Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spice It Up: Relationships

How To Get To Know Each Other
By Josi Salem-Pickartz

Marriage in Jordan is generally based on family arrangements, individual choices or a mix of both. Just a few years ago, in a nationally representative youth survey, less than 50 per cent of young, married Jordanians indicated that they had chosen their spouses on their own. One third had chosen their partners together with their families. As for the remaining 15 per cent of individuals surveyed, the families had selected the future husbands and wives without their sons’ or daughters’ input. In all cases, young women were more likely than men to report that their families had a significant influence on their choice of partner.

Finding out who the other person is
What happens under these diverse conditions, when young men and women meet and must find out whether they are made to tie the knot for life? How can they make sure that their partnership will succeed and what are the typical causes of later failure? In practice, the challenge for future partners is making sure that they share enough solid, positive ground with each other, empowering them to manage the normal problems, challenges and crises of marital life. In fact, when the practical demands of living together set in, falling madly in love is often followed by falling out of love. Indeed, marrying an ideal partner who will always love, understand and care for you in an eternally romantic relationship is more the material of great novels and movies than of reality.

Traditional marriage arrangements
In many cases, a marriage is arranged by the spouses’ families, with the two marriage candidates agreeing to seriously consider the option. With this approach, the engagement time is often too short, not providing many opportunities for the future spouses to get to know each other well. Furthermore, there is often little space for privacy. When the young people are part of the same extended family, proponents of arranged marriages will argue that the marriage candidates know each other already, meaning that there is no need for them to spend much time together before the wedding. The living experience of traditional marriage arrangements shows, however, often the exact opposite. Much disappointment, especially regarding the disappearance of love and affection after the wedding, is expressed by young wives. At the same time, we also find many traditionally wed spouses who are both committed to making the best of their marriage agreement. They often build good, solid partnerships.

The reasons for love and attraction
Many are the motifs that make us become interested in, become attracted to and, finally, fall in love with a person of the other sex. Genetic disposition prepares us to respond to certain features of the other person with sexual attraction, but because we are human beings, this attraction is also strongly moderated by our life experiences. During our childhood years, from our relationships with parents, siblings, peers and other important persons, we learn which personal qualities and behaviours make us feel understood, cared for and loved. We learn to value the characteristics in others that keep us feeling physically good, safe and secure, loved and appreciated for who we are and what we do; we then become attracted to persons of the opposite sex who possess similar characteristics. If, however, the above needs have not been fulfilled largely by our earlier relationships, we might actually become attracted to partners who are absolutely opposite to those important persons of our childhood. Choosing the opposite is, by itself, no guarantee for a happy partnership. We might also develop our idea of the ideal partner through the books we read, the movies we watch and the media icons we admire—especially if our real life does not allow us to experience enough love, care and affection from the people around us. Because the media is idealized, however, there is a high risk that we will never find this ideal partner or that those who we believe to meet this ideal do not pass the reality test.

Contemporary dating rituals
As a result of both the cultural restrictions for dating in public and the ongoing expansion of easily accessible communication means (the Internet, mobiles and the like), many young adults who have become interested in each other get to know each other through these media. They spend many hours with each other in cyberspace, communicating by e-mail, on facebook or on the phone. These communication means are, of course, great opportunities for people to introduce themselves to each other, but it is not enough—they can only learn about each other through words and pictures. Potential partners do not experience each other fully, with all senses. Communication and learning about each other remain thus restricted; consequently, disappointment frequently sets in when virtual partners meet in reality. The outcome can be even worse if marriage proposals result from such media-based relationships.

Creating opportunities to meet
It is important that future partners have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to meet face-to-face, getting to know each other thoroughly in different life situations before they decide on marriage. If young adults meet predominantly during family gatherings, over lunch, coffee or dinner or at parties, they will only get to know a very small part of each other. We acknowledge that many contemporary Jordanian families, as well as society at large, do not offer a great diversity of activities for young people of both genders to get to know each other as complete persons. This article is an invitation to improve this situation in order to create a better foundation for lasting partnerships.

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