Chapter 7 Independence of the Three Aspects of Relationships

Chapter 7 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Explain how the three aspects of love are independent of each other.


Watch this video or scan the QR code to learn about the psychology of attraction.

Attractions, satisfactions, and the general or ethical value of relationships are independent of each other in the sense that people can, and do, sometimes become attracted to people who do not bring them much pleasure or who are not necessarily good for them, just as they sometimes do not become attracted to people whose actions they do enjoy and/or who are good for them. Of course, sometimes people do become attracted to people whose actions are good and/or satisfying, sometimes perhaps even because of that. Sometimes it can be particularly easy to become attracted to someone who treats you kindly, especially when that kindness is most needed. Yet sometimes people become attracted to others while knowing little or nothing about how satisfying or dissatisfying, good or bad, their character or actions might be; some instant attractions are like that.

Sometimes one becomes attracted to someone before discovering the other person is not good for them or displeases them; and yet the attraction may persist, simply because attractions are not always governed by rationality nor, once acquired, are they easily dispelled. (In the worst cases, they may even seem to be the work of spells.)

Sometimes people even become attracted to those they already know are bad for them or to those whose actions they know displease them. Why this is, I do not know. In some cases perhaps, it is to reform the other person or win them over out of some sense of challenge. Perhaps sometimes they become involved after feeling they are safe from involvement with such a person. Perhaps they become attracted because they can do so and yet still remain somewhat aloof, unconcerned, or uncommitted. Perhaps some people need to feel unhappy in their love life or can only be sexually attracted to someone they do not (otherwise) respect. But I am not particularly concerned here with the rationale, only with the fact that emotions, benefits, and happiness in relationships can be independent of each other in the sense that (1) people can and sometimes do become or stay attracted to people who do not make them happy or who are not good for them, and sometimes even to people who make them miserably unhappy or who are very bad for them, and/or (2) sometimes people do not become or stay attracted to those who are good for them or in whose company they are often happy. Also, (3) whether you are attracted to them or not, people can make you happy who are not otherwise in general or overall good for you; and (4) people who are good for you may not be very satisfying to you.

Further, though often you do tolerate or even come to enjoy with a loved one activities that you could not tolerate or like with someone you had no attraction for, it also sometimes happens that activities you could accept with regard to anyone else you cannot tolerate in a loved one. For example, say a person thinks golf is a waste of time and finds it hard to relate to people who spend lots of time on the golf course and who seem to be preoccupied with it. But if that person becomes tremendously attracted to someone who it turns out enjoys golf, he might even find himself taking up the game and enjoying playing it with his beloved. But in other cases, just the opposite may occur, in that one may tolerate the golfing of people one does not care about, but hate to see someone they love “wasting” their time and energy at the game.

Sometimes it is the like or dislike of an activity that influences the feelings one has for another. Jones may be unable to grow to like anyone who plays golf or smokes or…. On the other hand, if Jones does play golf, he may become terribly attracted to a girl who can keep up with him on the golf course. We often find ourselves attracted to someone because something they do pleases us. There are some times that we are more vulnerable to this than others. When one feels rejected or lonely, a person who smiles or listens with understanding and sympathy can be very attracting. When one has been unable to find companions who share some important interests, ideas, knowledge, or values, finding such a person may arouse strong feelings of attraction, if not just gratitude, for them.

But, as I have said, not all cases of attraction are like this, and this may make one wonder whether even in these cases attraction arises because of compatibility and benefit or simply beside it.

The independence of benefits from a relationship and any attraction in it can be exemplified by the case of people who learn from teachers or other adults to whom they may not be particularly attracted.

Further evidence for the independence of feelings from what is enjoyable or unenjoyable and from what is good or bad are the dual phenomena of (1) having different feelings toward people from whom you may get the same satisfactions or dissatisfactions and (2) getting the same kinds of feelings from people who give you satisfactions or dissatisfactions that are different. Likewise, (1) getting different feelings about people who do equally good or bad things for you and (2) getting the same kinds of feelings about people who are different in the amount of good and bad they provide you.

In this last case, one might have strong feelings of attraction for people it is most painful to be around and even for people who intentionally treat them badly. But one might also have strong feelings of attraction for someone who treats them much better. Or one might fall in love with someone who treats them very nicely at first, and remain highly or passionately attracted even after that person no longer behaves so kindly.

Or consider two people who treat you equally well and with whom you do things together that are equally good. Or two people whose company you enjoy very much. You still might have very different kinds of feelings toward them. One might be a dearly loved one for whom you have all sorts of feelings of attraction whereas the other might be described as a good friend, whose company and behavior might be very nice, but who is not a person for whom you feel passion or desire. Sometimes one may have a great conversation with an acquaintance and enjoy it very much, just as one might with a longtime friend or with a lover; it is not the joy of the conversation that is different with each of these people, but the surrounding feelings or emotions.

There may be people who do not treat you badly, but around whom you quite often have a terrible time anyway. You may still be attracted to that person. You may hate yourself for going to see them or for going out with them and each time resolve that will have been your last such time, yet not be able to keep that resolution.

There may be or may seem to be connections at times between the joy or good you get from someone and the feelings you have toward them and vice versa, but, based on the above evidence, that causal connection, if it exists, certainly seems to be indirect or quite complicated. For example, the fellow whose girlfriend taught him to play and enjoy golf might not have been able to do so had he not liked her; but perhaps other girls he had liked tried to persuade him before and were unable to; and perhaps he didn’t even like some girls just because they played golf. At times, just having a person introduce themself with a smile will brighten your whole day and make you almost instantly infatuated with them; but at other times you may simply feel you are being put upon by them. And there are instances of people feeling differently toward two very similar people (in some cases, even identical twins) who seem to others to be alike in almost all respects. The attracted one may be sure there is some difference, say a twinkle in the eye, even when no one else can see the difference.

Scenario 2: Imagine your dream mate (she or he) may be your fantasy. Imagine again that your ideal mate, the person you think you want, may not be the person that you need. How do you balance your fantasy with reality?
The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

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Even strangers for whom you have no feelings may provide goodness and/or satisfactions. There is the Mary Worth comic strip kind of relationship of the kindly stranger who helps you with a personal problem; it actually happened to me once. I had taken a long train trip to see a girl I had met the year before, had become immediately attracted to, and had since frequently and passionately corresponded with by mail and spoken with by long distance on the phone. When I finally got to visit her, it was evident something was bothering her. She had a new boyfriend and had just not been able to bring herself to tell me. I was crushed. On the train ride back I began talking with an older lady seated next to me, told her what had happened, and felt better just because she understood and was sympathetic and said just the right kinds of reassuring things to make me feel not quite so alone, unusual, or inadequate. Yet I did not become attracted to her; I didn’t even learn her name.

Others have their own “Mary Worths”. A girl I met one time who had grown up and gone to school in Tuskegee talked about an old woman who lived in a house next to a vacant lot where many little kids played. Every day this woman brought out lemonade and cookies for those kids even though she was no relation to any of them. This girl had been one of those kids, and one of her hopes for herself as a person was that someday she would do the same kinds of thing for kids who would play near where she would live. She has no idea who that woman was.

One day I was walking to campus alone in the early morning when a girl in a Volkswagen Beetle drove by. I saw her coming from about half a block away and started to peer in to get a better look at her. You know how guys do. Anyway, at the time I stared in, I found her staring out, her head turned around — to check me out. Usually two people catching each other doing this both get embarrassed and turn away immediately, but somehow or other our moods in this case were both one of being pleasantly surprised and flattered, and instantaneously we each grinned at catching each other and being caught by each other, then cherishing those simultaneous grins, we each waved and kept on going our opposite directions, never knowingly to see each other again. Yet that brief second was one that to this day still makes me smile and feel good.

In the television play Silent Night, Lonely Night, the part played by Lloyd Bridges is that of a man whose wife is in a mental hospital, unable to do much but stare into space. Their only child had drowned. He says at one point that his mother always said the best part of a meal was sharing it, but he says that Christmas eve he finds best shared with strangers, not friends. He cannot bear to be with friends who know his sorrow and who, he feels, obligatorily have him over to try to cheer him up. He would rather spend that particular time with someone who does not know of his sadness and the particular melancholy that comes with Christmas and the new year.

And at times, even in the best of relationships, a new acquaintance, one who you may have little if any feelings for at the time, may be somebody it is more enjoyable to be around than your partner. Suppose one simply wants just to talk with someone to make them laugh or feel good.

Suppose your spouse or best friends already know all your funny jokes or deepest thoughts or most poignant stories, and you know theirs. What then might be very meaningful to a stranger most probably would just be repetitively boring to those you most care about. One simply cannot always have new and stimulating thoughts for friends or loved ones. Even the voluminous and creatively staggering works of Beethoven and Shakespeare could be performed in a two or three month period. One can imagine hearing a shrewish spouse or lover or an insensitive friend say even to them something like “But I have already heard this; can’t you come up with something new?!” So if you are in a mood to talk and please and you have no new thoughts or jokes for old friends, sometimes you must find new friends for your old jokes or ideas. Or find an old friend you have not seen since discovering some of those new ideas.

In fact, often what makes the reacquaintance of old flames or old friends so exciting is that you have the best of both worlds — the bond and understanding of a longtime relationship and the excitement and freshness of a new relationship; you have interesting new things to discuss with each other but without having to start to get to know each other from scratch, learning about each others’ characters and personalities. It is like meeting a fresh and exciting new person but without having to start from the beginning — without having to play any games, put on any airs, explain about yourself, sort through any trivia, or go through any sort of settling process.

Another example of the independence of feelings (particularly of passion or sexual attraction), joys, and benefits is the fact that people with particular sexual inclinations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are not likely to become passionately or sexually attracted to anyone outside that interest no matter how happy the other person makes them or how good they are for them. Most people simply feel differently about men and women no matter how much they might enjoy or benefit from either. There was a perverse cartoon that traded on something like this one time — two homosexual fellows are in a bar talking to each other when a particularly exciting looking woman, provocatively attired, walks in. They both captivatedly stare at her and finally one of them says to the other, “Gee, that’s enough to almost make you wish you were a lesbian.”

But, even apart from sexual inclinations, the point remains that we can become attracted to people who treat us well or ill or both, to people we enjoy or not, or both. And we can enjoy or be treated well by people to whom we do not necessarily become attracted, whether emotionally, sexually, romantically, or physically.

And, apart from any sort of attractions, we can enjoy the company of people who are not good for us — children and adolescents often become friends with people who lead them “astray”. Adults, particularly in some vulnerable states, are also susceptible though they may be more circumspect than inexperienced children. And we often do not enjoy or find pleasure from people, such as some teachers or parents, who may be very good to us and very good for us, but whose benefit to us we do not understand or appreciate. Quite often, just as the taste of foods is inversely proportional to their nutrition, and just as the most fun activities are not always the most beneficial ones, the most enjoyable people are not always the ones whose company is best for us.

Key Takeaways

  • Recognize that you can be attracted, and even remain attracted, to someone who is not good for you or even very enjoyable or satisfying for you.
  • Understand that you can find someone enjoyable not good for you but you may also find someone who is good for you not satisfactory.

Key Terms

  • Further evidence for the independence of feelings from what is enjoyable or unenjoyable and from what is good or bad are the dual phenomena of (1) having different feelings toward people from whom you may get the same satisfactions or dissatisfactions and (2) getting the same kinds of feelings from people who give you satisfactions or dissatisfactions that are different.

Chapter Review Questions

  • Question: What does the book refer to as the 3 aspects of relationships?
  • Question: What is a “Mary Worth” type of relationship?

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Chapter 7 Independence of the Three Aspects of Relationships Copyright © 2017 by Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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