If you lived during the Heian period in Japan (794 to 1185), you would find life somewhat familiar but also pretty odd when compared to the time and place you live now.
To get into a long-term relationship, there is the opinion of a matchmaker, your family and your potential partner’s family to consider. You had to write poems (or have someone very good at writing and calligraphy do it for you), prepare for sexual visits as the man snuck into the woman’s room, write more poems and then eventually get married.
On the other hand, if you were a man who just wanted to hookup, it would be best to look as pathetic, desperate and weak as possible, and if you were a woman, it would be wise to be standoffish, callous and demeaning.
I know this all sounds really sexy but the truth is that this is the game Heian men and woman played in order to get into each other’s pants.
The man would beseech the woman for sex looking as pitiful as possible, the woman would either be aggressively saying no or be super passive. But as long as the guy kept up his act and didn’t force himself on her, he would win her favor and they’d have sex.
Some of these sexcapades, much like in the Western world, could lead to something more long-term.
Contrast this style of love with the European where Christianity dictated a love that looked more like companionate love. There was intimacy and commitment, but not necessarily passion.
From the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, passion became just as important as intimacy and commitment. Courtly love was seen almost like a sickness where people could not function without the love and affection of their beloved. One’s partner essentially unseated God himself as the central figure in one’s life.
Going into the twentieth century, sexual chastity became more relaxed and passion became the dominant factor in what we now call romantic love.
Even now, I don’t think we’re done defining love once and for all. Mick Jones wrote “I Want to Know What Love Is” about thirty-five years ago and people are still asking the same question.
Clearly we aren’t satisfied with the answer.
In my own Jamaican culture, a guy chats up a girl, compliments her physique (often graphically) and the girl will play hard to get. But if his game is strong and consistent, he’ll probably get a shot with her.
Not too long ago you had to deny that you did oral sex because men and women found it demeaning. But the reality was that many people were doing it.
It sounds a lot like the Heian example (minus the guy looking pathetic part) and yet that is only one side of the culture.
Then there’s the more “uptown” culture where two people get to know each other, they go out together or in groups and then they get into a relationship, or just have sex. There’s no game element. It’s more honest but also more nerve-wracking because you don’t have the pretense of game to hide your vulnerability.
From what I’ve observed this isn’t much different from any Western style of dating. But when it comes to Eastern traditions of love being transposed into the Western landscape, there can be issues.
Most notably, if you grew up in a culture where your family dictates who you marry and you love someone other than who your parents choose, you have a big problem on your hands.
I’ve seen people side with their family and end their long-term romantic relationships. Did it mean that they didn’t love their boyfriend or girlfriend? No, it just means that they abide by a culture that puts family first and the individual second.
And because of the Western world’s influence worldwide, people in the East are ignoring arranged marriages and their families of origin to start new traditions with the people they fell in love with.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that culture is such a pervasive element in our lives that we never stop to think about how the norms and values inherent in our cultures cause us to think and act in certain ways.
We’ve never had to think about what love means and what we need in a partner because society told us what to want and what to do in order to get what we were told to want.
If you were to inspect this, you might find some things that don’t make much sense, or at least they don’t make sense for you.
With this realization, you would have to redefine what you want out of romance, or if you even want it at all. You would have to examine how you respond to advances for love or sex. You would have to weigh up you and your partner’s ability to be self-sufficient versus how much you depend on one another.
It doesn’t have to be exhaustive. It could be as simple as looking at what isn’t working in your dating life.
And here’s the kicker. Your family is a culture in and of itself.
There are things that are unique to you, your parents, your siblings and possibly your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
The dynamics are similar, the problems are similar and you could fall into the same traps as they did if you aren’t aware of them.
It’s similar to the culture of your socio-economic background. People in the same social strata struggle with similar issues just as there are specific issues in the culture of a country or the culture of an era.
By investigating the trends, you could find yourself in a better situation than if you just let the culture decide for you.
I warn you, it’s not always easy. I still have people telling me I need to be more assertive when in reality, I know the game. I just refuse to play it because I would rather be vulnerable than to assume a persona and to play the game with someone who is also acting.
The results may be in my favor if I play but I wouldn’t be pleased with myself for abandoning what I value for a relationship.
But that’s just me.
How is your culture directing your love life?