The Pursuit of the Perfect Relationship Chapter One cover image

The Pursuit of the Perfect Relationship Chapter One

Dorian Minors • April 19, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Filled with illuminating insights, hidden by the magic of storytelling, the greatest and most moving love stories told have much to offer in our pursuit of the perfect relationship. Stories such as this seize and inspire us in part because people are wired to find and love one another. Let's explore some of the most inimitable of these as we search for the knowledge to guide us in the realisation of our 'perfect' romance.

Why are we wired?

What brings lovers together

Often referred to as the greatest love affair in history, the dramatic romance between the recalcitrant Roman commander, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra, the exotic Egyptian queen, has captured the hearts and the imaginations of people for over two thousand years. The story of their love that incited a war, their defeat and their eventual suicides have been recounted, reinvented and permeated cultures for centuries. anthonycleopatra4

But, as the adage goes 'history isn't written by the losers' and there is no doubt that this couple lost, in tragic and spectacular fashion. Yet they have significantly shaped our (and many before us) cultural consciousness. Which begs the question; when other figures in history disappear with a significantly greater claim to the historic record, why do we care about these two? The answer is likely to do with the fact that they define many of the qualities that draw lovers together.

Our dirty primal desires

The seductive and sexy exotic woman. The powerful and wealthy man whom no one can resist. These stereotypes are commonly seen in popular culture, and it's because our desire for this is a part of our evolution, scientists say. Mark Antony was one of two most powerful men in Rome. With a tremendous army beholden to his every word and the support of the most powerful nation in history thus far, Mark Antony embodies what are thought to be some of the evolutionary needs of a woman in a man- status, power, wealth and dominance. Centuries of retelling portray Cleo in the image of a ravishing and irresistible woman. Mark Antony, distracted as he was in the midst of the build up to a war with his rival, Octavian, cannot help but be enchanted by her feminine charms. Despite all the odds against them, the two cannot resist the pull of one another. As it happens, these elements mirror exactly what turn men and women on at the deepest and most primal level. The first key to the perfect relationship.

What does turn us on?

But there's more

But physical, evolutionary attraction is certainly not the full story. No, we also want kindness, warmth and intelligence. Those three things are consistently rated as the most important elements of a relationship, even above our instinctive desires. Antony was vying for control of the great Roman state with rival commander Octavian. He is failing and asks the mesmerising Cleo for her help, and although she resists him at first, after all the most powerful woman in the known world doesn't just answer call, they are fated to meet. Cleopatra is escorted to the capital to meet Antony in a barge of gold, filled with flowers. Within days, their love has grown inimitable and Cleopatra whisks Mark Antony away to neighbouring Alexandria to relieve his stress. Cleopatra is portrayed as the classic, caring woman who is there for Antony when he needs it most. All the while, Antony is viewed as the man fighting for the values of Rome against his rival, the cruel and bloodthirsty Octavian. We impose on him the kindness and warmth that is implied from the story. Both are seen as brilliant politicians and both have the power and status leading a nation lends.

Those are really the most important things?

The perfect stormAntony-And-Cleopatra-001

The lovers are united in Alexandria. Antony and Cleopatra did everything together. When Antony dwells on the state of the Roman nation, Cleopatra comes to distract and delight him. They dice, drink and hunt together. And when Antony exercised in arms, she was there to see. But trouble is brewing. Octavian has raised the armies of Rome and is marching on the couple, to destroy what they have made. Antony and Cleopatra prepare to do battle rather than be apart. But why? Well, probably because they are experiencing that first powerful roller-coaster of love, the initial high that psychologists call 'limerance', a stage in one of the three types of love.

Tell me more about 'limerance' and the three kinds of love

Added to that is that they share one of the fundamental keys to attraction, similarity. Similar in power, in status and most importantly, in belief - how a nation should be driven.

What are the keys to attraction?

Not to mention that the high stakes makes love all the more exciting. It's a known fact that fear and excitement when coupled with the object of our desire confuses us into liking them much, much more.

 Fear can trick us into liking someone more?

In essence, the perfect storm. Unfortunately, although these elements added together into a powerful combination, it wasn't enough to keep them together. As Octavian bears down upon these infatuated lovers, they realise the end is upon them and kill themselves rather than be apart. But, in reality, it probably would have ended anyway. And historically, it's thought that Cleopatra essentially tried to murder Antony. This is because as compelling as these initial elements of love can be, they are simply not enough to make a relationship last.

To be continued...

This is the first 'chapter' in our pursuit for the 'perfect' relationship. Join us (below) and be the first to know about new chapters to this story as we continue to tie together the elements of what makes a relationship last, as well as the latest Dirt each week as we build our knowledge on our journey to 'the good life'.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.