October 19, 2014

A Love Expert Explains Josephine's Marital Prospects

Duana Welch, Ph.D.
This post was written with the assistance of a good friend whom I've never met.

(Don't you just love social media?)

The friend is Duana Welch, Ph.D. She teaches psychology at Austin, Texas universities and has a popular website called lovesciencemedia.com. This site is kind of a contemporary take on the old "advice to the love-lorn" column old-timers like me associate with Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

Folks write to Duana with questions about their love lives, sex, and relationships. What distinguishes her responses is that they aren't based on "life experience" or "good old common sense", but rather the body of scientific data and research pertaining to each question. In addition to the Love Science site, Duana is also a frequent contributor to Pychology Today and eHarmony.

I've gotten to "know" Duana via Facebook and we interact frequently. She's a good egg. At the end of this post I'll include information on how YOU, Dear Reader, can purchase her new book.

I occasionally ask Duana to drop some knowledge on me as relates to amorous predicaments that arise in opera plots. This, despite that she has no particular interest in opera herself. (Hey, I never said she was perfect.) However, opera librettos do raise issues of general interest when it comes to how men and women pursue one another and get along.

Lately, I've been thinking about Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore and the subject of marriage and social class. One of W.S. Gilbert's targets for satire is the British class system. In Pinafore, the plot is driven by this situation:

Josephine, the daughter of middle-class Captain Corcoran, has been betrothed to the aristocratic Sir Joseph Porter, But he's old and gross, and she'd rather marry the handsome young sailor Ralph Rackstraw. That's not a viable option since Ralph is a commoner; Josephine shouldn't marry beneath her social status.

Does that strike you as a bit hypocritical? My question to Duana was this: why is it okay for Sir Joseph to marry beneath HIS class but not okay for Josephine to do the same? To avoid offending Sir Joseph, father and daughter claim that Josephine's reluctance to marry him is due to his "exalted rank", which is "intimidating" to a "humble Captain's daughter". Sir Joseph magnanimously assures the girl that social class should never be an obstacle to true love. He thinks she'll interpret that as a green light for her to marry UP to his level, but (naturally) she hears it as a license to marry DOWN to her low-born beau.

Again: what exactly accounts for the societal attitude that men can marry down (like Sir Joseph hoped to do) but if a woman does so it's scandalous?

Duana wrote back promptly with this reply:

Esteemed Opera Dude: 

While I've never written on the topic directly, I've often indirectly addressed it via something called assortative mating, or "the matching phenomenon". Basically, the more alike two people are - not only in physical appearance, but in nearly every way - the happier they are together. Couples with more similarities are not only more likely to begin dating than people who are dissimilar, they're also more likely to keep dating, fall in love, get engaged, get married, and stay happily wed. It's a phenomenon that's now been validated in more than thirty-seven cultures and countries. The upshot? Most of the time, when folks marry, they do so in their own social class, just as they usually marry someone who is otherwise similar. But when there is a violation of similarity in terms of social class, it tends to be a case of a young, beautiful woman who marries an older, less-attractive-yet-resource-wielding man. This is still a match: men value youth and beauty, just as women value resources. So if folks are going to make a trade, that seems to be the one that works out. 

Yes, she really did call me "Esteemed Opera Dude". (She's clearly in awe of me.)

So this explains a lot, really. The reason that Rossini's Dr. Bartolo expected Rosina to marry him, Sondheim's Judge Turpin expected Joanna to marry him  and Sir Joseph expects Josephine to marry him is that they have resources compensating for their lack of other merits. 

It's also why, once the Big Plot Twist has been revealed, namely that Ralph and Captain Corcoran were switched at birth (thus instantly swapping social classes), Josephine is STILL in the position of "marrying up in class" and it's still okay. And now the newly-middle-class Ralph is in the catbird seat, since 1) his new status will ensure the resources that women value, and 2) he's cute and cuddly, so Josephine remains attracted to him in any case.

As for me, your Humble Blogger, I am stunned and amazed that my own marriage has lasted for thirty-eight happy years despite that fact that until recently I HAD NEVER HEARD OF "ASSORTATIVE MATING". 

And now to plug a book that you'll shortly be seeing at your local bookstore: Duana is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps From I Wish To I Do. For more information, click on this link; you can read about the book and download a chapter for free.

Thanks, Duana!

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