Chapter 20: You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints

Don't judge a book by its cover

人不可貌相,海水不可斗量
rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng

The discussion in the previous chapters revolved around the traits that people desire the most in a mate. Given the importance of sex in the whole question of partner selection, empha­sis was laid on physical aspects. Yet as most couples or parents know, relationship is not only about carnal knowledge. Since love marriage[1],[2] is increasingly common in many parts of the world, the rules of engagement in the mating game are now much diffe­rent than in the past. For many men, youth and physical attractiveness are not enough any­more. Inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as kindness, compassion, elegance, cour­tesy, intel­li­gence, wittiness, honesty, etc. have become much more important. Admit­tedly, the proverb mentioned here may appear inappropriate in a context of love and partner selec­tion, but considering its essence (namely, that “appearance is deceiving” or that one should not prejudge the worth of something or someone by its outward appearance alone), it reminds us that (physical) beauty should not be equated with virtue and that it does not gua­ran­tee happiness in marriage, at least not in the long term.[3],[4]

Various works and philosophers across the centuries uttered similar words of advice, albeit in different terms:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting

Torah, Bible – Old Testament (New International Version), Proverbs 31:30

Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.

Saint Augustine, City of God

Beauty pleases the eyes only;

Sweetness of disposition charms the soul.[5]

Voltaire

One sees clearly only with the heart;

What is essential is invisible to the eye.[6]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

One of the most obvious reasons why men (and also women) should not choose their part­ner based on physical aspects only, is that beauty, more often than not, fades away with age. That means that after a few years into the relationship, the aesthetic or reproductive value of the spouse will gradually decline anyway.[7] In addition, physical chemistry itself is rather short-lived.[8] After a few rounds of fleshly pleasures, the attraction quickly vanishes if it is not supplemented with chemistry in the mind, heart, and soul. Only if physical affinity origin­ates in and is nurtured by emotional, intellectual or spiritual chemistry can it last or grow in time. When a man senses sexual chemistry with a woman, he feels interested in her, he likes her, he thinks he knows her… This may lead him into believing that he loves her. However, as relationship counsellor John Gray remarks, “the real test is whether he still likes and loves her after he gets to know her.” [9],[10]

 


Notes

[1] Love marriage refers to the union of two people based on mutual love, or else attraction, fondness, commitment, etc. It is opposed to the phenomenon of forced or arranged marriages, where one or both families fix up the matri­mony for the individuals involved. The term has only limited distinct meaning in Western societies, where love is commonly considered as a prerequisite for marriage. This may not be the case in South Asia and the Middle East, which have strong traditional arranged marriage systems. However, it shall be noted that even in the West, love mar­riage is a relatively young concept. So is the thought that affection, rather than duty (defined by wealth or social sta­tus) should be at the base of a shared life, which was first expressed in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1761 novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. It was not until the emergence of the feminist movement at the beginning of the 20th century that this new way of choosing one’s spouse finally became standard. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_marriage)

[2]    See chapter 10 “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”.

[3]    See chapter 34 “Marriage is the tomb of love”.

[4]   The proverb is a quote from the novel Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì, chapter 62) by Ming dynasty poet Wú Chéng’ēn’s (吴承恩). Widely known as Monkey in English-speaking countries (after Arthur Waley’s popular abridged translation), the work is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[5]    Original: “La beauté plait aux yeux, la douceur charme l’âme.”

[6]    Original: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

[7]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[8]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[9]    Gray (2009), pp. 17-18

[10]  See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

Chapter 13: Birds of a feather flock together – Part 4

Furthermore, based on the assumption or belief that “opposites attract”, some people appa­rently also seek dissimilarity in personality, as exemplified in the following statements:

We look like total opposites. He’s tall and dignified, and I’m short and hysterical. We are opposites in terms of the way we look and the way we act, but because we get along so well we balance each other out. Or maybe we get along so well because we are opposites.

Moreover, anecdotal and clinical evidence also indicates that, for instance, highly emotional women have the ability to make quite an impact on highly cerebral men, or that aggressive men exert some kind of attraction on conciliative women. Likewise, research found out that couples in complementary relationships, e.g., combining dominant people with submissive partners, reported higher satisfaction than do people who were with partners who resembled themselves.[1]

Various accounts may be employed to argue against the notion that “birds of a feather flock together” and to explain why, on the contrary, opposite personalities could attract one ano­ther very much in the same way as the extremes of a magnet. First of all, differences can be exciting and add spice to a relationship, both in the short and long terms. If the two part­ners are too similar, boredom may set in after a while, as their opinions or responses are too obvious or foreseeable. But if they are dissimilar, the process of discovering another per­son’s culture, views, beliefs or ideas can have galvanising effects on both, raising their inte­rest and passion for one another.[2] Not being familiar with or fully understanding some­body can be seen as a source of thrill or eroticism. The mystique of the unknown thus can con­tri­bute to the creation of sexual tension between the two opposites, resulting, in the best case, into an amorous relationship.

At the same time, interacting with someone who holds different mental positions offers the opportunity to learn something new and valuable, or to sharpen one’s own argumentation skills. At any rate, distinctiveness allows people to experience a wider spectrum of emo­tional or intellectual opportunities. Dating or being with someone who is different from one­self offers a person the chance to find out what he likes and dislikes in a mate. She can then force him to look deeper into himself by challenging his own convictions, thoughts or fee­lings, thus expanding his knowledge and life experience.[3] Furthermore, a woman’s aware­ness or insight that she is liked or loved by a man who disagrees with her on a number of points is particularly gratifying, as it shows her that her partner likes or loves her because of who she is and not simply because of her views. This is likely to make her feel unique and special, rather than just being like everyone else. Another explanation could be the existence of an innate defence mechanism that drives people into the arms of partners who are their complete opposite – like, for example, when a man used to suppress his feelings (as his own way to cope) finds himself attracted to women who dramatise their emotions.

One key aspect in this regard is complementarity. In fact, it is not necessarily the difference per se that enables or intensifies the attraction, but the compatibility between two indivi­duals, be it in terms of personalities, preferences, skills, etc. Accordingly, absolute dissimi­litude is neither necessary nor recommended. On the contrary, complementarity in one parti­cular, significant personality dimension seems to be enough to tip the scales – while simi­larity in general (e.g., in background, interests, intelligence, etc.) remains the main fac­tor for attraction.[4] Partners just need enough distinctness to make it interesting and to balance their own individualities, yet not so much that it would impede the development of their personalities or interfere with their lifestyles.[5]

 

Related proverbs and citations:

崇洋媚外

chóng yáng mèi wài

To worship and have blind faith in foreign things.

 


Notes

[1]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 58

[2]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 268

[3]    Yoo (2012)

[4]    Pines (2005), pp. 58-59

[5]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 268

Chapter 13: Birds of a feather flock together

Like attracts like
物以类聚,人以群分
wù yĭ lèi jù, rén yĭ qún fēn

Opposites attract
异性相吸
yì xìng xiāng xī

In physics, several theories have made it clear that like charges (or magnetic poles) repel each other, whereas unlike charges attract. When people are involved, however, the laws of attrac­tion are more ambiguous. Some research argues that people tend to marry partners from similar demographic classes (age, education, religion, socio-economic status, etc.), suggesting that Plato’s first law of affinity, i.e., “likes attract”, also holds for relationship life. Other studies, on the contrary, put forward the notion that “opposites attract”, reasoning that people are drawn to individuals whose needs match their own in a reverse way.[1] The object of this section is, therefore, to elaborate on these approaches, and to show that while both may be valid, seeking a balance between “like” and “unlike” arguably promises the most success when it comes to finding a (soul) mate.

The former idiom[2] can be expressed in English in various ways: “like attracts like”, “like begets like”, “that which is like unto itself is drawn”, etc. It was Plato who, building on the conception of philia (attractive force, as opposed to neikos, or repulsive force) originally established the first law of affinity that “likes tend toward likes”, for example, water to water or earth to earth.[3] But also for human beings, it is a rather natural and intuitive reaction to being drawn to people who are similar to oneself, who share similar features, tastes, habits, etc. They instinctively look for the same characteristics in others that they see in themselves. Alikeness creates a sense of comfort and security, which is very important to grow the trust and empathy required for love to happen.

One construct that attempts to explain this observation biologically is assortative mating, under which individuals with similar traits are said to mate more frequently than what would be expected randomly. The advantage of this strategy is that it increases genetic relatedness, which in turn may contribute to improved communication or selflessness bet­ween family members. In general, assortative mating occurs across geno­types and pheno­types with similar physiological characteristics (e.g., body size, morphology, bone structure, skin colour, etc.). For humans, however, many other dimensions, such as age, intelligence, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political ideology, etc. can play a role as well.[4]

Then, based on the premise that similarity is indeed a crucial determinant of interpersonal attraction, the main question is which aspects and forms of alikeness are required from an individual per­spective. Countless studies have addressed this issue. As it turns out, simi­la­rity is appreciated for a variety of personal attributes, for instance, family background, appea­­­rance, ways of thinking, goals and interests, or leisure activities. Similarity here is regarded as a positive factor that intensifies the initial attraction and eases the develop­ment of rela­tionships. Likewise, it has been established that the range of variables affecting the outcome of who falls in love with whom is equally broad. Features include “age, personality traits, appearance, height, weight, eye colour, and other physical characteristics, including physical defects, behavior patterns, professional success, attitudes, opinions, intelligence, cognitive complexity, verbal ability, education, social and economic class, family back­ground, number and sex of siblings, feelings toward the family of origin, the quality of the parents’ marriage, race and ethnic background, religious background, social and political affi­liations, acceptance of sex role stereotypes, physical and emotional health, emotional maturity, level of neuroticism, level of differentiation from the family of origin, moodiness, depressive tendencies, tendency to be a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘social animal,’ tendency to lie and be inconsistent, as well as drinking and smoking habits.”[5] Among all these points playing a role in romantic attraction, three shall now be discussed in further detail: Physical appea­rance, personality and attitudes.


Notes

[1]   Hoffman / Weiner (2003)

[2]   The story behind this saying was brought to us by Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) scholar Liú Xiàng in his compilation Strategies of the Warring States (战国策, zhàn guó cè). The chapter about the Strategies of Qi (齐策, qí cè) mentions an episode in the life of Chúnyú Kūn (淳于髡), a philosopher and official during the Chinese Warring States period (481 – 221 BC). After the ruler of the time, King Wei of Qi (齊威王, Qí Wēi Wáng) had asked him to identify and gather a number of scholars able and willing to serve the country, Chúnyú Kūn immediately came up with a list of seven candidates. The king became sceptical, as he had believed that it would have taken one hundred years to find one smart person alone. Known for his wits and erudition himself, Chúnyú Kūn replied that similar things tend to associate with one another and that people with similar characteristics or interests will often choose to work or spend time together – just like birds of the same species who eat, sleep and fly together. “If I am a solon, a sage and a wise man, all my friends should have a noble character and an extraordinary intellect as well” – thus was the message that Chúnyú Kūn had brought across to his king.


Notes

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

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

[5]    Pines (2005), pp. 48/49

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

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

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

男欢女爱
nán huān nǚ ài

This tetrasyllabic phrase is generally employed to describe the love or passion between men and women.[1] In the context of this blog, however, it shall be used as all-purpose sentence recapitulating how human males think and how they are programmed when it comes to sexuality. Another chapter is dedicated to the same topic but viewed from a female stand­point.[2] Understanding the differences between both genders on this very issue is criti­cal if one wishes to figure out what creates sexual desire and what drives us to sleep with another.

When describing male sex drive, many people will tend to sketch it in rather simple fashion – for example like an on/off switch. Female sex drive, on the contrary, will be described as a complex ma­chine, involving several buttons, controllers, commutators, which all need to be monitored and co­ordinated in order to carefully ramp up and later on to maintain the mood.

Similarly, in their seminal book Why Men Don’t Listen And Women Can’t Read Maps, Allen and Barbara Pease liken men to microwaves and women to electric ovens. Indeed, males can be ignited immediately and may reach peak capacity within a matter of a few seconds, but are just as quickly and easily turned off once the meal is cooked. With females, conversely, one has to wait until top temperature has been reached, which can be quite a lengthy process, while it may also take a while for them to cool down as well.,[3],[4]

The difference in speed between men and women cannot only be observed in terms of how quickly both genders can get aroused sexually, but also how fast they decide to sleep with each other. In general, men have much lower thresholds for seeking sex, many of them expressing the desire and willingness to engage in intercourse with a total stranger. Accor­ding to a study carried out on an American college campus[5], 75 percent of men would res­pond positively when confronted with the following offer from an attractive female: “Hi, I’ve been noticing you around town lately, and I find you very attractive. Would you go to bed with me?” On the other hand, 0 percent of the women answered “yes” to the same question uttered by an attractive man. While the vast majority of women are likely to feel baf­fled, displeased or downrightly insulted by such an odd request coming out of the blue, many men would be flattered by it. Thus, time or familiarity do not seem to make any dif­ference to men when it comes to the question of whether or not to have casual sex with a woman – they are always ready to go, no matter if they have known the woman for ten minutes or ten years.

This “easiness” of males is also reflected in the frequency of thinking about carnal plea­sures. In a seemingly rather cautious study, the Kinsey Institute at the Indiana Univer­sity found that more than half (54 percent) of men think about sex at least every day, while 43 percent have it on their mind a few times a week or month, and only 4 percent said once a month or less.[6] Other reports depict an even hornier image of men. In her book The Female Brain, for example, Louann Brizendine mentions that for 85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males, sexual thoughts wander through their brains several times every day. Females, by contrast, “only” think about it once a day, or up to three or four times on their hottest (i.e., most fertile) days. Yet another study goes one step further, calculating that men think about sex about six times per hour on average (not including dreams), or about 750 times per week![7] Bearing in mind a regular couple copulates one and a half times per week, it is not difficult to understand the frustrations of men complaining about not getting enough sex. Unfortunately, the problem of quick arousal is not limited to fantasies and wishful thin­king about the quantity of nookie they can get. Legions of men, especially younger ones, feel the urge to let their “member of congress” ejaculate many times a week or even several times a day. Whoever has heard that call knows that it can be quite an uncomfortable and dis­turbing sensation. In that case, the best way out is not to debate or deliberate, but to inten­sify the proceedings, reach a climax, and to finish it. Notice at this point that there is nothing corporal forcing men to come in(to) a vagina. As pointed out in The Hite Report, even if a male has a strong physical desire for orgasm (for instance, undergone through an erection) the excitement he feels is not linked to any craving for intercourse as such, but only for the need of sexual release. Thus, the animal “itch” a man feels is not a desire to penetrate a woman’s genital organ but a yearning for further stimulation of the penis, and ultimately for orgasm.[8]


Notes

[1]   Although the origins of this proverb remain unclear, it may be attributed to Féng Mènglóng (冯梦龙), a Chinese poet and vernacular writer of the late Ming dynasty (which itself lasted from 1368 to 1644 AD). In his short story Prefect Kuang Solves the Case of the Dead Baby (况太守断死孩儿, kuàng tài shǒu duàn sǐ hái ér, published in the 1624 compilation Stories to Caution the World, 警世通言, jǐng shì tōng yán), he refers to a particular “kind of rendezvous, where a woman loves and a man (only) likes” as “a great mistake made in a moment of weakness” (这般会合,那些个男欢女爱,是偶然一念之差”, zhè bān huì hé, nà xiē gè nán huān nǚ ài, shì ǒu rán yī niàn zhī chā).

[2]    See chapter 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[3]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 221-223

[4]    See chapter 30 “You can’t help shoots grow by pulling them up higher”.

[5]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 91

[6]    Ellis / Symons (1990)

[7]    Cited in: Kramer / Dunaway (1990), p. 19

[8]    Hite (1981), p. 256