Romantic Love in Hong Kong: Care, Closeness and Commitment

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Romantic love is believed to be a biological and universal emotion. While experienced by most people, these feelings are culturally conditioned – cultures affect how we perceive, feel, think, and act being in love (Karandashev, 2015). Empirical findings presented that Eastern and Western attitudes and beliefs about romantic love differ widely on major dimensions. Interestingly, Hong Kong retains much of Chinese values (Hofstede, 2001) despite substantial exposure to Western culture as a British Colony for over 150 years. Romantic love here does not only involve idealization of the partner and psychological arousal (Averill, 1985; Fehr, 1994), but more importantly commitment to his/her well-being. When expressing one’s love, we do not expect it to be as necessary to verbally say “I love you” as to do it through

  1. Care
  2. Closeness
  3. Commitment

Care: Psychological individualism when starting a relationship, vertical collectivism when maintaining a relationship

Individualism-collectivism is a paramount dimension of cultural variation of romantic love. We can further split it into two categories, societal vs psychological and vertical vs horizontal. Psychological individualism-collectivism is shown by individual differences in a particular society whilst societal individualism-collectivism is revealed by comparisons across countries (Dion and Dion, 1996). Vertical individualism-collectivism concerns about the relationship with family, in particular parents, whereas horizontal individualism-collectivism focuses on the relationship with others, for instance, friends (Wang and Lu, 2017).

In Hong Kong, a traditionally collectivistic society, we see changes in the direction of greater psychological individualism among young adults when selecting a partner (K.K. Dion and K.L. Dion, 1996). Instead of having much parental interference, the freedom of an individual to follow his/her personal wishes and pursue gratification in a romantic relationship is much valued; arranged marriage is no longer acceptable. In a cross-cultural study that has been conducted by Levine, Sato, Hashimoto, and Verma (1995) and also in our lecture, a vast majority of Hong Kong university students stated that “they were not willing to marry without being in love even if a man/woman had all the qualities he/she desired”. This value orientation towards self-expression we now have is adequately comparable to those traditionally individualistic societies like the United States and Australia.

Nevertheless, vertical collectivism that greatly emphasizes family ties comes into play in fostering the intimacy of the relationship. Even if a romantic relationship is not necessarily regarded as a stage before marriage, we would see the partner as a family member and are willing to form family bonding with them (Wang and Lu, 2017), also with our parents. With such bonding, Hong Kong people tend to endorse an altruistic view of love. For example, whether making trivial or important decisions in a relationship, we constantly take into consideration what works the best for us instead of our own self and be driven to subordinate personal development to maximizing shared interests. Growing together as a dyad is more important than growing as an individual. This aligns with the Chinese family teachings that great love requires sacrifice; that selfish possession is not virtuous (Wan, Luk and Lai, 2000). Less self-actualized individuals like us hence show more love, specifically care, for our partner (Steck, Levitan, McLane, and Kelley,1982).

Closeness: Clingy attachment

Romantic love involves different extent of intimacy and independence. Hatfield and Rapson (1995) conceptualized romantic attachment into four styles: secure (comfortable with both closeness and independence), clingy (desire closeness but not independence), skittish (desire independence but not too much closeness) and fickle (uncomfortable with both closeness and independence).

Although most people asserted to possess a secure attachment style in most cultures (Schmitt , 2008), Hong Kong people are prone to clingy romantic attachment (Hatfield and Rapson, 2010) due to internalized working models (Moore, Leung, Karnilowicz and Lung, 2012). The type of attachment developed with parents during childhood is found to be transferrable to that with a romantic partner in adolescence and adulthood (Collins and Sroufe, 1999; Dinero, Conger, Shaver, Widaman and Larsen-Rife, 2008) because the early experiences lay a fundamental understanding of how one should form and maintain a relationship. In Hong Kong, helicopter parents, who overly care about and control their children in order to nurture them to high flyers, have become a worryingly prevalent trend. Under this parenting style, children severely lack the autonomy to think for themselves and do what they want. When people get used to the overdependencies in the relationship with their family, they may more easily be indulged in romantic relationships and are dependent on the partner. In case they are forced to be independent, the clingy would feel uneasy and see it as a disapproval of his/her highly valued partner, resulting in low sense of self-worth.

Commitment: Yuan and Confucianism

In addition to the above etic variables of romantic love, more culture-specific but less explored concepts such as the Chinese notion of yuan and Confucianism values provide insights into why the mean length of romantic relationships in Hong Kong is much higher (Moore, Leung, Karnilowicz and Lung, 2012).

Yuan is originally rooted from a Buddhist belief in the role of predestiny in relationship development but is not equivalent to the “randomness” of fate illustrated in the Western ideal (Goodwin and Findlay, 1997). Despite the weakening linkage between yuan and traditional Buddhist beliefs (Yang and Ho, 1988), the belief in yuan is still significantly strong in Hong Kong. It has a binding effect on romantic relationships and is highly correlated to serious commitment to a partner. A predestined relationship underlines pragmatic functions (Goodwin and Findlay, 1997), including the family obligation or stability of a person involved in a relationship, rather than solely being based on strong emotional experiences. Since couples are together due to yuan, we may not have complete control over the course of relationship. When relationship problems arise especially in a marriage, we would sometimes attribute them to predestiny rather than the partner (Goodwin and Findlay, 1997). This makes seeking alternative romantic relationships a less attractive solution to showing extra tolerance. Couples can thereby accept and commit to each other through ups and downs.

In the meantime, sexual experimentation is not socially sanctioned in our society. According to the Confucian ethical system, there are three guiding principles to regulate social behavior, namely benevolence and forgiveness (ren), righteousness (yi), and propriety (li) (Gabrenya & Hwang, 1996). Open relationship that allows sexual non-monogamy, one form of game-playing love, is relatively common in the West but totally against any of the Confucian principles. We view it as an egocentric desire for sexual stimulation (Wan, Luk and Lai, 2000). To satisfy physical needs, we would stick to the same partner rather than getting engaged in many interpersonal interactions. Those who do the latter are doomed to be criticized, well evidenced by the cheating scandal between local celebrities Andy Hui and Jacqueline Wong. Huge emphasis on loyalty in Hong Kong leads to more committed and lasting relationships.

In this increasingly globalized society, romantic love will be getting less cultural specific given more natural convergence of different cultural ideologies (Hatfield and Rapson, 2005). People become less interconnected and interdependent; divorce rate is soaring. We therefore do hope Hong Kong couples will stay caring, close and committed to a relationship.

Cite this paper

Romantic Love in Hong Kong: Care, Closeness and Commitment. (2021, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/romantic-love-in-hong-kong-care-closeness-and-commitment/

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