Mate Selection

It is not uncommon for individuals to bargain with themselves in an effort to create motivation where none exists: If I get the lawn mowed before noon, I’ll spend the rest of the day watching football; if I lose five pounds, I’ll buy that new dress.  Sometimes, when individuals bargain, it isn’t as much for motivation as it is for justification: If my boss won’t give me that raise, I’ll stop working those extra hours; I had every right to flip that guy off because he cut right in front of me.
These are instances in which the bargaining is self-motivated, self-serving, and self-indulgent, and while effective and perhaps necessary, the stakes in most of these circumstances isn’t necessarily high.  After all, who’s going to know or care if a yard goes unmowed, a dress is prematurely purchased, an extra hour isn’t spent at one’s desk, or a flip-off wasn’t honestly deserved?  However, when it comes to choosing a mate in a relationship, the role played by bargaining carries a much higher stake, and the consequences of poor judgment while bargaining and/or poor bargaining tactics can be devastating.
The degree to which bargaining occurs during the mate selection process varies from person to person as do the focal point(s) of the bargain; however, there are a number of areas that are particularly intriguing.

“The Necessities and Luxuries of Mate Preferences: Testing the Tradeoffs” (2002) focuses on the degree to which “women and men first ensure sufficient levels of necessities in potential mates before considering many other characteristics” (Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeier).  Factors such as a potential mate’s attractiveness and social status are essential according to Li, et al. (2002); however, because their research placed greater emphasis on realistic economic potential as opposed to that of previous research (which allowed for speculation regarding “how to spend imaginary lottery winnings”), a pattern that had not previously emerged became clear: the sexes do not always agree on what constitutes a “necessity” versus what constitutes a “luxury” (Li, et al., 2002).
American social construct is partially responsible for this difference.  Men are far more likely to have access to “status, power, and resources”; therefore, these are deemed “necessary” traits by women who seek a mate.  On the other hand, men view women as the means by which offspring can be produced, and based on this, they see physical attractiveness and age as “necessary” factors in mate selection (Li, et al., 2002).  Obviously, this requires a great degree of bargaining as the two subjects are (at least initially) focused on absolutely different traits while evaluating a potential mate
Where Li, et al. conclude that much of the bargaining that occurs in mate selection is based on the differences between what men and women consider “necessary,” “Gender Socialization: How Bargaining Power Shapes Social Norms and Political Attitudes,” (2005) examines the social dynamics that might be responsible for creating the basis for the differences between the sexes regarding what is “necessary” (Iversen & Rosenbluth).
Iversen and Rosenbluth (2005) focus on the issue of patriarchy “and explore its effects on female social, economic, and political status” in order to evaluate “mate choice preferences between agricultural, industrial, and post-industrial societies.”  This research was an intriguing undertaking, and what it revealed was the effect that social structure had on the bargaining that took place in mate selection.
Social settings that required brawn (i.e. the agricultural and industrial periods) required women willingly bargain to find a mate who was physically capable of performing basic household and wage-earning duties (Iverson & Rosenbluth).  Women often bargained for a mate with physical strength by giving up living arrangements, locations, and circumstances.  Because women of the agricultural and industrial periods were not physically capable of performing some tasks and legally barred from others, there was little choice but for them to put aside almost everything but sheer physical strength when undertaking bargaining during mate selection (Iversen & Rosenbluth).
When the post-industrial period was examined, two significant differences were seen.  First, because the need for physical prowess to survive at home and at work had diminished, women were far less likely to bargain away everything simply to secure a strong man.  “Once employment opportunities for women [began to approach] those of men in quantity and quality, socialization [began] to shift away from [women’s] ‘playing the marriage market’ ” (Iversen & Rosenbluth).
No longer would women willingly pack up and move hundreds of miles away from all family and all friends, nor would they automatically settle for a man of lower social and economic status in order to marry brawn—women could consider themselves wage-earners and be more choosey when it came to potential mates (Iversen & Rosenbluth).
The second phenomenon that was revealed was “the declining importance of virginity” that factored into the bargaining (Iversen & Rosenbluth).  Where women of the agricultural and industrial periods had to secure their virginity absolutely, women of the post-industrial period were not as likely to be dismissed as ineligible brides by the men of the era simply because they were no longer virgins.  This degree of personal control had a freeing effect on women who began to see themselves as capable of autonomy (Iversen & Rosenbluth).
Much of this seems to indicate a breaking away on the part of women, and Iversen and Rosenbluth (2005) conclude that “while mate preferences in agrarian societies seemed to reflect an inevitable female resignation to their subordination, modern mate preferences are more egalitarian, and the gender gap in policy preferences suggest that many women are hoping to use the democratic state to make them more egalitarian still.”
Given the number of times a day an individual is likely to bargain with him/herself over routine actions or mundane decisions, it seems reasonable that a great deal of bargaining go into something as significant as the selection of one’s mate.  Research seems to indicate that like other acknowledged differences that exist between the sexes, the degree to which certain factors influence bargaining with and selection of a potential mate may depend on the gender of the evaluator.
Further, it seems that as time passes and the more independent women become, the more the evaluative items regarding what is “necessary” may change in the minds of both males and females.
Iversen, T. & Rosenbluth, F.  (2005).  Gender socialization: How bargaining power shapes social norms and political attitudes.  Retrieved October 22, 2006.
Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W.  (2002).  The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing and tradeoffs.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6). Retrieved October 22, 2006

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