What The Stories Teach Us About Cultural Experiences in Emotions

How do we love him or her? How do we hate them, and why? Over years of research, scientists have discovered an abundance of knowledge and findings that show how certain situations, contexts, and behaviors elicit specific emotions, such as joy, love, anger, and sadness. Scientists have found that cultures substantially shape our emotions and the way we experience and express them (see, for review, Karandashev, 2021; Mesquita, 2022).

The Cultural Study of Emotions in the Hadza People and Americans in North Carolina

In 2016, Katie Hoemann and Batja Mesquita, the researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, started to investigate how the people known as the Hadza, a group of hunter-gatherers living in a remote area in the north central part of Tanzania, experience and express emotions.

Researchers collected the stories the Hadza people shared with them about their feelings. The authors compared how those stories were different from the stories told by Americans from North Carolina.

In a recent article published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the authors compared the stories they collected from the Hadza people with the stories collected from American university students and community members in North Carolina. They examined the narratives people use to construct their emotional experiences.

Researchers discovered that these two cultural groups have different methods of describing emotions. Furthermore, the differences the authors have observed are surprising for the right comprehension of emotions. The manner in which individuals communicate and perceive their emotions can have a significant impact on their social interactions and relationships. In the absence of the right understanding, we can overlook nuance and diversity in our understanding of emotions. We can miss the intended meaning and what others are trying to say.

In these studies, researchers interviewed the Hadza and American adults, asking them to recall a recent time they felt pleasant or unpleasant, and then answered questions like “Where were you?” “What happened?” and “How did you feel about it?”

What the Hadza people and Americans in North Carolina say about emotions:

The Hadza people emphasize physical experiences and bodily sensations while Americans emphasize mental experiences and subjective feelings

Researchers quickly noticed that the Hadza stories frequently emphasized physical experiences, such as bodily sensations and movements. As an illustration, a woman in her middle age expressed her experience of not receiving payment for a job by referring to her heart, head, and hands:

“My heart is beating very fast until my head is pounding, because I’m using so much power while working hard, because I expected I would get something for it. But I got nothing.… When someone refuses to pay you, it’s like they cut your hands: because even if you go do other jobs, you worry the next guy also won’t pay you.”

Katie Hoemann and Batja Mesquita

Different from these narratives, these stories of Americans about emotion placed more emphasis on mental experience—subjective feelings, conclusions, and explanations—than on physical sensations, as did the Hadza. For instance, a middle-aged American woman highlighted her rage, her sense of “unworthiness,” and the wrongdoer’s malice in another narrative concerning conflict at work:

“I was very angry, but unfortunately I never had any respect for this person anyway. She abused her power, she manipulated people, she … [thought] that all of the decisions that she made were the right ones. But the effect that she had on so many people was, well, so discouraging, and … she really liked to make you feel totally unworthy.”

The Hadza people emphasize shared experiences while Americans on their individual experiences

Researchers also observed that Hadza narratives about emotion focused on shared experiences, i.e., other people’s needs and viewpoints. The young man below said he was happy after a successful hunt because he “knew [his] kids would be satisfied”:

“I waited for the impala to come close to where I was hiding, ready to hunt them. I was hiding by a big branch of the baobab so they could not see me. So, when they are starting to eat, and I started descending slowly and I started to shoot them … I was laughing so much because I had never killed an impala before. My whole life I had been trying to kill impala. This was a very lucky day for me.… I loved it so much because I knew my kids would be satisfied.”

This description is contrasted with a statement made by a young American man in North Carolina, whose story of winning a different kind of major game was far more self-centered. He describes his appearance in the local paper and the accolades he received as a “ego-trip.”

“I played for our varsity basketball team, and we were playing one of our big rivals, and I ended up scoring, I don’t know, like 16 points in the last quarter, which basically won the game for us. I received a lot of praise for that, and then the next day in the newspaper it had a big article write-up about me, and the picture, and so … I felt praised, kind of an ego-trip.… I knew I would get a lot of recognition that night and have a lot of fun.”

What Are the Differences Between Hadza and Americans’ Narratives About Emotions?

The authors summed up their findings by examining patterns in the emotional narratives from Hadza and North Carolina and comparing data from both sets of interviews. Participants’ comments about time, objectives, and the reasons behind their actions varied. Aside from that, the authors concluded that:

  • American participants place the emphasis on their individual experiences, whereas Hadza people place the emphasis on their shared experiences,
  • American participants place the emphasis on mental experiences, whereas the Hadza people place the emphasis on their physical sensations.

These distinctions show how culture shapes stories about emotions, just like it shapes any other narrative practice. There is no single way to discuss feelings. In fact, feelings may not even play an important role in how people make sense of their experiences.

You can see more studies presented in the recent books Cultural Models of Emotions by Karandashev (2021) and Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions by Mesquita (2022).

The Benevolence of True Love: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

The feelings, thoughts, and acts of doing good for the one you love are a feature central to the concept of love across many different cultures and historic eras of humankind. According to many studies, the benevolence of love might be a more important feeling and act for various kinds of love than the experience of passion, intimacy, commitment, and attachment.

Love Is Benevolence

Benevolence and altruism are commonly driven by a desire to help others. Most likely, kindness is the highest form of love. It is the desire to do something good for someone else, including the beloved, loved ones, and anyone else who deserves it.

Are Humans Benevolent by Nature?

Humans, according to some philosophers, scientists, and theologians, are an altruistic species by nature.However, they suggest the importance of differentiating the concepts of “benevolence” and “altruism.” They also advise that the meaning of each of these concepts varies depending on the social conditions of living (Jencks, 1990; Nunney, 2000).

Scholars illustrate how the human experiences of benevolence and altruism evolve in certain social and cultural contexts. (e.g., Flescher & Worthen, 2007; Jellal & Wolff, 2002; Nunney, 2000; Sober & Wilson, 1998).

The findings of historical and cultural investigations are generally in accord with this assertion of the nearly universal nature of benevolence and altruism (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that many cases of the adversity, selfishness, and aggression that people have experienced and exhibited in the past may contradict such a declaration.

Cross-cultural Universality of Benevolent Love

The anthropological and linguistic studies of love have explored the universality of the idea of benevolent love. These studies have revealed that cultural views on and understanding of love can vary significantly in many societies. This evidence makes it challenging to compare the love lexicon across cultures and languages (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

For example, some societies do not have the word “love” in their vocabulary. Some researchers in linguistics believe that the word “love” is too abstract to denote the reality of human life. Many researchers may agree with this statement. Love exists in human life in various kinds and types of love, like kinship love, maternal love, romantic love, marital love, and others. Love exists in people’s lives in various feelings, emotions, attitudes, traits, and values. All these varieties of loving ideas, experiences, expressions, and actions have their own words.

According to cultural anthropologists and psycholinguists, the corresponding words have only recently evolved in some languages and societies. For centuries, many other, more specific, words denoted specific aspects of human experiences associated with the modern abstract notion of love. This is why, in various cultural contexts, people have had other words that express particular experiences, expressions, and acts of love. Because there are so many different ways to talk about love, it is hard to find words that mean the same thing in different languages (see Karandashev, 2017; 2019; 2022a). 

A Simple and Universal Linguistic Formula of Love

Nevertheless, some language researchers, like Anna Wierzbicka, have been persistent in their search for basic linguistic universals of love. Anna Wierzbicka has demonstrated that love lexicons substantially vary and can denote different things in different cultures and languages. Nevertheless, all cultures and languages are capable of communicating the ultimate meaning of love. This meaning of love is the same in all cultures, and it can be expressed in a simple formula:

“Person X does good things for person Y.”

(Wierzbicka, 1999).

So, it seems that the key cross-culturally universal meaning of love is the experience, expression, and action of giving and doing something good for another person. This is why true love is benevolent love.

The Universality of Benevolent Love Across Cultures

Benevolent love has been an enduring cultural concept for centuries.

The ancient Greek word “agape” meant benevolent, altruistic love for everyone, including family members and people you don’t know.

The comparable Latin word of the ancient Romans for this kind of benevolent love for all was “caritas.”

Christian teachings elevated benevolent love as “agape,” defining it as universal, selfless, and all-giving love to others. Agape love is completely selfless and gives without expecting anything in return.

The ancient Chinese word “ren” meant benevolent love for others. The word conveys the same benevolent meaning even though it has a specific meaning inspired by Confucian teachings that originated in ancient Chinese civilizations of past centuries.

The cross-cultural concept of benevolent love for all and everyone is present far beyond Western and Eastern cultures, far beyond Christian and Confucian religious traditions. This type of benevolent love has its own lexicon in many languages (Lomas, 2008). Here are some examples.

The Indian Sanskrit word “maitrī“means benevolence and loving-kindness.

The word “metta” is a culturally traditional Buddhist concept for lovingkindness.

The Yiddish word “gemilut hasadim”  describes the concept of loving kindness in Jewish culture.

In the Inuit language of indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions, the word “pittiarniq” expresses the meaning of benevolent love.

The Nguni Bantu word “ubuntu” of many African cultures also bears the meaning of benevolent love for all others, for humanity overall.

The Pashto language of Persian origins has the word “melmastyā́,” which essentially conveys the meaning of welcoming love for others, whether they are members of one’s own tribe or strangers. I could provide many other cultural and linguistic examples that show the benevolent nature of love (Karandashev, 2022a).

What Is Agape Love?

Agape love, in its broadest sense, refers to a love that encompasses all people and is directed toward all. Love that is selfless, selfless, and kind is love that is directed toward other people. In other words, it is love that gives without expecting anything in return and is completely selfless.

What Is Agape?

The term agape conveys a very broad meaning of love for all and for everyone. Specific forms of agape embody such feelings and actions as benevolence, compassion, kindness, and concern for others. These could be romantic partners, family members, relatives, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers.

This kind of love is an unconditional and universal feeling and action of kindness. Agape love is love for the sake of another person or other people, regardless of personal interests or benefits. This is why agape love frequently refers to the meaning of altruistic love.

What Does “Agape Love” Mean?

Even though the word “agape” derives from Ancient Greek philosophy, the other major ancient civilizations also had comparable terms. For example, the Latin term “caritas” and the Chinese word “ren” are similar in meaning to the Greek term “agape.”

“The core meaning of agape is other-centered love, selfless love, and selfless giving of anything that may convey love feelings, emotions, attitudes, and values.”

(Karandashev, 2022a, p. 290).

An individual’s capacity for agape love can be estimated by the measures of how much and how significant things they are willing to give up and even sacrifice for the benefit of another person. The feeling that an individual is willing to die – to sacrifice even their own life as the most precious thing for another person – is the highest and most complete expression of agape love.

Agape Is Self-less Love

One of the most notable features of agape love is that no return is expected. Genuine examples of such agape love are uncommon among people. True agape love is rare.

It is different from the exchange model of relationships, in which couples expect that their beloved will do something good for them. Many lovers expect pleasure and other rewards from their loved ones and relationships. When doing something good for their beloved, they implicitly expect to be rewarded in an emotional, personal, or material sense. They also expect some kind of recognition or appreciation.

The Cultural Origins of Agape

The term agape originates from Ancient Greek philosophy. As I noted above, the Latin word “caritas” is synonymous in several meanings with the Greek word “agape.” The meaning of the Chinese word “ren” is also comparable to that of the Greek term “agape.”

The ideals of agape love have been elevated in Christian culture. The concepts of agape love in Chinese culture are expressed in other words such as “ren.” Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism are the three Chinese religious philosophies that all convey the concept of agape love.

The concept of agape is present in numerous other religious traditions as well. Religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Native American spirituality promote altruistic and unconditional agape love as the most important human virtue (see Templeton, 1999 for a review).

For example, Theravāda Buddhism has praised the value of “mettā”, or “universal loving kindness.” This love of the agape type inspires the spiritual individual to “love without regard to return.” This love is communicated to others through acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity. The following a path of compassion and concern for others is the primary cultural value in the lives of Buddhists (Templeton, 1999). So, the idea and word of “agape love” have been around for a long time and have meant different things to different people in different cultures.

The “Hygge” Style of Love and Life

The Danes, according to a new global narrative, are happy people. Why Danes? Why are they frequently ranked among the happiest people in the world? The cultural idea of “hygge” could be the answer. “Hygge” is a popular Danish word that describes the Danes’ emotional culture and national character.

This Danish concept, pronounced “hyoo-guh” or “hoo-ga,” approximately translates to the word “coziness,” yet it is built around much more than that. This Danish word cannot be translated into a single English word but encompasses a set of feelings including coziness, comfort, and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. “Hygge” is a Danish mental attitude, a style of life, and a set of Danish cultural values focused on keeping a person grounded, balanced, relaxed, calm, and happy.

According to Meik Wiking at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, “hygge” is such an important part of being Danish that it is considered “a defining feature of their cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA.” (Wiking, 2017). As he puts it, in other words, “what freedom is to Americans, … hygge is to Danes.”

Life in the “Hygge” Style

People in Denmark traditionally tend to look for places and situations that set up contexts conducive to the feelings of coziness, warmth, and emotional well-being. The Danes have a national obsession with all things that make life cozy. Even the smallest and most simple things can bring us happiness, and when we take care of the little things, it often makes a difference in the bigger things as well.

The Danish culture of happiness is different from other cultures. These supposedly happiest people on earth (typically) do not talk or think about life in terms of “happy.” They look at and feel life through a different set of cultural notions and scripts. Their cultural keyword “lykke,” pronounced like “lu-Kah,” is the Danish word for joy and happiness. This Danish happiness word, however, may have different cultural connotations (Levisen, 2014). Danish people have a propensity to cultivate feelings of peace in their minds. They strive to live their lives by nurturing the sentiments of tranquility and calm delight in their thoughts, emotions, and environments. They tend to enjoy the simple pleasures of being together and living in the moment (e.g., Johansen, 2017; Søderberg, 2016).

What Is Hygge Love?

The “hygge” cultural lifestyle predisposes Danish people to love in the same style. As Meik Wiking describes, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe.” “Hygge” is the feeling which Danish men and women get when they are cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw in the company of good friends. It is that mood when they are sharing food, comfort, and easy conversation with loved ones. It is the warm sensations they feel in the morning when the light is just right on a clear blue-sky day.

What Can We Get from Hygge‘s Cultural Know-How? Meik Wiking’s “The Little Book of Hygge” is a worthwhile text for people in other cultures of the world to learn about this cultural cornerstone of Danish life and love. This valuable experience can enrich our lives in our homelands. It is knowledge worth sharing and exporting to other societies. Their cultural secrets to happy love and a happy life are simple but beneficial:

“Get comfy. Take a break.

Be here now. Turn off the phones.

Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.

Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.

Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.

Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.”

Happy love is everywhere where you set it up. Pick the right lighting. Organize a Hygge get-together. Dress hygge. These are the simple suggestions Meik Wiking gives on how to experience more joy, love, and contentment the Danish way (Wiking, 2017).

What Is the Brazilian Lexicon of Love?

Love and marriage in Brazil have a fascinating history that has been influenced by conquest and slavery during the early European settlements. Following European connections had a substantial impact on the development of Brazilian society, communities, and families. Being a former Portuguese colony, Brazil has had a significant influence of Portuguese culture and language.

Brazilian Portuguese is a Portuguese language that has a substantial regionally and culturally specific lexicon. The vocabulary of love is also interesting to know from a cultural perspective. It has a rich and multifaceted lexicon with multiple meanings and connotations.

What Is Love in the Minds of Brazilians?

In Brazil, the concept of “love” (in Portuguese, “amor”) encompasses a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors characterizing gender relations, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The meanings and emotions associated with the word “amor” are ephemeral, ambiguous, variable, and transient.

Brazilians are frequently unaware of their own feelings. When they try to understand and explain what they and others feel in relationships, they are often unclear, elusive, and figurative in their verbal expressions.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Varieties of Brazilian Love Words

Brazilians utilize various words when they refer to different kinds of love, relationships, and emotions. Among those are, for example, amor (love), paixão (passion, infatuation), amor verdadeira (true love), amor da mãe (mother love), and consideração (consideration). In recent decades, the Brazilian love lexicon has been enriched by new love words, such as “lόvi,” in the meaning of modern love, and “amor da novela,” in the meaning of “soap opera love.”

The Modern Lexicon of Brazilian Romantic love

Nowadays, the social life of Brazil, North American mass media, and Brazilian soap operas (telenovelas in Portuguese) have introduced people to the new realities and vocabulary of love. Due to the popularity of the Brazilian amorous telenovelas, the language of love today is more romantic than it used to be.

The romantic telenovelas portray the beautiful situations when loving couples look passionately and deeply into each other’s eyes, sentimentally declaring, “Ai lόvi iú.” This English saying is now everywhere in Brazil. This way, the new term “lόvi” came into the lives of Brazilians, enriching their emotional experiences. In other words, this kind of love is called “amor da novela”, whichin English means “soap opera love.”

The lόvi kind of love describes a mixture of Brazilian amor and paixão that is characterized by emotional interdependence, the verbal declaration of affection and tenderness. The lόvi embodies the magnificent images of the merging souls and bodies of lovers (Botas, 1987).

The lόvi, as a mixture of amor and paixão, brings together several love feelings. This kind of love includes the romantic emotional experiences of paixao with its passion and infatuation. It also embodies the wonderful fusion of two hearts. It represents the selfless devotion and self-abnegation of lovers and the adoration of marriage.

The Brazilian Lexicon of Romantic and Companionate Love

This lόvi kind of Brazilian love focuses on the primary significance of passionate attraction, emotional intimacy between lovers, and expressive facets of love. Both the infatuated passion of paixão and the deep, true feelings of amor are mixed together in this romantic love.

The lόvi also admires the loving man and woman as a wonderful couple. Lόvi is also viewed as a vital affective basis for marriage. This romantic love of lόvi paves the way to the essential features of companionate marital love that are based on “obrigaço”, meaning “obliga­tion”, and “consideração,” meaning “consideration.”

How Brazilians Distinguish Between Passionate Love and True Love

The Brazilian Portuguese word “amor,” which means “love,” refers to a wide range of beliefs, feelings, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize gender relationships, sexual encounters, and emotional connections. The challenges, however, arise when people distinguish between the “paixao” and the “amor” kinds of love. When they try to explains what these notions mean and how they differ, they are often uncertain, vague, and offer inconsistent explanations.

As a popular Brazilian saying states, “o coração é terra desconhecida”, that literally means “the heart is an unknown land.

Brazilian distinction between paixao and amor love

The Brazilian lexicon of love distinguishes between paixo as passion and infatuation, associated with the tumultuous emotions of sexual attraction, and amor, as stable and deeper feelings of love. Nevertheless, for many, it is difficult to tell the subtle differences between paixao and amor. They are not always sure which one is true love. People may find it especially challenging to identify these feelings in the context of their personal emotional experience. As they say, the subjective experiences of paixao and amor are very similar. It is especially challenging to distinguish between these love emotions when a relationship is just in the beginning. At these early stages of encounters, the two feelings are intertwined together.

As American Professor of Anthropology Linda-Anne Rebhun noted from her study in Northern Brazil, when people tried to differentiate their descriptions of amor and paixao, they often used similar wording. For instance, as a twenty-five-year-old man said,

Amor is when you feel a desire to always be with her, you breathe her, eat her, drink her, you are always thinking of her, you don’t manage to live without her. There are moments when you will adore staying with her, and there will be moments when you will hate to stay with her. And about paixão, you feel an attraction as if it were a rocket: I want to hug you, to squeeze you, to kiss you. But this is not love, it’s horniness, a very strong sexual attraction for a person”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.254).

This Is How Brazilians Explain What Love Is

For many Brazilians, it is challenging to say whether what they are feeling is true love or merely paixão. They say that they can’t always tell what they’re feeling when they’re in love. Sometimes they realize that they love someone only later, when their relationship ends. They recognize that they thought they hated him or her. Actually, it turned out they loved them but didn’t know it or didn’t want to acknowledge it.

As a twenty-six-year-old man put it,

“Generally, paixão is shorted-lived while amor is more enduring and lasts much longer. Now, amor and paixão, they walk together, but before the end of the road, paixão, it stops walking. But amor goes the whole distance, no matter how difficult the road, amor walks with you, and if you fall, amor carries you.”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Brazilians characterize paixão as prone to more idealization than amor. Therefore, being in paixão, a lover is at great risk of disappointment and disenchantment. As a twenty-eight-year-old man said,

Paixão is that fantasy, that you see the person and start to imagine how they are. But with time the impression changes and one becomes disillusioned, and goes looking for another person to idealize, always thinking, “This is her! This is the only one!” But it never is, because it is imaginary”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

Or, as another man of nineteen-years old commented,

Paixão is a temporary sentiment. It doesn’t last forever. It is only something that we beautify about someone. We idealize them, but that is temporary. At times paixão is the deceiver because it seems like amor. But paixão is quick, it is also very greedy; it only wants for itself. Paixão is where jealousy exists. Amor does not have jealousy, it lasts forever. It is certain. But paixão is unsure, and uncertainty is what breeds jealousy”

(Rebhun, 1995, p.253).

How Do Brazilian Men and Women Differ in Their Understanding of Love?

Both Brazilian men and women discern between the words paixao and amor, although men appear to be more confused and puzzled when they need to distinguish between the meanings of these feelings of love. Many men acknowledge that true love can exist for more than one woman at a time, although women strongly deny this possibility. They believe that amor is only monogamous and committed feelings. In the same vein, some married men believe that their affairs will not endanger their marriages because their feelings for the “other woman” are “paixo”, whereas their feelings for their wives are “amor“.

Concerning this point, many women see this male mentality as a sign that they are incapable of experiencing true love. Women believe that paixão is youthful, immature feelings, while amor is a mature and committed emotional experience. Many women say that their feelings for their spouses evolve with time in their relationship and marriage. Some women believe this transition occurred due to their own personal maturation rather than because of the change in their paixão.

In recent years, the modern Brazilian understanding of the relationship between paixão and amor has evolved. People believe that these two kinds of love can merge together when sexual passion fuses with true love in marital relationships.

Bittersweet Nicaraguan Love

Western European culture and Latin American ideas about gender relations have both influenced the values, rules, and practices of romantic love in Latin American societies. It is often a bittersweet love.

The case of Nicaraguan love is one example illustrating the regional culture of Central America. Here I illustrate how men and women in the small Nicaraguan town of San Juan understand and practice romantic love relationships. Nicaraguan love is romantic, yet it is gender-hierarchical.

The Lexicon of Nicaraguan Love

Nicaragua is a typical Spanish-speaking society. To some extent, the lexicon of love that men and women use in their daily conversations reflects their emotions and relationships. Here are at least some lexical terms that the Nicaraguan people of San Juan typically use to describe their understanding of love. These Spanish words are “amar” (to love), “amor” (love), ser cariñoso (to be loving), querer (to love or care for), ser bueno (to be good), ser tierno (to be tender), and other variants. The love words express their motivations, dispositions, and happy and sorrowful emotions. The word “suffering” is among the key terms. It describes the bittersweet experience of Latin American love. They know that love is “suffering” (Hagene, 2008; Karandashev, 2017).

Latin American Media Representations of Love

Nicaraguan women and men are familiar with the concept of romantic love thanks to TV, movies, and social media. San Juan residents regularly watch romantic films and soap operas on television. Many women, girls, men, and boys watch charming and captivating romantic stories in “telenovelas,” which are fascinating, like soap operas. One of their favorite things to do every day is watch how the romantic stories and plots unfold from episode to episode.

Brazilian, Argentinian, and Mexican studios produce many of these telenovelas. They represent Latin American love in corresponding cultural contexts. Therefore, men and women learn culturally specific scripts and expressions of Latin love.

The main theme of these telenovelas is love (amor), with romantic storylines and narratives that continue from day to day. This is how men and women learn about romantic love. The plots and characters of these telenovelas are regularly mentioned in their everyday conversations.

Thus, people are familiar with romantic themes, plots, and screenplays. These romantic narratives and depictions of romantic expressions teach them about love, emotions, and relationships. In those tele stories, passionate love and sexuality are inextricably linked in romantic love. A relationship implies exclusive commitment to the beloved partner and fidelity. But cheating is still a big part of romantic relationships, as shown in many movies and telenovelas.

Machismo and Marianismo in Nicaraguan love

The romantic love of Nicaraguan men and women reflects the social realities in which they live, such as gender hierarchy, gender inequality, stereotypical gender roles, and gender segregation in many everyday living practices. These values and norms produce culturally specific ways of loving (Hagene, 2008).

Men are considered higher than women in social and gender status. Their roles in romantic and family relationships are unequal. Culturally normative stereotypes of machismo for men and marianismo for women teach them that men are supposed to be dominant and women are supposed to be submissive. Men have more freedom than women in relationships.

Machismo and marianismo are culturally specific ideas that have a big effect on both romantic and family relationships between men and women.

Men’s machismo behavior demonstrates masculinity and some form of dominance, whereas women’s marianismo behavior demonstrates femininity and submissiveness. The machismo cultural norms expect that men should take the initiative and take the lead in romantic love relationships, like courting and dating. Maranismo cultural norms expect women to be receptive, passively synchronous, agreeable, and accept the man’s rules (Karandashev, 2017).

Men’s romanticism is typically expressed through displays of pride, womanizing, and assertive manners, with few spoken sentiments. Sexual interest is evidently dominant in men’s romantic motivations, with little commitment.

“Romanticism” in Nicaraguan Marriage

Romantic love, with its corresponding behaviors and expressions, tends to fade in a marital relationship. Nicaraguan men are often not aware of what to do or what to talk about with women beyond sexual communication. They do not know how to deal with women in a companionate relationship. So, the man’s interest in his wife wanes.

Many Nicaraguan men prefer to spend their time in leisure activities with other men in public places, chatting, drinking, gambling, and womanizing. Their “romantic love” turns to another woman. The cultural role of macho requires a man to have an extramarital affair outside of marriage. If a man does not have a lover besides his marriage, he is in a risky position to lose his macho reputation among his peers.

On the other hand, there are wives whose dramatic stories show their inclinations to tolerate their experience of being maltreated and beaten by their husbands. The male romanticism of dating turns a twist into physical and sexual violence in the marital relationship.

Submissive Romantic Love of Nicaraguan Women

Many women frequently choose to submit to men in the hopes of finding emotional fulfillment in the realm of a man’s love. They approach this challenge in their marriage in different ways. However, many prefer this adversity to being abandoned (Hagene, 2010).

Women tolerate and accept a wide range of men’s maltreatment and behaviors because it is culturally acceptable that a man can abandon and leave her at any time for another woman. Then, despite everything, the woman strives to keep the man. But in many situations, the reality is still hard: the woman has to share her husband with another woman.

Nicaraguan women must accept the situations in which their men cohabit with other women and move back and forth. Women usually describe such love feelings as “amor compartido,” which means “shared love,” or “traición,” which means “treason” (Hagene, 2010).

This “sharing” is painful but unavoidable and occurs against the woman’s will. Many women are torn between submitting to this unavoidable practice and resisting it. They try to break free from this dependency. However, this would imply that the man would be lost.

What Does Nicaraguan Love Look Like?

The idea of romantic love inspires men and women in many societies. Folk and literary stories across cultures are full of romantic joy and happiness but also drama, suffering, and even personal tragedy. They are often bittersweet. They are engaging for readers and listeners in their emotional ambivalence. What about the reality of romantic love? How does Nicaraguan love look in the small town of San Juan?

Across the history of humankind, in ancient civilizations, in traditional societies, and in modern societies, some people dared to fulfill their romantic dreams of love in their lives. Some men and women succeeded, while others did not. Some cultural contexts have been more conducive to romantic love than others.

Let us consider the case study of a Nicaraguan rural community in Central America. The “absentee patriarchy” in that context creates peculiar romantic and family relationships. Since a man often has more than one wife and family, he is away from them for quite a long period of time. Nevertheless, he continues to be in control of his wife and her life. So, we see that the reality of marriage and family life does not look romantic.

What about the ideals of love? Here is an example of men and women’s romantic love in the small Nicaraguan town of San Juan.

What Is Nicaraguan Love in Spanish?

The experience of romantic love engages a variety of feelings, emotions, dispositions, and actions. The lexicon of love certainly reflects that. In each culture, there are at least several words that are in typical usage by people (Karandashev, 2017, 2019).

In the Nicaraguan Spanish-speaking culture, the typical conversational words that people use to express their meanings of love are such as “amor” (love), “amar” (to love), querer (to love or care for), ser cariñoso (to be loving), ser tierno (to be tender), and ser bueno (to be good). The implicit notions of love, however, add more variants (Hagene, 2008).

What Is Romantic about Nicaraguan love?

Through social media, Nicaraguan women and men are acquainted with the notion of romantic love. In romantic love, passionate love and sexuality are intricately linked. And exclusivity in a romantic relationship implies a need for fidelity.

According to these romantic ideas, psychological experiences, emotional attachments, and expressive attributes of love take precedence, along with emotional and verbal intimacy. In romantic love, sex expresses strong passion and deep intimacy. Interpersonal attraction, free will, and the expectation of reciprocity flourish in romantic love. The values of practical, economic, and obligatory considerations are diminished.

Public Media Representations and the Reality of Nicaraguan Love

People in the small town of San Juan have lots of opportunities to watch romantic movies and soap operas on TV. In many families, women, girls, men, and boys watch beautiful and intriguing romantic stories in “telenovelas,” which are entertaining like soap operas. These are often their daily enjoyable habits to follow the unfolding romantic narrative episode by episode.

The main theme of such telenovelas is love (amor), with a romantic plot that progresses from one day to the next. This way, people learn about romantic love stories. These telenovelas’ plots and characters are frequently mentioned in people’s daily conversations. Thus, people are familiar with romantic themes, storylines, and screenplays. They learn about romance, love, and romantic expressions from these romantic narratives.

However, many characteristics of the social realities in which men and women live in this little town, such as gender roles, gender segregated leisure, and everyday living practices, are not conducive to romantic love (Hagene, 2008).

Hierarchical Nicaraguan Love

The communities in Nicaraguan culture have enduring explicit norms of gender hierarchy, in which men are of a higher rank than women. They have more freedom in relationships than women do. In both romantic and family relationships, their roles are unequal. According to culturally normative stereotypes, men are dominant and women are submissive. Nicaraguan culture has gender inequality between men and women.

These public stereotypes affect both romantic and family relationships. According to machismo cultural norms, men are supposed to be active, take initiative, and take the lead in romantic dating. According to marianismo cultural norms, women should be responsive, accept (or not accept) the man’s proposals, and passively follow his rules. The machismo behavior of men shows masculinity and dominance of some kind, while the marianismo behavior of women shows femininity and submissiveness (Karandashev, 2017).

These culturally specific concepts of machismo and marianismo have an impact on both romantic and familial relationships. Men’s romanticism tends to be expressed in their demonstrations of pride, womanizing dispositions, and assertive behaviors. Internal feelings, intimacy, and the expression of love are undervalued. The communicative lexicon of love is limited to little talking and a few verbalized sentiments. Sexual motivation in romantic relationships is strong.

A controversial feeling that Nicaraguan women experience in their families is divided love.

What Are Personal Identity and Social Identity?

Personal, social, and cultural identities, along with more specific kinds like sexual or gender identity, are essential constituencies of an individual’s identity. All these are about how people are aware of themselves, but they differ in the attributes that represent each of these identities.

Personal and Social Constituents of Individual Identity

Personal identity and social identity can have various contributions to our individual identity. Some people consider their personal qualities to be the most defining part of their identity, while others view their social identities as the most important part of their identity. People in different cultures also differ in this regard.

For example, in individualistic Western societies, such as the US, with high values of autonomy, individuals feel independent from any social group. Therefore, many people believe that their individual selves primarily define their identity. On the other hand, in collectivistic Eastern societies, such as Japan, with high values of connection, individuals feel interdependent with “their social group.” Therefore, many people believe that their social selves largely define their identity.

What Is Personal Identity?

The term “identity” commonly refers to the personal identity of a human individual. Identity is an individual’s understanding, self-identification, and being of who or what she or he is.

“Personal identity” is a set of beliefs, roles, traits, and other characteristics that a person believes describe himself or herself. This kind of identity refers to what kind of individual qualities a person has: whether the person is small or big, tall or short, what age they are, whether the person is emotional or rational, outgoing and extraverted or reserved and introverted, energetic or not. Personal identity can refer to self-conception and self-esteem, even though the latter may be closely related to social identity.

Personal identity refers to an individual’s “self” and how she or he is aware of it. Personal identity can also refer to his or her sexual and gender identities. However, someone may argue that gender is a social construction.

Personal awareness and self-attribution of what group the person belongs to refer to his or her social identity. Personal and social identities are intertwined with each other.

What Is the Social Identity of a Person?

Social identity is the self-perception, self-awareness, self-attribution, and self-conception of a person in relation to various social attributes and characteristics. Among those are the social roles that a person fulfills, such as mother, father, daughter, son, student, teacher, professional, worker, merchant, and customer.

People tend to divide the social world around them into “us” and “them”. That is called “social categorization,” when we put others and ourselves into social groups.

Social categorization of ourselves is an important part of our social cognition. Based on such social categorization, we socially identify ourselves with one or another group, as well as with other social groups. Then, we compare “our group,” since it is a part of our social identity, with “the other group.” Such a comparison can either humiliate or boost our self-esteem as social individuals. We are better than they are. We are stronger and smarter. The strength and intelligence of a group add extra support to our own individual qualities.

Social identity theory defines “social identity” as a person’s sense of who they are regarding group membership. The groups they belong to give people a sense of their social identity. For a person, belonging to groups such as family, friends, classmates, sports teams, and social clubs that she or he belongs to is valuable for their self-esteem.

See more about this in What are cultural stereotypes?

Proxemics and Immediacy in Interpersonal Communication

In this article, I define what proxemics and immediacy in interpersonal communication are. I also explain what the proxemic zones and immediacy of communication tell us about relationships. Cultural variations in the use of proxemics and immediacy still exist.

What Is Proxemic Communication?

Proxemics (distance), kinesics (body language), and haptics (touch) are important nonverbal messages that we use in our communication.

Proxemics is a form of nonverbal communication in which personal and social spaces of interaction convey specific meanings about interpersonal relationships. Such spatial signs and behavioral indicators express, tacitly or explicitly, certain cultural connotations.

Proxemic communication relies on the spatial distance that we keep with others around us during interaction, conversation, or just passing by. The space we leave between the other person and ourselves can signal many things about our relationships.

The American cultural anthropologist Edward Hall proposed the proxemic theory (Hall, 1966). He characterized proxemics as the hidden dimension that focused on how people in different cultures used physical space in their communication with others.

Edward Hall outlined spatial zones that characterize typical interpersonal distances that people in Western cultures tend to maintain in different kinds of social relations.

Proxemic Zones

Proxemics describe the relative distances between people in communication. These are the four proxemic zones of social interaction. E. Hall classified and defined them as public space, social space, personal space, and intimate space.

  • “Public distance” is the distance typical for public speeches and interactions. This distance is approximately greater than 210 cm. At this distance, there is little eye contact between the people who are talking, and their voices sound at a high volume. 
  • “Social distance” is the distance that is maintained during formal interactions. This distance is approximately 122-210 cm. At this distance, communicators use only visual and auditory messages.
  • “Personal distance” is the distance that is maintained during informal interactions with friends. This distance is about 46–122 cm. At this distance, communicators rely on visual and auditory contact. Facial expressiveness and vocalizations increase.
  • “Intimate distance” is the distance that is maintained in close relationships. This distance is approximately 0 to 46 cm. At this distance, communicators’ visual perceptions are blurred. A voice is low-pitched, soft, and quiet. Perception of temperature, olfactory, and touch senses play a greater role.

What Is Immediacy?

I call these territorial and spatial facets of communication “immediacy.” This cultural concept characterizes the preferred proximity of interpersonal relationships, psychological closeness, and behavioral closeness between people that is prevalent in a society (Karandashev, 2021).

The psychological concept of immediacy is closely associated with communicative concepts of proxemics.

Immediacy is an invisible psychological bubble we feel beyond our bodies. We can call it “personal space.” Individuals tend to prefer a certain personal space with other people depending on what kind of relationship they are in and how culturally appropriate it is.

The immediacy is evident in interpersonal interactions ranging from proximity to spatial distance.

What Does Immediacy Tell Us About Relationships?

Western scholars and laypeople often interpret physical closeness as a sign of accessibility, approach inclination, and warmth, while a physical distant space is interpreted as a sign of inaccessibility, avoidance inclination, and psychological detachment. Initiating and maintaining a certain distance in interpersonal communication can be evident in several expressions of nonverbal behavior (Andersen, 1985; Andersen & Andersen, 1984).

Psychological immediacy of interaction is characterized by close proximity in interaction, open body positions, eye contact, smiling, more vocal animation, touching, and expressiveness. When people have a relaxed or positive relationship with each other, they are more likely to reciprocate such behaviors.

Psychological distant interaction is characterized by greater distance in interaction, close body positions, a lack of eye contact, a lack of smiling, less vocal animation, a lack of touching, and less expressiveness. When people have a tense or negative relationship, they tend to reciprocate such immediate behaviors.

Cultural Variations in the Understanding of Proxemics and Immediacy

Due to cultural evolution, social ideas of territoriality and appropriate territorial space evolved. The territorial spaces that are identified as “ours” and “mine” vary across human societies and depend on several cultural factors (Hall & Hall, 1990; Karandashev, 2021).

Therefore, the Western psychological interpretation of proxemics and immediacy may be inadequate from a cross-cultural perspective. Explanations of spatial distance can vary across cultures (Karandashev, 2021).

Cultural connotations of proxemics and immediacy are closely associated with corresponding understandings of intimacy in close relationships in different cultures (see another article).