adapted from an article by Xiren Wang
Knowing your partner’s love language is a good starting point but understanding the cultures and subcultures in which they were raised is critical to a happy relationship.
Our understanding of love has been conditioned by our cultures and subcultures from the moment we first learned what love could be. The same words could have different meanings for different people. The same behaviors could show attachment or be just a friendly gesture.
When someone asks you out, when is it a date, and when is it just casual? What may seem significant to you – meeting your new partner’s parents- may not be substantial at all to your partner or his parents. We tend to attach significance to specific things while brushing aside behaviors that are also quite specific. All of this second-guessing could lead to a lot of misunderstandings.
I have found it frustrating at times to date in Salt Lake City. There is a predominant religion here, and as soon as I reveal my affiliation with said religion, there is an automatic assumption about me that is mainly false. People in Utah have formed an opinion about those inside the religion and those outside of the religion. The vast majority pigeon-hole you into one of those categories. I find that to be tragic; the opportunity to get to know someone as an individual is buried beneath bias. Whomever you chose to date, it is a whole new world and a chance to learn a different “language” of romance.
I am an avid reader and love Jane Austen. The problem with reading these novels of romance is that I set myself up for unrealistic expectations of love. If she had written about dating as a more mature woman in Utah, I might have been prepared for what awaited me when I found myself suddenly single.
One thing to keep in mind when dating is that subtlety doesn’t cut it. Being obvious doesn’t suck when it comes to love. You see, your partner cannot read your mind. You may speak the same language, have a similar religious viewpoint, be very compatible, and have that spark that makes everything seem rosy – for a while. However, embedded within the relationship are meanings, intentions, moods, and emotions that you each assign your own set of values to. You will each interpret different meanings from common behaviors and words. Why? Because you each learned how to love from different people, different cultures, from different spaces, with different experiences and frames of reference. There is a lot of truth to the line in the song Daughters by John Mayer – “Father’s be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do….Mother’s be good to your daughter’s too.”
With online dating taking away the necessity to be geographically close, our differences are not immediately noticed. Where you come from seems to be irrelevant. Except, our behaviors and beliefs are still very much encoded by where we are from and where we are domesticated. We can’t improve as a human being if we can’t put our fingers on the origins of the makeup of our love.
I’m a fan of Don Miguel Ruiz, and he defines domestication as a system of control, operating on (and thus teaching those who are a part of it) conditional love:
“Starting when we are very young, we are presented with either a reward or a punishment for adopting the beliefs and behaviors of what others find acceptable. When we adopt these behaviors and beliefs, as a result of either reward or punishment, we can say we have been domesticated.”
Don’t fret; we are not cats and dogs. Domestication happens to all of us, to various degrees. If we are raised differently, we have been conditioned to love differently. We know a country can differentiate us, but so can experience, a book, a movie, a former lover, a memory, a need, and even an attitude.
Because domestication steeps within us, normalized beliefs and behaviors through conditional love, become what we know best, and they become our default. We don’t enter a relationship with a clean slate. Not even if it’s our very first relationship. We enter into a relationship with normalized beliefs of what love is, in all their limiting and controlling ways, before we ever accumulate any baggage. Is it any wonder that so many relationships fail?