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 12: Love my house, love the crow on it – Part 4

Yet these misunderstandings and mutual accusations are no accident. Communication pat­terns or preferences are deeply engraved in our brains, and the programming is very diffe­rent in men and women, in boys and girls. Due to the instincts that we inherited from our ances­tors, we still behave like them in many respects. For example, the perceived lack of emo­tions of males can be explained by the fact that their forefathers had to learn to suppress or at least hide these in order to be successful. When hunting wild animals or fighting enemies, the practical use of emotions was rather limited. On the contrary, they could cause mental conditions such as fear, stress, timidity or high spirit, which in turn lead to errors or mental paralysis. What men needed in their daily job was logic and rationalism, which enabled them to foresee dangers and to react accordingly. For a woman, on the other hand, there was little reason to keep her emotions in check. Her feelings and compassion were a convenient tool when dealing with physically superior males. She had to rely on cues to read other people’s tempers, general dispositions, or moods on any given day, in order to be able to respond in the right way. Thus, women are accustomed to trusting their guts.[1] Fur­ther­more, in their function as nest-defenders, harmony and openness were a necessity. They knew that they had to be co-operative and show vulnerability, especially when they were in a situation where they solicited help from others. The opposite is true for men: By nature, they are more contained, suspicious, defensive. For them, staying in control is their life. Emo­tio­nality is a sign of being out of control, a sentiment that most men do not like and find threa­tening. The legacy from ancient times that males must be brave and show no weakness can still be found in today’s teaching of young lads to “act like a man” and that “boys don’t cry”.[2]

Similarly, hunting or fishing required men to be patient and to silently wait for animals to come across their path. Any sound could have scared away the prey or expose the tracker. If the beast was coming closer, they had to remain all the quieter. They could not just talk about their stress and hope that it would vanish.[3] That way, they learned to say words only when they had to, at the same time becoming more acutely aware of their own needs, which more or less corresponded to what was essential to protect themselves in the wild. Not so with women: In the home cave, their job consisted in caring for others. For this, they had to be able to identify people’s sensitivities, anticipate their emotions, and foresee conditions and defi­ciencies. Then, in order to gather information and to interpret it properly, they had to ask questions, to share their impressions, to express their opinions, etc. Joined by other women and their children, it was crucial for them to build and maintain relationships.[4],[5] If one of them had problems or was worried about something, she could talk about these with the others. They would then confabulate and try to support her. Letting everyone know made it easier to receive help. Moreover, performing tasks with the group gave them the oppor­tunity to chat, thereby creating bonds, getting to know each other better and streng­thening the sense of community. Members who refused to participate, were aloof or did not commu­nicative enough, faced the risk of getting marginalised, or, in the worst case, expel­led from the tribe. Once on their own, their chance of survival was much lower. The incen­tive to actively contribute to the daily cackle could therefore not be any stronger.

Under such premises, it is not surprising to see contemporary women enjoying great verbal and language skills, being more intuitive, emotionally expressive, and more in touch with their feelings than their male counterparts.[6] These advantages are the results of thousands of years of evolution, during which time our brains developed in opposite directions. As this diver­gence has its roots in biology, it would be delusive to assume that our brains (and there­fore our habits, preferences, communication styles) could suddenly adjust to the new reality of gender roles, as we are experiencing now.[7] Collisions between men and women, misunderstandings and frustration are inevitable and here to stay. There will always be some­thing to complain about in every couple. The art of love resides in tolerating each other’s weaknesses and quirks, to accepting that nobody is perfect, not even one’s soul mate. Couples work at their best when both partners manage to avoid sexist behaviour and free them­­selves from gender preconceptions, in other words, when the colloquial crow feels loved as well.

 

Related proverbs and citations:

也要马儿好,也要马儿不吃草

yě yào mǎ ér hǎo, yě yào mǎ ér bù chī cǎo

You want a good horse but won’t give it grass to eat.

Nothing is perfect. Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

 

瓜无滚圆,人无十全

guā wú gǔn yuán, rén wú shí quán

No melon is completely round, and no person is perfect.

Nothing is perfect.

 

水至清则无鱼

shuǐ zhì qīng zé wú yú

No fish can survive in absolutely clear water.

One should not demand absolute purity or perfectness.

 

十个指头不一般齐

shí gè zhǐ tou bù yī bān qí

Ten fingers, all of different lengths.

You cannot expect everything to be perfect. There are always good and bad in everything.

 

知者不言,言者不知

zhī zhě bù yán, yán zhě bù zhī

He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak.

(Quote by Lao Zi, 老子, lǎo zi)

 

 


 

Notes

[1]    Satana (2007), p. 65

[2]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 162

[3]    Gray (2012), p. 37

[4]    Pease / Pease (2002), p. 161

[5]    Gray (2012), p. 36

[6]    Townsend (1998), p. 204

[7]    Gray (2012), p. 37

Chapter 12: Love my house, love the crow on it

Love me, love my dog

爱屋及乌
ài wū jí wū

Men and women are different. People know it and are curious about this kind of “other­ness”, willing to clarify or solve misunderstandings that frequently happen between both sexes. The existence of books like the present one, of relationship manuals, magazine arti­cles, dedicated blogs, etc. bear testimony to the ongoing awareness about the issue. These dis­­si­­mi­larities are frequently the object of sexist jokes (in both ways), but can also build a major source of conflicts and relationship problems in couples. Each gender has its own pre­fe­rences, standards, expectations, leading to different definitions of what is acceptable or irritating. Male idiosyncrasies that regularly cause eye-rolling among women include the following: Leaving the toilet seat up, “forgetting” to replace the empty toilet paper roll, eating without a plate, scratching in public (in particular when it concerns his private parts), not disposing of beard shavings and nail clippings, farting in the bed, leaving dirty socks and underwear around, feigning not to hear the baby crying, etc. Men, reciprocally, may regard the following “typically female” habits as annoying or stressful: Eye-rolling, nag­ging, being complicated, getting offended easily, complaining, spying, gossiping, lea­ving behind all kinds of stuff in his car, wearing his clothes, and so on. Although these quirks and perso­nality traits can be seen as rather nerve-racking in the long term, they remain harmless as compared to what many people commonly consider as deal-breakers, for example, poor hygiene, neglect, bad manners, excessive con­sumption of alco­hol, condescen­sion, imma­tu­rity, lack of commitment, impatience, a violent disposition, needi­ness, infide­lity, vulgarity, lavish­ness, selfishness, etc.

In spite of these perceived flaws, discrepancies and disagreements, millions of heterosexual couples are formed every year. For some of them, the journey goes even further when they decide to get married, vowing to love one another forever. Even without matrimony, the decision to stay or to live together does not only require mutual trust and confidence, but also a great amount of tolerance. More often than not, harmony and success in the relation­ship depend upon both parties’ willingness to accept, if not to adapt to, the little oddities and eccentricities of the other. After all, these are the characteristics of a person that make him or her so unique. The proverb introduced in this chapter, therefore, serves as a reminder that love requires sympathy, broad-mindedness and mutual understanding for all these dif­feren­ces.[1] If you hold someone dear, then you should care for that person, no matter his or her imperfections.

In this connection, it shall be noted that this section is not meant as a potpourri of every­thing men usually dislike (or cannot figure out) about women, and vice versa. Nor does it intend to resolve this kind of gender-based misconceptions. Rather, the purpose is to call attention to them and to explain why our ways can sometimes be so diametrical. The simple con­scious­ness about this matter already represents a decisive step forward to solve existing relationship problems or avoid latent ones. In the process, the argumentation will focus on the differences in communication patterns and behaviours. Indeed, it seems that items rela­ted to this very matter predominate in articles or rankings about “annoying behaviour”, and that mutual accusations or complaints in this regard are especially frequent and varied.[2] Furthermore, given the importance of communication in romantic partnerships, it certainly makes sense to lay special emphasis on this facet of the issue. That being said, one should remem­ber that similar insights could be drawn for other areas where clashes tend to occur (e.g., personal grooming and hygiene, bodily noises, toilet usage, shopping, fashion and clothing, prefe­rences concerning television programs, driving behaviour, etc.).


Notes

[1]This expression constitutes the contracted form of an expression found in fú Shèng’s (伏胜, also known as Master Fu) Amplification of the Shangshu (尚书大传, shàng shū dà zhuàn). The work is a commentary on the Shangshu (also called the Book of Documents or Classic of History), a collection of rhetorical prose attributed to several figures of ancient China, including Confucius). One of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature, it also served as the foundation of Chinese political philosophy for over 2,000 years. The remark in question can be translated as “I love you so much that I even love the crow on top of your house” (original: 爱人者,兼其屋上之乌, ài ren zhě, jiān qí wū shàng zhī wū).

[2]Examples:

http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/relationship-advice/annoying-guy-behavior-explained#slide-1

http://idiva.com/photogallery-relationships/10-things-men-hate-in-women/27644/

http://idiva.com/photogallery-relationships/top-6-habits-your-man-hates/18684/

http://www.babble.com/mom/omg-your-husband-does-that-too/

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

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

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

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

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

Related proverbs and citations:

女心と秋の空 (Japanese proverb)

Onna-gokoro to aki no sora

A woman’s heart and the autumn sky.

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



Notes

[1]    Gray (1993), chapter 7

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

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

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

[5]    Campbell (2002), p. 48

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

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

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

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

[10]  Brizendine (2006), p. 45

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