I once participated in a discussion on the topic of "Blind Dates for 985 Graduates" (985 refers to a number of the highest ranking colleges in China). Some founders of blind-date platforms think the basis of love is one's education background, hence, they believe graduates from 211 schools, which is considered a tier lower than 985 schools, should be excluded in match-making for 985 students. I found this hard to understand.
Later, I initiated the topic “Do you think marriage and love are the same?" on a social media platform. Out of the thousands of replies and comments, 83% of the respondents believe love and marriage are two separate things. Some even firmly believe that marriage has nothing to do with love. The majority of people believe love is a beautiful ideal, while marriage is a reality of rational choice.
This is consistent with the findings of a study our team had conducted regarding young people's views on love: they still believe in love, but think it won't happen to them. "Matching" (whether two people can cohabitate, which is unrelated with whether they love each other or not) is the primary factor young people consider when they think about marriage. While I am not making a value judgment on this type of rational decision-making, no one can deny that this type of thinking runs counter to the passion of love, which transcends reason and the desire to rise above dull everyday life. Hence, there are some who wonder if young people have become more conservative towards love?
In "The Agony of Eros", Byung-Chul Han illustrated the fundamental conditions of love: it needs a person to have the courage to erase oneself to realize the existence of others. However, finding others is not easy. To form a bond with others needs one to let go of self-centeredness, no longer needing the love of others to prove one’s own uniqueness, but learn to give. It is also uncertain whether this type of “giving” will guarantee something in return. In order for love to occur, an individual must first accept this uncertainty and insecurity. Such insecurity not only exists in one’s relation with another, but also exists in one's relationship with oneself. Love brings with it great uncertainty, such as the questions of whether one's partner will continue to love him/herself, whether one is worthy of love or not, or whether two people can keep being together or not.
In the "slow era" of the past, people's lives were very stable, where chasing after love was a way for one to achieve an uncertain and extraordinary life experience. However, in modern-day society, uncertainty itself is a part of societal culture. Society is changing constantly and plans can never catch up with change. Living in this environment of high uncertainty, young people, especially those from big cities, are faced with mounting work pressures and worries about the future. This makes them unwilling to challenge uncertainties in their private lives, but hope to grasp things that are certain to gain a sense of security.
Young people who still want to head into relationships or marriages, or are already in these relationships tend to use some quantitative indicators to increase the certainty of their relationships. Such as, exchanging information about education background, hometown, and financial conditions on blind dates to ensure the quality of their future marriage. Couples prefer using money transfers and other ways to evaluate the other person's love. It is hard for "feelings" to be certain, but these indicators can. Since people cannot guarantee feelings, then they must first guarantee the things that are certain. Love, which used to be uncertain hence became certain in such a way.
I am not trying to criticize today’s young people for being conservative or backwards in their views towards love and marriage. Rather, choosing conditions that are certain is the way young people can face the pressures of modern-day society. In this age, love seems more and more "out of touch with the times": it contains too much uncertainty and it is hard to be efficient. Due to these reasons, love has become a game for the brave in today’s society. Despite all these setbacks, there are still those who are willing to try.
In a society full of uncertainties, if you only chase after certainty, then your world will gradually become narrower. When you are absolutely secure, then you might not be able to encounter any challenge or opportunity, such as love. In an era full of uncertainties, love can bring you onto a journey of self-discovery. Through different collisions, you can shape yourself, build connections with others, open up your world and your imagination towards life, and experience an interesting life.
Author: Shen Yifei, associate professor at Sociology Department of Fudan University