Chapter 21: You can’t lead the life of a whore and expect a chastity monument

You can't have your cake and eat it too

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]



[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”.

Chapter 17: Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband

zuò de hăo bù rú jià de hăo

When close friends or family members of a young man are not convinced about the good faith or uprightness of his girlfriend or fiancée, they will utter all kinds of words of caution to him, for instance “she is only after your money”. When googling this very locution (inclu­ding the quotation marks), the search yields around 318,000 results.[1] This shows how common this piece of advice is, and along the way, how scared people are to be used by women in that fashion. Whether males are only slaves of this apprehension or whether their fear is gene­rally justified cannot be established definitively. The very existence of this pro­verb nevertheless indicates that the phenome­non of women choosing a good (in the sense of rich) husband over a good (in terms of well-paid) job is real – at least in China. What the phrase does not account for, however, are the reasons behind such predilection. As is about to be explained, the desire to find and marry a mate with enough resources has nothing to do with female laziness, rapa­city or parasitism, but is only the natural desire to feel safe and protected in exchange for the tremendous costs women bring upon themselves in the wake of sex, pregnancy, and childbirth.

Whoever dreams about long term relationships devoid of any material considerations should be set straight about such a naïve belief. In most cases, this ideal is doomed to remain a chi­maera. Pragmatic aspects have always been central to the definition of interpersonal rela­tions, inclu­ding romantic ones. In fact, they are so fundamental, that the sociologist John Lee iden­tified “pragma” as one of six basic love styles. According to his model, some types of couples are marked by at least one of the lovers rationally and realistically reflec­ting about her expectations in a partner. The costs and benefits of a relationship are thoroughly weighed, including the contingency of marriage and children, which are seen as potential liabilities as well as assets. When questing for a mate, the pragmatic lover uses practical cri­teria to select the right person, comparing qualities and ticking the items off her shopping list. She will carefully assess her “market value” and is likely to employ phrases such as “out of my league”. Like in a personal advertisement, the attributes sought after cannot be recog­nised on sight, but rather they reflect the target’s demographic background (religion, social class, etc.) or personality (hobbies, sports activities, artistic preferences, etc.).[2] In his book Love is a Story, Robert Sternberg describes a scenario that fits very well into the pragma scheme, illustrating the motivations of the partners:

In the business story, a relationship is run much like a business. An indivi­dual is attracted to a mate as a potential ‘business partner,’ who is evaluated largely in terms of his or her suitability in this role. Thus, a careful weighing of economic considerations, social status, and business sense may play more of a role in the formation of this kind of relationship than they would in the for­mation of other kinds of relationships. Indeed, to them, a relationship is a business, and the story of love is a story about successfully running a busi­ness.[3]

Researchers have tried to explicate the question of who marries (or appeals to) whom with psychological and economic models of human behaviour. Employing concepts such as social exchange theory,[4] it then becomes possible to elucidate the idea about the utility of romantic attractions. According to this perspective, amorous choices are the result of the desire to close the best possible deal in terms of the most benefits or rewards (for example, sex, love, support, etc.) at the lowest cost or price (namely, doing what one does not want to do). Mathematically, affinity is then defined by the equilibrium point of “exchange value”, i.e., where the personal assets and liabilities that each spouse brings to the relationship is dee­­med the fairest (or the best) by both. After that, the calculation is simple: The more of a win-win the partnership turns out to be, the more fulfilling it is and the longer it lasts.[5] And in the event of divorce or the breakup of relationship, there are always prenuptial agree­ments (also an immediate corollary of viewing of love as a business arrangement) to regu­late issues such as the division of property or spousal support.


[1]    Search performed on the 24th April 2017.

[2]    Lee (1998), p. 38

[3]    Sternberg (1998), p. 152

[4]    “Social exchange theory is a social psychological and sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives.” (Source:

[5]    Pines (2005), p. 63