Personal Qualities That Are More Attractive for Love Than Our Looks

Many believe that our looks are what matter most in attracting the love of a potential partner. Yes, physical attraction is what people desire in a loved one. However, desirable personality traits are what matter most.

According to the surveys of heterosexual and homosexual partners, appearance and sexiness are only in the middle of the preferred characteristics of a partner. On the other hand, such personality traits as extraversion, intelligence, and agreeableness are higher than physical attraction as the qualities that women and men in different-sex and same-sex couples look for in a partner.

As co-founder of the dating app So Syncd, Jess Alderson says, we do prefer personality over looks. For example, in the sample of more than 1,000 users, almost 90% preferred certain personality traits over looks.

Why Agreeableness Is Desired for Love

Agreeableness is among the indicators of someone’s interpersonal skills. It characterizes how compassionate and caring people are. This personal quality plays an important role for both men and women in their initial preference for a date’s desirability. This trait is also a strong predictor of current and future relationship satisfaction and durability. For men as well as for women, physical attractiveness comes together with agreeableness in their desire for a love relationship. “Agreeableness is kind of a necessity,” says Greg Webster, a psychology professor at the University of Florida. In relationships, agreeableness, combined with other attractive traits, can bring the best out of people. See more about this research here.

The factor of similarity also plays a role. We feel attracted to others who share values similar to ours.

How does it work in the case of agreeableness? More agreeable people tend to see others as kind and friendly, finding them similar. This is why we match with people who have personalities similar to our own.

Why Similarity and Familiarity Matter for Love

We tend to look for similar and familiar others in our pursuit of love, not only in agreeableness but also in other personality traits, such as openness to a new experience and conscientiousness.

Partners with high similarity in the personality traits of conscientiousness and openness to a new experience are better in their ability to solve problems and manage daily tasks.

Similarity and familiarity are important in many other things (Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Orbuch & Sprecher, 2003). We also find attractive the other person who is physically and genetically similar to us, how close they live geographically to us, whether we belong to the same social groups, and whether we approve of their friends.

Why Some Differences Are Attractive for a Relationship

Despite the importance of similarities and familiarities in traits, personality differences might also be appealing for love.

Partners with complementary traits match well with each other, according to the observations of Jess Alderson, a co-founder of the dating app So Syncd.

“It makes sense that we’ve evolved to be attracted to people who at least have a certain amount of differences to ourselves. We make a stronger team and would be more likely to survive. But again, you need that kind of intimacy that draws you together.”

“We pair couples who have just enough similarities to form a strong connection, and then just enough differences to create that spark of excitement,” says Alderson.

“If you are too similar, it can be a little bit boring. And then if you’re too different, it can just not be that fun on a daily basis.”

It turns out that similarity and equality between partners are not necessarily the best things for a good relationship. And the dominance quality of one partner can be a good thing for love.

For example, social psychologists Angela Bryan, Greg Webster, and Amanda Mahaffey looked at socially, physically, and financially dominant people and the effect agreeableness had on their appeal (Bryan, Webster, & Mahaffey, 2011).

Researchers found that social, physical, and financial types of dominance are attractive to others. Each can provide a kind of protection or access to basic needs, like food and shelter, through to more desirable needs, like lavish lifestyles.

Yet, dominance traits can be used for good and bad:

“We can think of dominance as being turned inward towards a relationship or as being focused outward away from the relationship. What people want are partners who are socially, physically, or financially dominant, but not necessarily towards their partner,”

says Webster.

When dominance is mediated by agreeableness, it is a combination of qualities appealing to interpersonal attraction. “It’s one thing if you’re able to dominate other people, but are you willing to share those resources with your romantic partner?” For attractive partners, agreeableness accentuates the benefits of other personal qualities.

Interpersonal Attraction over Minimal Similarities

It is widely known in psychology that similarities attract individuals in interpersonal relationships and love. We feel attracted to others with whom we share similar personality traits, interests, values, and other personal attributes. even minimal similarities, if they are essential, can lead to interpersonal attraction.

People Tend to Be Prone to Overgeneralization

However, this interpersonal attraction due to similarities may stem not from real similarities but rather from our overgeneralized beliefs that such observed personal similarities indicate our deeper and more fundamental similarities with another person.

Charles Chu, an assistant professor at Boston University, recently conducted a study showing how our perceptions of similarities prompt our false beliefs about having deeper similarities with the person.

As the author said,

“Our attraction to people who share our attributes is aided by the belief that those shared attributes are driven by something deep within us: one’s essence.”

More concretely, Charles Chu continues:

“To put it concretely, we like someone who agrees with us on a political issue, shares our music preferences, or simply laughs at the same thing as us not purely because of those similarities, but because those similarities suggest something more—this person is, in essence, like me, and as such, they share my views of the world at large.”

What Is “Psychological Essentialism”?

According to the author, “psychological essentialism,” specifically applied to people’s ideas about the self and individual identity, is what motivates this way of thinking. People have a tendency to “essentialize” many things in their perceptions of others. This seems to be a psychological phenomenon present across all human cultures.

Charles Chu defines “psychological essentialism” this way:

“To essentialize something is to define it by a set of deeply rooted and unchanging properties, or an essence.”

“For example, the category of ‘wolf’ is defined by a wolf essence, residing in all wolves, from which stems attributes such as their pointy noses, sharp teeth and fluffy tails as well as their pack nature and aggressiveness. It is unchanging in that a wolf raised by sheep is still a wolf and will eventually develop wolf-like attributes.”

Charles Chu explains that researchers have recently started to concentrate on the category of the self in terms of “psychological essentialism.” They found that we tend to essentialize the self in the same way that we essentialize other categories in our perception.

“To essentialize me is to define who I am by a set of entrenched and unchanging properties, and we all, especially in Western societies, do this to some extent. A self-essentialist then would believe that what others can see about us and the way we behave are caused by such an unchanging essence,”

Charles Chu said.

New Experiments on Self-Essentialism and Interpersonal Attraction

Researchers conduct studies to better understand how self-essentialism drives interpersonal attraction. Let us review a series of four experiments recently reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

First Experiment

In the first experiment, researchers asked participants their opinions on one of five randomly selected social issues: gun ownership, the death penalty, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, or animal testing. The other half of the participants read about someone who disagreed with their position, while the other half read about someone who shared their position. Then all participants answered questions about their general beliefs about self-essentialism. They also rated their level of interpersonal attraction to the fictitious person and how much they thought they shared a general worldview with that person.

The participants who were high in self-essentialism more frequently reported that they had a similar general perception of reality as the fictitious person who agreed with them. The participants also express attraction to them.

Second Experiment

In the second experiment, similar to the first one, researchers found the same results, further supporting their theory of self-essentialism. This time, researchers asked about another shared attribute: the participants’ propensity to overestimate or underestimate the number of colored dots on a series of computer slides.

In this case, the belief in an “essential self” made participants think that a single aspect of similarity implied that both the participant and another person see the world similarly. This, in turn, led to a higher attraction to that person.

Third Experiment

In a third experiment, researchers showed participants eight pairs of paintings and asked them to select their favorite from each pair. Some participants were fans of the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, while others were fans of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.

Then researchers informed half of each fan group that their artistic preference was intrinsic to their identity. Researchers informed the other half of participants that there was no correlation between their artistic preference and their identity.

Researchers then exposed the participants to two fictitious individuals. One of them shared their artistic preference, and the other did not.

Researchers found in this experiment that those whom they told that artistic preference was related to their essence were significantly more likely to express attraction to a hypothetical person with the same artistic preferences.

Fourth Experiment

In the fourth experiment, researchers classified participants as fans of one of the two artists. Then they gave them information about whether or not using one’s own essence was useful in perceiving other people.

In this experiment, researchers told one-third of the participants that essentialist thinking may result in inaccurate perceptions of others. Researchers told another third of the participants that essentialist thinking may result in accurate perceptions of others. They didn’t provide any information to the remaining third of participants.

Here are the striking results of the study: Participants, who were informed that essentialist thinking could result in accurate assessments of other people, believed that they shared a similar taste in art with them. They also felt attracted to these fictitious people.

What the Study Concluded about Interpersonal Attraction

The most surprising finding of the study was that something as simple as a shared appreciation of an artist could make people believe that other people would have similar worldviews. However, the author advised that self-essentialist thinking might not always be beneficial. Regarding this finding, Charles Chu noted that,

“I think any time when we’re making quick judgments or first impressions with very little information, we are likely to be affected by self-essentialist reasoning.”

“People are so much more complex than we often give them credit for, and we should be wary of the unwarranted assumptions we make based on this type of thinking.”

Thus, one can see that Self-Essentialist Reasoning Underlies the Similarity-Attraction Effect in interpersonal perception and attraction.

It Is Sensible to Be a Modestly Expressive Woman

The article presents sensible quotes from Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria” with advice to be a modestly expressive woman in laughter and movements.

Ovid was a well-known poet who lived in ancient Rome from 43 BCE to 17 CE. For centuries, his poetry trilogy “Ars Amatoria” (The Art of Love) has been popular among educated and noble people. Many modern humanities scholars have read and highly praised Ovid’s “The Art of Love.” In his poems, Ovid shared his wisdom on love matters with Roman men and women. He advises them on how to attract, entice affection, and keep a relationship with a partner. He also teaches them how to use the art of love in their love affairs.

The Romans lived in a different era and led a different lifestyle than we do today. But I believe that educated men and women today can learn something interesting and useful about love from Ovid’s poetry collections. This is why I’ve included excerpts from these books on this website for those interested in learning more about how ancient Romans lived and loved.

The poetry collection “Ars Amatoria” offers contemporary men and women sensible guidance on how to find, attract, and keep a partner in a relationship. The first two books of this poetry collection by Ovid offer suggestions to men on how to approach, court, and entice women. The third book teaches women the poetic wisdom of how to be attractive, lovable, and maintain loving relationships with men.

The Art of Roman Love Shared in my Previous Blog Posts

In previous blog posts, I shared some of Ovid’s poetry-based advice for men. Among the topics discussed in these beautiful verses are the following:

How to Find Her“, “Search for Love While Walking“, “Triumphs that Are Good to Attract a Woman“, “How to Win Her“, “How to Be Attentive to Her“, and “How to Make Promises and Deceive”.

The articles on this blog also include Ovid’s wisdom of love for women on “How to Appear,” “How to Keep Taste and Elegance in Hair and Dress,” “How to Use Makeup,” and “How to Hide Defects in Appearance.”

Here are the new poetic quotes with advice from Book III of Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria,” addressed to girls and women. Ovid teaches them to be moderately expressive women who are modest in their laughter and movements.

The Ovid Advice to Be a Modestly Expressive Woman in Laughter and Movements

“If you’re teeth are blackened, large, or not in line

from birth, laughing would be a fatal error.

Who’d believe it? Girls must even learn to laugh,

they seek to acquire beauty also in this way.

Laugh modestly, a small dimple either side,

the teeth mostly concealed by the lips.

Don’t strain your lungs with continual laughter,

but let something soft and feminine ring out.

One girl will distort her face perversely by guffawing:

another shakes with laughter, you’d think she’s crying.

That one laughs stridently in a hateful manner,

like a mangy ass braying at the shameful mill.

Where does art not penetrate? They’re taught to cry,

with propriety, they weep when and how they wish.

Why! Aren’t true words cheated by the voice,

and tongues forced to make lisping sounds to order?

Charm’s in a defect: they try to speak badly:

they’re taught, when they can speak, to speak less.

Weigh all this with care, since it’s for you:

learn to carry yourself in a feminine way.

And not the least part of charm is in walking:

it attracts men you don’t know, or sends them running.

One moves her hips with art, catches the breeze

with flowing robes, and points her toes daintily:

another walks like the wife of a red-faced Umbrian,

feet wide apart, and with huge paces.

But there’s measure here as in most things: both the rustic’s stride,

and the more affected step should be foregone.

Still, let the parts of your lower shoulder and upper arm

on the left side, be naked, to be admired.

That suits you pale-skinned girls especially: when I see it, I want to kiss your shoulder, as far as it’s shown.”

Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.

The Value of Makeup for Women in Their Art of Love

Ovid was a renowned poet of the Roman Empire who lived from 43 BCE to 17 CE. For centuries, his poetry trilogy “Ars Amatoria” (The Art of Love) has been popular among educated and aristocratic people. Many modern scholars in the humanities are familiar with Ovid’s “The Art of Love.” Ovid teaches Roman men and women how to capture and retain a partner’s affection. He also instruct them how to be attractive, and how to make love.

The ancient Romans lived in a different era and social structure than people do today. But I believe that modern educated men and women can appreciate the lessons about love found in Ovid’s poetry collections. I have posted the excerpts from these books on this website. They are interesting for those interested in learning more about the cultural wisdom of love in ancient Roman culture.

The poetry of “Ars Amatoria” contains helpful advice for modern men and women on how to find and maintain a partner in a relationship. The first two collections of poetry by Ovid include instructions on how to approach, court, and seduce women. The third book’s poetic guidance teaches women the art of loving men.

I presented poetic excerpts of Ovid’s advice to men in previous blog posts. For example, those lovely verses are discussing How to Find Her“, “Search for Love While Walking“, “Search for Love at the Races or Circus“, “How to Win Her“, “How to Be Attentive to Her“, “How to Woo and Seduce a Woman”, “How to Make Promises and Deceive”, andHow Tears, Kisses, Taking the Lead Can Help in Love Affairs”.

Here are some poetic quotes from Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria,” Book III, addressed to girls and women. In this book, Ovid teaches them about love. In particular, he tells them how taste, elegance in hair and dress, and makeup are important for their art of love.

Makeup Is Important for Women in their Art of Love

“How near I was to warning you, no rankness of the wild goat

under your armpits, no legs bristling with harsh hair!

But I’m not teaching girls from the Caucasian hills,

or those who drink your waters, Mysian Caicus.

So why remind you not to let your teeth get blackened,

by being lazy, and to wash your face each morning in water?

You know how to acquire whiteness with a layer of powder:

she who doesn’t blush by blood, indeed, blushes by art.

You make good the naked edges of your eyebrows,

and hide your natural cheeks with little patches.

It’s no shame to highlight your eyes with thinned ashes,

or saffron grown by your banks, bright Cydnus.

It’s I who spoke of facial treatments for your beauty,

a little book, but one whose labour took great care.

There too you can find protection against faded looks:

my art’s no idle thing in your behalf.

Still, don’t let your lover find cosmetic bottles

on your dressing table: art delights in its hidden face.

Who’s not offended by cream smeared all over your face,

when it runs in fallen drops to your warm breast?

Don’t those ointments smell? Even if they are sent from Athens,

they’re oils extracted from the unwashed fleece of a sheep.

Don’t apply preparations of deer marrow openly,

and I don’t approve of openly cleaning your teeth:

it makes for beauty, but it’s not beautiful to watch:

many things that please when done, are ugly in the doing:

What now carries the signature of busy Myron

was once dumb mass, hard stone:

to make a ring, first crush the golden ore:

the dress you wear, was greasy wool:

That was rough marble, now it forms a famous statue,

naked Venus squeezing water from her wet hair.

We’ll think you too are sleeping while you do your face: fit to be seen after the final touches.”

Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.

Yet, Ovid Suggests Women Use Makeup in Private

“Why should I know the source of the brightness in your looks?

Close your bedroom door! Why betray unfinished work?

There are many things it’s right men shouldn’t know:

most things offend if you don’t keep them secret.

The golden figures shining from the ornate theatre,

examine them, you’ll despise them: gilding hiding wood:

but the crowd’s not allowed to approach them till they’re done,

and till your beauty’s ready banish men.

But I don’t forbid your hair being freely combed,

so that it falls, loosely spread, across your shoulders.

Beware especially lest you’re irritable then,

or are always loosening your failed hairstyle again.

Leave your maid alone: I hate those who scratch her face

with their nails, or prick the arm they’ve snatched at with a pin.

She’ll curse her mistress’s head at every touch,

as she weeps, bleeding, on the hateful tresses.

If you’re hair’s appalling, set a guard at your threshold,

or always have it done at Bona Dea’s fertile temple.

I was once suddenly announced arriving at some girl’s:

in her confusion she put her hair on wrong way round.

May such cause of cruel shame come to my enemies,

and that disgrace be reserved for Parthian girls.

Hornless cows are ugly, fields are ugly without grass, and bushes without leaves, and a head without its hair.”

Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.

Several Effective Flirtation Tactics in Norwegian and American Cultures

Flirting is the art of seducing a potential romantic or sexual partner through playful verbal and nonverbal exchanges. A variety of factors, such as the gender of a person, his or her attractiveness, personality traits, and situational context, contribute to the success of flirting. Flirtation techniques can be nonverbal, such as using smiles, posture, and eye contact to express interest. Verbal flirtation techniques are the art of saying a compliment to a person of interest. All these ways of interpersonal communication are often involved in the initiation stage of romantic or sexual relationships. Some men and women enjoy these flirtation tactics all the time. This can be called a “playful style of love.” (Karandashev, 2022).

The New Cross-Cultural Study of Flirtation

The question remains: what flirtation tactics are more effective than others? Let us look at some new research evidence recently published in the journal of Evolutionary Psychology. According to the study, laughing at other people’s jokes is an effective technique for both men and women. However, in other regards, these flirtation tactics can be different for men and women.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of flirting in love relationships. The research question is whether these flirtation tactics are different for men and women.

The study was also interesting in terms of the effect of cultural contexts. The study was cross-cultural and compared perceptions of flirting among people living in Norway, a very gender egalitarian society, and people living in the United States of America, a more religious country. Researchers created four versions of the questionnaire:

  • a woman flirting with a man for short-term sex,
  • a woman flirting with a man for a long-term relationship,
  • a man flirting with a woman for short-term sex, and
  • a man flirting with a woman for a long-term relationship.

Participants filled out the questionnaires about their flirtation strategies, sociosexuality, extraversion, mate value, and religiosity.

The authors from Norwegian and American universities (Kennair et al., 2022) conducted the study among students in these two relatively different cultures. Two samples were used: one from Norway and one from the United States. Students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology made up their sample group in Norway. The US sample was made up of college students in the Northeast who were in their first to fourth years.

This study advanced our understanding of gender differences in flirting strategies in two countries. Here is a summary of some key findings.

Gender Similarities in Flirting Tactics

In the context of long-term relationships, men and women employ largely similar flirting strategies. For instance, the study supported the role of humor in interpersonal attraction and perception of mate value. Both men and women can effectively flirt by laughing at each other’s jokes. Such responses to humor through laughing or giggling are equally effective flirtation tactics in both men’s and women’s behavior during conversation.

Gender Differences in Flirting Tactics

The findings of the study revealed gender differences in flirting tactics. Men and women differ in the flirtation tactics they use and perceive as effective.

On the one hand, when women dressed sexy, showed off their bodies, or used sexualized physical contact, men liked these flirting tactics in the context of short-term mating relationships.

On the other hand, when men appear generous, committed, and able to maintain intimate conversations and spend time together, women perceive these flirting tactics as effective in the context of long-term mating relationships. Both findings are in accord with the traditional evolutionary interpretation of the different mating preferences of men and women (see for review Karandashev, 2022).

Cultural Differences in Flirting Between Norwegians and Americans

The United States sample was more religious than the Norwegian sample. That reflected on their use of flirting tactics. Participants in the Norwegian sample were more open in their sociosexual orientation, showing a willingness to engage in casual and uncommitted sexual relationships.

Americans are better at flirting by being generous and looking for attention than Norwegians are. 

The Irresistible Attraction of Hugging in Love

Physical attraction and physical interaction of different kinds seem naturally involved in love relationships. Kissing, cuddling, and hugging are commonly associated with loving behavior. Why so? Is it culturally universal? Let us see why, for many loving and loved people, it is such a pleasurable experience of love.

The Physical Attraction of Hugging and Cuddling

Generally, love feelings and love relationships involve physical attraction. This is why lovers experience action tendencies such as a desire to be physically near a loved one, a desire for interpersonal proximity, and a desire to spend more time together. When people are in love, they feel a longing and even a craving for physical union, including cuddling, kissing, and hugging (Karandashev & Fata, 2014; Karandashev et al., 2020).

Many of us enjoy hugging and cuddling as well as being hugged or cuddled. Being in close physical relationships with loved ones is enjoyable. When we are down, another’s embrace provides comfort. When we are up, it increases our joy.

What about the person who is touching and hugging? Is their act incumbent and solely motivated by kindness, or does it also make them feel good?

The Evolutionary Origin of Loving Touching

Generally, friendly touching in the context of social interactions was viewed as an evolutionary remnant related to body hygiene and was regarded as secondary in importance. This is why in the societies of early evolutionary stages and some traditional cultures of the past, cultural norms considered physical intimacy in close relationships of low value. The touching that occurs when humans interact with the physical world was more important. However, recent studies have uncovered the important links between affectionate touch and the benefits this loving action brings to both children and parents. What about other types of loving relationships?

Findings like this have sparked recent research into how gentle physical contact influences the biological and psychological processes that promote the mental and physical well-being of lovers and loved ones. The review of studies like this is presented in the recent publications (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

Do We Have Nerve Fibers Sensitive to Human Contact?

Scientific investigations have yielded numerous interesting findings. Among these is the discovery of a special sensory nerve fiber that appears to be particularly “interested” in human touch. This fiber is activated by gentle caress and feels more pleasant than other types of touch. Researchers believe that this human touch fiber, C-tactile afferent, is the key gateway into how physical contact produces positive feelings, reduces stress, and allows humans to thrive.

The Human Need to Touch

An interesting fact is that the special human touch fiber exists only in hairy skin, which means it is not present in the palms of our hands, which we typically use for touching. Researchers in the field continue to further investigate the role of touch in human development and health care. The question of interest is what touch does to a recipient and what the function of touch is for those who give it.

The fact that touching comes so naturally and readily frequently feels like an impulse, even in circumstances where there isn’t a clear need to console or encourage.

When we interact with a pet, child, friend, or romantic partner, we feel a pleasant natural tendency to reach out, rub, or poke. In the cases of dogs and cats, it is especially evident because they cannot return the petting they receive from us. So, the question is whether touching gives us direct, tactile rewards that are similar to those we get when we are touched. Prof. Dr. Annett Schirmer, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, along with her colleagues, attempted to answer this question. They conducted polls among young people in Germany and Hong Kong. Participants responded to two online questionnaires, one in the position of providing touch and the other in the role of receiving touch. In both surveys, participants had to explain a typical circumstance that led to tickling, stroking, or, for example, hugging. They also had to indicate the kinds of people with whom such touching felt comfortable and draw an outline of their body where they would feel the most comfortable being touched.

Who Benefits From Touch More?

According to those survey results, touch giving and receiving occur most often in positive situations and bring the associated positive feelings, such as affection, love, joy, and fun, to both. Surprisingly, greater pleasure is experienced by those who give than by those who receive touch. It is worthy of note that the feelings of comfort were higher with those in close relationships than with those in distant relationships.

The places on the body where a person feels comfortable being touched are similar to those for giving touch. Typically, prime comfort zones are the shoulders, upper back, and arms. It is likely that there is a natural correspondence between touchers and touchees, prompting both to engage in mutually pleasant and beneficial behavior. It is interesting that they are the same for both men and women in both cultures, in Germany and Hong Kong. Our extensive cross-cultural studies of recent years have revealed many other interesting findings on the role of touching, hugging, and other sensory experiences in romantic loving preferences (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

What Is Erotic Love?

What is love? What is sex? What is sexual love? And what is erotic love?

For love studies to be truly scientific, there are a lot of scholarly questions that need to be answered. As I noted in another article, love and sex are inextricably linked to one another. Yet, there are several concepts related to these two that researchers should distinguish in this field of research. One of those is the concept of “erotic love.”

What is “sex” and what is “sexual love”?

The concepts of “sex” and “sexual love” have different phenomenology. Even though they may have behaviorally similar forms and expressions, they play their distinct psychological roles and associated with difference experiences (Karandashev, 2022a). How different are they?

“Sexual desire” is easily aroused, fleeting, and short-lived. Any sexually attractive individual is capable of satisfying sexual desire.”

“Sexual love” is a collection of more intimate and complicated feelings related to a certain other person. Only a specific individual can fulfill a person’s sexual urge.”

What is “love,” what is “eros,” and what is “erotic love”?

Love is directly yet intricately connected with sexual and erotic feelings. According to numerous stories, novels, and movies, both men and women have a preference for the beautiful and handsome. Such expectations are in their romantic dreams. Love and eroticism in life are tied to each other in many different ways (Featherstone, 1998).

The word “erotic” originates from the Greek word eros (érōs). The ancient Greek “eros” first emerged in the sense of aesthetic appreciation and yearning for beauty (Lomas, 2018). In modern scholarship and public opinion, however, this word often takes a different twist of meaning, associated with sexual and passionate connotations (see for review, Karandashev, 2019).

In ancient Greek origins, the concept of érōs is intimately linked with epithymia (as sexual love). However, both describe different emotional experiences. The word érōs conveys meaning beyond physical sexual desire. The word érōs implies a broader meaning—an appreciation of beauty.

Because the attractive appearance of a man or a woman easily triggers these feelings, the word certainly conveys connotations with emotions of passionate love (Tillich, 1954). Other subtle differences which scholars convince us to make are (1) the difference between elation of romantic sex-esthetic attraction and sexual arousal of sexual desire, and (2) the difference between non-sexual affectionate sexual love (Grant, 1976).

The Love of Beauty Is Erotic

“Erotic love” means that a lover perceives his or her beloved as a beautiful object worthy of aesthetic admiration. “Erotic love is about aesthetic pleasure, while sexual love is about sensual (sexual) pleasure.” (Karandashev, 2022a).

Both are certainly closely intertwined. In sexually stimulating situations, erotic can easily transition to sensual and sexual experiences. People frequently perceive erotic love as inextricably linked to sexual and passionate love. Such a mixing of these experiences is natural for complex human emotions. However, some people consider a partner’s attractive body, face, expressions, and other appearances to be “sexy,” while others consider them to be “beautiful.” It is an individual yet culturally determined experience associated with personal dominant motivations that the lover has in mind at the time. It can be a strong or moderate sexual drive. It can be the cultural values of a society that stress being “sexy” or being “beautiful.”

Multisensory Erotic Attraction

When a man or a woman experiences erotic love, the lover admires the beloved for his or her attractive physical appearance as perceived through various sensory impressions: visual, auditory, tactile-kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory. Interpersonal perception of lovers involves multisensory processes and several sensory impressions that are inextricably linked with each other (Karandashev et al., 2016, 2020). The dynamics of interaction are also involved. Men and women not only passively admire their partners, but also approach them, speak, sing, dance, touch each other, smile, hug, cuddle, kiss, and so on. Such dynamic expressive behavior often tells them more about erotic attractiveness than static body and facial appearance.

All of these perceptions and aesthetic qualities merge to produce what we call “erotic attraction” and “erotic love.” A lover admires his or her beloved for having attractive erotic impressions (Karandashev, 2022a).

Can you recognize erotic love from the facial expression of another person?

According to studies, people generally distinguish the faces of people experiencing love from those experiencing other emotions such as joy, sadness, anger, and fear. They can also recognize specific types of love, such as erotic love and tender love experienced by another person. Both erotic love and tender love have different facial expressions from joy and each other. A person expresses erotic love in semi-closed eyes, while tender love is expressed through a slight head tilt and a slight smile (Bloch, Orthous, & Santibanez, 1987; Hatfield & Rapson, 1993).

African Love of the Taita People in Kenya

The Taita are a group of East African ethnic groups who have lived in Kenya for four or five centuries. They are also known as the Wataita or the Wadawida. The Taita are predominantly highland farmers who live in a mountainous region of southern Kenya. The social life of the Taita tribes is structured by autonomous clans, including families. The clans are separate social groups that inhabit their own hilly territories. Early ethnographic reports of African life and gender relations were full of sexuality. They did not mention anything about love in relationships between women and men. Therefore, anthropologists once believed Africans could only love sexually. This initial ethnocentric misunderstanding of Westerners was the most typical way Europeans and Americans viewed African gender relations (Bell, 1995; Kenyatta, 1938/1953; Jablow & Hammond, 1977).

Acculturation of East African Love

European missionaries judged the “native” and natural sexuality of Africans as primitive. They taught them Western moral notions of Christian virtues and marital values. Missionaries preached “appropriate” sexual behavior and righteous family life. The Taita folk concepts of sex, lust, and love were refined and acculturized to some degree by European cultural influences. In East African culture, Western and African indigenous beliefs, traditions, and values blend somehow.

Unexpected Indigenous Taita Love

However, more attentive and culturally sensitive research revealed that East African cultures had their own native notions not only about sex and lust but also about love, even before Europeans arrived. They told their own love stories for years (Bell, 1995).

Anthropologist Jim Bell (1995) conducted a field study of lust, love, and romantic ideals among the Taita of Kenya, East Africa. Based on his observations, he argues that passionate and romantic love existed in Africa before the advent of Christian missionaries. These ideas and practices have been natural parts of African culture for a very long time, prior to European contact. Also, love for marriage might not be a new idea in the Taita culture.

Bell asserts that romantic love has always been a part of Taita culture. Love affairs, along with native sexual relationships, have been common in Taita daily life. In their interviews, Taita men and women explained that the words “ashiki” for desire and “pendo” for love existed before early European contact.

East African Love of Kenya

Anthropologist Jim Bell found that the Taita young people of Kenya chose their mates based on affection, physical attraction, and love. For example, younger Taita women liked to become involved with a “chosen lover,” who was usually someone their own age. Most of the time, physical appearance, sexual attractiveness, and passionate affection are certainly involved in these kinds of relationships. Some of these relationships endure for a lifetime (Bell, 1995).

Here is another Kenyan example of indigenous love. The Kikuyu people, a large Bantu ethnic group of Central Kenya, have always been allowed to choose a partner without parental influence on either side. (Kenyatta, 1938/1953, p. 165). Kenyatta, a native Kikuyu who was Oxford-educated, contended that in traditional Kikuyu society, young people relied on “love” in their mate selection. It was, however, in their traditional cultural ways. When a “boy falls in love with a girl, he cannot tell her directly that he loves her or display his devotion to her in public, as this would be regarded by Gikuyu [or Kikuyu] as impolite and uncultured” (1959, p. 165).

In the early accounts of missionaries and anthropologists about how the “natives” behaved sexually, this kind of relationship was either ignored or not mentioned at all.

East African Love for Marriage

The Taita young men preferred to mate with beautiful young women. It was a factor in choosing a potential spouse. The young Taita woman, on the other hand, preferred to mate with a young man who was a smart person, a good farmer, and a provider for a family. Evidently, a man’s physical appearance was less important in mate selection than compared to his personality.

Men placed more emphasis on physical characteristics than women did on personality and social position. However, the view of what is beautiful and desirable in a partner differed in the perception of men and women. And these differences affected the partners they chose.

Both men and women in Taita desire partners who display culturally appropriate graces (Bell, 1995). Men and women in the Taita culture distinguish three types of love.

What Miss Silva Advised Nigerian Women and Men About Love and Marriage

From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Nigerian columnist “Miss Silva” of the West African Pilot offered relationship advice for young men and women. Her essays and anonymous reader letters on contemporary love of that time expressed their enthralling love tales. Their stories often showed the contentious thoughts and feelings they had because of their resistance to traditional norms of gender relations and African patriarchy. A frequent question she advised about was love and marriage (Aderinto, 2015).

Therefore, in her advice column “Milady’s Bower,” “Miss Silva” spoke with Nigerian women and men about modern love and gender relations. They also had a chance to tell their dramatic stories and express themselves freely and anonymously. Did you hear other stories like these?

What did “Miss Silva” tell Nigerian women and men about life and love? Can her advice be useful to you?

Let us listen to their dramatic stories (Aderinto, 2015).

To Marry or Not to Marry in Obedience to Your Parents?

Some letter writers complained about the fact that their parents wouldn’t let them pick their own partners. For example, one reader wrote to “Miss Silva” that when he was away from the town for a while “struggling with his life,” his old mother married him to a girl of her preference. But he said that he did not know the girl and had never seen her before. The reason his mother married him was because she was “unable to do any domestic work in the house”. This was why she married him to that girl.

The man sadly wrote in his letter: 

“Marriage as you see, is not a simple affair as some people seem to think. The happiness of lovers depends upon the love and sympathy between them and this is why a man should be left to choose for himself.”

He thought it was selfish of his mother to have married him to a girl just for her own domestic needs.

Another young man had a similar situation. His parents engaged him to a woman he didn’t love. He asked the columnist of “Milady’s Bower” for some advice, and Miss Silva told him

“stick to the girl you love best … Never mind what their wish is … Love is such a delicate thing and should not therefore be dictated to intending contracting parties by their parents.”

So, you see, what Miss Silva advised these men, and others in similar circumstances. She literally told them to defy parental authority and elope, or secretly marry without following traditional marriage rites.

Thus, miss Silva in her newspaper column empowered readers to be brave in making decisions about love and relationships. And she advised recognizing that by disobeying their parents, they could face certain cultural, social, and economic consequences.

But anyway, she encouraged them to investigate all of the possibilities for resolving the problem in a peaceful manner. In the frustrated situations they feared, she shared with them her words of wisdom, suggesting they follow their affection and marry a person who they love (Aderinto, 2015).

Love in Marital Relationships in Africa in the 20th Century

Africa is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. For centuries, people from many different cultures have lived side by side in close proximity, still maintaining their cultural values, beliefs, norms, and practices. The differences occur not only between countries but also within countries. Many African societies have a tribal social organization with extended families. However, other societies differ in this regard.

Anthropological materials have shown that people have different ideas and beliefs about love and marital relationships (Karandashev, 2017, 2019). So, it is difficult to generalize this knowledge to the entire African continent.

Let us consider some typical cases of how love is related to marital relations. This can be revealing for readers from other parts of the world.

Could African Boys and Girls Love and Marry for Love?

The young man and woman could meet and initiate the interaction and relationships that could lead to marriage. Prospective brides and grooms met at neighbors’ homes, in the marketplace, or at religious festivals. They were free to express their interest in and liking for each other. They loved each other at a distance and could interact.

Premarital sexual intercourse of youngsters was openly permissible or tolerated in some African societies but not in others. Sex plays were acceptable as long as the vagina was not penetrated. For many Africans, the physical act of sex itself was not associated with feelings of guilt. However, due to its symbolic and magical consequences, sex involved a set of rituals.

The love attraction between boys and girls might be reciprocated or not. In the case of non-reciprocal feelings, they had their own culturally specific defensive mechanisms. In many African cultural beliefs, external outside forces wield far more power than internal individual efforts. So, if a boy or girl loved someone but their feelings were not reciprocated, they did not question their own shortcomings. They were more willing to seek the help of a witch or wizard to cast a spell or provide them with a magical potion that could attract the one they desired (Murstein, 1974).

However, their parents usually played a major role in deciding whom to marry because the dowry, or the payment of the bride price, was their responsibility. Economic considerations and inheritance were among the significant factors in marital and family matters. The groom and bride might have been betrothed as children.

Love was not a focal point of traditional African marriages for a long time. However, boys and girls were usually not forced to marry someone they disliked. Nonetheless, both boys and girls frequently welcomed the help of parents and relatives in finding a match for them.

Cultural Expectations for an African Wife

In traditional African marriages, every woman was supposed to marry, be a wife in a household, and bear children. So, according to cultural traditions, African girls were thinking about their future marriages and families as something due to be fulfilled.

In some African societies and tribes, the ideal bride should be a virgin. However, many other societies were not concerned about this. So, the attitudes towards premarital sexual relationships varied across African societies and tribes.

A boy and his parents, in selecting a girl for marriage, placed less emphasis on her beauty. Tribal life was based primarily on physical strength. So, the expectations were that the prospective wife must be strong, be an excellent cook, and be eager to work hard for the household’s economic prosperity. These qualities were more important than appearance. The emphasis was more on utility than on appearance or personality. She was expected to be submissive and respectful to her husband (Murstein, 1974).

Cultural Expectations for an African Husband

There was little information available about expectations for the ideal husband. Perhaps women were less able to express their preferences for the groom. Perhaps it was less important for their patriarchal family life.

Social organization in many African societies was tribal and based on extended families, which could be patriarchal or not. The husband’s role was much smaller than in nuclear families. He was necessary for a wife to conceive a child. He was necessary for the wife’s sexual pleasure. However, in extended African families, the husband was not necessary for the wife’s and children’s subsistence. It was not necessary to care for the pregnant woman or to raise children. Any member of the family could fill these roles (Murstein, 1974).

The relationship structures of African extended families were typically gender segregated. Men and women constituted different circles of relationships. In such an extended marriage, romantic or companionate love could be an obstacle. Actually, love could ruin the “wise” marriage plans of senior family members (de Munck et al., 2016).

According to anthropological studies (de Munck et al., 2016), the extended family organization of societies makes romantic love of lower importance for marriage. So, romantic love was often naturally absent in the cultures of such societies. It was the case in many African societies.

Marriages and Families in Egalitarian African Societies

In some other African societies, however, marital relationships are different and welcoming to romantic love. The Hadza people of the East African tribal societies of gatherers and hunters in Northern Tanzania represent an example. The culture of these people is not patriarchal; it is egalitarian. They follow the tradition of bilateral descent and do not recognize clans. Their practice of family lineage regards relatives on both the father’s and mother’s sides as equal in terms of property and wealth transfer, as well as emotional ties. The descent is bilateral, and both parents receive an equal inheritance.

This cultural value of equality is conducive to and supportive of love and love matches for marital relationships. The marital relationships of serial monogamy are common. Polygynous relationships occur on rare occasions. Men and women are free to divorce, and divorce is culturally acceptable. Infidelity is usually a major cause of marriage separation (Scelza et al., 2020).