Love After Loss in Otherworldly Venice

Two loving persons, John and Laura. experienced a big tragedy—the tragic loss of their beloved daughter. Their love seems to have cracked after this tragic event. Can their love after loss still be restored?

Loss after loss can be partially healed – and intimacy restored – experiencing something unexpected and new, incorporating in a couple’s life small doses of the unfamiliar, the magical, and the primal. Don’t Look Now seems to say just this. The novella is set in Venice and it is written by Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca.

John and Laura, the protagonists of the story, experience a reawakening of the senses that brings them close to one another again after the tragic loss of their daughter. While depicting Venice as gloomy and mysterious, the lagoon city acts as a time-travel device, allowing the protagonists to go back in time and offering them, briefly, the illusion of a restored happiness. The beauty and magic of Venice give them a suspended moment of loving and sensual closeness before a tragic conclusion.

The Journal of the Short Story in English published a special issue on Daphne du Maurier’s short stories and novellas. The volume, edited by Xavier Lachazette, will be available online in June 2024. Meanwhile, readers can access the article I wrote on Don’t Look Now here:

The Soothing Encounter with Otherness

When John and Laura take a trip to Venice after the death of their daughter Christine, they are distant from one another. In Venice, they meet middle-aged twin sisters. One of the sisters is a psychic who tells Laura she can see and communicate with Christine. She also tells her that Christine is trying to warn their parents to leave the city at once, as she thinks they are in danger. Whereas Laura believes what she hears from the sisters, John, feeling manipulated, grows increasingly impatient with his wife and annoyed with the old ladies.

Whereas Laura is capable of contemplating and accepting a necessary dose of soothing, otherworldly reality which will help her elaborate and contain her grief for the loss of her daughter, John chooses to hide behind a veil of scepticism which will eventually lead him to ruin.

As the story unfolds, John and Laura, in spite of their opposed attitudes towards the unknown, become less estranged from one another. Venice works its magic on them, bringing them closer, renewing their intimacy. Their encounter with otherness – the lagoon city as an exotic and mysterious location and the sisters as messengers from an otherworldly dimension – generates an intense moment of happiness, acting as a catalyst of positive change in their relationship.

Otherness as Catalyst of Change

Don’t Look Now immediately introduces us to a parallel dimension of doubles and opposites: twin old ladies, the second sight one of them possesses, youth opposed to old age, innocence to corruptness, belief to disbelief. In a sense, the novella can be read as a story of descent into a maze – which Venice very much resembles – from which only those who are emotionally open to the possibility of being challenged find a way out, getting consoled for their loss and partially restored to a peaceful state of mind.

This is why Don’t Look Now is very much representative of an Anglophone literary tradition depicting the South of Europe, and Italy in particular, as a space in which manifestations of the magical, the supernatural, the unorthodox, and the regressive are still present, and there to challenge the British visitor. In other words, Italy has been depicted, for a long time, as the ideal stage for tales that centre on a rational British self who finds himself/herself challenged by a parallel world in partial discontinuity with the contemporary one.

Hence Venice is depicted as a counter-site, a place that represents the ordinary by projecting its counter-image, a microcosm that is in appearance in continuity with the contemporary world, but where ordinary rules can be momentarily suspended in order to make space for a tale of fated ineluctability.

Don’t Look Now places at its centre northern European protagonists constantly challenged by the city’s reiterated foreign character, its web of alleys and the largely incomprehensible behaviour of its natives. In order to navigate the city and to make sense of their journey, the British protagonists need someone situated half-way between their world and Venice’s parallel reality: the psychic twin sister personifies this state perfectly, as she is a medium between two worlds.

Why Italy Is Such a Special Venue in Du Maurier’s Novella

Du Maurier’s novella is a fascinating narrative centred on an ideological mystification. By making use of Italy as the cultural polar opposite of England, as a trope for healing, salvation, sensual renewal, and ultimately damnation, the story consigns the country – which Venice epitomises – to a particular role, relegating it to a magical space outside “real” space and real time, a mirror reflection and a dimension outside history that serves the double function of challenging the symbolic order of the self and reiterating its normative value.

Francesca Pierini, Asian University for Women

A New Study on the Importance of Affectionate Touch in Romantic Love

Touch is an important way people communicate love and intimacy in romantic relationships. Affectionate touch, such as hugging, stroking, and kissing, is common worldwide. Romantic partners across many cultures frequently use affectionate touch to express their love for a romantic partner, passion, desire, and intimate feelings.

The affection exchange theory explains how affectionate touch is beneficial for our romantic relationships and mental and physical health in various respects. It turns out that both giving and receiving affectionate messages through touching behavior boost our mood and reinforce our relational bonds. In the same way as other forms of affectionate communication, affectionate touch nurtures our mutual affection in a relationship.

What the New Study Explored

In their recent publication, Agnieszka Sorokowska and her authors reported two studies in which they examined the relationship between romantic love and affectionate touch behaviors. They administered a cross-cultural survey, collecting data from 7880 participants from 37 countries.

The two studies that the authors conducted revealed interesting results. Generally, this extensive cross-cultural research demonstrates the significance of nurturing love for affectionate touch behaviors and, conversely, the importance of affectionate touch for nurturing love. Although it may seem intuitive that love and affectionate touch are directly related, this new study is one of the few scientific studies that has convincingly demonstrated this association using empirical data.

These studies found that affectionate touch is consistently associated with love in a diverse range of cultures around the world. Partners with high levels of passionate and intimate dispositions more frequently use various kinds of affectionate touch in their romantic communication. However, the partners’ degree of commitment does not make them inclined to use more touching behavior. These differences in effects of these three components of love make sense since the first two are more emotional and physical, while the third is more rational but less physical.

Individual Differences in Affectionate Touch

The authors importantly noted that these statistical relationships substantially varied within cultures, in some cases higher than in others. I believe this means that despite the cross-cultural universality of affective touching in romantic relationships, individuals within those cultures may substantially differ typologically in their preferences for the use of affective touching in daily intimate encounters.

People’s attitudes toward touch are highly individual. And touch can be perceived as not necessarily pleasant, as in cases of social anxiety and touch avoidance. Some men or women may prefer avoiding touch or react negatively to touch, even in romantic relationships. However, even for those individuals who experience attachment avoidance and are less open to touch, more touch in a relationship can promote well-being. Individuals within any society may have different needs for affectionate touch behaviors. Some, for instance, may have a lower preference for interpersonal touch.

Cultural Factors Influencing Affectionate Touch

Collectivistic and individualistic cultural norms of proxemic behavior can have an effect on the frequency and cultural contexts in which men and women use their affective touch. Other cultural factors also play a role.

As the authors conclude, in more conservative and religious societies, cultural norms encourage more physically restrained expressions of affection. Therefore, people tend to use more formalized, less freely expressed, and less diversely expressed affectionate behaviors, even in private and intimate relationships.

What Authors Conclude

The authors of this study finally conclude that various kinds of touching are very common behaviors in romantic relationships. Partners in such relationships experience more need for touch from their romantic partner than they do from other people with whom they communicate and interact.

Gratitude and Love in Cultural Perspective

The grateful attitude and emotions toward other people and life are referred to as gratitude. When we express gratitude for what other people and life have given us, we experience several situational emotions. When we are grateful, thankful, and appreciative to someone for something, we can feel a variety of positive emotions. Gratitude and love commonly go hand in hand and are closely related to each other.

Gratitude and Love in Our Life

As I showed in another article, gratitude and love frequently go together. Not only does the experience of gratitude entail the emotion of love, but love also implies the expression of gratitude.

Love frequently involves expressions of gratitude and appreciation. Love, gratitude, and appreciation are deeply relational feelings that encompass a wide range of dispositions, moods, and situational emotions and feelings. Participants use a variety of methods to express their feelings of love, including loving others, loving oneself, receiving love, and feeling thankful for love.

A Chinese Cultural Perspective on Gratitude and Love

The indigenous Chinese concept of “enqing” means grateful love (Chen & Li, 2007). This type of love includes the feelings of responsibilities and obligations associated with a spouse’s feelings of appreciation, gratitude, and indebtedness for what the partner does for the marriage. The origins of “enqing” are in Chinese relationship orientation and the traditional Confucian value of duty in marriage.

While Western marital intimacy is characterized by feelings of togetherness and compatibility, Chinese marital intimacy is characterized by feelings of admiration and gratitude.

The Chinese Concept of “Enqing”

People in traditional Chinese society typically place little emphasis on marital intimacy. Instead, “enqing”—the expression of gratitude and admiration—may bind Chinese couples closely together.

Many researchers have identified “enqing” as the primary element of Chinese marital affection and love (e.g., Li & Chen, 2002; Tang, 1991; see for a review, Karandashev, 2019). In traditional Chinese marriage, “enqing” plays a central role in marital affection and love. The four pillars of Chinese couples’ love are:

(a) feelings of gratitude,

(b) admiration,

(c) togetherness, and

(d) compatibility

(Chen & Li, 2007).

How Gratitude and Love Develop in Chinese Marriage

Why and how does this kind of grateful love between married people grow?

In traditional Chinese culture, parents frequently arrange marriages. Under these conditions, many people got married without knowing each other well. Moreover, even after they get married, Chinese cultural norms do not consider the intimate relationship between the couple as important. The “enqing“, or expression of gratitude and admiration, develops from conjugal love and role fulfillment. That is what keeps Chinese couples together and close.

People experience intimacy more frequently in modern Taiwanese (Chinese) marriages than ever before. However, the presence of “enqing” remains. Modern Western ideas about love have an effect on Chinese marriages. Nevertheless, the traditional Chinese idea of “enqing” has not gone away (Li & Chen, 2002).

How the Expression of Gratitude Differs in Chinese and American Cultures

A series of cross-cultural studies examined the impact of verbal and nonverbal expressions of appreciation on the quality of romantic relationships in “high-context, collectivistic cultures and low-context, individualistic cultures” (Bello et al., 2010, p. 294).

The authors discovered that in cultures such as the United States and China, appreciation takes different forms and plays different roles in relationships. Participants from both countries listed specific ways they express gratitude in a romantic relationship.

The results show that Chinese participants prefer nonverbal expressions of appreciation over verbal ones, while American participants favor both verbal and nonverbal ones.

Overall, data showed that Americans use significantly more frequent expressions of gratitude in love than Chinese people. This is mostly due to the extensive use of verbal expressions in the United States. Chinese people, on the other hand, use more indirect ways to express gratitude in love than Americans see for a review, Karandashev, 2019).

Family Evolution in the Late 20th Century

The 1950s and 1960s were the “golden age of marriage” and the triumph of romantic love in many modern Western societies. The cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution” prevailed. Marriage rates rose above 90%, and people married younger (see Karandashev, 2017, for a review).

That “golden age of marriage” promised to make men and women happy in loving marriages. Marriage achieved a fair balance between love and marital stability. However, surprisingly, the late 20th century’s dramatic evolution of marriage overturned romantic cultural ideals, rapidly changing people’s attitudes and behaviors toward sex, love, and marriage.

In the middle of the 1970s, marital relationships and families changed too fast, in some cases in a positive way and in others in a negative way. Fewer men and women wanted to get married. Many postponed their marriage. Some did not want to marry at all.

Marriages lasted less time; by the 2000s, they lasted an average of seven years. Divorce rates increased. Cohabitation and other alternatives to marriage have emerged. Living together without registering the marriage became very common. Between 1970 and 1999, the number of unmarried couples living together increased seven times. Only when a woman became pregnant did many couples decide to marry.

In the 1990s and by the early 2000s, women and men no longer viewed marriage as necessary to conceive a baby and get pregnant. For instance, in the United States, nearly 40% of cohabiting couples had children (Karandashev, 2017, p. 168).

Family and Parenthood in the Late 20th Century

The cultural evolution of marriage in the later 20th century headed toward a different model of parenthood. The birth rate among married couples continued to decline. Many women delayed becoming mothers. Women waited even later to get married. Childbearing rates among unmarried women increased. The number of children born outside of wedlock became more frequent (Coontz 2005, p. 261).

Many men became unwilling to marry. They preferred to get into relationships with women, yet they wanted to be less involved financially and emotionally. Some publications in the public media undermined men’s family responsibilities by encouraging them to enjoy the pleasures of romantic relationships. In this regard, women complained that contemporary men were reluctant to commit to relationships, which led to new tensions between women and men.

New Opportunities for Women’s Personal Growth

But on the flip side, aspirations and opportunities for women in the workplace increased both before and after marriage. Many of them postponed marriage in order to complete college. Their personal ambitions and self-confidence increased.

Others relished their single status for a few years before settling down with marriage and children. They remained single for longer and gained work and academic experience (Coontz, 2005).

The Contraceptive Revolution of the 1960s

In the 1960s, more effective contraceptives were developed. Since women had better access to effective contraception, they had more freedom to use birth control. Therefore, they were in a better position to decide on their own when and how many children to have. This gave them the possibility of changing their lives and marriages.

In some ways, the contraceptive revolution of the 1960s paved the way for the so-called sexual revolution. Reduced risk of unintended pregnancy allowed women to consider sexual activity and childbirth motivation separately, if desired. This gave her more freedom to enjoy sex and love.

Men and women became more involved in promiscuous sexual activity. Many premarital and extramarital couples were able to enjoy the sensual pleasures of sexual activity. Lovers and good friends enjoyed their sex, not necessarily being engaged as bride and groom and not planning to marry at all. The myth that sex can only be enjoyable within a marriage has been debunked. Men and women were more interested in sex than ever before, becoming more equal partners in sexual relations.

The Psychology of Sex in the Late 20th Century

Sex, on the other hand, entailed not only physical sexual activity but also psychological aspects of intimacy and a genuine interpersonal relationship. The latter attributes of sex were paramount. Sexual adequacy in a woman, in particular, was strongly related to the quality of her intimate relationships (Murstein 1974, pp. 441–442).

Cultural Evolution of Partners’ Psychological Roles in Relationships

The rate of childbirth decreased. The number of childless marriages and families with one to two children increased. All these factors weakened the links between marriage and parenthood. Couples reconsidered the roles that each partner should play in their marriages and families. There were fewer small children vying for their attention. Therefore, many couples appreciated the qualities of their own relationships in terms of intimacy and romantic love feelings.

By the 1970s and 1980s, all these changes had a profound impact on how people felt about intimate relationships. A significant shift toward prioritizing emotional gratification, intimacy, self-fulfillment, and fairness over conformity to social roles occurred.

The value of companionate love and partnership increased. When both the husband and the wife had jobs, they commonly discussed how to rearrange the division of housework and the equality of family chores.

The cultural evolution of social norms regarding relationships prompted many men and women to believe that autonomy and voluntary cooperation were more important than obedience to authority. Everywhere in North America and Western Europe, acceptance of singlehood, unmarried cohabitation, childlessness, divorce, and extramarital pregnancy increased (Inglehart 1990; Coontz 2005; see for review, Karandashev, 2017, p. 169).

So, while it took more than 150 years for love-based marriage to become the common model of family union in Western Europe and North America, it took less than 25 years to dismantle it (Coontz, 2005).

What Happened After the Golden Age of Marriage?

Social scientists coined the term golden age of marriage, referring to the period in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, the cultural ideology of “love marriage” and a number of marriages became popular and prevalent in many European countries, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and some other modernized societies across the world. According to statistics, more than 90% of all women and men wanted to marry, and they married at a young age. Marriage had become nearly universal in those countries by the 1960s (for a review, see Karandashev, 2017).

The Triumph of the Love-Marriage Cultural Ideology

Love finally conquered marriage and transformed marital relationships (Coontz 2005). The ideals of romantic love, emotional closeness, and sexual satisfaction for both partners became accepted by educated and liberal people, especially those of a young age. The love ideology implied the possibility for men and women to select the bride and groom of their personal choice according to their preferences and love ideals.

The ideals of love marriage also anticipated companionate love relationships and partnerships. Happiness among married partners was expected to be high, and it was frequently found to be so. The divorce rate remained stable. They enjoyed personal freedom in their marital relationships. Married couples had a strong sense of autonomy from their extended family.

Sex and Marriage in the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s and 1970s, sex became a private matter between two individuals. Men and women became more interested in the issues of sexual relationships and sexual pleasure. America and Europe were experiencing a sexual revolution. 

Women’s sexual attitudes changed. Previously, a woman could not achieve full sexual equality because of cultural reservations in this regard. New cultural norms not only permitted sexual pleasure for women but also encouraged it. The sexual revolution of the time recognized men and women’s sexual equality to have sexual satisfaction. 

The fear of an undesired pregnancy also played a role. While she and her partner could have “fun,” only she was primarily responsible for a child. Therefore, couples who had free premarital sex were expected to marry eventually (Murstein 1974, pp. 441–442).

The Beginning of the End of the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s, marriage appeared to have found the optimal balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the constraints necessary for social stability. The ideology of love-based marriage affirms the right of the individual to choose his or her own spouse. Additionally, this cultural ideology emphasized the importance of the individual over inherited wealth and an ethnic group.

Social scientists predicted that many societies across the world would soon adopt this marriage pattern and these cultural values. This perspective on marital relationships was very appealing to young and educated individuals, particularly women (see Karandashev, 2017).

What Happened to Love Marriage Cultural Ideals? 

Surprisingly to many, significant changes began to occur in the opposite direction. In the late 1970s, the cultural revolution took place at a too fast pace and too drastically, getting out of control. The radical ideas of the late 1960s and early 1970s did not transform but overturn “traditional” marriage. Various changes in the realm of relationships occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

The pace of change in marriage attitudes and behaviors became too fast in the mid-1970s. Many of these transformations likely occurred because people did not meet their needs in marriages. Men and women initially sought to find their fulfillment at home. However, when their idealistic expectations for marriage were not met, their discontent grew. Accordingly, people became critical of the lack of intimacy and unsatisfying relationships with their spouses. When they hoped to achieve personal happiness and tried to make this happen within marriage, their expectations failed. Personal discontent with 1950s marital intimacy ideals, combined with economic and political changes in the 1960s and 1970s, most likely overturned 1950s gender roles and marriage patterns.

An American Professor of History and Family Studies, Stephanie Coontz, commented in her book that “it took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dominant model in North America and Western Europe,” but “it took less than 25 years to dismantle it” (Coontz, 2005, p. 247).

Can Sharing Bad News Improve Close Relationships?

Men and women in close relationships hope to experience joyful and optimistic times together. They are happy to share everything good that happens in their lives. The people close to them are happy to hear the good news. It is widely held that sharing in a relationship—telling another about one’s emotional experiences—makes people feel better.

What about bad news? Does it make sense to share with others in their close relationships something bad that happened to us? Some may want to avoid spoiling their good moods.

Does it help people themselves when they share with others their bad news? People often feel worse after discussing negative events that have occurred to them. They perhaps replay the negative experience in their minds.

Something even worse may occur. Social sharing tends to lower the mood of the person listening to the disclosure. But why is social sharing so popular if it has emotional costs for both sharers and listeners? In their recent article at Character & Context Blog, German scholars Antje Rauers and Michaela Riediger from the University of Jena discuss this controversy.

People Tend to Share their Bad News with those Close to Them

For decades, scientists have tried to answer this question. Studies of intimate relationships provide a possible clue. Research shows that sharing stories about feelings can bring people closer together. As a result, perhaps the positive effects of sharing are not related to mood but rather to the quality of the relationships between people. Perhaps in times of crisis, the act of telling one another bad news strengthens our bonds with one another.

People usually share meaningful experiences with close friends or family members. To explore how and why they do this, Antje Rauers and Michaela Riediger designed a study with the goal of capturing social sharing as it happens in real life. Researchers asked 100 romantic couples over cell phones about their experiences as they went about their daily lives. During a period of three weeks, both partners recorded their current mood and how close they felt to their partner six times per day. Every time, partners also documented if they had any problems and whether they had shared with their partner their experience. Researchers were particularly interested in situations in which people had indeed just experienced a hassle. Then, they compared how people felt if they told their partner about these incidents with how they felt if they kept that bad experience to themselves.

What Did Researchers Find in Their Study?

Unsurprisingly, people felt worse following adversity than they did in the absence of such events.

Yet, researchers wanted to know if social sharing helped people emotionally recover from the hassles. Perhaps not necessarily. Some did not feel better after sharing, while some did. Some men and women also felt worse after hearing their partner’s story, whereas others did not. In other words, social sharing resulted in both emotional gains and losses for the couples.

Their sharing, however, significantly increased their relationship’s closeness. Both men and women experienced these benefits. And both the sharers and the receivers experienced these benefits. Researchers also examined how people in close relationships felt prior to sharing.

The main conclusion was that sharing did make people feel closer, no matter how close they had felt before. 

Social Sharing Affects Future Closeness in Relationships

Here is another question of interest. Are they fleeting experiences, or do they accumulate over time to increase closeness? How long do these increases in relationship closeness last?

According to the theory, social sharing generates virtuous cycles of mutual trust and even more sharing, which increase relationship closeness over time. Researchers asked the couples about their relationships 2.5 years later.

Results showed that those who had frequently shared their problems with their partners reported greater relationship closeness 2.5 years later. People who rarely shared with their partners, on the other hand, lost some of their closeness over time. Thus, the author’s findings suggest that social sharing can help to strengthen relationships both in the present and in the future. This psychological discovery explains why, despite the emotional costs, social sharing is so popular. Sharing bad news may not necessarily help to improve our mood, but it can aid in the formation of our close bonds.

What Nigerian Men and Women Wanted to Know About Sex in the 20th Century

The printed media of the mid-20th century paid much less attention to the topics of sex and sexuality compared to the questions of courtship, romantic love, gender roles, the influence of family, and marriage. What about sex?

West African editors of public media apparently opted to avoid these topics because they did not want to offend the traditional norms of Nigerian communities. In the conservative culture of that time, people would perceive it as offensive and repulsive to hear explicit references to sex. People were supposed to remain mute on such matters.

What Was Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

The authors of Nigerian newspaper articles, however, wrote about some topics associated with sex. For instance, prostitution was among them. It was discussed as a social problem that must be eliminated in West African cultures (Aderinto 2015). The authors depicted the immoral and perverted ways of life of prostitutes and suggested severely policing prostitution. The newspapers were also intended to provide moral lessons against sexual “deviancy”.

What Was Not Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

Nigerian public media commonly did not publish anything about the topics of the normal sexual lives of Nigeran men and women. In the same way, readers of newspapers usually did not write about these very personal and intimate issues. And editors did not publish the letters of ordinary people depicting their private sexual lives. They also did not publish any advice materials on how to improve one’s sexual life.

What “Milady’s Bower” Published About Sexual Life for Nigerians

However, the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot newspaper was among the rare exceptions. On a few occasions, “Miss Silva” tried to express her views on sexuality, but she did so very cautiously.

She began her column article, “Sex, secrecy, and chiding,” by commenting to readers that this subject of sex is unpopular in public media. However, she noted that the traditional silencing of sex may have a negative effect on the lives of men and women. She wrote:

“No doubt, the notion that all affairs pertaining to sex should be kept in the dark has done much havoc in the past and is still continuing to work with the same measure and full speed. Some people would make a fuss over sex discussion as if it were some ugly thing which should be erased from human thoughts as much as possible.”

(Aderinto 2015, p. 489).

“Miss Silva” also advised on the topic of premarital sex, saying that “if done at all, it should not be too much indulged in.” We don’t know what the reactions and opinions of readers to this statement were. Her correspondents were not willing to write about sex.

What About Sex Education?

Overall, few articles addressed the topic of sex education. However, Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe advocated that sex education should be introduced into the school curriculum. Dr. Azikiwe’s article “Sexology” offered particularly compelling arguments in support (Aderinto 2015).

Those authors suggested that during courtship, men and women should be well informed about sexual life. Then, couples would be able to enjoy their good sex life when married. Due to this, they would be strong Nigerian families.

Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe argued that inadequate education about human sexuality could be one of the causes of the “high” rate of divorce among Nigerian couples (Aderinto 2015).

African Cultural Attitudes Toward Kissing

Nigerian cultural norms of relations between men and women have many peculiarities. Kissing, according to some authors and readers of the West African Pilot newspaper, is un-African, a cultural practice copied from European cinema.

Here is how one author quoted the comment of a “white foreigner” about the kissing habit in love. When he saw how Nigerian lovers kissed, he said, “This country is young indeed to understand the theatrical gesture.” He considered it like something out of a European movie.

The same author, Mr. Mordi, stated in another article that kissing, like “any other enjoyment, had its one vice”.

Another reader, Ukaru, also made an argument against kissing. He claimed that kissing transmitted syphilis.

Thus, several authors and readers made a point against kissing, stating that “it is a nasty thing to kiss” and that there are no cultural reasons why Africans should follow this European habit (quoted in Aderinto, 2015, p.490).

The Pro-Kissing Arguments in West Africa

The Nigerian proponents of kissing attempted to distinguish various kinds of kissing, such as “kissing as a display of softer emotions,” “passionate kissing,” “erotic kissing,” “rascally kissing,” and “kissing with temperance.”

According to Miss Silva’s view, kissing is a good way to manifest love. Kissing could also ease conflict in a relationship. She advised, however, that a kiss needs “decency” and should not be “reckless” or “scandalous.”

The kissing debates of authors and readers in the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot touched on important facets of intimacy. They attempted to differentiate between private and public expressions of love.

Many other questions were disputed. Where and how is it acceptable to kiss? Is it acceptable to kiss in public? Can men and women show affection for each other in public without kissing? Or is it a private matter?

The Recent Evolution of Mexican Marriage

For years, Mexican society has been a collectivistic society, with strong family bonds and cultural values of “familism.” People’s selves were deeply imbedded in family relationships. And both men and women valued their strong connections with family.

Traditional Mexican Marriage

In traditional Mexican communities, marriages have customarily functioned to maintain societal order, bonds of commitment, and social reproduction. The connections of responsibility, respect, and reciprocal obligations hold a family together. Men and women understood relationships and the fulfillment of traditional gender roles as their “real love.” Serving and caring for each other and for the common good of their family was the essence of marital love.

Romantic love is not a prerequisite for marriage. Intimate and companionate love and personal self-expression were of low value. Fulfillment of family duties for the sake of “familism” and good living together was of high value (Hirsch, 2007).

However, in the last 50 years, Mexican society, culture, and daily life have changed dramatically in both urban and rural settings. Men’s and women’s relationships have been transformed due to these cultural transformations.

Evolution of Mexican Marriage in Companionate Relationships

Accordingly, over these decades, Mexican marriages substantially evolved from the bonds of obligation to the bonds of love. The importance of love in premarital and marital relationships has grown significantly. The value of companionate love and relationships in marriage also increased (Hirsch, 2007).

The men and women of the younger generation speak about their marriage style in a new way, emphasizing making decisions together, talking, and spending time with their spouses and children.

Gender Equality in Modern Mexican Marriage

The marital lives of men and women have obviously shifted toward more gender equality. The gendered divisions of family labor are less stereotypical than before. Although some men may not wash clothes or change kids’ diapers, they may get up to get a glass of water during a meal. Many men abandoned traditional machismo ideology, turning to a more egalitarian personal identity. Their masculine power is commonly intertwined with the seemingly more equal division of family labor. They become more involved in housework and caring for their children (Hirsch, 2003, 2007; Gutmann, 1996).

For many women, their gender roles and experiences have also changed. They tend to be more socially involved, work full-time jobs, and visit friends and relatives. They have more decision-making power in their relationships and families. Many couples have changed their communication styles. They are more open to talking about their feelings, communicating more politely, being considerate of one another, and respecting their mutual rights within marriage (Hirsch, 2003, 2007).

Intimacy and Trust in Modern Mexican Marriage

The most noticeable generational differences in marital ideals of love are the increased values of intimacy and trust. Men and women more often communicate with each other and develop intimacy by sharing secrets and kisses. After they are married, they build and maintain emotional and sexual intimacy in their marriage. They view pleasure as the driving force that holds their relationships together.

However, early romantic ideas and relationships do not always carry over to later marriage life. Let us look at the marital life of Gustavo and Veronica. They have been married for just over two years. He works as a stone carver, and she looks after their two-year-old daughter. Here is an excerpt of the interview that Veronica gave to Jennifer Hirsch:

“She told me, laughing, that they first kissed after only two weeks of dating and that he wrote her love letters while they dated. Once they married, she recounted, they had sex several times a day, keeping things spicy with the lingerie he bought her and the porn videos they occasionally watch. Gustavo, in his conversations with Sergio about their marriage, spoke as well about their intimacy, emphasizing not just its physical aspects but the fact that he wanted to marry her, rather than any of his previous girlfriends, because of the quality of their communication and the strength of their emotional connection. There are ways, though, in which Veronica’s early married life differs little from her mother’s experience. She and Gustavo live in a two-room shack, adjoining his father’s house, which Veronica does not leave without his permission. She has no access to the money he earns – and is not even really sure how much it is. On Saturdays when the workday ends early, he will usually bring a kilo of deep-fried pork or rotisserie chicken for lunch – but sometimes he does not show up until the next morning, having left her lunch to get cold in the car while he drinks or plays pool with his friends. If she asks him where he was, he gets angry. Even if he wanted to leave her a message, though, he could not do so; his sisters hate Veronica – saying, among other things, that she is a whore because she worked as a waitress in a restaurant before they were married – and so they do not pass her telephone messages.”

(Hirsch, 2007, p.95).

Remarkable History of Mexican Love and Marriage

Traditional collectivistic societies of the past had greatly interdependent social structures of relationships between people, in which extended families and clans were the major units of society. The strong position of a group was beneficial both for the group and everyone in it. People’s interdependence, as well as the collective family support of each member in those social units, provided numerous advantages for their survival, subsistence, and physical and social security.

On the other hand, this interdependence incurs the obligations of a person to the family. Each had responsibilities for the group’s interests. Therefore, the “self” of each person included the “group”, “family,” and “personal responsibility for the group.” And this part of the “self” in a person’s awareness often precedes their “individual self.”

Mexican Love and Traditional Marriage

Due to this collectivistic psychology of a person’s self, marriages in history have been mostly social and relationship responsibilities of men and women rather than a matter of their individual preferences. Marriages have usually been a system for societal organization, bonds of obligation, and social reproduction in traditional Mexican society.

A family was held together by the ties of responsibilities, respect, mutual obligations, and the fulfillment of gender roles. Love was understood as “practical love” for the common family good. The man was responsible for earning money, while the woman was responsible for cooking, keeping the house clean, washing and ironing clothes, and raising children (Hirsch, 2007). Love was in all these actions of serving and caring for each other and their families..

Marriage was not a matter of romantic love, companionate love, emotional intimacy, or personal fulfillment. “Familism,” as a cultural value, has been the main driving force of Mexican marriage. The notion of love was closely related to familism. Love developed as the result of good living together, not necessarily an ideal to strive for (Hirsch & Wardlow, 2006).

The Half-Century Evolution of Marriage in Mexico

However, over the past 50 years, the society, culture, and everyday life of Mexican people have significantly changed in both urban and rural contexts of Mexico. The cultural transformation of society has also transformed men’s and women’s relationships.

In the period from the 1950s and 1960s up to the early 2000s, Mexican marriages significantly evolved from bonds of obligation to bonds of love. The role of love in premarital and marital relationships has considerably increased.

For example, ethnographic research in a Mexican transnational community conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s revealed a remarkable cultural evolution in Mexican marital values over the last few decades (Hirsch, 2003, 2007). The notions associated with love have gained value for both men and women.

New Ideals of Mexican Love

The ideals of courtship (“noviazgo“) for the new generation of young adults have changed from the emphasis on devotion and respect to a desire to have fun and gain the trust of one’s future partner. The priorities in these ideals have also shifted from the high value of respect (“respeto“) to the high value of intimacy or trust (“confianza“). The values of trust and intimacy in a relationship precede in their priority the traditional cultural concept of honor. Men and women are looking for respectable partners rather than a respectable marriage.

These cultural shifts were especially noticeable in the border areas where transnational Mexican communities live, both in Mexico near the US border and in the Atlanta area of Georgia. Their experience of migration and the influence of North American culture have precipitated the development of love and companionship ideals for marriage (Hirsch, 2007).

However, during the same period of the cultural evolution of Mexican marriage, other relationship tendencies also occurred, and other cultural phenomena played important roles. Due to the influence of modern social media, the role of personal desire and sexuality has heightened. Love and sex are increasingly commodified in public view. Fertility in families declined. (Hirsch & Wardlow, 2006). 

In recent decades, Mexican marriage and love have substantially evolved into companionate relationships.

How Expressive Is the Culture of Intimacy in a Relationship

The feeling of intimate belonging fulfills people’s needs for intimacy. However, people can satisfy their need to belong in various ways in different cultures, depending on their norms. A distinction between collectivistic (interdependent) and individualistic (independent) values is especially important for our understanding of intimacy as a fulfilled need to belong.

The Cultures of Intimacy in Collectivistic and Individualistic Societies

People in an individualistic, independence-oriented society like the United States are constantly assured from childhood that they belong and are loved. Yet, as they grow in childhood, parents encourage them to be independent and autonomous. Over time, they feel proudly autonomous, yet they may feel a little lonely. Parents are busy with their jobs and own problems. Therefore, teenagers strive to break through such lonely autonomy and look for other intimate bonds, such as moving in with someone else, marriage, and family.

People in a collectivistic, family-oriented society like Japan feel embedded in a family group from childhood. They implicitly feel these intimate ties with other members of the family. Therefore, they do not really need the reassurance of intimacy in family bonds. This is why they don’t really feel the need for another source of reassurance of intimate belonging from their marital partner, at least not to the same degree as people in individualistic cultures do.

What Is Special about Japanese Intimacy?

Some studies have shown that Japanese intimacy is not low – just different from North American and Western European views and notions of intimacy (see for review, Karandashev, 2019).

As I said above, Euro-Americans living in individualistic, middle-class, or urban cultures are proud of being independent in relationships. However, despite this feeling of being autonomous, they feel an obvious need to belong to their parents’ family.

When pushed out of their parental nest, they look for another source (a partner) to whom they could belong. And, as before in childhood, they need to feel from others that they are accepted and doing a “good job!” And they frequently do this to each other, both verbally and explicitly. It is because they have an implicit feeling of autonomy and independence. They need to hear that “they are doing great!” explicitly and repeatedly. Yet their need to belong must also be assured through direct verbal communication.

On the other hand, Japanese people have different cultural socialization strategies and childrearing philosophies. Children living in a collectivistic culture from birth already feel embedded in their family ties. Their model of attachment in childhood is culturally different. They are already aware of their intimate connections with other members of their family. Therefore, they don’t need constant and explicit verbal confirmation that they belong, as European Americans do (see, for instance, Keller, 2013, 2018).

This is why the Japanese may appear less direct in their intimate communication. It is because they understand it implicitly. However, Japanese couples in committed love relationships are high only in such qualities of intimacy as mind reading, compassion, assurance, and social network support (Roland, 1988).

Expressive versus Low-expressive Intimacies

The comparison of Japanese culture, as an East-Asian collectivistic culture, with European-American culture, as a Western individualistic culture of expressions of intimacy, might be simplistic. Many other non-collectivistic cultures can still be reserved and emotionally inhibited in their communicative preferences.

The difference in high-contact versus low-contact cultural values could be another explanation. Not only are Asian societies low-contact cultures (Barnlund, 1975; Klopf & Thompson, 1991; McDaniel & Andersen, 1998).

The Cultures of Low-Expressive Intimacies

People in Scandinavian and Nordic societies also display a low-expressive style of interpersonal interaction (see more in Karandashev, 2021).

Finns, like Norwegians and Swedes, prefer silent speech with relatively long pauses and slow-moving turns of speech. They often listen to each other without external evidence or feedback, yet this is their way of listening most attentively (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008; Tella, 2005).

For instance, in Finnish culture, people use the word “rakkaus” (love) only occasionally. Several other Finnish words implying the emotions of love without direct reference to the word “rakkaus” are also used by Finns (Haavio-Mannila & Roos, 1999).

Here is a folklore anecdote on Nordic marital intimacy. A Finnish couple, husband Eino and wife Aino, are celebrating their 5-year anniversary of marriage. She asked:

  • Eino, do love me?

Eino answered:

  • Yes, Aino, I already told you about this five years ago. If something changes, I will let you know.

This joking folklore anecdote is surely an exaggeration. But the reserved expression of intimacy is quite common for Nordic people, such as in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as for East-Asian people, such as in Japan, China, and Korea.