Love can no longer be defined by traditional ideals.
By Jude Jiang (with additional writing by Richard Trombly)
Over the past 30 years, while China’s modernizing has given it an economy that rivals the West, its divorce rate has also developed apace. A recent statistic, released by Civil Affairs Department of China, shows that in 2019 four out of ten Chinese marriages ended in divorce. When in a single day over ten thousand Chinese couples absolved their mutual promise of a life-long vow, some people cast judgments and extol so-called traditional values.
It’s always been hard. Is it harder?
Divorce and break-up entail bleak, painful transformational stages. Eat alone, sleep alone, do hobbies that were once enjoyed with a partner, alone. It can be hard to readjust to single life. And some people have never lived alone before. We must also face the unbearable phantom of reliving memories of sweet moments shared with our “ex”. After our idealized expectations meet the reality wall, we endure the disillusionment and various emotional distresses. It can lead to painful introspection about questions like “What is love?”, “Is there a true and everlasting love?” and other existential angst.
“In truth, our partners are as imperfectly human as we are. Perhaps that image of ideal love has damaged us because we never find that perfect partner that completes us and solves every problem and removes all sadness in our lives. When we have our eyes fixed on that illusory fantasy, we overlook so many wonderful sources of love in our lives, right in front of us.”
These questions have fueled the quest of poets, musicians, philosophers, writers and artists through the millennia because these issues are so very and essentially human. As modern societies keep growing under burgeoning populations, seeking and sustaining love relationships seems even harder where many aspects of fast-paced, high-tech, plugged-in modern life can challenge a couple’s relationship. Has the equation of love become harder to solve or are we so distracted by modern life that we have more trouble finding it? Modern Love, a recent series streamed on Amazon Prime explores this issue.
The Color of Love
When we express love for someone online or wear T-shirts that say “I love (something)”, the word love is often expressed as an image of a vibrant, red heart. This symbolizes our image of a volcanic powerful passion we connect with love. That emotion fuels an ardent energy that leads people to tackle great obstacles in the quest to find eternal love.
It is rare to see love symbolized in other colors of the spectrum. Psychologically, blue can represent calm and peaceful but in the very word blue is symbolized depression, so much so that there is an entire genre of jazz devoted to it. So it certainly seems out of place to see the poster for Modern Love, with its symbol of a heart painted in blue. While it seems so incongruous at first to see a blue heart, the series which is based on a column in the New York Times, explores love through this non-traditional lens.
Men have been raised with fairy tales of overcoming all the obstacles to win the perfect princess who will become your queen and be by your side eternally, while women were told to wait passively and their prince will come. We also have a huge body of idealized yearning and longing in song and poem as well endless novels of finding the perfect love that will give us a happily ever after ending if we find that one true love. We watch the same trope endlessly on the screen. Love solves it all and then you will be happy. In truth, our partners are as imperfectly human as we are. Perhaps that image of ideal love has damaged us because we never find that perfect partner that completes us and solves every problem and removes all sadness in our lives. When we have our eyes fixed on that illusory fantasy, we overlook so many wonderful sources of love in our lives, right in front of us.
Modern Love looks at what you have when you move beyond the fairy tale of the passionate, perfect or idealized love that we see all the time in literature and on the screen. It depicts how we experience love in modern times, with an accepting view of what love looks like, for the rest of us.
Based on the personal essays of New York Times readers submitted over the years to the column, Modern Love, this anthology series retains an intimate tonality of the original authors’ perspectives of love. The eight stories in the first season of Modern Love present a forum for observing a broader definition of love for our times, often with the hardships and depression it embodies, across the spectrum of non-traditional couple’s love relationships.
Modern Love is grounded solidly in the volatile modern reality where many human needs that are no longer met through the traditional societal structure of marriage and family, must now be satisfied through finding connection with others. The first episode is a wonderful example and one of the more compelling stories of a very different love.
Love Through Blue-tinted Lenses
In the first episode entitled When the Doorman is Your Main Man, we are introduced to a couple on the streets of the city on a first date. We expect to follow their romance. Instead, the date ends with an awkward kiss and the guy never calls Julie, our heroine again but we discover that she has a peculiar relationship with her fatherly doorman.
Guzim, the immigrant doorman, expresses his disdain of the admittedly ineligible men in whom Julie looks to find her prince charming. Instead of being offended, she instead bonds with him and even seeks his approval or rejection of the men. This bookish writer, who moved to NYC and is alone in the big city, is endlessly reading books and seems to be stuck in that world on the written page. Her relationship with the doorman is one of her few tenuous social bonds.
In her inept and immature quest for fulfillment of her desire to find the perfect love, she inadvertently finds herself pregnant. The biological father is neither eligible nor interested in being involved. After she turns to her unconventional mentor for advice and support, she makes the big choice to be a single mom.
With Julie facing pregnancy and then raising her child alone, there is the ever-present protective influence of the doorman. The relationship between these two strengthens as he becomes involved as she takes on this new life. He even has moments as an impromptu babysitter when the realities of hectic schedules and city traffic create obstacles for the single mom. We naturally expect that there is a developing love that will be requited, even if this would be an autumn-spring relationship. However, the love that does develop between them is never sensual. In the end, maybe Guzim replaced Julie’s need for family love since she was distant geographically and spiritually from her family.
“…ours was a common and unsung friendship, that between women living in New York, single and alone, and the doormen who take care of them, acting as gatekeepers, bodyguards, confidants and father figures,” wrote Julie Margaret Hogben. “Not because it’s part of the job, but because they’re good men.
The other episodes in this anthology also treat unconventional aspects of love rather than romance. Maybe love will not take the shape of the fairy tale but if we look at it under a different lens, that might not be such a bad thing. The reality is, many will never find happiness in a traditional marriage but one might ask, if those marriages, so prescribed and inescapable in the past societies, were ever happy.
So, maybe, the modern world’s high divorce rate shouldn’t concern us too much. Love may come in many colors.