As psychology and all the sciences see it, mating is the entire repertoire of behaviors that animals—including humans—engage in in pursuit of finding a partner for intimacy or reproduction. It encompasses acts from flirting to one-night stands to marriage and more. Some mating behaviors are deeply ingrained, hard-wired into the nervous system, and operate without conscious awareness—attractions, for example—and some, like marriage ceremonies, are highly scripted, with every detail worked out in advance.
Humans thrive in social relationships, and a great deal of enterprise and energy are generally devoted to mating—seeking potential partners, courting them, gauging the compatibility and suitability of partner candidates, maintaining the bonds that develop—because nothing less than the continuation of the species depends on it. Around the world, finding a mate is regarded as one of the primary tasks of adulthood.
Mating behavior is influenced by many factors, some within individuals, some within the culture or the community that people are embedded in. Scientists as diverse as biologists and economists, demographers and anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists devote much research to understanding all the factors that influence mating and contribute to stable human relationships.
There is evidence, for example, that the very desire to pair off—and especially on what terms—changes dramatically as the number of available candidates changes. Researchers have found that men are more apt to be single when men are rare in a geographical area than when men are abundant. Although they. may be surrounded by potential partners, they have little interest in committing to or marrying them; they turn promiscuous, preferring casual sex and engaging in multiple relationships. They spawn babies out of wedlock, and sexual assault rates rise. When males are abundant, they invest considerable effort into finding a mate and settling down.
As the average human lifespan lengthens, debate rages as to whether people were meant to mate with one partner for life or to have multiple partners, serially or even simultaneously. No one knows what the answer is, but most people in the modern world seek a partner for emotional closeness, however fragile a foundation that might be for a lifetime of companionship or establishing a family.