WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: What price love?

As with most of the higher subjects I teach, Sociology 225 is largely discursive, drawing from the students a theoretical framing of their own experiences, as well as from the experiences of others from the interviews, surveys, and case studies that I make them do. And so we talked about love, and you can guess that we had a lot to talk about on the eve of the Day of Hearts.

The world has changed, but much of the way people relate to each other is still guided by the inertia of tradition. Having exhausted the grounds for division of labor across genders to demystify the power differentials that flow from it, we took off from the rise of feminism and the resulting battle of the sexes that sought to break down in the modern age the archaic constructs of chivalry for men and helpless maidenhood for women. For men to be knights in shining armor, women need to be damsels in distress. In 2007, soap operas still propagate this prescription to man-woman relationships. They are still an implicit prescription to behavior that the young receive despite this being the human rights regime.

Not surprisingly, more men than women still believe in love at first sight. They, after all, have to do the picking. A man in love tends to overromanticize and idealize the object of his affection. Hero and Alex, for example, reflected that their interest in particular members of the opposite sex is quick to burn and quick to die out. Their teacher was quick to ask them about why it died out.

When a man turns goo-goo-eyed, that is an indicator of the intensity to his emotion. He can’t sustain it. No one can. For many, goo-goo eyes go away once they unlock the mystery of her attraction. When ideal collides discordantly with real, Hero and Alex would rather not take the disappointment. And so in the movies, it usually goes, "Ay, ganyan ka pala. Niloko mo ako!" The higher you climb, the harder you fall.

In the old tradition that constantly insinuates its patterns to the way we relate with each other in these times, women are to be won and won over. Their value appreciates when they keep the man striving. Even the Kama Sutra has some sage advice on how she could do this, for once won and won over, a woman might as well have her head cut off and hung on her man’s belt. Spoils of war. Hey, didn’t I say this was a battle?

In the traditional view of man-woman interactions, men approach relationships with sex in mind, sometimes foremost, sometimes subconscious, but most definitely in mind. Women, on the other hand, tend to downplay the element of sex and emphasize sentiment, empathy, and nurturance. Social conditioning maybe. Cultural programming. Whatever the case, it’s kind of funny to watch guys and girls exchanging actions that are at cross-purposes and really believing that they so totally understand each other.

Love is a system of exchange. Someone out there is someone willing to buy. What are you willing to give and what do you wish to take? The wares are catalogued under economic, social, and physical resources. The people in your opportunity pool have their degrees of attractiveness depending on their resources. And if you are in their opportunity pool, you are similarly ranked.

Oh, God, I am a cynic.

I have good students. I’m afraid some of that cynicism rubbed off, much to my regret.

We talked about Freud’s concept of love and how love is directed to someone who reminds you of the first object of your love or to someone who reminds you of you. We were out of case studies for that one, so we ended up comparing the girls and guys my students fell for in their young lives. Surprise! They were a lot similar in physical appearance, temperament, background, and even names. The guys idealized their mothers and would usually see her echoed in their girlfriends. The girls, on the hand, fell for someone who evinced similar interests and much agreement with them.

By this time, the gloomy atmosphere was already palpable. But we still had several minutes to deal with love as a ritual replete with the elements of face-to-face interaction, shared focus of attention, shared sentiments, and shared symbols.

Love seldom survives distance, as many OFWs out there know. There is that emerging prevalence of holiday love affairs among Saudi boys and Hong Kong girls, for example. Saudi boys get sex while Hong Kong girls get someone who understands life away from loved ones. Hey, it works for them. There’s nothing like man-woman relations playing out out-of-the-box to allow one to tease out the salient factors to the phenomenon. Relations like that are experiential compartments out of time. Their families back home seldom know about it.

Face-to-face interaction is required to sustain attention, sentiments, and the sharing of symbols. In the age of labor migration, a lot of effort is required to make duty and memory substitute for the requirement of face-to-face interactions. It’s probably a lot easier on those left behind because they at least have in their daily lives the symbols and the objects of attention to remind them.

Science rips away our delusions. In distress, this question was called out: How do you keep the fire burning?

Science has an answer to that, too. Periodic dyadic withdrawal, it is suggested. I would suggest that, too, if psychologically you both are living in the human rights regime. Renew what face-to-face interaction brings to a relationship. Make love a ritual of two hearts in communion. And no, it doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day alone.

Or you could always take refuge in the collective delusion of archetypal fantasies. Be the champion that wins the lady’s favor. Be forever his eye candy, the lady in the tower. Be his mother. Or, whatever you do, always agree.

You got the formula. Work it out. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)