Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Love in crisis

The importance of being in love

The Chinese celebrate Valentine’s day on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. As if one Valentine’s day was not enough, the people have also whole heartedly embraced the Western Valentine’s day of February 14, as is evident from the spurt of sales promotions and amorous activities seen around this time in the main cities.

It is not surprising, therefore, that love is important for the Chinese - as high as 98% claim that they have ever been in love. In fact falling in love seems to be easy for the Chinese – 76% believe in love at first sight. Surprisingly the sentiment does not wane with age and the belief in first sight Cupid is as strong among the older Chinese as among the younger. On an average a Chinese has been in love 2.5 times, and 10% have been swept off their feet as many as 5 times. They also start their love life relatively early – two in five first fell victims at the tender age of 18 or even less.

Where love has gone

But the Chinese love story has elements of both joy and tragedy. While nearly all have been in love at some point of their lives, regrettably only 37% can say that they feel the sway of the emotion in their hearts today. Age definitely dims the ardor – with only 17% of 45 years and older feeling the tug of love today. Men seem to fall out of love more easily than women – only 32% claim to be in love today as compared to 41% of the women. The words of Ambrose Pierce ( “Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage”) seem to ring true as only 24% of the married men and women say that they are still in love, as compared to 94% of unmarried couples. Even among the incurable romantics (who say that they believe in everlasting love) many could not help feeling disillusioned. It would seem that the celebration of Valentine’s day with sending gifts (which is the intention of 36%), dining out (planned by 34%), or an evening out at the movies (17%) for many may be less an expression of passion and romance and more a mechanical ritual.

The lack of love in people’s lives today is particularly poignant as 60% equate love with happiness. This happiness expected or derived out of love seems to come more from the feeling of companionship, affection and understanding than passion and pleasure. Love means passion for only one in ten urban Chinese. Also only for one in five, sex is one of the important meanings of love. While men talk a little more about sex, women perhaps euphemistically refer to “attraction”.

Fidelity and love

The lack of feeling of love today could well be related to a feeling that their partner has not been giving them his or her single–minded attention. Nearly half the people said that they feel they have been cheated by their partner. Whether real or imagined, fidelity seems to be a key ingredient of love in China. The feeling here is “more sinned against than sinning” – only one third admit themselves that they have succumbed to the temptation of an illicit affair, but nearly half are suspicious of their partner’s fidelity.

Written by Ashok Sethi
Based on an online survey of 290 Chinese, aged 18-54 in key cities of China. Conducted in February 2009, before Valentine’s day.