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:

生活有爱幸福,为爱生活愚蠢

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

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

鼠目寸光

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.

萝卜快了不洗泥

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.


Notes

[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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folie_%C3%A0_deux)

[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

[8]    http://www.drlauraberman.com/sexual-health/sex-and-brain/natural-love-drugs?xid=aol_lb-news_1_20120213_&aolcat=HLT&ncid=webmail8#/slide-7

[9]    http://lazur.hubpages.com/hub/Hormones-and-love

[10]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphin

[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]


Notes

[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

情人眼里出西施
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]


Notes

[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

[5]    http://aphroweb.net/nre_faq.htm

[6]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_relationship_energy

[7]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limerence

[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:

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 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 3: Men like, women love – Part 2

One of the reasons men get turned on so frequently as compared to women is that they are more readily excited by a broader variety of stimuli, in particular, visual ones. For many males, the mere sight of a prospective sexual partner (including explicit depictions of nudity, genitalia, and sexual intercourse) is enough to make them want sex. Both written materials and pictorial media such as films or photographs, but also memories or the anti­cipation of new types of experiences may prompt their arousal up to the point of erection. In other words, men are largely visual and susceptible to psychological stimulation when assessing the potential of women, at any rate for short-term relationships. Like it or not, this is also why good looks very often rank top of the list of men’s most desired attributes of women as casual mates (for example, as friends with benefits, sex buddies, or in the context of a one-night stand). What men notice first when they see a woman is their face and body, focusing on various elements of the female anatomy features such as breasts, thighs, but­tocks, hips, pubic area (crotch), lips, etc. and fantasising about making love to these body parts. As men are easily captivated by visual cues such as curves, shapes or leg length, any woman with the right overall appearance, structure, proportions will catch their eye and therefore raise their attention. However, this does not mean that males are generally unable to consider a woman as a true person, i.e., with a mind, a personality, and a history of her own. It is just that a man’s sexual desire does not depend on these characteristics and that his lust can be triggered by the sheer fact that someone in the room, on his mind, on the street or on television has one particular anatomical feature that he desires at that very moment – nothing more, nothing less.

Another aspect where human males and females differ significantly concerns their ability to keep love and sex apart. Some women reading this will be disappointed or scared to have their deepest fear confirmed, but it is true: Men are able to have uncommitted sex, or to want “only” sex (i.e., without sharing of emotions, conversation, foreplay, cuddling, or the hope for a long-term relationship). Readers may believe whatever they want, but here is the crux: Men are literally programmed to find a bunny’s hole and to see how deep it goes – the blue pill only making things worse… Men, some of them without any hesitation, will have it off just for the fun of it, or for the purpose of corporeal release. Adding insult to injury, they can even do it with a person who is neither their girlfriend nor their wife, or with a girl they feel no affection for, something completely inconceivable for most women. All it takes for a man to want to roll in the hay is a physically attractive woman (to him) – and a convenient location. A deeper meaning or factors such as fondness, commitment, devotion (which are important for most females when they decide to sleep with someone) are not nece­ssarily part of the equation. On the contrary, men find it extremely easy to make out, take a shower and then go home, just as they would do after a tennis match. For many, sex is nothing more than a strictly physical act, in which love, romance or passion are not involved.

The reason for this aptitude can be found in the compartmentalisation of the male brain. Lust and love are located in different parts of the central nervous system, which are appa­rently not so well connected with one another. So in man’s brain, sex will occupy one section, a trivial activity such as washing hands a different one, and love yet another one. When a man’s beard has grown too long, he will just shave it. And when he feels a sexual desire, he will seek release (alone or with a partner). It’s as simple as that. Moreover, men are usually not as good at multitasking as women are. They are at their best when taking a one-thing-at-a-time approach, which allows them to concentrate much more intensively on one specific task – in this case, either sex or love. Even so, readers should not misinterpret my words: Men are definitely not unable to combine love and sex. Now and then, they do happen together. But they don’t have to, that’s all.[1],[2]


Notes

[1]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 264-265

[2]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 181