You can't have your cake and eat it too

既当婊子,又想立牌坊
jì dāng biǎo zi, yòu xiǎng lì pái fāng

“It’s a trap!” This is what not a few men think of marriage and long-term relationships. In their mind, matrimony is an invention of women to control them, to rob them of their freedom. For them, the marriage certificate represents a one-way ticket to a Groundhog Day-esque existence marked by boredom, tedium, and expectedness. “Till death us do part” is not really want they want to hear on that special day, even if they deeply love their signi­ficant other. Many of them are afraid of losing not only their independence but also their edge as an eligible bachelor. The perhaps most terrifying aspect of all in this context is the pros­pect of sleeping with the same person for the rest of one’s life.[1]

Single life presents numerous advantages – also for women. These include privacy, addi­tional free time, guiltless flirting, the avoidance of conflicts, or increased flexibility (in terms of cooking, weekend planning, holiday destinations, career choices, etc.). By not being in a relationship, a woman has the entire bed, the closet, the refrigerator, and the bath­room all to herself. She does not have to spend time with anyone else’s friends, can get up at any time she wants during the weekend, has full control over the TV remote, escapes awk­ward family dinners, can focus on herself, her own goals, and make her own big deci­sions. Furthermore, what could be more galvanising than the tingling prospect of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right when going out next time and the excitement of a first kiss? Not to men­tion the possibility of indulging in casual sex…

Considering the variety of perks of singlehood and non-committed liaisons, it is not sur­prising to hear males and females say that they do not want to be tied down and prefer to keep their options open. However, one should be aware that this attitude has the potential of causing disappointment or resentment in the other partner. For example, if a man possesses the right assets to be a long-term partner (including a good health, a well-paid job, a high socio-economic status), but fails to channel all these resources to the woman he has been with for a certain time, she will inevitably ask herself questions. She may start to doubt his sin­cerity, his integrity, or faithfulness.[2] Even worse, if she has the impression that her boy­friend or fiancé “only” wants to have sex with her without investing in her (financially, but also in terms of time, emotions, sympathy, fondness), that he hesitates to engage in the nece­s­sary next steps, or that he seeks to disperse his devotion across several females, she is likely to develop feelings of degradation or of being used. Emotional distress can emerge as soon as she perceives a discrepancy between the level of involvement she expects or desires from the man and his actual engagement.[3] Once she deems him as “commitment-phobic”[4], there is a risk that she will lose her passion, lowering her own dedi­cation to him, at which stage the quality of the relation could suffer substan­tial­ly.

The proverb giving its name to this chapter thus reminds people that one cannot have it both ways or, stated differently, that “you cannot have everything for nothing”. In the language of love, it means that someone cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of a relation­ship (for exam­ple sex, catering, support, shared costs, etc.) without bearing the legal and financial obli­ga­tions of a more formal partnership. The message here, to men in particular: Sooner or later, you have to commit, otherwise your girlfriend will leave you. Notice also that the original (Chinese) version is often used to describe situations involving falseness and hypo­crisy, respectively to expose cheaters and pretenders – just like the girl who feigns virtuous­ness and chastity, but in fact sleeps around like everyone else (for money, her own pleasure, or any other reason). It can therefore also be interpreted as a warning sign against promis­cuity and adultery, which, however, are covered in other chapters.[5]

 


Notes

[1] Titus / Fadal (2009), p. 15

[2]    Buss (2003), pp. 41-42

[3]    Townsend (1998), pp. 34, 39

[4]    Carter / Sokol (1987)

[5]    See chapters 26 “A sly rabbit has three burrows”, 35 “No cat can resist snatching fish”, and 36 “Looking for a horse while riding a mule”.

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