Chapter 12: Love my house, love the crow on it – Part 3

A common reaction to such yak, however, is to discredit it as immature babbling and to brand its originator as irrational or insecure. A similar consequence looms when women exag­gerate or dramatise things, for example by generalising situations (“You never help me with the dishes”, “You always leave clothes in the washing machine”, “Nobody else would ever do such a thing”, “Can’t you listen to me for once?”), distorting facts (“You are acting like a three-year-old”, “I have already asked you ten thousand times”, “You haven’t taken me out for years”, “You do that all the time”), or presenting her feelings in an overly specta­cular manner (“You don’t understand me at all”, “Her new hairstyle looks terrible”, “My col­lea­gue bought the same dress as me, I hate her”, “I can’t stand his mannerism any longer”). Men are allergic to such formulations because they are confusing (did she really mean it when she said that she would never want to talk to me ever again?) and make it difficult to enter into a reasonable debate. With a little bit of distance, though, most women employing such figures of speech will admit that their words should not be taken literally. Instead, the magnification is meant to reinforce the emotional character of their declarations, which is so important for the representation of her inner state of mind. Like in a film, her hyperboles are there to amplify the effect of her story so that external listeners understand her better and sympathise with her. What counts is not only the information to be conveyed, but also the feelings she wishes to share with others.[1]

Herein lies a major difference between male and female communication. No matter the con­ver­sational partner (relatives, close friends, lovers, etc.), the first priority for a man is almost always to bring across a specific message. Emotions only play a minor role here. This is pre­cisely what women object to, namely that men are not there with their hearts when con­versing with other people. To females, it always seems that guys are not talking enough, or when they are, the communication takes place in a narrow-band mode where the recep­tion and transmission of feelings are weak or inaudible. Some men even find the all-important word combination “I love you” very hard to speak out.[2] Another common com­plaint related to this one is that men can be rather crude in their diction. Some insensitive males let slip questions such as “Have you gained weight lately?”, “Are you pregnant?”, “Are you PMSing?” or inadvertently diminish the feelings of their loved ones (“Why do we have to go over this again and again?”, “Don’t be such a drama queen”, “Don’t worry so much”, “Get to the point!”, etc.). Other faux pas in this regard include not answering the phone after she tried to call several times, giving a short or cold reply (e.g., “Okay”) to long (written or oral) mono­logues, answering in the affirmative any question like “Do I look fat in this outfit?”, or replying “Just fine” to the inquiry “How do I look?” at which he does not even bother looking at her. If she senses a distance in his words, she may interpret it as a personal derogation or as an invalidation of her emotions. Likewise, feedback such as “Up to you”, “Do whatever you want”, or “Why can’t you just let it go?” reveals that he does not care about what she wants, which can let her feel ignored or neglected.[3]

The poor listening skills of males represent another source of frustration for women. As mentioned above, the latter sometimes need to talk just for the sake of talking. In that case, however, some men will not limit themselves to hearing out the problem, but also want to fix it. For them, discussing is not enough; they have to not only talk but also do something about it. Yet this not what women expect in a conversation. Instead of suggestions and solu­tions, they hope to hear listening sounds or phrases (e.g., “Hmmm”, “Oooh”, “I see”, “Really?”, “That’s terrible”, “Tell me more”, etc.). These are enough to reassure them that the interlocutor is attentive, and there­fore a good, empathetic “listener”.[4],[5]


[1]    Pease / Pease (2002), pp. 168-169

[2]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 196

[3]    Gray (2012), pp. 144-145

[4]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 115, 165

[5]    Gray (2012), p. 121

Chapter 12: Love my house, love the crow on it – Part 2

As a little teaser, let’s start with two quotes:

Women speak until they have something to say.[1]

Sacha Guitry


We women talk too much,

nevertheless we only say half of what we know.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor

Both citations are emblematic for what arguably constitutes the number one infliction that men blame women for, namely that they talk a lot, or even “too much”. According to some sta­tistics, females express about 20,000 communication signals (words, vocal sounds, ges­tures, etc.) per day on average, whereas males get by with only 7,000 – that is almost three times as many.[2],[3] From a man’s perspective, however, the irritation does not necessarily originate in the quantity of words uttered or in the length of the conversations, but rather stem from the object or the content of the exchange. Sometimes, it seems, women say things that have no real meaning, either because men do not know how to respond (e.g., “I am going to have an ice cream now”) or because they are uninteresting (e.g., discussions about cha­racters out of soap operas or reality TV shows). Another familiar reproach in this context is that a woman is naturally inclined to think aloud. If she has a decision to make or tasks to carry out, she will give tongue to the various items, alternatives or possible out­comes, lis­ting them in random order. Here an example: “Let’s see, I’ve got to write an email to Tho­mas, pick up the dry cleaning and recharge my mobile phone – oh yes, Sandy texted me this morning so I need to text her back, no why don’t I post something on her Facebook instead? And don’t forget to send the contract to legal, oh my God, I hope they will accept it this time… Then I need to pick up Sophie from her piano class and go to the bathroom. Wait, I still have to decide which shoes to buy – wedges or heels? I suppose I could also call Sandy…”).[4] A similar manifestation of that desire to say something out of the blue is the tendency to ask what men consider as superfluous questions. Classic examples include: “What are you thinking about?”, “What’s wrong?”, “Are you mad at me?”, “Exactly when do you think you will be ready for fatherhood?”, “Do you think I am getting old?”, “Does this outfit make me look fat?”, “Do you still love me?”, and so forth. Such statements are point­less in the sense that they seldom lead to constructive dialogues. Moreover, men do not know how to reply to them or are afraid to say something wrong that will cause disappoint­ment or anger in their beloved.

One of the reasons why females like to speak out things is that talking aloud allows them to release internal pressure or to vent their feelings. If a woman is stressed, gabbing and telling her worries to anyone who will listen is a welcome way for her to get all the emotional gar­bage out of her system. After chattering for a while and providing a detailed report about all her current and future problems (as related to her health, family, job, etc.), she will already feel much better[5] – even if the people at the other end have no opinion about these pro­blems. Like in the previous example, her sentences may appear totally unstructured, with seve­­ral subjects thrown into one discussion, and no hope to ever find a solution or reach a conclusion. Such absence of formal closure is perfectly acceptable for her, as answers or advice is not what she is after. The comfort and relief she needs emerge from the process of verbalising, not from any specific response.[6] Sometimes, she may (volun­tarily or uncons­ciously) start an argument, drop a complaint, or summon someone with the much-drea­ded for­mula “we need to talk”, simply with the purpose of triggering a conversation or facilitating the procedure.


[1]    Original: “Les femmes parlent jusqu’à ce qu’elles aient quelque chose à dire.”

[2]    Cited in: Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 97-98

[3]    Although other studies brought forth different amounts (22,000 language units per day for women compared to 10,000 for men, cited in: Fischer (2008), p. 33), they confirmed the fundamental conclusion that females utter many more words per day than males.

[4]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 96-97

[5]    Notice that the motivation here can be likened to that of masturbating men. The intention is simply to seek ejaculation as a means to release tension and evacuate unwanted ballast.

[6]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 165

Chapter 12: Love my house, love the crow on it

Love me, love my dog

ài wū jí wū

Men and women are different. People know it and are curious about this kind of “other­ness”, willing to clarify or solve misunderstandings that frequently happen between both sexes. The existence of books like the present one, of relationship manuals, magazine arti­cles, dedicated blogs, etc. bear testimony to the ongoing awareness about the issue. These dis­­si­­mi­larities are frequently the object of sexist jokes (in both ways), but can also build a major source of conflicts and relationship problems in couples. Each gender has its own pre­fe­rences, standards, expectations, leading to different definitions of what is acceptable or irritating. Male idiosyncrasies that regularly cause eye-rolling among women include the following: Leaving the toilet seat up, “forgetting” to replace the empty toilet paper roll, eating without a plate, scratching in public (in particular when it concerns his private parts), not disposing of beard shavings and nail clippings, farting in the bed, leaving dirty socks and underwear around, feigning not to hear the baby crying, etc. Men, reciprocally, may regard the following “typically female” habits as annoying or stressful: Eye-rolling, nag­ging, being complicated, getting offended easily, complaining, spying, gossiping, lea­ving behind all kinds of stuff in his car, wearing his clothes, and so on. Although these quirks and perso­nality traits can be seen as rather nerve-racking in the long term, they remain harmless as compared to what many people commonly consider as deal-breakers, for example, poor hygiene, neglect, bad manners, excessive con­sumption of alco­hol, condescen­sion, imma­tu­rity, lack of commitment, impatience, a violent disposition, needi­ness, infide­lity, vulgarity, lavish­ness, selfishness, etc.

In spite of these perceived flaws, discrepancies and disagreements, millions of heterosexual couples are formed every year. For some of them, the journey goes even further when they decide to get married, vowing to love one another forever. Even without matrimony, the decision to stay or to live together does not only require mutual trust and confidence, but also a great amount of tolerance. More often than not, harmony and success in the relation­ship depend upon both parties’ willingness to accept, if not to adapt to, the little oddities and eccentricities of the other. After all, these are the characteristics of a person that make him or her so unique. The proverb introduced in this chapter, therefore, serves as a reminder that love requires sympathy, broad-mindedness and mutual understanding for all these dif­feren­ces.[1] If you hold someone dear, then you should care for that person, no matter his or her imperfections.

In this connection, it shall be noted that this section is not meant as a potpourri of every­thing men usually dislike (or cannot figure out) about women, and vice versa. Nor does it intend to resolve this kind of gender-based misconceptions. Rather, the purpose is to call attention to them and to explain why our ways can sometimes be so diametrical. The simple con­scious­ness about this matter already represents a decisive step forward to solve existing relationship problems or avoid latent ones. In the process, the argumentation will focus on the differences in communication patterns and behaviours. Indeed, it seems that items rela­ted to this very matter predominate in articles or rankings about “annoying behaviour”, and that mutual accusations or complaints in this regard are especially frequent and varied.[2] Furthermore, given the importance of communication in romantic partnerships, it certainly makes sense to lay special emphasis on this facet of the issue. That being said, one should remem­ber that similar insights could be drawn for other areas where clashes tend to occur (e.g., personal grooming and hygiene, bodily noises, toilet usage, shopping, fashion and clothing, prefe­rences concerning television programs, driving behaviour, etc.).


[1]This expression constitutes the contracted form of an expression found in fú Shèng’s (伏胜, also known as Master Fu) Amplification of the Shangshu (尚书大传, shàng shū dà zhuàn). The work is a commentary on the Shangshu (also called the Book of Documents or Classic of History), a collection of rhetorical prose attributed to several figures of ancient China, including Confucius). One of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature, it also served as the foundation of Chinese political philosophy for over 2,000 years. The remark in question can be translated as “I love you so much that I even love the crow on top of your house” (original: 爱人者,兼其屋上之乌, ài ren zhě, jiān qí wū shàng zhī wū).


Chapter 11: A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty – Part 3

In spite of these advantages, unreason is always looming ahead. Indeed, the dark side of love is a pathway to many imbecilities some consider to be unnatural. Flash marriages, “Billy Bob” tattoos, couch-jumping on television, reckless driving, or the engage­ment in otherwise risky behaviour, are but some of the eccentricities of people in the “falling-in-love” stage. Other symptoms of such love sickness include sleeplessness, lack of appetite (for food), or the display of compulsive conduct, for instance calling or texting their beloved dozens of times a day. In his book Better Love Next Time, J. Michael Kearns describes the state of being in love as both baffling and powerful. Baffling because “it conjures up a bizarre combination of emotions, including euphoria, desire, excitement, adora­tion, dreami­ness, jealousy, hilarity, reckless audacity, worship, and loss of one’s rational faculties”; and powerful because “it trains this arsenal on a single person of our acquain­tance and impels us to grant this person a special status in our lives”. He, therefore, compares it to a dangerous and potent witches’ brew that throws people in a singular strain of madness. In its most benign form, such folly may cause someone to be totally absorbed by another person, lea­ding to decreased productivity, for example at school, at home or at work.[1] The poor devil is constantly craving for attention and affection from the “target” of his or her feeling and becomes gradually haunted by the demon of love.[2]

Further down the path of insanity, however, emotions may become uncontrollable to the point where they override rationality and the most natural survival mechanisms. In the case of “folie à deux”[3], for example, a delusional couple bound by passion decides to commit double-sui­cide (“shinjū”, a Japanese term composed of the two Chinese characters 心中, i.e., xīn, “mind” and zhōng “centre”), or the man chooses to kill himself after finding out that his beloved died of poison (as happens in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). Yet the greatest dangers of love lurk at the opposite extreme, namely, situations where love is not reciprocated. Once the possessed fancier finally notices that his feelings will remain un­answe­red, attraction can become fatal. Sensations of sweetness and airiness give way to jea­lousy, bitterness, despair or paranoia, as nefarious desires for psy­cho­lo­gical aggression (e.g., blackmail, stalking) or physical violence (rape, assault, physical injury, or even mur­der) begin to consume the person under the spell.

So what is it in love that makes people do crazy things or wreak havoc in their own minds? As is the case for other phenomena and emotional conditions described in this book,[4] the discipline of neurochemistry offers quite a number of answers. Indeed, love appears to be nothing else but a state of the brain resulting from the release and combination of several chemicals, actually the same as the ones that drive other mammals to find suitable partners. In particular, researchers in the field found out that there were three well-defined brain systems for mating and reproduction – lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment – each of these being associated with distinct hormone activity triggering feelings and behavioural changes in lovers. In the first stage, namely, that of being passionately in love (or infa­tuation), the state of the brain is surprisingly similar to that of obsession, mania, thirst, hun­ger, intoxication[5], or even mental illness. According to John Marsden from the British National Addiction Centre, love is addictive in similar ways as drugs such as cocaine and speed. Likewise, anthropologist Helen Fisher determined that when someone is in love, exactly the same brain circuits light up as if he were taking cocaine, experiencing similar ela­tion, i.e., the sensations of joy, lightness, or euphoria that one gets when high on drugs.[6] The neurochemicals instrumental for such reactions are the following:

  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates desire, motivation and reward by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It is often called “the happiness hormone”. High levels of dopamine are closely connected to heightened attention, goal-oriented behaviour, hyperactivity, short-term memory, and sleeplessness. Newly love-struck couples often display the signs of surging dopamine, including increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention, etc.
  • Phenylethylamine (PEA) is another chemical that, when released by the brain, increases excitement levels, and gives people this elated physical feeling of being in love, for instance by making one’s heart race, hands sweat, pupils dilate, accelerate the blood flow in the cheeks and genitals, etc. It is also the main cause for the colloquial “butterflies” in the stomach. As the body’s natural version of amphe­tamines, phenylethylamine has the same effect as speed and ecstasy.
  • Norepinephrine (or Noradrenaline) functions both as a hormone and a neuro­transmitter. It affects those parts of the brain where attention and responses are controlled. In the context of love, it is partly responsible for the increase of the heart rate, faster breathing, for triggering sex drive as well as for inducing the sensation of being able to achieve anything.
  • Epinephrine (or Adrenaline) is another chemical released by the brain when bum­ping into one’s new love. During such an adrenaline rush, the heart rate speeds up, making the idoliser more alert and helping him to feel great. As stress hormones, both norepinephrine and epinephrine cause the fight-or-flight response that infa­tuated lovers may encounter when facing their target.
  • Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are the morphines that the body produces when it feels pain. When a person is in love, they have the same effects as heroin and opium in their abilities to produce a feeling of well-being. They also cause a lover to feel content and joyful.[7],[8],[9],[10],[11]

Related proverbs and citations:


shēng huó yŏu ài xìng fú wéi ài shēng huó yú chŭn

A life with love is happy, a life for love is foolish.


shŭ mù cùn guāng

A mouse’s vision is an inch long.

Short-sighted. Can’t see beyond the end of one’s nose. Under such “vision”, one sees only short-term benefits that may jeopardise long-term interests.


luóbo kuài le bù xǐ ní

A hastily cooked radish may still have soil on it.

Haste makes waste.

Hurrying will cause you to make mistakes.


[1]    Kearns (2008), p. 170

[2]    Rosen (2007), p. 74

[3]    Folie à deux (literally “a madness shared by two” in French), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. (Source:

[4]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love”, 27 “A deliberate inaction is better than a blind action”, and 32 “Hearing something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once”.

[5]    Brizendine (2006), p. 66

[6]    Fisher (1994)

[7]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 216




[11]  Notice that the neurochemicals that have the biggest influence in the generation of sexual desire, as opposed to romantic love feelings, are testosterone, oestrogen, oxytocin, and vasopressin. These are described in further detail in the chapters 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”, 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”, and 29 “Cosiness and satiety breed lust”.

Chapter 11: A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty – Part 2

Thus, limerence carries all the symptoms of love sickness and, as such, is best defined as the “the agony and ecstasy of the individual experience of being ‘in love’.”[1] In this con­nection, it shall be noticed that “being in love” (or “falling in love”) is quite different from “loving”. While the former reflects an altered state that one can fall “into” (e.g., due to an initial impres­­sion) as easily as “out of”, the latter is based on aspects such as compassion, trust, depen­dability, respect and compromise, denoting a certain permanence. Journalist and pro­fessor of sociology Francesco Alberoni likens falling in love to taking off or flying (i.e., being high above the clouds) and love to landing (i.e., standing firmly on the ground). Simi­larly, falling in love is like a flower, whereas love is like a fruit. Although the fruit comes from the flower, both products are two different things. On that score, the question which of both, the flower or the fruit, is superior or nobler, remains irrelevant – none can exist without the other.[2]

Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that passion may disappear just as suddenly as it came. Like in dreams, infatuation only feels real while one is in them. It is only after waking up, about six to eight months later[3], that passionate lovers realise something was actually strange. In the best case, fire and ardour are superseded by a “superior” or more genuine form of love, one that is based on support, care, and concern.[4] For infatuated love to convert into romantic love, it requires several ingredients that take time to develop, e.g., inti­macy, commitment, as well as quite a bit of luck (or destiny, 缘分 yuán fèn) to develop. With­out these, the initial interest, affection and chemistry between a man and a woman may quickly dissipate. In the wake of what is called the “morning-after syndrome”, a female who looked gorgeous one day, could have a dozen of critical flaws the next. Similarly, once she gets to know Prince Charming better, her attraction to him dissolves as she finds something wrong with him or just realises that he is not the right partner for her. A common mistake women make in this regard is that they assume that if males are attracted to them physically, it means that there must be emotional affinity as well. This, however, is not automatically the case. More often than not, a man’s fascination or interest for a woman remains fugitive, as he mentally considers her as a mere potential sexual partner. The next moment, he may well draw his attention and feelings to another object who triggered exactly the same instant veneration and desires as the previous one.[5] As noticed in a different chapter, this has not necessarily to do with deception nor superficiality – it just lies in the nature of things that men are first attracted by the physical and then by the mental, and that this physical attrac­tion can be extremely short lived.[6]

Judging by the words of some of the brightest people in history, no one seems to be immune against the experience of infatuation and the rabidity, craziness, or sometimes insanity it comes along with:

The madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings.

Plato, Phaedrus

Is not general incivility the very essence of love?

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to his fiancée Martha Bernays)

Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do

— but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.

Albert Einstein[7]

As implied by the quotations above, the madness experienced by new lovers can certainly also encompass positive facets. The term NRE, already mentioned above, captures very well this idea of falling in love as a positive, energising process that can help people build up self-confidence, expand emotionally and acquire more expansive persona­lities.[8] Like­wise, it has been shown that love-struck adolescents slept less and at the same time enjoyed an increase in creativity.[9] Moreover, a 2010 study established that the intense feelings of eupho­ria and well-being characteristic of new romantic relationships are also directly res­pon­sible for reducing physical pain.[10]


[1]    Regan (1998), p. 96

[2]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 78

[3]    Brizendine (2006), p. 67

[4]    Regan (1998), p. 96

[5]    Gray (2009), pp. 156/157

[6]    See chapter 3 “Men like, women love”.

[7]    Einstein apparently scribbled these words on a letter he received from a man who suggested that the disorientation due to gravity explained why people do “foolish things like falling in love”.

[8]    Pines (2005), pp. 78/79

[9]    Cited in: Khamsi (2007)

[10]  Younger / Aron / Parke / Chatterjee / Mackey (2010)

Chapter 11: A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty

Love is blind

qíng rén yăn lĭ chū xī shī

Taken literally, this proverb[1] means that in the eye of the admirer, one’s owns dearest is always a beauty of the same category as 西施 (Xī Shī, one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China[2]). Given the illustrious resplendence of the latter, the comparison is a little bit far­fetched for most mortals. Hence, the adage can also be interpreted as “love sees no fault” or “love blinds a man to imperfections”. What makes this adage so remarkable is that although it must have originated from a simple observation thousands of years ago, advan­ces in medicine and psychology have recently validated it scientifically. As neuro­psy­chiatrist Louann Brizendine confirms, “falling in love is one of the most irrational beha­viors or brain states imaginable for both men and women. The brain becomes ‘illogical’ in the throes of new romance, literally blind to the shortcomings of the lover. It is an invo­lun­tary state.”[3] When examining females, she also found out that in hugging and cuddling situations, these had the tendency to (blindly) trust the hugger, which in turn induced them to “believe everything and anything” he had told them.[4]

Yet not every form of love has such dazzling power. Whoever discovered this connection first probably had “infatuated love” in mind or in memory. Under this mental state, or let’s say at this stage of a relationship, lovers are completely carried away by infantile passion, hungering for the feeling of being together, daydreaming of the joy of being adored by their darling. They cannot get enough of each other, and all their thoughts are focused on their romance. As their consciousness is permanently preoccupied with delightful thoughts about their sweetheart, they develop an intense need for daily contact with the beloved, becoming helplessly dependent on each other. As such heightened emotional and sexual receptivity and excitement are the most evident at the beginning of a love affair, they are commonly denominated “new relationship energy” (NRE), i.e., the surge of emotional and erotic bon­ding energies that characterise new (as opposed to ongoing) relationships[5]. Since the idea of infatuation is generally associated with unreality and transience, it carries the same negative connotation as terms like “crush”, “puppy love” (which are felt by young people during their childhood and or adolescence, and which denounce a certain level of imma­turity and superficiality) or the “honeymoon phase” (which occurs subsequent to some form of advanced commitment, such as marriage, whereas new relationship energy takes place much before that)[6].

Another expression signifying a rather unpromising view of passion is limerence, i.e., an involuntary state of intense romantic desire that results from the emotional attraction to another person. As an essentially unilateral feeling stimulated by uncertainty and secrecy, it comes with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s own feelings returned. Due to its intoxicating character, which can lead to severe mood fluctuations oscillating from des­pair through intense joy back to abysmal misery, sufferers experience it as a rather unplea­sant sensation.[7] Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, the originator of the term, lists a number of attributes that can be directly imputed to limerence, including: Persistent and intrusive thin­king about the beloved (or limerent object, LO), idealisation of the LO’s positive qualities, avoi­dance of considering the negative, intense awareness and dependency of mood on the LO’s actions, general intensity of feelings that leaves other concerns in the back­ground, acute longing for reciprocation, shyness, fear of rejection, intensification through adver­sity, heartache, acute sensitivity to any act, thought or condition that can be interpreted favou­rably, buoyancy (that is, a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evi­dent, inabi­lity to react limerently to more than one person at a time, etc.[8],[9]


[1]    This origin of this locution is commonly thought to be the chapter about Women (妇女, fù nǚ) in the book Néng Rén Biān (能人编) by Qing dynasty (1644–1912 AD) official Zhái Hào (翟灏).

[2]    See chapter 15 “Flowers look different through different eyes”.

[3]    Brizendine (2006), p. 66

[4]    Ibid., pp. 67-68




[8]    Tennov (1998), p. 78

[9]    Regan (1998), p. 96

Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet – Part 4

While understandable, the inclination of women to wait until they have found an eligible part­ner within their own occupational and income bracket comes with the non-negligible peril to be left with no man at all. Therefore, hypergyny is always a bit of a gamble where the bachelorette expects (or hopes) to get a better mate than the ones she had met before. For her, the biggest risk is that of becoming so picky that she wastes time that she could other­wise be spending in procreation. She will probably prefer to date a wealthy man, even if the possibility of marriage is fairly dim. She wants that Prince Charming “who is gene­rous and sweet and faithful but who also drives a Maserati”[1], and might wait for him for quite a while. She expects the perfect partner to come along, but all she gets is older. Assu­ming that men seek fertility more than anything else, her chance of finding what she wants is getting slimmer and slimmer with every day passing, the availability of cosmetics and plastic surgery notwithstanding. Many males nowadays still follow their instincts of setting youth and beauty as their top criteria for partner selection. This may not be politi­cally cor­rect, but it is more often than not the only right thing to do in the survival game. Thus, for every man she lets slip, she loses a valuable reproductive opportunity. This is a choice that may not affect her while she is young, but it could haunt again her later, potentially at a time when her health and physical capabilities have passed their zenith.

So what happens if she turns thirtysomething, is financially independent, but has no child? Is she going to stay single or rather drop her standards and go for a poor, possibly ugly man who is a sure thing? Since males themselves are relatively unconcerned about their target’s socio-economic condition when choosing mates, high-status men can make their pick from a large pool of candidates consisting of both low and high-status women. This spurs an intense rivalry among the members of both groups.[2] Setbacks or disappointments, such as a series of rejections or an insufficient number of opportunities, may prompt fears of being squeezed out of the marriage market, triggering thoughts and reactions similar to those described in the Kübler-Ross’ model of Five Stages of Grief:[3],[4]

  • Denial: “This cannot be happening, not to me”; “There is no way that a high-quality woman like me cannot find her Mr. Right”;
  • Anger: “That pizza face will get married next month, and I am still single? Something is wrong here!”; “How could this ever happen to me?”;
  • Bargaining: “I look so old now; if I only could just do something to turn back the hands of time…”; “Ok, it was I who dumped him, but I’ll do anything to get him back”; “Mark was a jerk at that time, but I really should have accepted when he proposed to me”;
  • Depression: “I’m already old, why bother with anything?”; “Nobody wants me anyway so what’s the point… What’s the point?”; “I miss my ex, and now he is happily married to another woman… Why did I not fight more for our love? Why?”;
  • Acceptance: “Even if I have to stay single for my whole life, everything is going to be okay.”; “I can’t force any guy to like me anyway it, so why bother”; “I don’t need a man, I am independent, have a great job, lots of friends, a fantastic niece, two cute puppies… And now I am going to have some ice cream to compensate!”

While choosiness undeniably has positive effects, it also has the power to set off a vicious cycle of endless frustration, to which not even the prettiest and most achieving woman remains unaffected. While the first defeats are easily swallowed, the second and third ones may lead to doubt about her own worth. Angst kicks in, while her self-esteem takes the next blow. At that moment, she may face the temptation to lower her baseline. If she does and chooses a suboptimal can­didate, she confronts the risk to be unhappily married. If inversely, she prefers to persist on her quest, the spiral may go on and on, ending in what some parents consider the worst scenario of all for their children (at least for some women): Eternal singledom.


Related proverbs and citations:


níng kĕ gāo ào dì fă méi, bù qù bēi wēi dì liàn ài

It’s better to rot with dignity than to love in shame.



huā yŏu chóng kāi rì, rén wú zài shào nián

Flowers may bloom again, but a person never has the chance to be young again.



suì yuè bù liú rén

Time and tide wait for no man.

No one is so powerful that they can stop the march of time.



suì yuè bù ráo rén

Age and time have mercy on no man.

Equivalent to “Time and tide wait for no man”.



jī bù zé shí

The starving can’t choose their meals.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

If you request something to be given you should not question what you are given.



huáng dì bù jí tài jiān jí méi yòng

The Emperor taking his time is just as useless as a eunuch rushing things.

The onlooker is more anxious than the player.



nǚ rén èr shí duō suì xiàng zú qiú, sān shí duō suì xiàng lán qiú, sì shí duō suì xiàng pīng pāng qiú, wŭ shí duō suì xiàng gāo ĕr fū qiú

A popular joke in which women in their 20s are compared to a football (because more than a dozen guys are running after it), in their 30s to a basketball (still chased after but by a reduced number of players), in their 40s to a ping-pong ball (only two men are left), and in their 50s to a golf ball (the further you hit it, the better).



[1]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 124

[2]    Townsend (1998), p. 84

[3]    Kübler-Ross (1969)


Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet – Part 3

Social sneering and peer pressure notwithstanding, many females fail to muster enough moti­vation to pursue a relationship. Stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, they simply refuse to opt for matrimony as a necessary evil. In the poll about “leftovers”, around 41 percent clai­med that they still believed in love, but at the same time, nearly 20 percent declared that they are not confident in finding an ideal and stable relationship at all.[1] How can that be? The problem lies in their own fussiness. On the one hand, women have a good sense of the longevity of their reproductive career ahead and about the optimal timing for their preg­nancy. On the other hand, they have to be fastidious, because they need to be extremely cau­tious in the selection of their spouse, taking into consideration various aspects such as gene quality, the ability to protect herself and provide resources, commitment, the likelihood that the man will make a good long-term partner and parent, etc. The opportunity costs are tre­mendous. A small mistake here, and their lives and that of their offspring could be in danger or wasted. Thus, over the last millennia, the drive and aptitude to identify the best possible mate have become an inherent reflex and an important device in every female’s survival instinct. Those ancestors who picked wisely acquired major reproductive advantages, thus setting the path for an evolutionary development of choosiness.[2] As their descendants, today’s women cannot be expected to do anything except than following the same, inherited, strategy.

One of the main factors that may slow down a woman in her decision making is the tendency to seek a husband of higher socio-economic status than herself, that is, a husband who is greater than her in terms of educational degree, occupation, financial and social capi­tal, perhaps even physical attractiveness. This phenomenon is called, hypergyny, a spe­cial case of hypergamy where a female “marries above her station”.[3] Under this scheme, she is inclined to be attracted to men comparatively older, wealthier or otherwise more pri­vi­leged than herself.[4] This explains why doctors, lawyers, and business executives are par­ti­cularly popular among single ladies, but also the existence of statements such as “second-year women don’t go out with first-year guys, but second-year guys go out with first-year women, or with chirps or undergrads” in a university context.[5] A study involving medical students revealed that most of the females interviewed liked men who were above them pro­fes­sionally and financially, while none of them opted for a spouse with lower income or occupational status. Then, one-third of the respondents declared that they were looking for someone “who made them feel protected”, and over half of them needed a man “who was a challenge, one they could admire and respect”, i.e., who make them more secure.[6] Appa­rently, only males with superior wealth, income, educational level, career success, social stan­ding, etc. can fulfil this demand – even in the 21st century.

Since most women resist “marrying down”, high-status individuals are at a disadvantage in the mating game. The pool of single men who meet their standards is relatively small, so their chance to find someone fulfilling the requirements is accordingly lower. If a woman has enough means to support herself, why would she settle for less? Why would she need male assistance? Statistics in the Chinese study mentioned above illustrate this trend: The higher the education and income, the higher the chance to be, or at least to feel “leftover”.[7] Thus, it appears that women’s increasing economic independence and success fail to miti­gate the incidence of hypergyny. On the contrary, it exacerbates the phenomenon by making women more confident about them­selves and clearer about who (or what) is acceptable, and who (or what) is not. In view of the dilution of men’s relative economic strength, their value is significantly depreciated, and their function as providers in jeopardy. Under such condi­tions, marriage naturally becomes less and less appealing and divorce more and more likely. For the same reasons, older female singles and divorcees who are financially indepen­dent display lower fertility rates, as they remain childless, or have fewer children on average. For example, evidence from the 1980s shows that Singaporean educated women’s reluctance to marry down was so strong that members of this socio-demographic group were producing only 1.4 babies on average, compared to 4.5 babies for uneducated women.[8]


[1]    Cited in: Lu (2012).

[2]    It is not by accident that the term “old maid” (originally “a woman who has remained single beyond the conventional age for marrying”) is also used to refer to “a person regarded as being primly fastidious”. (Source:

[3]    Similarly, hyperandry refers to instances where men date or marry up. In contrast to that, hypogamy (hypogyny, hypoandry) stands for the disposition to date or marry a person of lower social status.


[5]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 85

[6]    Townsend (1998), p. 65

[7]    Lu (2012)

[8]    Townsend (1998), p. 134, 242

Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet – Part 2

One of the most important aspects of such arranged marriages is that of match­making. It lies in the nature of the practice that the selection of the persons to be wed is performed by someone other than couple itself. In addition to the parents, advisers (e.g., astrologers), trus­ted third parties (priests, religious leaders, local barbers, family friends, etc.), as well as exter­nal agents (including websites) could assume the role of the matchmaker(s).[1],[2] While some societies still cultivate the tradition more or less openly, the rules are not as stiff as it may initially appear. In several countries (for example, Iran with the “khastegari” ritual, Japan with the “miai kekkon” procedure, Korea with the “seon” meeting), the arrange­ments remain an “intro­duction only” scheme where the parents merely acquaint their chil­dren with a poten­tial spouse. In others, age-old observances have been discouraged (like in India) or sim­ply outlawed, such as the ban on buying or selling child brides (童养媳, tóng yǎng xí) in China. Likewise, the necessity to have marriage registry forms endorsed with the seal of an “intro­ducer”, as required up until a century ago, does not apply anymore either.

In spite of the modernisation of values concerning sex, love and family, the shift towards romantic love matches has not been completed yet. In many places, especially in rural areas, arranged (or at least semi-arranged) marriages in due consideration of the traditional rules of 门当户对 (mén dāng hù duì, i.e., “from families of equal social and economic status”) are still commonplace. Although professional go-betweens still exist, arrangements are now lar­gely initiated by the parents and senior kinsmen, while the network of relatives and friends is activated to find a suitable partner. It is then not unusual for Chinese mothers to visit public parks (best examples: Zhongshan Park in Beijing, People’s Park in Shanghai) in order to meet other parents with unmarried adult children. Bristled with hope and information about their sons and daughters (Chinese zodiac sign, height, weight, educa­tion, job, car brand, wealth, food preference, birthmarks, blood type, etc.), they spend a good part of their day in a quest to find a suitable match.

It is precisely this kind of excessive zeal that drives young single girls to utter the said pro­­verb. Not only do they not agree with their parents’ involvement in the mate selection pro­cess; the main bone of contention very often lies in the different opinions concerning the appro­­priate marriage age. As the older generation would like to marry off their children soo­ner rather than later, statistics show an opposite trend. In fact, the average age of the first mar­riage has been gradually increasing (in Beijing, for instance, it grew from 25 in 1996[3] to 26 in 2009 and 27 in 2012[4]). For many reasons, including higher work requirements, smaller opportunities to meet other people, exploding wedding costs (in China particularly), etc., many young people choose to tie the knot later. Aware of the adage that “dangers await only those who do not react to life” (Mikhail Gorbachev), however, most women instincti­vely know that they cannot afford to wait for too long. Not only does the ticking of their own biological clock get louder and louder after a certain amount of time, forcing them to hurry if they wish to have babies before reaching infertility; their attractiveness to men also declines dramatically with age. In effect, age is one of the heaviest handicaps to a marriage. A study showed that women who reach 30 unmarried only have a 20 percent chance of being taken as a bride. At 35, the probability plummets to 5 percent, hitting rock bottom at 40 (1 percent).[5]

Even today, the stigma of the “old maid” (老姑娘, lăo gū niáng, or 老处女 lăo chŭ nǚ) still remains in many cultures, as the existence of other somewhat derogatory terms like “cat lady”, “catherinette” in French, “Fräulein” (in German), “kurisumasu keeki” (a Christmas cake that nobody wants after the 25th December, respectively, birthday), or “urenokori” (lite­rally: unsold merchandise, i.e., a single thirty-something woman) in Japanese prove. In China, people use the expression 必剩客 (bì shèng kè, which has a similar pronunciation as “Pizza Hut” in Mandarin) to describe those bachelors who are already beyond the typical married age and are struggling to find their better half. The time and effort they put into their careers prevent them from flirting and dating prospective partners so that they are often considered to be “doomed singles”. Along with scornful remarks and contemptuous denomi­nations, single women face intense pressures from all sides, parents, friends, collea­gues, but also from themselves. According to a survey carried out in Shanghai in 2012, the con­scious­ness about the peculiarity of their status sets in at around 26, while their concern about being seen as a “leftover” attains a peak when they were approaching their thirties (oddly enough, those ladies far beyond the standard marriage age, i.e., 50 or more do not care so much about their condition). Although 30 percent of the respondents who feel that way find the term insulting, and 78 percent see an urgency in finding a husband or boyfriend, only 18 per­cent are willing to take action – in spite of the questions and insis­tence by their parents and relatives (which 60 percent of the “leftovers” in the study expe­rience during family reunions)[6].






[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 122

[6]    Cited in: Lu (2012)

Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink

qiáng niǔ de guā bù tián

Given its very nature as a proverb, this expression must have been around for a very long time.[1] However, used in a Chinese context of women, love and relationship, it has arguably never been as topical as it is today. Indeed, contemporary young women probably use it abun­dantly when their parents suggest, or force, them to find a husband. From the genitors’ point of view, their advice to get married is always well-meant: They want their daughters to build the basis of a stable life, reap the benefits of security, and savour the joys of raising a child – while fulfilling their filial and social duties according to Confucian tradition. So far so good. Problems arise when missy has not found true love yet, and prefers to wait a little bit until her Mr. Right crosses her path; or even worse, when she has got him, but her parents do not like or accept him as a son-in-law. In that case, not even the best and most loving intentions may ever be enough to convince her. She will just not follow, nor even listen to her family’s admonition, thus risking discord with her entire kinship group. She argues that a forced union cannot work and will never make her happy. This is due to her expo­­sure to Western values that suggest that romantic love should be a prerequisite for mar­riage, and inversely that its absence may be used as an argument for divorce.[2] However, this view has only existed since the 19th century, while the concept of romantic love itself did not come into being until troubadours of the 13th century sang about it.[3] Before that, couples often lived their lives without affection, focussing on their marital roles. In China, the situation was even stricter, where falling in love was not only regarded as useless, but in fact as working against the supremacy of the parent-child relationship. If ever, affection was only to develop after marriage. Likewise, courtship had no place in spou­sal relationships, but was rather restricted to predetermined seduction scenarios bet­ween men and their mis­tres­­ses or concu­bines.[4]

Since everything was subordinated to the wishes and interests of the family (including one’s feelings and life aspirations), intragenerational relationships were much more valued than mari­tal ones. According to the Book of Rites[5], marriage was a filial duty towards one’s elders, which only had two purposes: To honour the ancestors and preserve the family line. Hence, not the sons or the daughters were to choose their futures mate, but their parents or grand­parents, who they had other criteria in mind than passion, ardour or spiritual conge­niality. What really mattered were factors such as purity of lineage, horoscope (i.e., the con­sultation of positions of stars at birth to predict the success of a particular match), as well the reputation and wealth of the future in-law’s family. Sometimes, dowries and bride pri­ces[6] were paid to settle the deal. Accordingly, marriage was no more than a contract between two family lines, defining specific rights and duties concer­ning heirs and property or, in its simplest form, “regulating the exchange of male economic investments for female fer­tility and parental investment.”[7] For peasants or people in the lower classes, the busi­ness agreement could involve cattle, cash or other gifts (cakes, con­fectionery, jewellery, golden chopsticks, etc.) as material engage­ment tokens. In the case of nobility, matrimony was used for the purpose of forming alliances, resolving conflicts or joining properties. Such customs are referred to as marriage of state (a special case marriage of convenience, deri­ved from the French term “mariage de convenance”, i.e., marriage of convention), or 和亲 (hé qīn, literally “peace marriage”).


[1] Although the origin of the present byword is unclear, it resembles another saying, “melon falls off when ripe” (瓜熟蒂落, guā shú dì luò), authored by Song dynasty writer Zhāng Jūnfáng (张君房) in the Daoist encyclopaedia Seven Slips of the Cloudy Satchel (云笈七签, yún jí qī qiān, also translated as Seven Tablets in a Cloudy Satchel, or Seven Lots from the Bookbag of the Clouds) he compiled for Emperor Zhēnzōng of Sòng (宋眞宗). By expressing that “at the right time everything comes easy” or “a thing will happen when conditions are ripe”, the adage implies that things are hard to come by as long as the time is not ripe. Accordingly, if a melon has not fallen off its vine, there is a chance that it is not yet ready for consumption. Plucking it might be counterproductive and is likely to yield the opposite result one was originally hoping for. Likewise, the English equivalent of the proverb (“you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink”) cautions people that you can give someone the opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to act if they do not want to.

[2]    Regan (1998), p. 91

[3]    Townsend (1998), p. 165


[5]    The Book of Rites (礼记, lǐ jì), one of the Chinese Five Classics of the Confucian canon (四书五经, sì shū wǔ jīng, the other four being Classic of Poetry, the Book of Documents, the Book of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), sets forth the social forms, governmental system, and ceremonial rites practiced during the Zhou dynasty (1050–256 BC). The text is believed to have been originally compiled by Confucius.

[6]    Notice the difference: Bride price is the amount of money, property or wealth that the groom or his family pays to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to that man. The bride price is set to reflect the perceived value of the young woman. Dowry, conversely is due to the groom or employed by the bride to help establish the new household. (Source:

[7]    Townsend (1998), p. 9