can vary in both quality and quantity, of course, but their general presence or absence leads to the various types of liking and loving that are possible. As can be seen below, these types are, perhaps, better described as kinds of love relationship rather than kinds of love. The eight kinds of love relationship are:

1 Non-love. This is the extreme, describing a casual relationship in which there is neither intimacy, nor passion nor commitment.

2 Liking. Liking is what we experience with some friends and acquaintances and involves only an increase in intimacy. There is no passion or commitment, although it might be argued that it is perfectly possible to be committed to a friend and their welfare.

3 Infatuation. Infatuation involves passion but neither intimacy nor commitment. As children or teenagers we might experience infatuation with some adult, say, a school-teacher, or we might become infatuated with some unobtainable person such as a film star or television personality or even the perfectly happy wife or husband of someone round the corner.

4 Empty love. This is an interesting category that involves only decision-commitment, but with no intimacy or passion. Like infatuation, it tends to be in one direction, that is, to be unreciprocated. A relationship based on empty love is hard to imagine.

5 Romantic love. Romantic love is what most readily comes to mind when the word love is mentioned. It involves intimacy and passion but not necessarily any commitment. It is what characterises many short-term romantic encounters, even those that last for only one night. In such encounters there is always an increase in intimacy and passion, otherwise they would not occur.

6 Fatuous love. Again this is an interesting and, perhaps, a rather rare type of love relationship in that it involves passion and commitment but with no intimacy. It is descriptive of the type of relationship in which the sex is good and the people are committed to a long-term relationship but in which there is very little intimacy. Fatuous is a good word to describe such relationships since they are probably doomed to failure at some time.

7 Companionate love. Here there is intimacy and commitment but no passion and is, perhaps, the position of many reasonably successful marriages. The passion has gone but the intimacy and commitment remain. Clearly, however, if a relationship started off in this way it would seem as if there were something missing; and there would be.

8 Consummate love. Finally, there is consummate love, which involves all three of intimacy, passion and commitment. This is how many long-term relationships begin or how they develop in the early stages. Some remain like this.

Although Sternberg's model is compelling, it is definitely a model that is viewing love as one or other kind of social relationship. It takes little or no account of the emotional turmoil that might be going on surrounding the relationship. Nor is it easy to use to describe love for one's grandmother or son, or uncle. The closest category for these would, perhaps, be companionate love, but this does not capture the differences between the love one experiences for one's son and one's grandmother.

Some psychologists have begun to ask whether or not love is the basic emotion that it appears to be to many people in everyday life. Ask people what the two fundamental emotions are and they might well answer: love and hate. Of course, both love and hate have their entrenched and highly significant emotional aspects, but psychologists tend to argue that they (particularly love) are too complex socially and too long-lasting to be seen as basic emotions. They are, perhaps, made up of a mixture of many basic emotions. Love in some form (be it simple attachment, the providing of care or nurturance, or sexual attraction) seems to be universal. However, what is missing even in this type of description is whether or not there is some fundamental emotional aspect to love that is neither seen nor experienced in any other emotional context.

Perhaps the answer to this type of question could come from looking at the difference between love and the state of being 'in love'. There is an obvious high emotional component to the state of being in love and this is an aspect of love that is concerned with romantic attachment, the passionate desire to be constantly with or engaged with another person, sexually and usually in other ways. Apart from the sexual aspect there may be little to distinguish this state from any type of attachment and the feelings of intimacy and closeness may be very similar within any strong social bond.


In Western society, love and marriage tend to go together, although not necessarily. It is certainly possible to be in love and even partnership with someone without being married to them, but the common expectation is that such relationships tend towards marriage. However, that love is not a necessary condition for marriage can be seen in those societies (for example, Indian and Japanese) in which marriages are frequently arranged, the two partners having seen little, if anything, of each other before marriage. They have had no occasion to form any kind of attachment, not the least one that is based on a romantic entanglement. Nevertheless, on average, such marriages are as long-lasting as those that follow from romantic attachment.

A possible reason for this lack of difference between the longevity or success of the two types of marriage is that passion fades. It is rare to find a relationship in which the sexual attraction or physical passion remains at the intensity with which it might have begun. For success, marriage (or any other long-lasting) partnerships have to cope with waning passion and to develop more in terms of equality (in interests, values, attitudes, power, intimacy, and so on) between the two persons involved. This is as likely to come about in arranged marriages (in which passion might develop for a while a little later) as it is in Western-style marriages.

The important question in everyday life is, what is the recipe for a successful marriage or long-term partnership? Many (half to two-thirds) marriages fail and in some of those that do not actually end, the partners are not happy. Interestingly, a key component for success is liking rather than love. Partners in successful marriages say that they very much like each other; they are 'best friends' or very good mates. They confide in each other and seek advice from each other. They might argue but they do so with goodwill and with a push towards being constructive rather than destructive. They talk about 'we' and 'us' and value their interdependence as much as they might also value a measure of independence, an independence that they respect in each other and allow room for.

The partners in successful marriages genuinely listen to each other, rather than thinking about their own problems or what they are going to say when the other person stops talking. They don't 'bring up the past'; they don't attempt to 'win' in any sense in the relationship and don't see themselves engaged in a battle of the sexes. All of this type of interpersonal behaviour (based on liking rather than passionate love) requires considerable work, work that is more often, although not only, begun and maintained by the woman than the man in the relationship, if it is heterosexual. In our society, girls are brought up to assume such responsibilities and boys are brought up to allow girls to assume them. Of course, there are exceptions but this seems to be the general rule. One outcome of this rule is that when a marriage begins to falter or become discordant, the woman tends to feel unhappier about matters than the man.

A time of particular stress for many marriages is when there are children. Although, in some ways, children can increase the bond between the couple, their advent nevertheless creates particular pressures, both interpersonal and economic. In current Western society, this is particularly the case when a couple has been used to two incomes and now, suddenly, there is only one but with an extra drain on resources. The arrival of children also means that there is less opportunity for intimacy and the various problems of bringing up a child may also lead to conflict between a couple. The implication is not that part of the recipe for a successful marriage is not to have children but rather that like many other aspects of marriage, the having and upbringing of children require a great deal of sensitive work to be accomplished successfully. All of the relationships within a family unit are to do with attachment, the importance of which cannot be stressed too much.

Love again - a genuine theory

Robert Solomon (1994) is a philosopher who has written for many years on topics also of interest to psychologists. In 1994 he produced a stimulating book on love, representing a genuine attempt to create a theory that makes both philosophical and psychological sense. His theory rests on the core belief that a theory of love is, in fact, a theory of self, but a theory that involves the notion of a shared self. This, in turn, reflects Plato's view that love is to do with the joining of two souls, an idea that began with Aristophanes who argued that love is an attempt to find the other, 'missing' half of oneself.

Solomon then suggests that love is about attempting to define oneself in terms of another person. He also points out, reflecting an idea put forward by historians of emotion, that love, as we think of it, is a relatively modern notion. It is an idea, in Western society, that two separate and autonomous persons are free to make choices, among these choices being that of (romantic) partner. For the partnership to work, however, as Solomon sees it, there has to be the tension that comes from relatively opposed forces. So, if one seeks a relationship with a person who has complementary characteristics to one's own, this leads to an increasing excitement simply because of the tension that then exists with respect to one's autonomous self. For example, if you are a rather placid person who seeks certainty in life, you might well be attracted to a more outgoing person who is comfortable with uncertainty and who likes to move things on. This is simultaneously filling in a missing part and creating a certain tension.

In one sense this theory is suggesting that opposites attract, a theory long held in popular belief. While this may be so, it does not mean that such a close relationship would not also be built upon similarities. As we have seen earlier, this usually seems to be a necessary condition for the development of any closer relationship.

Solomon also makes the point (a point which could well be applied to much if not all of psychology) that a theory of love has to make sense at the personal level as well as in academic circles. It follows from his theory that love is not something that is instant, although sexual attraction might be. It is something that develops and grows over time and profits from work being put into it. He is arguing that the very early theories of love had much to be said for them and that they can be reinvented in ways that make sense in our modern world.

Social relationships are at the core of life for human beings.

Liking depends on physical attractiveness (which is largely culturally determined), physiological arousal, proximity, familiarity and similarity.

Our ability to form attachments in adult life goes back to our very early initial attachment(s).

Early (and later) attachments can be secure or insecure and, if insecure, they can be avoidant or anxious-ambivalent. The propensity to insecure attachments in adulthood can be overcome.

Role models are important in forming relationships.

Love rests on attachment and liking and is partly concerned with mate selection in evolutionary terms.

There are many types of love, ranging from the romantic and passionate to love for one's children or parents. Love varies according to intimacy, passion and commitment.

Love changes throughout marriage and the ingredients for a successful marriage are based on effort and work rather than luck.

One recent theory of love sees it as the culmination of the search for a complementary part of the self.

► Questions and possibilities

■ Choose the three people that you like the most or to whom you feel the closest and list their main characteristics. Are they similar to one another? Are their characteristics similar to or different from your own characteristics?

■ Have you ever been in a situation in which you have become attracted to someone else after you have known them for some time? Why did this happen?

■ Think about your own early attachments. Which type did they fit into? Has a similar pattern played out in your adult life?

■ Think of people that you know who represent the various types of adult attachment described in this chapter. In what ways do their relationships differ?

■ List the different types of love that you have experienced. Do they all fit into one or other of the categories described by Sternberg? If not, what characterises them?

■ If you have or have had a long-term partner, in what ways is he or she like you and unlike you? How important is the pattern of similarities and differences been for the relationship?

■ What would you look for in an ideal partner? Why? Are these similar characteristics to those you would seek in an ideal friend?

■ To what extent do you believe that women and men are similar in their approach to friendship, liking and long-term relationships such as marriage? Do you think that there would be differences between men and women in this regard from one culture to the next?

Write your own recipe for a successful long-term relationship.

Would you ever consider trying to arrange a marriage for your own children? What do you think might be the advantages or disadvantages of this approach to marriage?

What makes people attractive? Is there an ideal face or body shape? Is there an ideal personality?

Recently, in the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, there has been a television search for a national 'idol'. What are the characteristics of those who are chosen? Why do people choose them?

Why were the Spice Girls so popular? Is it really possible to create a style for someone that appeals to most people? What would the characteristics of such a person be? In short, could one create a national 'idol'?

1 Much of academic psychology has traditionally followed a very reductionistic, analytic approach in which everything is broken into its elements and studied as such, much as in most sciences. Very often this research has ultimately been driven by studying something that has gone wrong. Positive psychology is concerned more with studying the entire, functioning person in circumstances where things are going right. For example, endeavours in this area look at happiness, self-fulfilment, personal growth, and so on. Clearly, love fits into this category.

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