Is Love Universal? A Serious Inquiry.

By Cristina Garmendia, News Writer, MPP ‘13

There is a core disagreement within the student body on matters of the heart. There are some students who believe that love is universal, and then there are those who believe that love is intensely cultural and full of potential faux-pas for those attempting to make an international love connection. I consider my American mother an expert in this subject, not only did she study international relations, she also received two proposals of marriage at practically the same time. (Note: She accepted the one from my father, a Mexican graduate student.) Her advice? A proposal in person is more effective than a proposal by international mail. Penpals, take note.

For slightly more current advice and perspectives, I queried our diverse student body.

On Love: Duval Guimares (Brazil), MPP1, describes love in exactly 100 words: “Unfortunately, love, true love, is a rare and unique feeling which some people – if not many – may never get to experience. You don’t ‘find’ love, you either feel it or not. Only time can tell whether the initial passion or attraction one feels for another is indeed love. Thus, rushing to say it is like lying to yourself and your partner. You can’t ‘reason’ when is the right time to say it. If you truly feel it, the words will escape from your heart, naturally. If you are fortunate, value it. Or else, you lose the person but never the feeling.”

Radu Tatucu (Romania), MPP2, says “Being of Latin descent and having Latin blood through our veins, love is very important for Romanians and symbolizes passion, trust, mutual respect, attachment and commitment.” “So,” he explains, “saying “I love you” is quite big – although it might be used relatively more easily and frequently than in other cultures, as it clearly symbolizes the commitment to take the relationship to the next level.”

Danny Hatem (USA), MPP1, says, “Love is the same everywhere. We’re all looking for similar things… aren’t we?” “I think there are a lot of people you are compatible with based on attractiveness, personality, and shared interests. But real love is built through a shared reservoir of memories. Love is shared experience.”

Haitham Al-Salama (Qatar), MPP1, says, “Love is universal in the sense of caring for another person.” He points out a distinction, “However, different cultures think about it differently, and express it differently. Love as actions are dependent on the context in which they exist. In a Muslim or Arabic culture, most of our actions are dependent on our religion and tradition.”

To illustrate his point, Al-Salama shared the story of the woman who was allowed to liberate from a prison only one of the following people: her husband, her brother, or her son. She chose her brother. Al-Salama explains, “She can marry again and she can have another child. But she cannot replace her brother.” So while there are many kinds of love, in his culture, family love is the most important.

On Dating: “In our culture, dating is done on behalf of you by your family,” Al-Salama says. He goes on to explain, “They are protecting both parties from the potential consequences of ungoverned dating.” Preceding most arranged marriages are two to three dates in the presence of the family, if neither family has reservations about the match. While these matches are not necessarily binding, he says, “Our society is small- so I already know all about you and your family. Most of the research happens before you move forward.”

Divya Dhar (New Zealand), MPP1, reports that in New Zealand and Australia a person dates one person at a time. She was surprised to find that here in the U.S. that it is common for people to date several others at once. She says of the American method, “I would find that emotionally draining!”

Invented in America in 1998, speed-dating is a method of dating that helps people to quickly be introduced to a large number of new people. Participants meet each other for 3-5 minutes before filling out a survey to indicate whose company they enjoyed. Contact information is then provided to matching parties. Courtney Walsh (USA), MPP1, participated in a Harvard-sponsored speed-dating event this past fall. She didn’t feel there was enough time to get to know people, so she said yes to everyone. “Why would you say no?” She advises, “Being honest and open is important. At some point you have to decide. You have to pick one and move on.”

Victoria Rietig (Germany), MPP1, says, “There are no rules when to call and when not to call. If you like the other, you will call. If he or she likes you, he or she will call. If you like each other, the German Telekom gets rich and our economy grows. It’s as simple as that.”

On Marriage: Tatucu shares, “I would say that at 24, I got married probably earlier than the average Romanian couple. I did not feel any pressure neither to be married earlier, nor to delay it – it was just the call of the heart.”

Jenny Lu (USA), MPP1, anticipates living apart from her husband, an active-duty Marine, for another 1-3 years. They started dating 5 years ago after they met in a study-abroad program in Beijing, China. She says, “We’ve been long distance our whole relationship.” She shares her tips for managing the distance: (1) Commit to seeing each other every month and budget for it. (2) Make time for each other every day. “We say goodnight to each other, every single night, no matter how busy we are. We are still a part of each other’s daily lives.” (3) Acknowledge the challenging aspects of the relationship, but to fixate on them is also destructive.

Do’s and Don’ts:

Victoria Rietig (Germany), MPP1

Do: Make compliments about how nice the German language sounds – chances are high they will have never heard this compliment before and will fall for you.

Don’t: Ask them if they are from Bavaria. Only 12 out of 81 million Germans are actually from Bavaria, so in the remaining 85% of cases they will feel immediately bundled together with Lederhosen and Oktoberfest – two things they may have never seen up close.

To be fair to my friends who I interviewed for this piece, I will share my own opinion on love. I believe love is full of opportunities for failure and embarrassment so that we breathe a great sigh of relief when we are finally and blissfully no longer mortified.

Cristina highly recommends speaking to your classmates about love on a regular basis. Blood-flow to the face is practically exercise, after all. You may even be able to engineer a few emails in your inbox entitled, “Love for (your name here).” Lastly, you may find that your classmates, just like otherwise brilliant Stephen Hawking, find the pursuit of partnership utterly bewildering.