Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks – Part 4

Women, conversely, rarely bring up physical appearance as paramount in their ideal partner, at least not explicitly. It may be desirable for them, but certainly not very important. That being said, it is worthwhile to remark that female attractiveness does not only matter in the context of sexual selection, but it is also becoming increasingly important as a way to assert oneself in society at large. For instance, it has been established that both men and women con­si­der good-looking people as smarter, friendly and competent, and are more likely to want to get to know them better than it is the case for less attractive people.[1] Likewise, attrac­tive people are automatically and unconsciously ascribed positive traits such as honesty, intelligence, kindness and talent. It might be politically correct to deny that attracti­veness affects our decisions, but, whether we like it or not, there is evidence that the brain is programmed to respond to the physical appearance of others. This can also have positive sides since it is relatively easy to alter (that is, improve) some of the factors influencing our looks.[2]

And this is precisely what millions of women are doing every day when they dress up, fix their hair, go on a diet, take aerobic or yoga classes, and so on. These rituals and habits reflect women’s motivation to do whatever is necessary to appear young, healthy, and fertile in order to attract men. As their reproductive value sharply declines over the years and given that they cannot falsify their age, they have evolved the mastery of all kinds of decep­tive tactics and visual aids to manipulate their appearance. So if an older woman wants to stay in the mating game, she needs to keep herself looking attractive, in particular by re-creating the markers of a younger, childbearing miss. The possibilities to get there are mani­fold, and may involve the use of make-up (for example, mascara to make eyes look wider, lipstick to enlarge the lips, shades of red to imitate blood flow in the cheeks, face powder to even out the skin, etc.), hair care products (namely shampoos and conditioners to achieve lus­trous hair, bleaching or dying to emulate higher oestrogen levels, etc.), plastic surgery (e.g., collagen injections to smooth and plump the skin, face lifting to eliminate lines and wrinkles, breast implants to enlarge their bosoms, liposuctions to recreate a cur­vaceous bust and hips, etc.), or clothing (for instance wearing dark colours or vertical stripes to appear thin­ner, padding to look more full-figured, high heels to fake tallness and lean­ness, etc.).[3],[4]

The reason these strategies often turn out successful is that they work on the preferences engra­ved into male brains. It does not necessarily mean that ladies enjoy taking care of them­­selves in such ways, which, after all, costs a lot of time, money and effort and may inflict a fair deal of physical suffering. In fact, they do not really have any choice but to fight this battle against physical and aesthetic decline. Con­sciously or subconsciously, women understand what the opposite sex is looking for, and are aware that whoever fails to fulfil these qualities of youthfulness and healthfulness loses her competitive edge.[5] Thus, when women claim that they do all these things “to feel better about themselves”, a lot of them actually mean that “they feel better about themselves because men are more attracted to them”, as they instinctively know that it increases the odds of getting what they want.[6]

Related proverbs and citations:

爱江山,更爱美人

ài jiāng shān gèng ài mĕi rén

Love nation, but love woman more.

Preferring beauty over power.

女房と畳は新しいほうがよい (Japanese)

nyōbō to tatami wa atarashii hō ga yoi

Wives and tatami mats are better when new.


Notes

[1]    Kramer / Dunaway (1990), p. 94

[2]    Pease / Pease (2002), p. 197

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 92-93

[4]    Townsend (1998), p. 117

[5]    Buss (2003), pp. 110

[6]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 95, 229

Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks

窈窕淑女,君子好逑
yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zǐ hào qiú

The following section deals with one of the most fundamental questions in the relationship between males and females, one that regularly causes arguments, frustration, and resentment on both sides – namely the question of why men insist so much on beauty and youth when selecting their girlfriend or wife. This chapter and the following few ones will focus on the des­cription of the characteristics and attributes that human beings expect from prospective mating partners, covering the perspectives of both men and women.[1] The discussion shall also provide justification for people’s behaviour in this regard, which sometimes may be interpreted as unfair, shallow or materialistic – in particular for those that cannot meet the criteria or otherwise feel rejected.

In their natural tendency to seek females who are younger than them and to place greater emphasis on physical beauty,[2] men do not behave any different than their ancestors. Like­wise, if women are more likely to favour older males with higher earning potential and higher status, they are following exactly the same pattern as their foremothers. In terms of sexual urges and drives, nothing has really changed over the last hundreds of thousands of years: Men are still drawn to young, pretty females, while women are still attracted to males with resources, i.e., goods, property, or money. However, this has nothing to do with super­ficiality, sex stereotyping or the skin-deep objectification of women, as many people, espe­cially feminists, often complain. Instead, “the reality is that men’s preferences evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, are hardwired into the brain, and have hardly changed. The fact that men’s preferences are based on physical beauty and youth has been necessary for the successful genetic advancement of the human race. […] To suppress their existence or deny that these preferences are real is like being angry at the weather because it’s raining or being upset that carnivorous animals prefer meat to a vegetarian diet.”[3]

By looking for youth, fertility, and health in a mate, men are doing nothing more than uncons­ciously discerning the signs that a woman could carry his genes forward. Such choi­ces are innate, as evolution has, generation after generation, favoured males who tend to select attractive mates on the one hand, and females who pick out partners with wealth, power and status on the other. Without the heritage received from our forebears who learned, over millions of years, how to propagate their genes, we would be unable to make out the fittest mates, those most likely to produce healthy offspring and those whose resour­ces and com­mit­ment can help our children survive.[4] Biologically speaking, a man consi­ders women as “vehicles that can transfer his genes into the next generation”, while for a woman, men are “sources of a vital substance (sperm) that can turn their eggs into embryos”. Seen from this perspective, the other gender is no more than a sought-after resource to be exploited.[5]


Notes

[1]  This proverb is extracted from the Classic of Poetry, also known as the Book of Songs, or the Book of Odes (诗经, shī jīng). Comprising more than 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC, it constitutes the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry. As one of the Five Classics (see also chapter 10, “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”), it is said to have been compiled by Confucius himself. In the poem Guan Ju (section Lessons from the States, Odes Of Zhou And The South, 国风 周南 关雎, guó fēng zhōu nán guān jū), the first verses read:

关关雎鸠、在河之洲。(guān guān jū jiū, zài hé zhī zhōu)

窈窕淑女、君子好逑。(yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zi hào qiú)

Guan-guan go the ospreys,

On the islet in the river.

The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady,

For our prince a good mate she.

See: http://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/guan-ju/ens

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

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 75

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 59

[5]    Ridley (1993), p. 174

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 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