Are You Prone to Parasocial Love?

The term “parasocial love” refers to a psychological experience of admiration toward another person with whom we have no real relationship. Besides, another person may be unaware of our existence. It turns out that some individuals tend to be more inclined than others to fall in love parasocially. Who are they? Let’s take a look.

Parasocial love is a one-sided relationship. The most common types of parasocial relationships are those with television stars, celebrities, and sports teams. Parasocial love is admiration for famous people when we devote our time, attention, and emotional energy to thinking about them. This love only exists in admirers’ fantasies.

Who Are the Celebrities on the Marketplace for Parasocial Love?

Throughout the centuries, people have experienced parasocial love toward celebrities. However, when new mass media like radio, movies, and television came out, parasocial love emerged and became quite a common phenomenon among fans (e.g., Douglas & McDonnell, 2019; Lilti, 2017).

In modern times, American, British, and French cultures especially cherish the idea that celebrities are worthy of special attention and valorization (Giles, 2002). Today, many cultures around the world have grown to admire television series, soap operas, sitcoms, and their celebrity actors. The United States has exerted significant influence over global television, substantially dominating this market. Cultural imperialism has resulted in the export of television shows to other nations, typically in the form of a “one-way flow,” which has had a significant influence on local cultures (Bielby & Harrington, 2005; Giles, 2002). 

Who We Love Para-socially

Celebrities usually belong to glamorous professions. Celebrities of the same age but of the opposite gender are more likely to be loved. The typical celebrity is a well-known figure in singing, acting, or being a TV talk-show host. Actors, musicians, and athletes are the most admired celebrities (Green, Griffith, Aruguete, Edman, & McCutcheon, 2014).

In popular magazines and other social media, the adoration of pop singers, entertainers, and athletes precipitates the cultural idolization of celebrities and parasocial types of admiration and love. The world we live in now is full of photo magazines, performance stages, broadcast communication, TV, mass media, and screens that change all the time. For some, this new world of social media has taken the place of the world they lived in directly. A lot of the time, people lose themselves in dramatic experiences and avoid experiencing reality.

Actors in this social media world commonly appear in people’s lives. They become their heroes, companions, and objects of love, adoration, and admiration. In this socially mediated world, men and women frequently interact parasocially with the characters and celebrities. This relationship can be quite parasocially close and personal.

In the context of television, the evolution of this para-social relationship begins with attraction to the TV character, progresses to parasocial interaction, and ultimately culminates in the emergence of a sense of relationship significance. The main difference in how a person experiences such a relationship is the lack of active reciprocity. The bonds of intimacy can develop despite one-sided interaction (e.g., Giles, 2002; Horton & Wohl, 1956; Rubin & McHugh, 1987).

How People Experience Parasocial Love

The audience is led to believe they are in close proximity to the performer, actor, or showperson, despite viewing these media from a distance. Many young men and women believe that being close to a celebrity is a more desirable goal than becoming a successful business owner or public servant.

Admiring fans may fantasize about including their favorite celebrity in an imaginary romance. They often feel tempted to act and behave compulsively, adopting an attitude such as “I often feel compelled to learn the personal habits of my favorite celebrity.” (McCutcheon, 2002, p. 92).

Celebrity fans may have hundreds of replicas of her or his idol in their possession—pictures, photographs, and posters. They regularly spend a lot of money on clothes and magazines from their celebrity’s shop. Admirers can make pilgrimages to be closer to their idol.

Who Prefers to Be in Parasocial Love?

Certain individuals who lack social engagement, experience feelings of loneliness, and are isolated may dedicate a significant amount of time each day to watching television, using the internet, and engaging with social media platforms. They lack meaningful social and interpersonal connections, resulting in a limited range of life experiences. Over time, their frequent interactions with others through technology may develop into “para-social relationships.” Individuals perceive the personalities of characters, TV show hosts, and pop stars as the reality of their social existence.

Television series, sitcoms, and soap operas create alternate worlds that are particularly significant for individuals who are socially isolated and fulfill their desire for real connections. Para-social relationships hold genuine emotional importance for individuals, depleting and diffusing emotional energy. Relationships with those characters may take precedence over other possible relationships with other people (Slade & Beckenham, 2005).

People who are quiet, lonely, shy, withdrawn, or otherwise socially awkward can live their pretend lives through these social media plots and scripts, which help them replace real relationships with those substitute ones (Giles, 2002).

This imitation style of relationship and emotion lets people avoid the challenges of starting a relationship with someone of the same or opposite sex, which can be hard, awkward, and embarrassing. They find it easier to live and meet their needs in these satisfying relationships than to go through the risks and difficulties of making a real relationship work.

References

Douglas, S. J., & McDonnell, A. (2019). Celebrity: a history of fame. NYU Press.

Horton, D., & Richard Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry19(3), 215-229.

Green, T., Griffith, J., Aruguete, M. S., Edman, J., & McCutcheon, L. E. (2014). Materialism and the tendency to worship celebrities. North American Journal of Psychology, 16, 33-42.

McCutcheon, L. E. (2002). Are parasocial relationship styles reflected in love styles. Current Research in Social Psychology7(6), 82-94.

Lilti, A. (2017). The invention of celebrity. John Wiley & Sons.

Rubin, R. B., & McHugh, M. P. (1987). Development of parasocial interaction relationships. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 31, 279–292. Slade, C., & Beckenham, A. (2005). Introduction: Telenovelas and soap operas: Negotiating reality. Television & New Media6(4), 337–341https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476405279860

A New Study Reveals the Best Ways to Indicate Romantic Commitment Online

How do you know that your partner is committed to your relationship based on social media communication? Research findings indicate that the strongest signs of romantic commitment on social media are actions that deliberately oppose engaging with appealing alternatives.

Social Media Can Be Beneficial and Detrimental to Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships have changed significantly because of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and multiple dating apps. They give people access to an abundance of information about past and potential romantic partners with whom they are in contact. This can be good or bad.

On the one hand, these online platforms can help people stay in touch. On the other hand, these online platforms can also connect individuals with attractive partners, potentially causing feelings of jealousy and anxiety. These possibilities on social media make individuals with high anxiety and an insecure attachment style especially vulnerable. This ambiguous nature of social media can make these online apps both beneficial and detrimental.

Researchers are interested in knowing what kinds of online behaviors might help anxious people deal with these psychological threats and successfully maintain relationships.

A Study Examined the Impact of Social Media Behaviors on Romantic Commitment

According to a recent study, certain social media behaviors, particularly for those with high levels of attachment anxiety, can improve the stability of their relationships. The results show that actions that actively resist interactions with alluring alternatives are the best indicators of romantic commitment on social media.

Alexandra E. Black, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, conducted two studies on the topic. She investigated how committed individuals perceive their partners’ social media activities, as well as how these activities influence feelings of relationship security and satisfaction.

The author published the results of these studies in her article “Responding to threatening online alternatives: Perceiving the partner’s commitment through their social media behaviors” in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Why The Study Is Interesting

The author of the article Alexandra Black, a postdoctoral scholar at the Social Connection and Positive Psychology Lab at Arizona State University, said,

“I have been interested in how people perceive threats to their romantic relationships for quite some time, but I wanted to apply it to today’s current dating world with the use of social media and dating apps.”

Alexandra Black

She has been interested in knowing what a romantic partner’s commitment level is when they are interacting with attractive others. The advent of social media has complicated these types of interactions:

“With physically attractive people readily available on social media sites like Instagram and TikTok, it can be difficult for people to feel satisfied and committed in their relationships.”

Alexandra Black

As Alexandra commented,

“I wanted to answer the question of what a romantic partner can do that signals they are committed to help ease the other person’s anxiety and allow them to feel more secure in their relationship.”

How the Researcher Conducted the Studies

The research comprised several phases, encompassing two pilot studies and two primary experiments.

In the initial pilot study, the author asked 240 undergraduate students to compile a list of online behaviors that indicate commitment in a relationship. This led to the initial identification of 81 behaviors.

However, after conducting a second pilot study with 149 undergraduate participants, the researcher reduced the list to 24 behaviors based on ratings of their likelihood and perceived commitment.

The First Experiment Showed

In the first experiment, a total of 900 individuals were randomly allocated to assess vignettes in which potential partners either exhibited or did not exhibit behaviors that indicate commitment. Subsequently, the participants assessed the perceived degree of dedication exhibited by their partner. The following behaviors were found to be the most effective in conveying commitment: removing dating applications, disregarding flirtatious messages, indicating relationship status, and unfollowing potential rivals.

As Alexandra Black noted,

“If you are trying to determine if someone you’ve just started dating is committed to you, pay attention to how they interact with attractive people on social media, Are they still responding to flirtatious DMs? Have they deleted their dating apps? These behaviors can signal important information about how your partner views your relationship.”

PsyPost by Eric W. Dolan

The Second Experiment Revealed

The second experiment examined these behaviors in a controlled experimental environment. The researcher gave participants a hypothetical situation in which they found out that their partner was engaging in intimate interactions with an attractive alternative on social media.

Participants were subsequently allocated at random to read either

  • a high-commitment response from their partner (such as explicitly informing the alternative person that they were in a committed relationship and unfollowing them) or
  • a neutral response (such as engaging in a conversation about a humorous video).

The researchers assessed the participants’ levels of relationship security and satisfaction both before and after implementing these manipulations.

The author discovered that individuals who experience high attachment anxiety reported notably elevated levels of unease, concern, and envy when envisioning their partner engaging with an appealing alternative on social media. This verifies that such situations are especially troubling for individuals with anxiety.

Remarkably, the partner’s display of strong commitment on social media effectively heightened the perception of partner commitment and reduced the perception of alternative options, irrespective of the participant’s attachment style.

However, these behaviors did not substantially improve feelings of security or relationship satisfaction for individuals with anxiety, as initially predicted. This implies that although explicit signals of commitment are significant, they may not be enough to completely alleviate the profound insecurities and fears linked to attachment anxiety.

As the author finally concluded,

“I was surprised that it is not when a partner posts about you or likes your content that most impacts feelings of commitment. Instead, it matters more when a partner is actively shutting down threats from attractive people. It appears, at least from my work, that effective commitment expressions on social media rely less on a presence of the positive and instead require an absence of the negative.”

Alexandra Black

Polyamory Appears to Be a New Form of Love

There is some evidence that polyamory appears to be a novel alternative to traditional monogamous romantic love. Polyamory is on the rise in many modern societies. Why so?

Let’s consider what Americans think about polyamory and polygamy.

What Is Polyamory and Why?

Polyamory refers to the practice of willingly and openly engaging in relationships with more than one romantic partner at the same time, with the full awareness and consent of all parties involved.

Approximately 55% of Americans express a preference for exclusive monogamy in their relationships, while a significant number of adults are inclined towards various forms of non-monogamy.

Nevertheless, according to a YouGov survey from February 2023, among American adults, 34% say they would prefer some type of relationship other than complete monogamy if given the choice. It is especially evident among people under the age of 45.

A significant number of Americans have already engaged in various forms of non-monogamy, either with the explicit agreement of their main partner or without it.

Monogamy, Polyamory, or Polygamy? Any Alternatives?

Many Americans have already engaged in some type of alternative to monogamy, whether that took place with the consent of their primary partner or not.

Among those respondents, 12% of Americans said that they have been involved in sexual activity with someone other than their primary partner with their primary partner’s consent, while 20% of adults did so without the consent of their main partner. In both cases, men are more likely than women to have had sexual encounters outside of their relationship.

About 67% of Americans indicated that they would not consent if their partner expressed a desire to participate in sexual activities with another person. However, approximately 20% of Americans indicate that their level of comfort is contingent upon the circumstances, while a mere 5% express acceptance of such a polyamory scenario.

Shall We Accept Polygamy?

Polygamy refers to the practice of having more than one spouse simultaneously. It seems similar to polyamory, yet polygamy is more legal than a relational term. According to the YouGov survey from February 2023, Americans consider polygamy to be the least acceptable. A majority of Americans, specifically 68%, are against the legalization of polygamy. However, individuals between the ages of 18 and 29, with a percentage of 52%, are comparatively less inclined to oppose it.

While the majority of Americans oppose the legalization of polygamy, approximately half of them either believe that it will be legalized within the next 50 years (18%) or are unsure about its future (30%). Approximately 52% of respondents believe that it will not be legalized within the next five decades.

How Our Perception Tricks Us When We Are in Love

How can we know if someone loves us or at least finds us attractive? There are certain verbal and non-verbal expressions and behaviors that we recognize as mutual attraction (Karandashev, 2024). However, our perception when we are in love is biased. Once we love someone, we tend to believe that he or she also loves us, and that our attraction is mutual. Why does this occur?

Romantic love involves the idealization of the beloved and the relationship (Karandashev, 2019; 2022). It turns out that our love and romantic attraction make our perceptions positively biased. We tend to deceive ourselves in hopes of a mutual attraction.

Men are especially prone to overestimating the interest of others in them. When a man finds someone attractive, he is likely to believe that the other person is also interested in him.

A New Study on How Romantic Attraction Affects Our Perception

A recent study demonstrated how romantic attraction influences our attention and perception, as well as how we make choices when we find someone attractive. To explore these questions, cognitive psychologist Iliana Samara from Leiden University in the Netherlands conducted her project on the topic “How do we form romantic bonds?

Does a Long Gaze Indicate Attraction?

Speed dating experiments showed that people tend to respond faster to attractive faces. In four experimental sessions, the researchers paired 10 women and 10 men for a five-minute speed dating encounter with all participants from the opposite sex.

Prior to their actual meeting, researchers showed participants a picture of the person with whom they would later go on a speed date and asked them to rate their level of attraction towards them. Then, the participants’ speed dates followed.

Researchers observed the participants’ gazes using eye tracking technology and found that they lingered longer on the faces of those they previously rated as attractive.

How Our Excitement Blinds Us

Following the speed dating experiment, researchers asked the participants whether they were interested in a subsequent date. Researchers also asked participants whether they expected that interest to be mutual. It turned out that men often overestimated the likelihood that their date would desire to meet them again.

Researchers primarily observed this tendency in men who felt attracted to their dates. Men with a lower degree of attraction and interest in the other person were more realistic in their estimations of their chances for a mutual attraction.

Such sexual over-perception bias implies that the way we interpret social cues perceived in communication with other people depends on how aroused we are ourselves. Why do men, in particular, overestimate their likelihood of getting mutual attraction from others more than they really do?

As Iliana Samara, a Leiden University researcher, explains,

“A theory from evolutionary psychology suggests that women have to be more selective; if they have sex with a man who then does not invest in them, they may have to handle a resulting pregnancy and offspring on their own. Women are therefore more vulnerable if they make a wrong judgment in dating. On the other hand, men would rather risk some embarrassment than miss out on the opportunity to mate.”

How a Coy Smile Betrays Our Sexual Interest

The final experiment by Iliana Samara looked at how partners mirror one another’s nonverbal cues on speed dates. She explains,

“Mimicking each other’s facial expressions and body language has a social advantage; people who subtly mirror each other find each other more likable.”

Samara conducted a thorough analysis of more than a hundred videos from the speed dates to identify the expressions that were associated with a follow-up date. She rendered the videos without sound to focus exclusively on the facial expressions. During the coding process, it took her more than three hours per video to record the facial expressions and observe the speed at which they occurred consecutively.

Participants in speed dating who looked at their dates with the same expression for five seconds were probably subconsciously mimicking them. Samara commented,

“We assumed that imitating each other’s smiles would increase the chances of getting a second date. Surprisingly, that was only true for the coy smile, where, while smiling, you tilt your head or look away for a moment. This expression often indicated mutual interest. Conversely, people who mirrored a broad, genuine smile at each other during a date more often did not want to go on a second date with the other person.”

Conclusion

These findings add important pieces of knowledge about non-verbal cues of interpersonal attraction to the abundance of scientific publications that are available on the topic (see Karandashev, 2024, for review). Iliana Samara is going to continue this line of research on romantic attraction at Leiden University. In the future, she would like to adopt a different approach to this research.

Attitudes toward Cleanliness and Wastefulness in Bicultural Marriages in Japan

Couples in bicultural marriages face numerous challenges when trying to sustain love. Some practical issues, such as attitudes toward cleanliness and wastefulness, can play a very important role in bicultural marriages in Japan.

In one of my previous articles, I discussed the main issues that Japanese and American married partners encounter in this pursuit. I examined cases of third-culture marriage in Japan by observing and interviewing people about these themes. In an attempt to resolve any misunderstandings concerning the cultural values and attitudes in bicultural marriages, I rely on kotowaza.

Kotowaza are Japanese sayings and proverbs expressing cultural values, wisdom, and typical behaviors of people in Japan. This wisdom allows us to better understand how people interact with each other.

When people in a third-culture marriage talk about each other’s core values, they can better understand why each other does the things they do. As they get to know each other better, their relationship improves.

Takashiro and I discussed in depth the eight main features of third-culture marriage in our chapter in the International Handbook of Love (Clarke & Takashiro, 2021). We described interactions that occur when spouses try to form a cross-cultural union.

In earlier blog posts, I talked about the general rules for how Japanese and American couples can stay in love in mixed-culture marriages. Specifically, I examined

One more piece of advice is about the Japanese cultural value of cleanliness and attitudes toward wastefulness in bicultural marriages in Japan.

A Japanese Cultural Value of Cleanliness

Various norms and values of each culture’s interpretation of cleanliness and perfection can create real issues, especially in housekeeping roles. We find that ‘common sense’, ‘jōshiki’, is not at all universal. Around the world, Japan is renowned for its cleanliness (Koffman, 2019).

The Shinto faith encourages the practice of purification of the body and of the natural environment. The Buddhist monks are always cleaning their temples. The Japanese custom of taking off shoes before entering the home and other sacred places suggests a strongly felt need for cleanliness in the home.

The Buddhist faith encourages the practice of meditation in order to clean the mind of thoughts, particularly of one’s desires. The tea ceremony room is swept clean of every speck of dust, and students clean their public classrooms daily.

The Japanese amazed the world’s soccer/football fans recently by thoroughly cleaning the stadium seats and the players’ dressing rooms. The absence of trashcans where they ‘should be’ (an American perspective) suggests that Japanese carry any trash they have around with them until they can find one.

Understanding the Japanese Cleanliness Value in Bicultural Marriages

In bicultural marriages, American husbands may see their Japanese wives as obsessively committed to home cleanliness in every room, including checking every dish for water drops after washing them or vacuuming the house a couple of times a week.

Alternatively, the Japanese wives may perceive their American husbands as uncouth at best or barbarian at worst. Such observations that are made regularly highlight the different standards and are often conveyed as “common sense” standards that clearly differ across these two cultures, for example, on the meaning of wastefulness (Siniawer, 2014). 

From the U.S. point of view, flexibility is a highly valued characteristic, so one’s perception of his wife’s ‘obsession’ with cleanliness may be a perception that lacks flexibility. From a Japanese point of view, flexibility is also valued but varies according to ‘time, place, and occasion’ (TPO). These contexts or conditions often determine the relative appropriateness of certain speech or behaviors. The status of the other person also determines one’s flexibility.

Take note of the kotowaza proverb, isogaba maware: ‘When in a hurry, make a detour.’ It implies that understanding each other may require a flexible approach. After all, he will benefit from living in a super-clean home.

Therefore, for both partners, the attitude of adapting to the other’s common sense, jōshiki, is a topic that requires discussion between couples for clarifying standards and expectations. This would be needed in the context of the couple’s issue about role responsibilities in the home. Much has been written about this subject, but the articles primarily represent statistics about the numbers of people in Japan who want this or that style of gender role in marriages when searching for marriage partners. However, intercultural marriages usually modify prior expectations when the issue is discussed interactively with mutual respect in a way that allows for flexibility and mutual adaptations that enable a level of satisfaction in the relationship for both partners.

Cultural Perspectives on Wastefulness

Cultures vary in their perceptions of standards regarding wastefulness, which can lead to tension within the household (Siniawer, 2014).

Japan has one of the world’s most noted standards for recycling everything, and Americans barely participate in such activity. Therefore, we can anticipate differences in the urgency and standards of what constitutes waste and what does not.

In Japan, leaving food on one’s plate is traditionally taboo; however, most restaurants participate in throwing away food that might be left over every night before closing. Grocery stores do the same with expired food.

However, efforts are underway to change that system to avoid wastefulness. Nevertheless, between married couples, it often becomes an issue that requires clarification from both marriage partners because one could perpetually be criticized for continuous wastefulness in the home, i.e., over what temperature is best for the heater or cooler or for the length of time the water is allowed to run when brushing teeth or showering. Here again, there are usually some differences advised for uchi (“inside the home”) and soto (“outside the home”) environments, depending on time, place, and occasion.

How Sensitivity and Humility Work in Bicultural Marriages in Japan

Intercultural partners encounter numerous challenges when attempting to find and maintain love in a bicultural marriage. For example, culturally specific attitudes towards sensitivity and humility are crucial in bicultural marriages in Japan.

In one of the previous articles, I talked about the main problems that Japanese and American couples encounter. I looked into those cases of third-culture marriage in Japan by observing and talking to people about them.

My objective is to resolve any misconceptions by employing kotowaza. Kotowaza are Japanese proverbs and sayings that illuminate the values that underlie cultural interactions. Spouses in a third-culture marriage better understand each other’s actions when they communicate each other’s core values. They become more compatible and harmonious in their relationship.

In chapter 51 of the International Handbook of Love (Clarke & Takashiro, 2021), Takashiro and I elaborated on the eight primary characteristics of third-culture marriage interactions that arise when spouses establish an intercultural union.

Previous articles on this blog discussed the general principles of how Japanese and Americans maintain love in bicultural marriages. In particular, I explained how assertion and hesitation contribute to the maintenance of love in Japanese bicultural marriages, as well as how an adequate understanding of touch and intimacy can sustain love in bicultural marriages in Japan.

Here is one additional observation on how sensitivity and humility can help sustain love in bicultural marriages in Japan.

Cultural Sensitivity to Thin-Skinned and Thick-Skinned Attributions

Thin-skinned, thick-skinned attributions are reciprocal judgments that are rooted in each culture’s assumptions about their respective ‘face-saving strategies’ that vary considerably.

Perceptions are different according to each culture’s ability to separate behavior (public) from feelings (private)—a form of role flexibility or an identity formulation process—and intentions from perceptions—a form of perception flexibility or interpretation flexibility, both requiring a withholding of judgment.

First impressions, when expressed openly and directly, may result in either a permanent negative attribution or a curiosity with an openness to alternative interpretations and to changing first impressions. However, when judged harshly by someone across cultures, such as Japanese and Americans, there is reluctance on both sides to discuss it.

The depth of one’s skin, so to speak, is a measure of sensitivity to feedback. It is difficult for the vulnerable to receive feedback about personal thoughts, feelings, or behavior, but the strong have learned to handle it with resilience and/or a fighting spirit.

Can Thick-Skinned Americans and Thin-Skinned Japanese Understand Each Other in Marriages?

A frequently expressed Japanese perception is that Americans have thick skin because they can take any criticism. Their interpretation is that Americans do not delve into concerns of the face.  Americans, on the other hand, perceive that the Japanese practice a lot of face saving behaviors, which they interpret as having thin skin.

Hence, American men often say that being married to a Japanese woman is like walking on eggshells. Couples sometimes say things that they each find regretful and yet hard to forget and forgive.

Holding a grudge does no relationship any good, so it might as well be discussed calmly without renewing the emotion brought about by the initial judgment. If perceptions are hardly ever based upon the other’s true intentions (Barnlund, 1976), then it must be a valuable exercise to seek to understand each other’s true intentions and feelings.

Humility in Japan Is a Sign of Strength and Good Character

In Japan, humility is a sign of strength and good character, as in makeru ga kachi, stooping to conquer or to lose is to win. This kotowaza refers to the interdependency in all relationships. It suggests an approach for the American husband to accept as the relationship matures over time. If humility is genuinely felt and demonstrated, it will enable interdependency in the relationship to develop.

Minoru hodo kobe o tateru inaho kana, the head of an abundant rice plant hanging down, is another kotowaza that stresses the importance of humility in Japan. Perhaps it would encourage a deeper loving relationship if the American would initiate a humble revelation of his own concerns for saving face in certain situations. It would probably encourage his wife to soothe his thick skin.

In any case, the goal of improving relationships across cultures is to withhold the negative judgments, recognize the differences in perception, and engage in sharing assumptions, interpretations, and intentions to discover potential alternatives presumed by partners and personal inaccuracies due to reliance on one’s own proverbial cultural-colored glasses.

Can Touch and Intimacy Sustain Love in Bicultural Marriages in Japan?

In bicultural marriages, intercultural partners face numerous obstacles when trying to establish and maintain love. For example, culturally specific attitudes towards touch and intimacy are important to sustain love in bicultural marriages in Japan.

I went over the main issues that bicultural marriages between Japanese and American partners face in one of the earlier blog articles. Through observation and interviewing, I delved into those instances of third-culture marriage in Japan.

Using kotowaza, which are sayings and proverbs that shed light on the values underlying cultural interactions, I aim to clear up any misunderstandings. When spouses in a Third-Culture Marriage work together to understand each other’s core values, they are better able to adapt their understanding of each other’s actions to be more compatible and harmonious.

Takashiro and I recently expanded on the eight main characteristics of third-culture marriage interactions in chapter 51 of the International Handbook of Love (Clarke & Takashiro, 2021), which occur when spouses decide to build an intercultural marriage together.

Earlier on this blog, I presented some general principles of how Japanese and Americans sustain love in bicultural marriages, in particular, how assertion and hesitation help sustain love in Japanese bicultural marriages and how sensitivity and humility work in bicultural marriages in Japan.

Here is one more piece of observation: how the lack of touch and intimacy challenges bicultural marriages in Japan.

What Is the Decline of Skinship and Intimacy Syndrome?

Bicultural couples usually encounter major variations with their partners in the context of touching and intimacy. Skinship or sukinshippu (Japanized English) before and after marriage has been explained as ‘first… you feel it; then… you don’t’. They may be unclear about the causes, but not about the consequences.

The decline in skinship and intimacy syndrome reported by most of our US male husbands with Japanese wives has many explanations, but it is the perceptions and interpretations that raise concerns. Most studies on the subject of relationship closeness are culture-comparative, such as Rothman, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, and Weisz’s (2000) and McFadden & Moore’s (2002). These do not assess actual intercultural interactions. Others are culture-specific studies, such as Alexy & Cook (2019) and Tahhan (2010), which are examples of intimacy and skinship in Japan.

Why Do Japanese Avoid Public Displays of Affection

One study based on interviews of nine bicultural couples mentioned the natural issues that occurred between husband-and-wife vis-à-vis public displays of affection when going out as a couple or in front of their children. Most Japanese were resistant to holding hands in public or showing affection in front of their children. Given that the interviewees were living in Japan, the dominant behavior was to avoid any shows of affection in either situation (Yamamoto, 2010).

The public recently supported a gathering with signs saying, “Stop public displays of affection, it hurts our feelings.”

Further, the influence of parental models without expressions of love may be a factor that limits expression and other behaviors even within marriage households as well as outside in public. Touching in public (PDA–public displays of affection) is an issue in part due to Uchi–Soto consciousness regarding demonstrations of uchi behavior in soto places (Kincaid, 2019). Such behavior lacks respect for and consideration of others, the killjoys, from the American perspective.

The Private and Public Expressions of Love in Japan

The uchi (inside the home) and soto (outside in society) concepts represent values and determine what is ‘appropriate’ behavior in a conforming culture. These two terms have much broader applications, but they are also relevant to this situation. Uchi can refer to members of any social organization beyond the family, i.e., one’s company, social club, sports team, and others. Children learn behaviors specific to these locations or contexts, such as honne, or private talk, and tatemae, or public talk (Barnlund, 1976).

One more source for understanding this attitude of avoiding a public showing of affection as well as demonstrating a minimal amount of affection in the home may be found in the literature on sexual relationships in Japan, which suggests that this is something that occurs in private settings between men and not their wives. Often, the model of love has been represented as that between a man and his mistress, not his wife. Expressions of love are mostly heard in movies and TV dramas. With this perspective, marriages are primarily initiated for other reasons than love, i.e., children, security, and to have a homemaker or a breadwinner.

The Challenges of Modern Marriages in Japan

Due to more modern gender role issues and the current economic situation regarding salaries, the percentage of marriages in the country has shrunk to the point that the average age of a reducing number of marriages has increased from 25 up toward 35, with an increasingly larger percentage avoiding it altogether.

Men without an adequate income consider themselves unlikely to ever get married. Women who desire security and modern roles at home do not express interest in marriage until men acknowledge their desire for equality at home.

In bicultural marriages, American males report in one unpublished study that of 22 such men, none of them had sustained sexual intimacy after their first child was born, due to their spouses’ dedication to the role of raising their children.

The Absence of Physical Intimacy in Bicultural Marriages

The absence of physical intimacy between bicultural couples seems to be a common phenomenon in bicultural marriages (Yamamoto, 2010). Engaging in this subject matter within the home may be difficult for couples who wish to construct a third-culture marriage, it seems, but it is worth the effort if it continues to be an unacceptable situation for one partner or the other.

A further indication of the societal norm against rapid changes in household role relationships in Japan is that the government’s strongest-in-the-world support for workplace marriage leave for new parents has received only 5 percent support from working males. Lastly, on the subject, the majority of working women in Japan still anticipate returning home to motherhood when the couple has their first child.

How to Better Communicate with Your Dating Partner in the Digital Era: Should You Text or Talk?

In modern digital life, romantic partners have different means and possibilities to communicate. In their relationships, they can talk to each other in person or just communicate by exchanging text messages.

It can be hard to decide whether to text or meet in person, especially when it comes to romantic relationships where communication is important. What is a better way to initiate and maintain a relationship with your partner? The preference for texting over face-to-face conversation may not be solely about convenience but rather about the quality of a relationship.

A New Study on Dating Communication

Anthony Chen from the University of California, Irvine, and his colleague Catalina Toma recently conducted a study where they looked at how the trade-offs between these different ways of communicating may be closely linked to the fears people experience in romantic situations.

Researchers conducted a survey of 257 young men and women to find out which way of communicating—texting or in-person meetings—they preferred in an exclusive dating relationship. The authors presented a variety of scenarios, ranging from ordinary ones like arranging a date or exchanging daily information to more difficult ones such as conflicts, profound discussions about the future of the relationship, or even the difficult circumstances of breaking up.

The Handy Convenience of Text Editing

Researchers revealed a distinct pattern in their findings: individuals with higher levels of social anxiety consistently favored texting over in-person conversations of all kinds. More socially anxious people preferred texting over face-to-face interaction, even for uninteresting conversations. But when it came to handling difficult conversations and breakups, their preference for texting was particularly noticeable when compared to those who were less socially anxious.

Texting gives socially anxious people a better sense of control over their communication than face-to-face interactions. Texting enables them to edit their messages until they present the version of themselves that they feel most comfortable with. This accounts for at least some of their preference for texting.

This “editable” feature of digital communication becomes increasingly valuable and provides a lifeline for individuals with social anxiety as the likelihood of emotional discomfort in the conversation increases. It acts as a barrier against the vulnerability and immediacy of in-person interactions.

For people with social anxiety, it’s not just about avoiding awkward silences or not knowing what to say in a difficult situation. It’s also about coming up with a response that makes them feel safe and shows how they want to be seen.

People Are Still Longing for In-Person Communication

What is interesting is that the authors also discovered that even with the increasing availability of digital communication, such as texting, many women and men still prefer in-person interaction about some themes and in some special circumstances. Among those topics are conflict, the possibility of emotional harm, or talking about a possible breakup.

This disposition implies that, at their core, people understand the special importance of face-to-face communication in forging deeper bonds and understanding—something that text messages are unable to adequately express.

Why We Communicate the Way We Do in This Digital Age

This study sheds light on how people in the digital age initiate and maintain romantic relationships. Women and men use digital tools in a variety of ways, depending on their motivations, comfort zones, and interpersonal circumstances.

Many people typically prefer face-to-face communication, indicating a shared desire for more meaningful, in-depth connections.

Nonetheless, the deliberate use of texting by men and women with social anxiety reveals a complex landscape in which technology can serve as both a bridge and a barrier in romantic relationships.

This contrast between the convenience of digital technology and the need for human contact emphasizes that personal connection and understanding are still necessary in this digital age. Instead, modern digital possibilities modify the routes that individuals take to satisfy those needs. Understanding these subtleties enables people to thoughtfully incorporate technology into their lives. These new opportunities improve rather than degrade the quality of their relationships as they engage in romantic relationships in the digital age.

In Ghanaian Culture, Love Is Helping and Caring for Others

Many studies have shown that despite cross-cultural similarities, cultural conceptions of love vary across societies (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019; 2022). Culture influences how individuals experience and express love, as well as social norms prevalent among communities (Fiske & Taylor, 2013; Kaufmann, 2011).

For instance, individualistic cultures tend to value experience and expression of passionate love more, while collective cultures tend to value the experience and expression of companionate love more (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Passionate love focuses on how love makes one feel, while companionate love focuses on feelings for and caring for others.

Love in the Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

In the collectivist societies of Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural norms associate love with experiences and expressions of affect towards others, social relationships, and material provisioning (Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002).

Love entails a commitment to sharing and reciprocity in social relationships, as well as the supply and allocation of material resources (Keefe, 2016). These qualities of love expression were referred to by researchers as “real love” (van Eerdewijk, 2006) and “materiality of care” (Coe, 2011).

Interdependent Life and Love in Ghanaian Communities

Ghana, a country in West Africa, presents an example of this conceptualization of love in its culture. A Ghanaian understanding of love entails meeting the needs of close others.

What are the origins of these cultural beliefs?

The majority of Ghanaians express their sense of identity through duty-based interpersonal interactions. Individuals are born into close-knit families that place a strong emphasis on socially required interpersonal responsibilities. Ghanaians care about preserving their interdependence in relationships and regard themselves as interdependent (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

The allocation of resources is the fundamental basis of our daily existence. The extended family structure has historically provided support and care for both young people and the elderly. People must reciprocate obligations, duties, and responsibilities toward family members for this system of care to function effectively. Ghanaians show this facet of love through diverse social actions and interactions. Material expressions of love are valued in Ghana, sometimes, above emotional expressions of love (Coe, 2011).

The Impact of Christian Beliefs on Ghanaians’ Understanding of Love

Religious beliefs influence the notion of love among people of faith. They express their best human qualities based on the universal ethos of honesty, care, and brotherhood (Prince, Denis, & van Dijk, 2009).

Christianity is a major part of Ghana’s culture and has an impact on many people’s daily lives. How do Christian beliefs influence Ghanaian cultural understandings of love?

Christians make a distinction between eros love and agape love. A desire for something or someone drives eros love, whereas respect for and concern for others drives agape love. The eros type of love is self-oriented, focusing on benefits to the self, while the agape type of love is other-oriented, emphasizing benefits to the other person. Ghanaian Christian churches influence Ghanaian society’s conceptions of love by promoting love in relationships and family life.

What Did a Recent Study on Love in Ghana Show?

Researchers looked into how Christian Ghanaians view love in relation to family in a recent study on love in the West African nation of Ghana. Let’s look at some of the main themes that 61 participants—men and women aged 20 to 70—reported when anthropologists interviewed them (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

In a previous blog post on this site, I explained how Ghanaians express and fulfill their love by attending to the needs of those close to them.

Helping Others Who Are in Need

Among those others, informants mentioned friends, strangers, and elderly people. Many participants (70%) regarded love as providing help to individuals in need, including the elderly, friends, and even complete strangers. For example, participants stated:

… if you go out and you see an elderly person who is not even from your own family, if there is anything to assist them with, you help them. If you have the means to support them, you do as much as you can.

(51-year-old female)

Supposing a friend is having a problem, losing a loved one or in need of some money, you take care of it or give her something.

(37-year-old male)

If you think somebody needs your help and you have the means, either you know the person or don’t know the person, you should show the person love… either in kind, in physical terms.

(34-year-old male)

As one can see, the Ghanaian Christian participants expressed their beliefs about agape love in their responses. They considered acts of love, such as fulfilling familial and neighborly responsibilities, to be the most important expressions of love. This aligns with Christian principles that prioritize compassion and the well-being of both one’s own family and others.

Love Is Care

Many Christian Ghanaian respondents (48%) in the study viewed love primarily as caring actions towards others, such as “showing concern.” Participants shared the following examples and provided comments:

…in school I’ve made a lot of friends… sometimes when you’re not well, they call…. When you’re on holidays, this long vac [vacation], they’ll be calling and checking on… So that’s love.

(21-year-old female)

…when you are sick they [people] visit you in the house, when you are promoted they show appreciation they congratulate you; it’s a way of showing love.

(40-year-old female)

Other Expressions of Love Among Ghanaians

Several participants (10%) mentioned kissing (children), hugging (children and husband), and touching (husband). Furthermore, a small percentage (7%) claimed that love entails openness, transparency, and not keeping secrets. Only a few participants mentioned these, so the authors did not assign them to a specific theme.

Love as Agape in Ghanaian Christian Culture

It is worth noting that these Ghanaian Christian participants made few references to eros (a type of passionate love) and instead emphasized agape (kind and caring actions toward others). They described love from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as illustrated by biblical examples. These definitions of love go beyond close relationships and intersect with the definition of what a good Christian or person should be.

Ghanaian Love Meets the Needs of Close Others

Modern Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic cultures commonly perceive material relationships and love relationships as existing in distinct and even opposing realms. However, in numerous other societies, expressing love typically involves providing material resources to family members and other close individuals (Karandashev, 2019; 2022).

Such a cultural understanding of love is consistent with patterns of love that researchers have documented in many parts of Africa. In all these cultural contexts, love implies material and social arrangements (e.g., Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002; Osei-Tutu et al., 2018; van Eerdewijk, 2006).

A Recent Study on Love in Ghana

In their recent study of love in Ghana, a country in West Africa, researchers investigated how Ghanaians think about love in the context of family. Let us consider some of the major themes that 61 participants, men and women from 20 to 70 years old, whom researchers interviewed expressed about their understanding and experience of love (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

How do contemporary Ghanaian Christians conceptualize love?

The major themes of the interview data showed that people express love by meeting the material needs of their children, spouses, parents, and close relatives. They also love helping others in need and giving affectionate care. Community-based and maintenance-based love seems to be how Ghanaians show their love to the elderly, friends, and strangers.

In this article, I present only one aspect of the Ghanaian cultural understanding of love that the authors revealed in their analysis of interview data. This is an understanding of love as fulfilling the needs of close others.

Love as Meeting the Needs of Children, Spouses, Parents, and Close Relatives

Approximately 96% of the participants interpreted love as fulfilling responsibilities towards their children, spouses, parents, and other immediate family members (such as siblings). These social obligations are fulfilled through

  • the provision of financial and in-kind assistance, such as food, clothing, and shelter,
  • emergency aid,
  • personal presence, such as visiting the ill or attending funerals,
  • offering verbal support, such as advice or encouragement.

Here are some examples:

For our parents, they’re number one [priority]. As I’m staying here my mother is … 90 something [years old]. I used to go there; the least is twice a week or even more than that….When I’m going there, you know money matters. You send some little thing.

 (70-year-old female)

I also show love by supporting family when they need me. Uhm, I also show love when I make sure that my other siblings are also well taken care of.

(29-year-old male)

In their analysis, four sub-themes of the love experience stood out to anthropologists: The sub-themes they identified were

  • (A) need identification,
  • (B) need anticipation,
  • (C) need provision, and
  • (D) need remittances.

Love as Need Identification

The subtheme of need identification involves getting close to people by visiting or calling them to find out what they need:

Sometimes you see because you have [sic] married they [parents] don’t want to put pressure on you. So they’ll prefer, even if they are dying, they’ll keep it to themselves. But you find out daddy why this, or mummy why are you doing this…. You do a general check up and make sure they are in good health. Then they’ll know that oh my son is caring for me.

(34-year-old male)

Love as Need Anticipation

Need anticipation in love entails determining people’s needs and meeting them without their express request or prompting:

There was this instance and I bought eh sandals …ladies sandals to my wife not knowing she was really in need of it, expecting me to do that. So I called and she said how do you get to know that I need this at this point in time. She was, I mean, glad.

(37-year-old male)

Love as Need Provision

The subtheme of love as need provision implies giving financial or in-kind support to meet the needs of family members. Support is provided in the form of clothing, food, and shelter, depending on the recipient’s developmental needs. Furthermore, meeting children’s needs entailed providing educational necessities such as school supplies.

For spouses, providing “chop money” implies meeting their needs. “Chop money” is the custom when a husband gives money to his wife or when parents give money to their children. Spouses express their love for each other as a need provision in the form of companionship and meeting other needs.

Love as Remittances

Participants also said that they provide remittances as an expression of love by giving monetary support to family and parents as a regular income source:

As a husband I’m supposed, as much as I’m supposed to fend [for] my family, make sure there’s food, make sure there’s shelter, make sure there’s clothes.

(30-year-old male)

For parents, sometimes let’s say we’re working. When you earn salary and you didn’t give anything to your parents that means you doesn’t [sic] love them.

(64-year-old female)

While the majority of participants emphasized the significance of fulfilling needs, a small number indicated that this demonstration of affection is contingent upon certain conditions. For instance, some propose that remittances should be affordable unless there is an urgent situation:

If you’re working, I think at the end of every month you should be able to give them [parents] some money as well as you buy some ingredients and other things they may need at home.

(23-year-old male)

Communal Expressions of Love in Ghanaian Cultures

One can see that the expressions of love among Ghanaians are largely communal in nature. The distribution of basic material resources is the primary way in which people express love. Both cultural factors and the economic conditions of everyday life influence the experience and expression of love for men and women in Ghana.

This conceptualization of love aligns with research among Ghanaian transnational families. In Ghanaian culture, the allocation of material resources serves as an indication of love and affection.

Such an understanding of love means that migrant parents who leave their children behind in Ghana can continue to be good parents by sending remittances. Furthermore, they may be considered better parents than caregivers who stay and are poorer (Coe, 2011; Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).