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:

宁可高傲地发霉,不去卑微地恋爱

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.

 

花有重开日,人无再少年

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.

 

歲月不留人

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.

 

岁月不饶人

suì yuè bù ráo rén

Age and time have mercy on no man.

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

 

饥不择食

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.

 

皇帝不急太监急没用

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.

 

女人20多岁像足球,30多岁像蓝球,40多岁像乒乓球,50多岁像高尔夫球

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).

 


Notes

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

[2]    Townsend (1998), p. 84

[3]    Kübler-Ross (1969)

[4]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

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]


Notes

[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: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/old+maid)

[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.

[4]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergamy

[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].


Notes

[1]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage

[2]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriages_in_India

[3]    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-04/10/content_563705_2.htm

[4]    http://english.cri.cn/6909/2012/02/15/3124s681309.htm

[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

强扭的瓜不甜
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”).


Notes

[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

[4]    http://family.jrank.org/pages/254/China-Tradition-Persistence-Transition.html

[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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_price)

[7]    Townsend (1998), p. 9

Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina – Part 3

Furthermore, women are inclined to avoid the term “having sex”, which they consider as an unworthy, unmerited, and loveless deed. In lieu thereof, they prefer using the word “making love” to express the simultaneous merger of two bodies and minds. The truth is that women like to see love and sex as an event causing the unification of what is otherwise separated. For them, love creates an emotional bond between two people, while sex is the physical bridge to one another. Together, love and sex have the power to combine the best parts of two individuals and amalgamate them into a new, comprehensive whole, just like two rivers join to become at their confluence. Through love and sex, something original is cre­ated, some­thing that is much larger and more powerful than the two individuals taken sepa­rately.

Hence, for women, sex is a truly affective act and a manifestation of how they feel about their partner. Although it would be naïve from anyone to expect a man to return such fond­ness and share similar motives when sleeping with a woman (at least for the first time), one should be aware that females are very thin-skinned about any kind of sex practice, but in particular about those involving penetration. Such sensitiveness that is absolutely appre­hen­sible and legitimate in view of the position of submission they are in during copulation. Let’s picture it: Typically, they have to lie on their back, spreading their legs wide open, and let a long, hard, alien object into their body. Indeed, even if she likes the guy, the vision of his peter introducing her fanny can be quite appalling. Nevertheless, it is not so much the fear of somatic pain that scares a woman as the apprehension to be left distressed and un­happy by someone who views her as a casual shag or as an instrument for physical release. For females, not many things are more upsetting than the impression to have been used and the absence of meaningful tenderness by the man she just had in her.

Different details play a role when a woman selects a man to sleep with, respectively decides whether or not to make that step with a prospective mating partner. The most important one is certainly trust. Given the inequality in physical strength between the genders, it is critical for her to know that she can feel safe with him. It is only under these conditions of fami­liarity, closeness, and overall well-being that her brain can release the right combi­na­tion of hor­mones that will ultimately let her open up to a man. That being said, their desire will not only depend on their own affinity to the counterpart. What is even more crucial for her to establish that emotional link is the confidence that she really means something to him, that he really cares about her. Notice that, in this context, the word “caring” goes beyond the sig­ni­ficance of “liking” or “being fond of”; it also refers to the open exhibition of com­pas­sion for her or to the active display of attention.

One of the reasons women evolved with a lower sex drive than men is that they needed to take time out from procreating to care for their young. If they constantly had sex, they would be pregnant all the time, which would necessarily lead to the risk of disregarding and neglecting her current children. Such a modus vivendi would be damaging to their own health and that of their progeny. No serious mating partner or husband would want that. Furthermore, while males can spread their seed as widely as they want, the time window (in terms of age) within which human females are fertile is quite limited. In theory, men can father hundreds of heirs every year, whereas even the most prolific women can only bear a maxi­mum of about 40 children in their lives.[1]

Given that men themselves are naturally adverse to the idea of sharing their partner(s), it then becomes, from an evolutionary and survival perspective, one of the key challenges in a woman’s existence to identify the right mate. The goal is not only to find a strong man with good genes but also to retain him after sex so that he can provide and look after her and their offspring. It is, therefore, no wonder that, over time, females have developed very sophisticated selection mechanisms to make out (with) the right guy. They are programmed to single out and cream off the most eligible bachelor after numerous tests. During the pro­cess, she sets out on a mental quest for answers to questions such as “Does he love me?”, “Am I the only one?”, “Do we match?”, “What kind of relationship with me is he looking for?”, and so on. For inexperienced men, this may sound quite bothersome or challenging. But displaying involvement is not that difficult after all. Most women nowadays do not expect real commitment, let alone a diamond ring, to share deeply intimate moments with a man. Some of them do not even want a lasting relationship. What a woman needs to be tur­ned on sexually is some kind of fervour for her (and only for her) and the hope for at least some sensibility. The bare promise of physical comfort, multiple orgasms or other sen­sual delights, is just not enough to stir her up. All she seeks before sex is the prospect of bon­ding instead of bondage; the vision that her man will penetrate her with emotional meaning rather than with his penis; the foretaste of him planting a seed in her heart, not his seed onto her breasts, etc. Once she has sensed that affective connection from the man, she might well be into all the other stuff as well…

Related proverbs and citations:

此地无银三百两

cǐ dì wú yín sān bǎi liǎng

“No 300 taels of silver buried here”.

A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence.

A clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.


Notes

[1]    Assuming 30 years of fertility (between the age of 15 and 45) and 40 weeks of pregnancy – not taking into consideration the time the female body needs to recover from giving birth, or the occurrence of twins, triplets, etc.

Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina – Part 2

What makes female sexuality even more complex is that it is influenced by hormonal fluctu­ations in a much stronger fashion than it is for men. As elucidated in other chapters[1], the mens­trual cycle is regulated by the intricate interaction of hormones. This merry- (actually, not-so-merry-) go-round of physiological changes occurring in fertile women sends them onto an emotional roller-coaster affecting several aspects of their well-being, including their body temperature, stress levels, mood, but also their lust. While men have a rather constant level of testosterone in their blood, women sexual hormones ebb and flow throughout the cycle, modulating their sexual interest accordingly. Desire will steadily increase during the second week, culminating right before ovulation occurs, usually on the 14th day of the cycle. At the same time, the simultaneous rise of testosterone (the “sex hormone”) and oestrogen (which also has the property to make females more receptive to lovemaking and is essential for vaginal lubrication) will also contribute to the acceleration of her sex drive. In this regard, studies have shown that the phase of the menstrual cycle affected outfit decisions: For example, the closer a woman is to ovulation, the shorter the skirts and the tighter the blouse she (unconsciously) chooses to wear[2] As this time also corresponds to her peak of fecundity, it demonstrates that Mother Nature did a fine optimisation job when program­ming the connection between these two factors (fertility and libido) with the objective of mul­ti­­pli­cation and species-survival.

In the second half of the menstrual cycle, however, a woman’s hunger for sex then fades away as she approaches the infertile period of menstruation. This is mainly due to her ovaries’ production of progesterone during and after ovulation, which partially reverses the effect of testoste­rone in her system, thus curbing her desire. As the name reveals, this hormone’s role is to precede and to favour gestation by preparing the lining of the womb that will receive and sustain the egg if it becomes fertilised by a sperm (which would result in pregnancy). It is only after the body has detected that the egg is not fertilised that progesterone levels drop again and menstrual bleeding sets in. The emergence of progesterone, therefore, indicates to the female body that the fun is over and that it is now possibly time to take care of the embryo (or imbroglio – depending on how it happened).

As pointed out above, the primary purpose of sex since the origins of times has been to trade genes with someone else in order to create stronger chromosomes in the next generation of babies. Some readers will think that this has not so much to do with emotions either. Why, then, all the fuss about affection, caring, devotion, commitment, many men will ask. Given that men and women now have access to a variety of contraceptive methods, why can’t we stick to the cock and ass and tits and butthole pleasures? Shouldn’t sex be about this rusty trombone, dirty Sanchez, Cincinnati bowtie, and pussy-juice cocktail, and shit-stained balls after all? Do love and connection really have to be part of the sex equation in the 21st century? The answer here could not be clearer: As a general rule, women are still unable to separate emotion from conjugation. For them, love and sex are the two sides of the same coin, one is the consequence of the other, one actually equals the other – at least this is what a vast majority of females claim.
Seldom will a woman admit that an affair “was only about sex” or view intercourse “just as sex”. Instead, what one usually hears are classical formulas like “as an individual I feel I could not have sex except with someone I loved”, or “I have to be feeling very intensely, or in love, or overwhelmed by sexual feelings in order to enter a deep sexual encounter.”[3] These two declarations highlight one very important point: For women, a sexual relation­ship is not merely a physical activity (as it may be the case for many men), but rather a phy­sical or emotional exchange with a person with whom they have a connection. There­fore, they will always prefer to have a personally close relationship to a casual one. But even girls with a comparatively promiscuous lifestyle tend to insist on a minimum of feelings when fooling around. In a survey among students specifically picked out for their vivid sexual activity, no more than 32 percent of the female respondents disagreed to the state­ment, “I feel I should be emotionally involved with a woman/man before having sex with him/her”, compared to 72 percent of the men asked.[4]

 


Notes

[1]    See chapters 8 “A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean” and 28 “Pluck flowers as they bloom; wait and you’ll have only the twigs”.

[2]    Buss (2003), p. 247

[3]    Cited in: Hite (1981), p. 479

[4]    Cited in: Buss (2000), p. 55

Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina

到女人心里的路通过阴道
dào nǚ rén xīn lĭ de lù tōng guò yīn dào

Strictly speaking, the present expression has not reached the status of a true proverb yet. Although often cited and widely known among the younger generation in China, it is “only” a quote from Lust, Caution (色,戒 – Sè, Jiè), a novella by Eileen CHANG. The full quote reads as follows: “They also say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; that a man will fall easy prey to a woman who can cook. Somewhere in the first decade or two of the twentieth century, a well-known Chinese scholar was supposed to have added that the way to a woman’s heart is through her vagina”. The name of the story it is extracted from sets the tone for this chapter. As was the case in the previous one, sex is going to be the main theme. This time, however, the female perspective shall be at the core of the discus­sion.

To come to the point immediately: Women also want sex. And more often than they care to admit. This should be good news for everyone. Yet, it does not mean that they express and enjoy their sexuality in the same way as men. On the contrary, females do have signifi­cantly different sexual needs and motivations, which need to be acknowledged, respected and carefully attended by the partner if the relation is to last. One cannot expect women to have the same magnitude of natural arousal as men. Some certainly do, but the individuals to whom this principle applies are commonly called nymphomaniacs and represent a minority. In order to reach the same final destination of pleasure, satisfaction, physical release, or warmth, the female sex drive will normally take a completely different direction from the male’s. While a man’s path is quite direct, a woman’s mind will wander from one inner state to another, taking rides through various forms and levels of physical, emotional and soul attraction.

This process lets women appear as if they were procrastinating or were reticent, while, in fact, they are just trying to protect themselves from their own impulses. Often, all a woman needs in order to make up her mind and to decide to sleep with someone (other than a minimum of mental che­mistry, of course), is time. Indeed, if you give her enough time, let’s say five years, to hang out with and to know a potential and desirable mate, there is a high proba­bility that she will consent to be intimate with him. When reducing that period to six months or one week, however, her eagerness will be much lower. This may sound rather obvious to many readers, but for men, five years of acquaintance, or six months, or a week – that did not matter to the male college students surveyed in a study about temporary and permanent mating. Some of them would even accept intercourse after one hour, something virtually impos­­sible for women. Simi­larly, more than half (55.2 percent) of men agree to the idea that it is all right for two people to have sex if they really like each other, even if they have known each other for only a very short time. Compared to that, only 31.7 percent of women strongly agreed or some­what agreed to the same statement when surveyed.[1] Finally, during another study, 73 percent of males, but only 27 percent of females admitted having had sex deliberately with­out emotional involvement.[2] For the rest, it has been established that the fact that women prefer sex with emotional bonding and commitment, applies to adults in all ages, i.e., through­out their thirties, forties, and fifties, and also to those individuals with high-powered careers – all of them apparently have the same need for affection and inti­macy in sexual rela­tion­ships.[3]

One will notice that the statistics mentioned above are related to somewhat casual relation­ships. As elaborated in the previous chapter, this aspect alone may explain the large discre­pancy in responses between the genders. With regard to more committed romances, the differences do not have to be that large anymore, not even when lechery is involved. So the common representation of women as chaste or as having little interest in sexuality can and should be discarded. Many men, frustrated ones, in particular, believe (or make them­selves believe) that sex plays a lesser role for women or that they are less keen on bed sports. The opposite is closer to reality: For thousands of years, and this remains true as of today, it has been a basic instinct for every woman to find the man with the best genes and to have sex with him. Only when the right conditions are met will a woman unleash the dragon (or tigress, volcano, tsunami, etc.) in her and unfold enormous amounts of sexual energy. It never fails to fascinate when discovering or experiencing how wild, unin­­hibited and stupendous female concupiscence can be. For unpracticed men, this can come as a terrible shock.


Notes

[1]    All studies cited in: Buss (2003), pp. 77-78

[2]    Cited in: Buss (2003), pp. 257

[3]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 28

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean – Part 3

These negative feelings towards women are reinforced by the ostensible volatility of their emo­tions. Their everyday experience is heavily influenced by their sensations, which they also use for decision making. Their current disposition dominates their actions to a far grea­ter extent than it does for men. Thus, a woman is and acts as she feels, and more often than not, she will also inform her fellow human beings about her state of mind and let them expe­rience how and what she feels – be it by laughing, crying, or with a nasty comment. In res­pect thereof, it appears only as normal that her deeds and interactions are characterised by ups and downs. In the 1993 guidebook Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, author John Gray likens a woman to a wave, describing the process of her feelings regularly rising and falling. For several weeks, she may feel very happy and loving. Then, suddenly, after her mood reaches its peak, she begins to have negative stimuli (accompanied by sentiments of emptiness, worry, unfulfilled needs, hopelessness, loneliness, etc.). While she sinks into darkness and a diffused mood, she partly loses her compassion for others as well as her ability to give love. Once she has hit rock bottom, her condition automatically shifts again and she feels good about herself again.[1]

Whether women like it or not, it is particularly easy for men to blame these mood swings on the strong hormonal fluctuations within the bodies and brains of the former. The ebb and flow take place according to a biologically predefined sequence of phases: The menstrual cycle. Each monthly[2] series can be divided into four distinct epi­sodes:

  • Episode I – A New Soak: This (or the) period (called the follicular phase), which by definition coincides with the beginning of the menstrual cycle, starts on the first day of the menstrual bleeding. It usually lasts 3 to 5 days, during which the vagina releases between 10 and 80 millilitres (i.e., 4 to 6 tablespoons) of menstrual fluid, a reddish-brown liquid containing blood, vaginal secretions, as well as other tissues.[3] As most women notice the breaking down and shedding of the uterine lining during menstruation, they have to live with a permanent sensation of wetness. This may provoke a certain feeling of unease and incon­venience around that time, although modern-day sanitary pads or tampons are already doing a good job at alleviating such malaise. With progesterone and oestrogen levels at their lowest, the female mood can be regarded as quite negative, but at least relatively stable.
  • Episode II – The Desire Strikes Back: The second part of the follicular phase kicks in as soon as the bleeding has stopped. It is also known as the “proli­fe­rative” phase, indicating the point when the lining of the uterus is growing and thickening (or proli­ferating) again, in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Follicles in the ovaries begin to ripen, oozing more and more oestrogens into the woman’s bloodstream. As this hor­mone is in charge of emotional receptiveness, these increasing doses of oestrogen contribute to the improvement of her well-being, mood and to the acceleration of her sex drive[4]. Not only is she more happy and positive; it is also around this time that she attains maximum fertility. She is more likely to dress provocatively, initiate sex, commit adultery, or have sexual fantasies than in any other stage of her menstrual cycle.[5]
  • Episode III – Attack of the Hormones: The proliferative phase ends with the sharp surge of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) [6] The former causes the most mature follicle to burst open, relea­sing an egg into one of the fallopian tubes (ovulation). From there, the ovum tra­vels down to the uterus. For women with a 28-day cycle, this phase should take place on day 14, i.e., exactly at mid-cycle, and typically lasts 16 to 32 hours. Fer­ti­lisation of the egg may happen up to 12 hours after its release. Right after ovu­lation, basal body temperature rises and stays higher by about .2 to .3 degrees Cel­sius until a few days before the next menstruation.[7] Around the time of ovu­lation, some women may experience a dull pain in their lower abdomen, spe­ci­fi­cally on the same side as the ovary that just provided the egg. This sen­sation, medi­cally termed as “mittelschmerz” (literally: middle pain), may last for a few minutes to a few hours.[8] It can be accompanied by cramps, bloating or other forms of irritation. Yet, thanks to the soup of oestrogen the female hypothalamus is swimming in at that moment, women are generally quite cheerful and amiable, displaying jolliness and good temper.
  • Episode IV – The Random Menace: Ovulation marks the beginning of the last part of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. While LH and FSH levels decrease, the closing of the ruptured follicle induces the formation of a temporary structure, the corpus luteum that has the function to prepare the uterus should impregnation occur. The presence of the corpus luteum induces the production of progesterone (the gestation hormone), which combined with the high level of oestrogen causes the uterine lining to thicken even more, ballooning with fluids and other substan­ces to nourish a poten­tial foetus. In case the egg is fecundated, a new hormone (human chorionic gonado­tropin) is added to the cocktail, whose role it is to maintain the corpus luteum.[9] Or else, i.e., if fertilisation has not taken place, the corpus luteum degene­rates, no longer producing progesterone, and after another 14 days (normally), the new menstrual cycle can begin. While progesterone is still squirting from the ovaries, brains are functioning in a sedated mode, while women grow gradually more irritable and slow, losing part of their alertness and focus. However, “in the last few days of the men­strual cycle, when progesterone collapses, this calming effect is abruptly withdrawn, leaving the brain momen­tarily upset, stressed, and irritable. […] Many women say they cry more easily and often feel out of sorts, stressed, aggressive, negative, hos­tile, or even hopeless and depressed right before their periods begin.”[10] This collec­tion of physical and emotional symptoms are commonly summa­rised under the acro­nyms PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome) and PMT (premenstrual tension). In more se­vere cases, the brutal withdrawal of the female hormones progesterone and oestro­gen may lead to even more discomforting sensations or pains, including the follo­wing: Breast tenderness or swelling, heart palpitations, headaches, joint or muscle pain, swol­len face, chronic fatigue, apathy, insomnia, hypersomnia, difficulty con­centrating, sadness, despair, tension, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, bouts of uncon­trollable crying, increased intense sensitivity to rejection or criticism, increased need for emotional closeness, feelings of being out of control, binge eating, food cravings, etc.[11]

Although the idea of mood swings and the regular discharge of a bloody substance may inspire contempt and repulsion among many men, they should be aware of the inconvenience that females have to endure month after month. The menstrual cycle is no cakewalk. Having one’s period – that’s one small leak for women, one giant schlep for womankind.

Related proverbs and citations:

女心と秋の空 (Japanese proverb)

Onna-gokoro to aki no sora

A woman’s heart and the autumn sky.

A woman’s heart is as changeable as the weather in autumn.



Notes

[1]    Gray (1993), chapter 7

[2]    Though the length and regularity of a menstrual cycle may vary, the average duration of a complete menstrual cycle is 28 days. Healthy cycles usually run from 25 to 36 days.

[3]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation

[4]    See chapters 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water” and 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[5]    Campbell (2002), p. 48

[6]    Many contraceptive pills work by preventing this LH upsurge, thus impeding the egg’s release.

[7]    Checking the increase in temperature is a common test to estimate whether or not ovulation has occurred.

[8] http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/womens_health_issues/biology_of_the_female_reproductive_system/ menstrual_cycle.html

[9]    By the way, the most modern pregnancy tests are designed to detect an increase in the human chorionic gonadotropin level.

[10]  Brizendine (2006), p. 45

[11]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premenstrual_dysphoric_disorder

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean – Part 2

The previous examples illustrate how complex, contradictory, impenetrable women sometimes appear to men. Then, women’s recurrent complaints about men in these and other respects add to the confusion and tend to further complicate matters. Unfortunately, this incom­pre­hension has also given rise to a certain male condescension towards femininity, implying that women are overly emotional, unstable, hard to please, never satisfied, needy (or “high main­­tenance”), clingy, whimsical, prone to over-dramatisation in order to gain attention from others in relationships, and so on:

A woman is always changeable and capricious.[1]

Virgil, Æneid

Woman is always fickle

Foolish is he who trusts her.[2]

Francis I of France (scratched with his ring on a window of Chambord Castle)

Frailty, thy name is woman!

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Woman’s at best a contradiction still.

Alexander Pope, Moral Essays

 

Whether or not these accusations are legitimate or fair shall not be the object of the follo­wing elaboration. Rather, the purpose is to build on such sexist fault-finding and to establish – just for the fun of it – a list of those typical reproaches men utter against their girlfriends, wives, colleagues, etc. and to explicate these female shortcomings with hormonal fluc­tu­ations. Tact and political correctness will be put aside and scientific explanations kept to a mini­mum, as each reader is invited to think for himself or herself how much truth (or, on the contrary, untruth or misrepresentation) lies in these assertions.

One common criticism men regularly utter about women concerns their indirect way of talking and expressing themselves. Many men, at least in many so-called low context cul­tu­res (such as, for example, in Germany, North America, Scandinavia) are confused by indi­rect communication. They have trouble recognising implicit meanings, picking up on nuan­ces in words, reading between the lines or deciphering body language. Accordingly, they blame women for conveying vague or ambiguous messages and for leaving their interlo­cutors to guess what they really want to say (e.g., “What do you think about this dress in the shop window” instead of “I want you to buy me this dress”; “The children’s school is quite far from our home” instead of “I would like to move closer to their school”; or “Go ahead, do whatever you want,” instead of “I don’t want you to, but if you do, I will make you regret it”). For them, women always beat around the bush, never getting to the point.

Then, men like to see themselves as rational and goal-oriented creatures, while women’s unrea­son and lack of logic would even make Mr. Spock’s hair stand on end. Wary of muddle hazard, they sneer at the females’ inclination to “indulge themselves in feelings and impres­sions” and to base their judgements on emotions rather than on (common) sense. Likewise, they sometimes say one thing and then finally do the opposite, or engage in two or more direc­­tions at once, so that “nothing ever gets done”[3]. Such irrationality and logical incon­sistency make women look wild, moody, chaotic, impulsive, irresponsible, and therefore untrust­­worthy from a masculine perspective.


Notes

[1]    Original: “Varium et mutabile semper, Femina.”

[2]    Original: “Toute femme varie / Bien fol est qui s’y fie.”

[3]    Fitzgerald (2012)

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean

女人心海底针
nǚrén xīn hǎi dǐ zhēn

If one single proverb was to summarise or to excuse the problems men have understanding women, it would probably be this one. The seemingly elusive, impenetrable character of the female has preoccupied people for several centuries, frustrating some of history’s greatest thinkers, as the following quotes testify:

 O most delicate fiend!

Who is’t can read a woman?

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Everything in woman is a riddle[1]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

 

Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx Without a Secret

 

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’[2]

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to Marie Bonaparte)

Women. They are a complete mystery.

Stephen Hawking, in reply to the question:

“What do you think most about during the day?”[3]

They are not alone. Poets, novelists, and philosophers have always described the mystery of women and the challenge of understanding the female psyche. Bemused by women’s beha­viour, they find themselves at sea when it comes to figuring out what they want. For most men, a woman’s heart is, as the proverb implies, like a needle at the bottom of the ocean – a place infinitely vaster than a haystack and that is affected by all kinds of internal and external forces. Not only can it be a challenging task to pinpoint their exact physical or emo­tional state (“Is she really all right? Didn’t she exaggerate her pain this time?”). Some­times, their condition also depends heavily on their mood and sentiments at that very moment (“What happened today? She would not react like that usually”), which can be dif­ficult to apprehend. Such male perplexity occurs under circumstantial conditions (e.g., when quarrelling, or during discussions about where to spend the next summer holidays) as well as in situations where oppositions between the sexes are more fundamental and critical issues are at stake, such as courtship or mating strategies (“Does she prefer her husband to be a tough and successful business executive or a soft family man? Should he passionately ravish and masterfully dominate her or stick with the tender cuddling and remain caring and loving? Does she expect him to take the initiative or is she going to consider his move as too aggressive or even rude?”).


Notes

[1]    Original: “Alles am Weibe ist ein Rätsel.”

[2]    Original: “Die grosse Frage, die nie beantwortet worden ist und die ich trotz dreißig Jahre langem Forschen in der weiblichen Seele nie habe beantworten können, ist die: Was will das Weib?”

[3]    Hawking (2012)