How Do Some Asians Say ‘I Love You’ To Each Other?

‘I love you’. Just three words. But three words some typical Asians like those of Chinese heritage find hard to say out loud when it comes to dating and romantic relationships.

There’s this common stereotype: Asians are reserved about expressing romantic sentiments towards each other. In a progressive world where traditional and modern perspectives collide, sometimes this is still true, and sometimes not.

Love is colourful as much as it is complex | Weekly Photo Challenge: Dense.

Love is colourful as much as it is complex | Weekly Photo Challenge: Dense.

There are different degrees of love, physical and emotional. Different ways of expressing romantic love during different moments – depending on our personality, the ways we are actually comfortable expressing it and what we believe in. Personally, I’m reserved about my love life and won’t be sharing my serious relationships here; it isn’t the whole world’s business.

Providing by way of giving and protecting is commonly how stereotypical Asians show love. Love involves practicality, and a touch of materiality to impress: building up comfortable surrounds by providing food on the table, a roof over heads and clothes on the back. While the One Child Policy in China has been phased out, it has resulted in many more males than females in the country. Many Chinese men are inclined to save and own flashy cars and prime accommodation to catch the eye of potential, highly sought after female companions and settle down, in a time where hierarchical Asian family values still exist.

One hot and humid afternoon during high school in Singapore, a Chinese Singaporean classmate came up to me and asked, “D-d-do you want to go s-shopping?” I was flattered but I’m not a girly girl who likes shopping – and going shopping was what my Singaporean male classmates liked to do with their girlfriends. Notably, with each Asian guy I’ve been on a date with, either that or eating is always first on the agenda.

For stereotypical Asians, saying I love you entails being physically apart, geographically distant. A lack of physical presence doesn’t mean a lack of presence in a relationship. Research from the University of New York shows Chinese couples frequently ‘live apart together’ in long distance relationships: frequently a parent works outstation where the dough is to raise a parachute family and younger couples willingly live apart to give each other space.

Arguably then in Chinese culture, actions speak louder than words when it comes to expressing emotions deep from the heart. In Chinese culture, telling someone ‘I love you’ face-to-face often comes across as too harsh, too confronting, too full on. Saying ‘wǒ ài nǐ (我爱你) / I love you’ in Mandarin or ‘ngo ngoi nei / I want you’ in Cantonese sounds awkward and feels embarrassing. According to this study by Michigan State University, historically and even today, many Chinese were raised and disciplined with negative language by stern parents; not wholly conditioned to warm towards affection but more reticent to verbalising it than Western Americans. When you can’t speak love, what’s left to do is to show it.

Love is ....

Love is ….

Though I’ve never heard my Chinese-Malaysian parents say ‘I love you’ to each other, I’ve never had a problem with anyone saying the phrase to each other. I’m not that liberal with the phrase out loud myself. Probably nothing to do with how I was brought up. As a shy person with social anxiety, making the first move on anyone is a no-no for me. Also, countless times a doll-faced girl like me gets a random guy stumbling close and saying, ‘From when I saw you over there, I knew I loved you. Let’s go….’. Those three words can mean nothing.

And so love is a feeling for many typical Asians, and the essence of ‘I love you’ starts off with an emotional connection, less so physical affection. During the Mao era in the mid 20th century, sex was seen as a tool for procreation, sexless military dress-sense advocated and adultery punished in the midst of women becoming victims of sexual violence. Today discipline is still common in conservative (Confucian) Chinese families: conventional order of family is highly valued while sex education is swept under the rug, and passionate physical intimacy and public display of affection are seen as immoral.

However, more and more younger generation Asians are engaging in sex and one night stands for enjoyment. There are more sex shops in Beijing than in New York. It might not be talked about in the open, but love is physical as much as it’s emotional for the more open-minded among us today.

I love physical intimacy. To an extent. Once I had a three-hour sushi dinner with an Asian guy; we’d hung out with a couple of times previously. After the meal, he walked me home. I said I was freezing that winter night. He grabbed my hand. I gripped back. He pulled me close, our bodies pressed together. When we reached my place, we stood face-to-face. Our noses almost touched. But ever the slightest bit, with certainty I backed away. Nope, no kiss.

With different degrees of love comes different definitions of love, different kinds of relationships and different wants out of relationships. You can always experiment with physical affection to make that kind of love work. But when it comes to emotional attachment, you can’t help but feel how you really feel. And that is special as it is through this untamed emotional feeling that we truly connect with each other and take ‘I love you’ to a deeper level. That’s not to say an emotional connection or a friendship can’t develop over time whilst getting physical with each other. It’s possible, but maybe more of a gamble.

Love is...

Love is…

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone loves you as the person whom you are. It’s one thing to say to someone you love them, and another to show you’re not just lusting after them. Sometimes after a few dates with Western male expats, Chinese girls start talking about marriage and planning their futures with them. Unless you feel you’ve met the love of your life, it’s confronting to have intimate conversations with a stranger.

This begs the question: what is love? Love is complex. Love is the big things together like lavish candle-lit dinners, holiday getaways, jewellery gifts. Love is the small things together like taking out the garbage, sitting together after a long day. Love is the unspoken routines between each other, and the petty disagreements too. Love is what it is when we agree, and more so when we disagree with each other and move along together. Each relationship is different; saying I love you is different in each relationship.

In this modern multicultural world, there are heterosexual couples, mixed race couples, varying age-gap couples, same-sex couples, long distance couples, and so on. While there are up-and-coming LGBTIQ+ scenes in places like Taipei, same-sex love is still characterised by invisibility in most of Asia where traditional society norms dominate the status quo. For some Asians, saying ‘I love you’ is a private affair more than ever and consequently, love and ‘I love you’ knows no boundaries. As Oscar Wilde said on truly loving someone:

‘You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.’

More times than I can count, guys wink at me in the middle of conversations, in social circles and especially at the many corporate offices where I’ve worked. A wink is silent, an ever-guessing message. It could be a sexually suggestive sign, flirting, a greeting, an affirmation, a sign of sexism, a combination of it all, anything. Not that I mind being winked at. Not even coming from those who have some degree of yellow-fever. Doesn’t make me uncomfortable; some winks turned into meals together and good company.

In general, you can date multiple people at once before committing to a committed relationship with someone. For many younger generations Asians today, love and saying ‘I love you’ is a fluid game. Dating shows in China attract millions of viewers, shows where women make demands from potential male suitors and men taking their picks from bevies of girls to find their match. Dating apps such as Tinder, QQ, Momo and Tandan give one the possibility of finding their match or a ‘quickie’ literally right now in China.

But if it’s two people just dating each other at the same time, it arguably feels all the more special. Just the two of you. Just for each other.

The smallest moments between each other speak the loudest love.The smallest moments between each other speak the loudest love.

The smallest moments between each other speak the loudest love.

Of all the guys I have truly loved and love today, we’ve been friends for a while; it’s the subtle moments between us that matter and knowing true love is more than just a good fuck. Moments like that random hug whilst walking down a busy street. When we tell each other off because one of us is really being crazy or an idiot or a crazy idiot. When we pick up the phone anytime and text each other that ‘wtf’ moment going on our end. Just being ourselves with each other, speaking and acting our minds. Knowing we got each other’s back. As author E.A. Bucchianeri said on presenting each other our deepest sides:

‘Love is supposed to be based on trust, and trust on love, it’s something rare and beautiful when people can confide in each other without fearing what the other person will think.’

Love is a mystery, and love is intimidating as much as it’s amazing. The more you love and the more emotionally attached you are to someone, the harder you’ll fall but the easier it is to say ‘I love you’ in one way or another, no matter where you are from, who you’ve been and who you are right now.

Because you want to.

How do you say ‘I love you’ to that special someone?

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230 thoughts on “How Do Some Asians Say ‘I Love You’ To Each Other?

  1. You are absolutely right Mabel…displaying romantic love openly has never been easy for Asians because of the unwritten laws of our culture though modern couples have become bolder but when it comes to letting their parents or brothers know it, girls make their best efforts to hide for fears of getting punished.

    Dating is still taboo especially in small towns and villages but secret love affairs do thrive. Cinema and western shows have emboldened youngsters. Love is just a word to flirt and experiment. I wonder whether this term is actually understood by immature adolescents who claim to be in love! Often their first choices prove to be erroneous…True love keeps smiling in our eyes, Like a fountain that never dries…

    After marriage too, those couples who live in a joint family are expected to convey their love through their eyes as words or touch are considered to be impatience and immodesty! You are so right – ‘I love you’ is expected to be a ‘private affair’ and societal norms are quite difficult to change.
    I have written about love and one of the links is here:
    https://balroop2013.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/what-is-love/

    Liked by 1 person

    • “unwritten laws of our culture ” The perfect way to describe the context of love in Asian and Indian culture, Balroop. I’ve had many Indian female friends who come from a background where arranged marriage is still highly looked upon, so it is interesting to hear you say it dating is still taboo in small towns.

      Also so agree with you that love is a word that so many of us flirt with these days, and as per your post on love, love also encompasses friendship and bonding. In other words, love has many layers and it is often the unspoken layers of love that keeps such a great feeling going.

      Thank you for showing us the way to positivity and love through your words and your engagement with all of us, my friend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We are at very different stages in life, Mabel. When I was younger, I was much more ‘out’ with – well – everything. I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of it, but I didn’t know who I was or what I really felt. With time and experience, I’ve become much more inner directed. So though I have no problem saying ‘I love you’ to anyone I love, I’m more cautious about flinging it about like fairy dust. Love carries an understood responsibility ‘to’ love, I think. I don’t take love lightly in that way. It’s kind of like saying I have acquaintances and I have friends. Just a few friends, whom I love and am willing to go the distance with. Then there is my husband and my daughters. Which is deeper still. And then there is Hawaii in general, where Aloha is, if not love exactly, a warm sentiment that brings hugs to everyone one meets and a heart connection. So in the end, love expresses itself differently in different circumstances. Aloha, Mabel – food for thought! ❤

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  3. Wow, what a complex situation we now find ourselves in after so many cultural changes and turnarounds. Part of me feels traditionally Asian with the reticence and conservative nature but I’ve lived in Australia all my life and exclusively been in relationships and close friendships with women who are not Asian.
    Like you Mabel, I’m not about to share anything of my personal experiences, except to say you have a great talent for describing what is currently the situation we find ourselves in.
    This would be of benefit for people who are not Asian but who love or like an Asian person to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love today is such a grey area these days, couldn’t agree with you more. You could be someone’s pet one moment and the next a nobody. Or you could get romantically involved with more than one person.

      Thanks, Gaz. This was a tough post to write. Love and relationships are so colourful these days. Good to know you are popular with the ladies 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When you talk as much as I do, nothing says “I love you” as much as listening.

    When you are as laconic as my Chinese-American husband, nothing says “I love you,” like simply saying, “I love you.”

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  5. Another complex and well thought-out piece, Mabel. I hesitate to add anything, mainly because I feel so under-qualified and inexperienced to comment about this personal topic but, well, let’s see how I go…

    ‘…it isn’t the whole world’s business.’ – Speaking of Asians being stereotypically reserved, yesterday I had lunch with a Korean friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen for a few years and she was so quick to probe my current relationship status and ask all manner of questions about that. I suppose that is just the nature of her personality and upbringing, though – like me and you, she has spent the majority of her life in Australia.

    ‘Different ways of expressing romantic love…’ – though I haven’t read it, I understand the books on the ‘Five Love Languages’ are quite famous among Christian circles, even though (I don’t think) they are written specifically for Christian couples. The American author outlines the ‘languages’ of giving gifts, time, affirmation, service, and physical touch/intimacy, and I think that’s a fairly good summary of the broad ways we collectively express love to a special someone. Spending time with a Caucasian family in my church small group, I notice the parents are quite physically expressive with their three children (one in late primary school, the other two in early/middle high school), as well as affirming them verbally (though disciplining where necessary too). I think I’ve mentioned before that my parents, on the other hand, while they are not Asian-Asian do not share much in the way of physical nor verbal expression of love, yet provided well for me and my brother in terms of food, education, a stable home to grow up in, etc. So even in family situations, expressions of love can show differently, and between those parents, I think expressions of romantic love shows differently as well.

    On the topic of love and sex, while I think they are related in the context of a romantic relationship – and ideally kept together within a marriage – I strongly disagree with the notion that many people have that they are the same thing. Portrayals of sex in the media, particularly in Hollywood movies, seems to say that a romantic relationship isn’t ‘complete’ until the couple has had sex together – I really dislike that and it’s very unhelpful for youth who see things like that and come to believe that sex is necessary for their relationships. I’ve also heard the unhelpful stereotype that men only love in order to get sex and women only give sex in order to receive love. It’s a terrible thing to say, and yet for many people this rings true – a shallow, pale imitation of what love is really about.

    ‘Love is love’ is also a catch-cry of many people pushing for political correctness in our society today. I don’t want to say too much on this because it’s not directly related to your post and I’m sensitive of the unhelpful and hostile debates it can generate, but in response to such a mentality I would say that there is such a thing as ‘love’ or expressions thereof that is inappropriate. Certain forms of ‘love’ have become acceptable in western society today, but try telling ‘love is love’ to the man or woman who has found that their spouse has been unfaithful to them in the name of ‘love’, or that we should bless a romance between an adult and a minor because it is ‘love’, or that people should be allowed to ‘marry’ their pet or whatever because it is ‘love’. Regardless of one’s opinion on this current issue, I do wish for a less hostile, more respectful and constructive discussion in our society and that there be greater thought and consideration to the implications on families and children rather than the self – the constant slurs of ‘bigot’, ‘homophobe’, and the like are grossly unhelpful and I think really says more about the intolerance of those calling such names than those to whom they direct those insults.

    ‘What is love?’ – I’ve said before that true love (and not just in the romantic sense) is about doing what is best for the other, no matter the cost to yourself. Though many would argue about what is ‘best’, I think God exemplified this to humanity. Soon western society will celebrate-but-not-really-celebrate Easter-that’s-no-longer-allowed-to-be-called-Easter-because-we-are-supposed-to-be-tolerant-and-inclusive-and-we-musn’t-offend-anyone. Commercialisation and political correctness aside, it’s worth remembering Jesus’ words as recorded by John, that ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ And that kind of exorbitant, undeserved love demands a response from everyone in one way or another, I think.

    Coming back to romantic love and the question of ‘How do you say I love you to that special someone?’ – Well, on the rare occasions that I had the opportunity to do that, I admit it was predominantly with physical affection and words of affirmation. I was young and after all, I’m a ‘banana’ living in a western society. While I believe there’s still plenty of room for those expressions, if I had the opportunity to be in that kind of a relationship again I would hope I give more thought to actively loving through actions/service and spending time too. Like everyone else, deep down I’m inherently selfish and it’s difficult give to others, even those you care about, when the first one we usually think about is ourselves.

    I hope this is helpful input for your topic today. I realise I’ve gone off-topic a bit, but these are my thoughts on your post for the moment.

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    • Don’t think you’ve gone off-topic at all, Simon. As usual, you present insightful tangents to the topics I write about. It is interesting to hear you say your Korean friend probed you about your love life. I am sure she wanted the best for you and hope that you share your life and what you do with someone else, making each other happy. This reminds me of the times when I catch up with some of my friends of Asian background (born in Australia and born in Asia), who would always bring up the subject of relationships whenever we catch up. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But somehow I feel some people can’t seem to enjoy themselves if they are alone.

      There are different degrees of love, different layers of love and different aspects of love – I think that’s what the book you shared here. It sounds like a good read. Agree with you on your thoughts on love versus sex. No relationship is perfect, so I don’t see how the act of sex completes a relationship. A relationship and love will always be ever changing – nothing is ever complete, but more about trying new things and going new directions. On that men-woman-love-sex stereotype that you mention: it is a sad stereotype but I am inclined to think that many of us are better than that.

      It is true love is a touchy and sensitive subject, and the subject of it can divide us more than it can bring us together and appreciate difference. Some forms of love are more destructive than others…and sometimes we find ourselves stuck in these situations because we are delusional or don’t want to face up to the fact that a certain love wasn’t really love or it was a passing kind of love.

      Heh, I think all of us have some selfish within us, so don’t be hard on yourself if you actually are 🙂 You know, we have to help ourselves before we can help others, and that means loving ourselves and putting ourselves first before we can love and be with another. It took me a long time to figure that out. As mentioned in this post, every relationship is different and ever changing and it is impossible to predict what can work and what won’t make the other tick a lot of the time.

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      • Thanks again for your time and patience. My Korean friend is actually a mutual friend of the Vietnamese girl I used to go out with in high school. So we have that history although she was really horrible to me back then. But although she is the sort of personality I might not normally feel comfortable with, she has matured since those days (‘ancient history’ in her words) and it was her idea for us to have lunch together after a chance meeting last week. As for her questions about my personal life, I didn’t mind them necessarily – for some reason I tend to be more open speaking to female friends than male friends – and knowing her, I almost expected them (as the friends you mention seem to be like), but thinking too much about my current status can get me down. And I’m fully aware that being single is a perfectly valid state to be in, we are ‘complete’ in and of ourselves, but my hope and desire is to some day have someone special I can care for.

        I think the idea is that different couples express their love for each other differently. About the love-sex stereotype, I do hope that many of us are indeed better than it suggests. I suspect there are sufficient numbers of us who do fall into that stereotype, though, which is sad. I’m reminded of the book of Song of Songs – as corny and old-fashioned some of it might seem to our modern mind-set, it really is a celebration of the positive bond sexual intimacy is supposed to be within a relationship, instead of the ‘dirty thing’ it’s sometimes made out to be (and when it’s mis-used and abused, it really does turn out to be dirty).

        ‘Some forms of love are more destructive than others…’ – Interesting that you recognise it can be destructive. I would say that true love allows a couple to flourish and grow together – it is absolutely a constructive force, nurturing children comes out of this naturally for example. We make mistakes, though, sometimes deliberately so, and things like domestic abuse and violence, infidelity, and family breakdown are indeed symptoms of the destruction you mention.

        If you knew the blackness of my heart deep down, you wouldn’t say I’m being hard on myself. It’s the human condition that we are selfish, but that’s part of why the Christmas and Easter story is supposed to such a good thing for us. 😉 But yes, sometimes in specific circumstances we do need help ourselves before helping others. In 2009 I befriended a girl on-line (among others, this was in the context of a game community) – had absolutely no intention of letting it become a ‘relationship’, yet as our conversations became more personal and I learned of the deep pains and hurts in her life I felt myself wanting to help and support her as best as I could – pretty hard when stuck on the other side of the world. Confiding in a church friend about how painfully things turned out for me and her, he noted I had the desire to help and care for others, but in this case I needed to ‘help myself’ first. And that meant I had to accept that I couldn’t do for her what I wanted to. I still worry for her well-being to this day, but I realise and accept there’s nothing I can do about it.

        Hopefully still on the topic of love, another on-line friend (this time through deviantART) wrote an article for Valentine’s Day this year (http://www.geeksundergrace.com/gaming/greater-than-romance/). While it’s written to a Christian audience I think it’s worth reading because she discusses love in relationships outside of romance (and also because it was fun to see her opinions on Final Fantasy XV, which we had both played recently), something I suspect people of Asian backgrounds might also have trouble expressing, at least verbally. I understand you might not have time for it, but on the off chance you do I hope you can give it a read.

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        • You touch on the notion of change there, change in terms of person and personality, and the idea of love to each of us – and I think how we change as people influences the latter quite a bit. Good to hear that the two of you had a decent catch up. If someone asks me about my love life, I always ask back – I don’t know if you do that, but I often wonder if I come up as being intrusive if I ask that question. I have some friends who find it unbelievable when I’m having a good time, be it by myself or with someone else. Unlike you, though, I feel comfortable confiding in both female and male friends. But I suppose this really is dependent on the company we keep and who we meet.

          This is probably going out on a limb here, but I do find a lot of my Caucasian and Asian friends fit the love-sex stereotype. Again, probably because of where I just so happen to be at. I think the destruction of love creeps up before we know it. Often, it is probably because we don’t know what we want or are afraid to speak our minds to the other person. Sometimes we hang in there in the long run and go through the same motions instead of looking outwards.

          I am sorry of what happened between you and the girl on the other side of the world. It sounded like a twist of fate for you and your hobby (or maybe more like passion). Who knows, the two of you may reconnect again at some point and if you do, I wish you two all the best 🙂

          Thank you so much for sharing that article. I will give it a read and let you know what I think of it .

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          • The Korean friend – she is quick to ask and quick to share. Again, not the sort of personality I’m usually comfortable with, but since high school she’s been a lot more friendly so I don’t mind. As for me, I don’t think I’m so prying and most, if not all, of my friends are married anyway, so I already know their husbands/wives. In this case, she had just married last September which was good to know that she’s still with the same fellow that I met with her years back. Coming back to your original question of how does one say ‘I love you’? – sounds she’s still a bit of the type to show affection through saying mean things… in the most loving way possible. XD (Her husband is Caucasian.)

            Why would your friends be disbelieving that you can have a good time? Is it because you’re so hard-working and busy? I do open to male friends, but not that often. I suppose it’s the stereotype that women are more interested in their friends’ relationships than men are.

            I have a few friends who have had sex with multiple people over the years. At least one admits that it’s true you leave a bit of yourself behind with each person, which can cause confusion and problems if/when you choose to settle down with someone. While she probably wouldn’t agree with me that sex is best kept in marriage, she does seem to recognise that it’s a lot more precious and special than she treated it when she was younger. I hope your friends find this too before spoiling it for themselves too much.

            I’m the sort of person who would forgive all that was past just so I could be friends with her again. So it probably won’t happen (that we reconnect) and I try to accept that. I did try to meet her in person, as I promised years ago (boy, that was a scary journey), but I didn’t find her. I’m sure some would say, ‘it was never meant to be’, or some sentimental slush like that. XD

            I think it’s a fun read regardless, if you like games with story-telling and strong character development. (:

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            • Again, another thought-provoking comment from you, Simon. I pause and reflect each time you wonder and ponder.

              Saying ‘mean things’ and really being honest without having any ill-intent is something I love doing 😀 To me, it’s a sign of a good friendship and it helps us look at ourselves more closely, flaws and all. I could have a conversation with someone like that all night than do anything else. Your friend there sounds very self assured, good on her and I am sure she is in a great relationship.

              I really have no idea why some people would disbelief me. Maybe they just don’t expect that from me, maybe they are jealous, could be anything really. Women are more interested in relationships than men? It is something that I reckon still is the case too… But regardless of whether there is sex or not in a relationship, I feel that you do leave behind a bit of yourself behind if you go separate ways. You can feel something special that you never felt before even if it’s just a simple moment between each other, outside of everything physical. It’s sort of like being on the same continuum with each other and seeing the other person for who they are.

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              • Really? You’re so kind, but I always thought you have too many comments to reply too to spend much time to think on each one.

                Oh yes, my friend is definitely the self-assured time. So unlike me! But you’re right, pulling up friends on tough things, even if what needs to be said might sound mean at first, is part of real love and friendship. To let bad habits and actions slip by without correction isn’t really loving at all.

                From what little I know of you, I can imagine you having a good time regardless of your situation. A very cheery, positive outlook which is no doubt very encouraging, particularly when you go through some difficult thoughts/periods which you have mentioned in past messages.

                Definitely relationship break-ups cause us to leave behind something deep and profound, at least that I’ve found, otherwise they wouldn’t hurt so much. But with the powerful bond that is sex… I just imagine it to be that much worse when it’s lost. Part of why marriage break-ups seem to be the worst break-ups of them all, I suppose.

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                • I read your online friend’s article. The part that jumped out at me was that you don’t have to be in a relationship to feel whole, and that I agree with. If we can’t be ourselves in a relationship, then it would be hard to see how we can truly be happy – we have to accept each other for who we are and support that in each other even if we are somewhat against that, and for a relationship to work.

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                  • Oh! I missed this reply, I thought you’d moved on from this post. Yeah, I cringe when people say things like ‘my other half’. In the case of married couples it might be a reference to a husband and wife being a new whole. But more often I think the idea behind the reference is that someone isn’t complete without their boy/girlfriend, which I reject, that being single is an invalid and undesirable state to be in.

                    Glad you found it helpful!

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  6. I loved this article, it really spoke to me. I appreciate the Asian cultural way of showing love rather than telling it. Actions do speak louder than words. I think it is nice. It is more the American/Western society that has romanticised love and made it very Hollywood. This can lead to unrealistic expectations in day to day life when we realise life is not a movie and people are very real and human. I know it’s not really your way but I do love you my friend 🙂 x

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  7. It’s important to remember the difference in saying it–which can be fleeting–and acting and thinking that might be the difference. How many people say they work hard. and yet they take long lunches or leave early. Or those who play hard, but get wonder going up one flight of stairs. Or their religious, and only go to services, perhaps once or twice a year, when everyone else goes.

    I believe that the heart and the mind, both of which suggest a certain amount of permanences, are more preferable to a few words or a peck on the cheek.

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    • So apt. Saying something is one thing, but showing up and showing how committed you are is another thing altogether. Personally I think it is much easier to say something that than to genuinely act it out. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the love that we’ve got.

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  8. It just wouldn’t be wise to express my opinion on this subject. As someone else commented, I too feel inexperience and under-qualified in these matter. I will say that am one of those people who would have trouble saying those three words, “I love you”. A very well thoughtful written piece Mabel. Look forward to reading you next blog post.

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    • It doesn’t matter how many relationships any of us have been in. It’s about how we feel towards each other that matters, and at the end of the day, love comes in many different forms. You’re probably one of those who say a lot with what you do. Thank you for supporting, Mikey. You don’t know how much I appreciate it 🙂

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  9. Your narration of the ways of love in Chinese societies has a ring of familiarity because that is the way it largely plays out in my country as well. Be it western or eastern, people need to progress to far higher levels with love, which is the most dominant dimension that takes life forward. Looking at it from a radical perspective, Love is not something to do with someone else, it is never between two people. It is what happens within you, and what happens within you need not be enslaved to someone else. We may spend time with something that means nothing to us – maybe a tree, or a pebble, or a butterfly. After some time, you will find you can look upon it with as much love as you do to your spouse or your mother or your child. The butterfly will not know it, which does not matter. If you can look at everything lovingly, the whole world becomes beautiful in your experience. You realize love is not something that you do; love is the way you are. One falls in love because, in so doing, one loses a part of oneself, a few layers of ego. So the more loving one is, the less egoistic one becomes.

    Love is completely unconditional: Love has no conditions. When we truly love someone, we cannot stop loving them, regardless of what they do or say. If our love is dependent upon the other person acting and speaking the way we want, then this love is completely conditional. We often confuse this to be love, but this is just positive thoughts about someone. This is just loving what a person says or does, not loving them. Positive thoughts or the thought “I love you” is really not necessary to love. Sometimes it even gets in the way.
    Love is selfless: True love does not want anything in return, because there is nothing it needs. We just love for the sake of love. When we love someone, we do not look for them to fill our needs, love us back, and all those things. If that is what we are looking for, then we are just using the other person. What is true love? It is profound affection for things or beings that is completely selfless.

    When we believe our judgments about people, it can seem as if we are alone or separate from others. This creates longing for connection and love. All it takes to have the connection we yearn for is to just be with people without judgment. In the absence of judgment, love is what remains. When we are not believing our judgments about someone, we are loving them, or in other words, we are being present with them (i.e. living in the moment with them). When we are present with someone, we automatically feel a closer connection to, and more intimacy with, the people around us. Our feeling of separateness from people disappears.

    If you want to feel love, it is helpful to first understand what is the meaning of love. If someone else loves you, but you do not care about that person, how much impact does that person’s love have on your level of happiness? You may have noticed, it has very little impact. If receiving love from someone else had the power to make us feel good, then anyone’s love would give us the same good feeling. But, clearly it is not how life works.
    The reason is because fulfillment does not come from receiving love; the feeling of happiness and completion we always cherished for comes from loving others. When we love someone without wanting or expecting anything in return, we feel free, open, and wonderful.
    Hence the feeling one wants in life does not come from being loved, but actually from giving love. The feeling that we all want actually comes from loving others. That’s it. That is the feeling that we want, that is the love that we want. Everything we hoped to feel in life comes from the love that we give, not from the love that we receive. When we are with people, and we love them, it feels wonderful. We feel free, we feel happy, we feel whole. There is absolutely no suffering from loving others. It is completely independent of everything. So you can stop worrying about whether you have love from your partner, you can stop worrying about whether you will ever find someone to love you, and instead you can focus on the feeling that you actually want, which is to love others. And you do not have to limit your love to just one person. No need to limit your love to just your partner, your child, or your family. You can love anyone that you interact with. You can even love anything. On that note, may I also love you, Mabel…

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    • Such a philosophical comment, Raj. Very deep and meaningful thoughts on love there. Agree with you love comes from within. If we can’t love ourselves, we won’t be able to share love and love someone else.

      To look at something or someone so foreign and actually feel a connection with them is something special. But it has to be both ways, two people loving themselves first as you said. One has to be sure of themselves before they can move onwards, upwards and towards each other.

      “You can love anyone that you interact with. You can even love anything.” Very profound way to put it and I agree with you, Raj. Love takes so many forms including friendships and team mates. It is sort of like how I will always love Malaysia and Singapore and it’s people, and my blog readers which is you included…

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  10. Happy to read this. It is absolutely true!
    I’ve hardly said those words to my wife (let alone before marriage) since our cultural upbringing didn’t stress on the usage. It is more of being forthcoming and flirting that we associate it with.

    On the other hand, saying it doesn’t necessarily mean you want to make out. Asians are very emotional…it would be a serious matter to say these words for me.

    Those 3 words is more of a western concept, but young Asians are indeed accepting it now…and it could mean anything depending upon who you talk to.

    We are so similar ☺️

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  11. Very interesting post with lots of “cultural differences” highlighted.

    Recently we met a young military officer here in Sri Lanka who was explaining to us that he could not express his love for his girlfriend until he has enough money to buy a car and a house!! We were speechless. But that is the wonderful thing about cultural differences ~ makes life oh so interesting and surprising.

    Well written and researched Mabel.

    Peta

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    • Thanks, Peta. Interesting to hear of your encounter with the young chap there in Sri Lanka. He sounds like the kind who will work hard to make his girlfriend feel like the most special and most valued person in the world on many levels. I wish them the best.

      Also wishing you and Ben a good time back in Sri Lanka. Loving how you show us the simple life full of love for your surrounds and also, for each other 🙂

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  12. If receiving love from someone else had the power to make us feel good, then anyone’s love would give us the same good feeling. When we love someone, we do not look for them to fill our needs, love us back, and all those things.

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  13. So interesting – we are all products of our cultures as well as of our unique experiences. I marvel at how at some stages in life we are attracted to, and love, our opposites, and at others the love-of-our-lives is someone similar. Secretive at first, and later vocal — a delicate subject that not all of us are comfortable with.

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    • Love is ever-changing. One day our love for someone can be there, and the next day dissipate. From your blog, I love how you talk about Sam so warmly every now and then 🙂

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  14. Ah there you are with another thought provoking post 🙂 My reserved nature (in person though I am pretty open while writing!) prevents me from using those ‘3’ words liberally even with my near and dear ones. But what has just struck me is that at least in English I have said it – but never in my mother tongue 😛 Now that I would find terribly embarrassing and i cannot understand the reason for it! I shall have to undertake some deep introspection to arrive at some reasonable conclusion. I also wanted to share my first ILU moment. No not the one I said but when someone slipped (or had someone else do the deed) a card under my hostel door proclaiming ILU. Horror of horrors! I nearly died of embarrassment – I was 18 yrs old and first year college. Only I know how I went to attend the lecture and then came the moment – he accosted me after class. He towered over me and mumbled something about being sorry, that he shouldnt have while i shook my head stuttering something I have no recollection of – though i do have a distinctive memory of another chap laughing hysterically at the sight of Liliput and Gulliver holding a public ILU non-ILU convo – OMG! In retrospect it was hilarious but at that moment i could have cheerfully murdered him and wished the earth would open and swallow me up 😀

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    • ‘at least in English I have said it – but never in my mother tongue’. Now that is so interesting to hear and we were just talking about mother tongue in my last post 😛 Maybe it’s because the three words roll off the tongue more easily in English. Maybe ‘I love you’ has so many more syllables in your mother tongue that it sounds a hassle to say. Maybe now you have a better idea why this is so…

      Haha! That is such a funny story from your college days. LOL and you also denied that it ever happened when he asked you – probably all in good faith to save him from further embarrassment but he probably ended up being more embarrassed 😀 I hope that you and he still managed to be friends during that time of life – a young time when anything feels possible.

      Sorry for the late response. My Spam folder apparently loved you so much that it ate you up and I missed the comment ❤

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      • Lol! I didn’t know I was so popular (or your spam folder so starved!). But no, we never spoke again, there was too much to study and I prefer to forget unpalatable bits in any case 😀 I am sure he wasnt too broken hearted either for I was curious (naive) enough to inquire as to how he could ‘love’ me by just looking at me – the answer was even more interesting. Apparently he liked the way I blinked 😀 Even at 18 I was smart enough to know it was all tomfoolery and I refused to fall for such frivolous nonsense. Or perhaps fate intervened and saved me for she knew I had a bigger fall awaiting me a bit further down the line 😉 Wish you a super weekend!

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  15. I think expressing love differs not only by culture but by individual personality, no matter the cultural or family background. I do agree that some cultures are more open and expressive, but going by stereotypes alone, I should be half warm, gregarious, and openly expressive and half sober and austere on the feelings front. And yet, my parents, siblings, and I all have different approaches to our love lives and our ability to express love publicly and otherwise. You are right that it is a complex subject!

    On another topic, I really enjoyed all those night scenes!

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    • You sound like a party to be around with! So true. We all have different approaches and feelings towards love, some of us more louder and some quieter than others. What works for someone doesn’t work for another. Haha, I really am convinced you are a fun balling loving person to hang out with!

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    • Yes, that’s it. You said it so well. Cultural identity comes into play how we love and when. The first photo is my favourite, one of my favourite photos ever taken. I like how when it gets dark, you can achieve long exposures without the need for ND filters but just a long shutter speed.

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  17. Absolutely true, Mabel. Asian culture, especially that of the Indian subcontinent, China and Malaysia, does restrain us from saying “I Love you” loudly and repeatedly all the time. It’s a feeling we have deep inside our hearts, as you’ve said, it’s an emotional attachment rather than physical. I’ve no problem with people saying “I love you” loudly…that’s also a form of love, undoubtedly. But, simply, our culture believes in whispering it personally or even without uttering it, we can touch the chords of each other’s heart. Love is a complex feeling, an incurable insanity, and we like to tender it personally than saying it loud.
    A wonderful piece on Asian culture and love and those three magic words… 🙂

    the pictures have complemented the post perfectly…very well-captured and captioned.

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  18. Mabel: I really liked this: “what is love? Love is complex.” Thank you again for a wonderfully detailed look at another aspect of culture I had never read about before. It made me reflect on my husband’s and my relationship, and that he really demonstrates his love for me by doing things for me, such as managing finances, going grocery shopping when needed, kid-care, little house repair tasks, etc. He also says, “I love you” – we are both American from Northern European heritage – but what he doesn’t do is “be big” – like when I was working on my Ph.D., he didn’t say, “Wow, you are so amazing! My wife is getting a Ph.D. in Engineering!” Or when I finished writing my first novel (or my second) or was getting my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, he didn’t say, “Oh! That’s so terrific!” He’s happy for me, of course, and he has said – and he does – support “any dream” I have. But the outward rah-rah support isn’t his style. And your article made me think about that a little more. It’s not that I am sad he isn’t more outwardly enthusiastic, it’s just different for him than it might be if I were in love with a different person. Thanks for the great article!

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    • Thank you so much for sharing you and you husband’s relationship, Theresa. It does sound like a very solid one, and he sounds like the kind who can do anything if he just gets up and try and be there – which is what he brings to your relationship 🙂

      It is amazing to see how he defines you not by what you achieve, but by what you do, how you do it and really your character. That is, he loves your character. I think that’s the strongest kind of love – you can be anyone and do anything, and if someone loves you for that and goes along with it all, that is something very special.

      I think you deserve a bit of attention. Congrats on your Ph.D and your first novel! *cheers* 😀

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      • Oh! Mabel, that is such an intriguing perspective, that he loves me for my character. I had not realized it that way. And, thank you! for the cheers for my Ph.D. and novel. :>)
        And I wanted to share with you that I talked with a friend last week about the idea from your article, about those who feel hesitant to say “I love you” directly, as part of their culture or just as part of their personality. Your writing helped me think about the situation differently. Thank you!

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        • He loves you for your character. It is one thing to admire one’s achievements, but another altogether to see you as just another person who does what they do. And in a way, that can be humbling to you 🙂

          I am both humbled and honoured, floored evem, that you talked about love and culture with your friend ❤ Also, I've always hoped to do a Ph.D by now but it never eventuated. But you continue to inspire me, so thank you!

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          • I honestly never thought of it that way. This morning I mentioned to my husband that a friend thought he loved me for my character, not for what I have accomplished. And he thought that was really a great insight. Your words have made me think about how I’ve misjudged the situation, or rather how I overlooked the idea that I don’t need to have a fancy achievement for him to want to be with me. Sometimes I would think, why doesn’t he seem more enthusiastic about this or that accomplishment? And now, via your thoughts, I can think, he’s not a person I need to impress. He just loves me for my character. Something that can’t be altered very easily. Thank you, Mabel! Your words have far reaches. 🙂

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  19. As always a thoughtful and insightful post Mabel. I would rather the Asian approach of showing vs verbalizing love than the American approach which tends to use the phrase far too often and easily, causing it to lose its meaning. I especially liked the quote about singing a song only the loved one can hear. That’s beautiful! As, I might add, are your photos this time around. spectacular!

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    • Thanks, Tina. Agree that saying and showing love out loud too often can become mundane after a while. Love is certainly a song, and different lyrics and melodies captivate our heart. Just like the emotions of love. I had a wonderful time putting these photos together, thank you so much.

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  20. Hi Mabel. I came by to visit and check out your blog. This post captivated my attention as I feel you’re like an ‘old soul’ with the wisdom of your words and observations. This particular line resonated with me ‘When you can’t speak love, what’s left to do is to show it.’ This is the bottom line, isn’t it?
    This hesitancy to be able to say those 3 little (big) words goes beyond culture, but you’ve explained your views on culture beautifully here, But in my heart of hearts I will say that although love is not always learned from our upbringings, things can change that in a moment. My upbringing never consisted of those words either. The thought of saying those words would have felt embarrassing because unfamiliar. But gratefully, I found my best friend at age 20, who opened up a whole new world of learning what love was and learning how to say those words. So freeing! And so I write. 🙂

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  21. It is universal regardless of culture that the human desire for closeness is there. It’s just a part of our hardwiring. Some people have an easier time of touching and being close then others, but deep inside the desire is there. (discounting mental disease) As for love, those three words (I love you) to me are sacred and I don’t say them too often but when I do, I really mean them. I am seeing in some people, how glib and how easily those words are said leaving me question …. But you don’t even know so how can you possibly say “I love you” to me? Hmmmm …. Being human is very complex and love all by itself is a very complex part of being human. Great write, Mabel. Thank you. ❤

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    • ‘deep inside the desire is there. ‘ So well said as usual, Amy. If the feeling is there, the feeling is there. You can’t help feel how you feel. You have a lot of love to give Amy, from the way you live your life at home with your special ones, with your photography and art and also here in the blog world.

      Agree. We are all complex people. Love is complex. Sometimes we all need to be a bit simple and appreciate the moment and just let ourselves feel and be. Always love reading your insightful words ❤

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  22. I just prefer some restraint (as per my upbringing here in Canada but with Chinese parents) and the ease in hugging, to say I love you. As time marches on, make the effort to do it ..more effortlessly with those who you love.

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  23. You picked a huge subject, Mabel, and did a good job with it.

    When I was dating my husband, the first words he taught me in Mandarin were I love you. It wasn’t exactly the same as telling me he loved me. It seemed more like a language lesson that also hinted at his feelings. I don’t think we told each other “I love you” until we were thinking about marriage. Then we said it more frequently. There’s so much more to love than those three little words. We show our love in our physical closeness, by our actions in caring for each other, and by sharing our thoughts and our lives with each other.

    Just one more comment: I’m always struck by the beauty of your photos. They look very professional.

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    • Love is certainly a huge subject, and you can discuss about it from so many different angles. It is so cute of your husband to teach you ‘wo ai ni’ – and as you mentioned, such a subtle way of getting your attention 😉

      ‘…by sharing our thoughts and our lives with each other.’ This is such a well thought out comment. Love is indeed about sharing what we have together, and making the most of it. Very nice to see how you and Eugene made your love and family work amongst all the travel.

      Thank you so much for your kind words on my photos, Nicki. I do spend quite some time on my photos outside of the blog 🙂

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  24. I’m glad to learn more about this aspect of the Asian culture as I had a Chinese friend who told me he didn’t say the words “I love you” until his first girlfriend and how awkward it had felt for him. I remember saying, but didn’t you say that to your parents? He said no, never. I was in a bit of shock! Your insights are helpful, Mabel. By learning about others, I can be more compassionate and helpful. Hugs!

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    • Like your Chinese friend, I’ve never said ‘I love you’ to my parents, and they’ve never said it to me. Your friend sounds like the kind who says and does what he really means – and that is such a wonderful trait within a person. Love is a special thing, and he seems the kind to treasure it 🙂

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  25. I missed you, Mabel! But I’m back reading you 🙂 Nice post, BTW.
    Filipinos are more expressive in public compared to other Asians. We don’t have that much problem saying I love you, and generally (because, of course, there will always be people who will say it just for the heck of it and to get some), we mean it. We’re still conservative enough in public, but compared to other Asians, we’re actually already the liberal ones, I think.
    Here, we say, “Mahal kita”. “Gusto kita” is synonymous to that, although it literally means “I like you”–not love, but taken as meaning the same, nevertheless. That’s okay. After all, in the much olden days, it was “Iniibig kita.” It would be weird to hear that said now, except in songs and poems.
    Anyway, your post reminded me of this nice old song (don’t worry, there’s translation):

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    • It is funny you say Filipinos are expressive, because of the Filipinos I know, they are just like that. Then again, they come across as very well educated and speak very good English (sometimes with an American accent).

      Lol, mahal kita sounds like a Malay word but nice to know that is some Filipino. There sounds like so many variations of it in Filipino over time 🙂 That is such a lovely upbeat song. It sounds a bit campy, but you know, sometimes love can be cheesy – like the roses and chocolate that come with romance 😛

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      • Filipinos are of Malay descent, so don’t be surprised about the Malay-sounding words. This became very evident to me back in college when McDonald’s had their happy meal toys wrapped in plastic. I saw the various Asian translations on the packs (I am the type who read packs), particularly those in relation to caution against parts being choking hazards). I remember noticing that anak (child, as in son/daughter) and taon (year) are either spelled the same or modified a bit, but I knew they meant the same things.
        Original Pilipino Music (OPM) is very sentimental, because we are a very sentimental people, as evidenced by the commercial vids on this post. Check it out when you already have the time, I know you’re a busy girl 🙂

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        • What, really. This is the first time I’ve heard Filipinos are of Malay descent. Come to think of it, Filipinos and Malays tend to have tanned skin…

          Haha, I too have a fascination with Happy Meal toys. They were a big part of my childhood 😀 I will keep original Filipino music in my. It sounds like it can be romantic kind of music.

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          • Yes, Malay. Well, there is a bit of a debate over it with some saying we are Austronesians, because we have descendants, too, from Africa (that’s why there are still the minority tribes called here as Aetas, and they look like Africans).

            For me, I’d just rather say we’re Asians. I don’t mind where we’re from, but I’m more concerned about where we’re heading. I just want races to get along.

            I’m not exactly a McDonald’s kid. But I like keeping souvenirs (I’m sentimental like that).

            Yes, our music can be romantic and very sentimental. I don’t think it’s the kind of music the international scene would like. But we do have songs that have become popular abroad. A very good example is ANAK (Child) and I am pretty sure you’ve heard, at least, a translation of it because it’s been translated many times.

            Here, for your perusal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n-2lPzH7Do

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  26. Hi M – awesome post – woven together so nicely,.,,,

    Love is about experimenting and learning what makes each other tick

    and that song is pretty cool….
    never heard of that artist –

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    • Thanks so much, Y. I took over a month to write this post :/ Love is such a hard topic. I’m sure you can say and talk about it much better than me.

      I discovered that artist Andie Case on YouTube. She is such a lovely singer and sings it real ❤

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      • well now I know why I feel compelled to come back and digest more parts of it – the care you gave it really shows.
        beautiful, M.
        and now you know we should never say
        “better than” because perspectives are so different.
        and even if someone has some more life seasoning than someone else (ahem, you know what I mean with having some years on ya – ha!) but we still have different views at different times – with certain angles to highlight.
        so how do we define better anyway – more definitive in expounding? more language based? more topical? more researched? more examples? more personal experience?
        oh you have me thinking here – which you are so good at getting your readers doing…
        and if I were to write about love – it would really change for the audience –
        for parents it might be one angle – (grace love, tough love, unconditional love…etc)
        for Christians another (maybe look at eros love, agape, phileo, etc.)
        and then for a blog audience – well I have no idea…
        and your cultural angle shines again….

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        • ‘life seasoning’ I LOVE that phrase. So, so, so clever of you to come up with it, Y. You are right. The topic of love can be explored from so many angles and you could write a whole book on it…maybe two.

          Defining better…I think that really means of doing it, another way of saying and looking at it. We’re all equal competition being the individuals as we are. And discussing with Theresa earlier in the comments, the truest form of love is when we love each other not for our accomplishments, but for our characters.

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          • well I probably got that term “life seasoning” from someplace else – I once heard that with nothing new under the sun – even our original stuff is a mix of what we have observed and experienced – so we owe a great deal to what we are blessed to be exposed to….
            and I look forward to skimming the comments later to see theresa’s comment – and have one thing to add…

            sometimes we love in spite of the character – bah! that agape love….

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              • or we love even when we don’t feel like loving – ya know?
                well…
                here are some things I extra enjoyed from your ‘love’ post:

                first: RE: “That’s not to say an emotional connection or a friendship can’t develop over time whilst getting physical with each other. It’s possible, but maybe more of a gamble.”

                this reminded me of a story – back in college – one of my friend’s had a meltdown in the middle of the night after she was “getting physical” with her boyfriend of a few weeks. I was in my “waiting for my future spouse new mode” – so I was able to observe a lot more – and Mabel – I really believe her crying meltdown (as she explained it) was because she was having all that physical love while without the emotional side- he was detached and well – that story came to mind.
                second: RE: “When you can’t speak love, what’s left to do is to show it.”
                ahhh – good point….
                and I think there is a song that says LOVE IS A VERB….
                and third:
                really laughed with this with the topic of the winks: “Not even coming from those who have some degree of yellow-fever.”

                Hahaha – so fun (and wink)

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  27. Such an honest post, and you have shown me a new perspective of your culture ..
    Love is a word you will often hear me saying.. I often end my comments with Love and Blessings, or much love.. ..
    And you are so right.. There are so many kinds of Love.. Not all are sexual.. And how can one define love.. I do not think you can.. for its a feeling, that when you know you are ( IN LOVE ) there is no other feeling like it.
    Yet within a relationship too, there has to be more than sexual attraction.. Deep love means caring, being there for someone in thick or thin.. Learning to tolerate faults, and having patience.. Love within a relationship is not always rosy either.. For it means one has to at times be honest with each other and that means telling it like it is, even when it can be painful.. Knowing that sometimes we have to call a spade a spade, and not agree with our partners all the time.. But allow ourselves the freedoms to be ourselves, Which means allowing space and room to grow.
    You have written and excellent piece Mabel.
    And I send you my love… Which means that I care, and that if each of us shared kindness, in our mutual respect/love of another.. The world would soon find itself sharing more and finding it less difficult to be expressive about sharing emotions…
    A big problem with the world is that we do not share our hearts.. And that is not meant in the sexual kind of loving… But in our unconditional loving of others, treating each other as we ourselves would wish to be treated… With Love and Respect..

    Love and Blessings dear Mabel.. a wonderful post with some Brilliant photos.. I loved them ALL.. xxxx ❤

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  28. I’ll take you to the moon and back (quoting Savage Garden) if you’re the one, but want me to say “I love you”? Over my dead body! 😀 😀 😀

    Seriously though… it’s so cheesy to say that 3 words.

    Seriously seriously though… the younger boys (like us) do utter this 3 words, but I reckon we do it because the girls wants to hear it rather than it being super heartfelt.

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    • This comment is literally impossible to take seriously 😀 But if you are being serious, I don’t know. I’m not the kind of person who wants to hear the words just because. Then again, I am a weirdo 😀

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  29. It’s interesting the values of your culture, Mabel and you’ve explained it so well. It sounds like the younger generation are making new rules though. Love is such an abstract idea that includes everything you mentioned but means different things to each individual. One thing I know is true; we have to be VULNERABLE in order to accept or give love.

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    • So well put, Lisa. I couldn’t have said it any better. Love is indeed abstract – you just don’t know when it will come and go, and whether it is short term or long term.

      And yes, we have to be vulnerable when it comes to love. When we are vulnerable, we get to experience both the best and worst sides of love, and come out stronger. Thanks for showing us that through your blog on divorce and rebuilding 🙂

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  30. I definitely feel a part of me got the impression from a very early age that openly expressing affection is wrong. Whether my parents meant for me to have this kind of imprint, I do not know for sure.

    I must have been like 6 years old, but I remember standing in the living room in front of my dad and telling him I loved him. I said, “I love you Daddy” in a very casual way. I said it from the heart because I not only meant what I said but I was being honest, so in my mind then, it felt only natural to tell him. I didn’t feel anything inhibitions holding me back. No concept of embarrassment, of committing a faux pas, of sounding silly, etc.

    Now, as for how my dad reacted to my words, he just sat there and looked at me without saying anything. I felt puzzled about why he wouldn’t reciprocate what I told him. I didn’t know it then, but this experience did affect me in the long run. Does that make sense? I guess one way to explain this is it’s like experiencing something in childhood that my kid mind couldn’t completely process on a more complex level of understanding, but the impact of the experience still happens and it’s only years later when I’m older and have more knowledge that I look back on the experience and fully realize what I was feeling then.

    Nowadays I see my parents are a lot more affectionate with each other, but it makes me uncomfortable to watch them. They don’t exactly start tonguing each other or full on make out in front of me, lol, but small things like they peck each other on the lips or my dad gives my mom a shoulder massage and I start feeling like I need to leave the room because it bothers me. Overall my parents have mainly showed their love for me by doing rather than telling.

    I can honestly say I’ve never given affection to anyone outside my family. The most I’ve done with friends (either male or female) is give them hugs. There was a period where I was going through complicated emotions as a teen. In a way, I sort of fit some of the stereotypes of the angry, emo teenager who hated her parents but secretly felt unloved and simply didn’t know how to communicate that to anyone. I did feel unloved, for sure, because American culture and media was one of my main influences despite that I often felt caught between two worlds (being American, being Chinese).

    I absorbed a lot of things I saw on television and on shows like Dr. Phil and Oprah, where people had such open discussions about family and relationships and psychology, and I often wondered why my family and I couldn’t be as open as that. At the same time, media depictions of what is “right” in society and even how it’s presented to the public through a camera lens is not always a 100% true depiction of life.

    I still find it hard to say “I love you” to anyone. My parents do not say it to each other either, though I believe they probably do message the phrase to each other. My dad has texted “I love you” to me before in Chinese, and I felt quite unsettled by it because in a way I understood he meant it wholeheartedly but it felt too honest for me to accept, almost as if my psyche couldn’t handle the realness of it.

    Reading about you holding hands with a boyfriend, I don’t know if I could do that with a guy I like. I’m quite untouched in the matter of interacting with the opposite sex on any level besides platonic. There is a certain fear I have of intimacy, not just sex, but for someone to hold my hand or put their hand on my waist on an amorous level. I have no current plans to date or find a boyfriend, but seeing the good and ugly sides of my parents’ marriage, on some level I’ve used their relationship as a semi-model for why I’d rather stay single.

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    • This is such an honest comment on love, romance, intimacy and affection, Nat. I don’t think a single moment of time can define what we feel about love or any other situation. That situation where your dad didn’t react much to when you said ‘I love you’ sounded like a defining point in your life from every early on…it did sound like you were disappointed and hurt by the incident. Sometimes we have certain expectation and just can’t help but feel the way we feel – it’s just human nature and we can’t control this feeling.

      Hugs are a form of affection but at the same time they can be so casual and could just mean no more than a simple way of greeting someone. Like you, a lot of American and English-speaking TV shows dominated my childhood and I wondered why weren’t my Chinese family as open as those on Western TV shows. You said it right when you said what we see on TV is not reality. Not all families are touchy-feely, and not all couples are like that too. There also the saying that if you don’t see it, don’t believe it, which I think is absurd when it comes to love and relationships.

      Maybe your dad does mean it when he says I love you, or maybe he is just trying to show that he cares. Maybe he does not know what else to say.

      Nothing wrong with platonic friendships and relationships. For many of us introverts an really shy people in general and those with anxiety, it can take us a while to warm to someone else, let alone get physically close. The single life isn’t bad at all…you can be whoever, go wherever anytime you want 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Upbringing and culture has a lot to do with how we develop and form relationships. Coming from a stable home is often the important difference to how we are in the future.

    I agree that actions speak louder than words. Love is expressed through interactions, actions and reactions. Those 3 words can be said as a facade or with true meaning. I think we all need to hear them sometimes, but only when said in the right way and context.

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  32. Hello Mabel,
    Really enjoyed reading the article especially when I can relate to it so much. We all find a way to convey our feelings over a period of time.

    I loved the photographs 🙂

    Cheers!

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  33. Love – in all its forms, is a delicate and intricate thing indeed. So Complex! Boy, what an excellent article Mabel, with so many facets to think on! And, so many fascinating comments too.
    I enjoyed this immensely. Thank you for sharing these insights into other’s cultures, thoughts, belief processes. The Oscar Wilde quote was delightful.

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  34. I never knew this about the Asian culture!

    I’m Filipino but I have a very westernized upbringing so I often say I love you. But I guess I can see it with my grandparents? They hardly say it and it always feels strange when hearing it!

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  35. Another interesting read, Mabel. Having travelled across Asia and the globe, I feel every culture has different way of expressing love, but the emotions are pretty much the same. I think, the need to match a prototype of what ‘love’ should be about is where we get it wrong. 🙂

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    • This is such a thoughtful comment, Cheryl. That ‘where we get it wrong’ phrase you said made me think. Not sure if I entirely get it. But I suppose it touches upon the idea that sometimes we expect too much or perfection when it comes to love – and that doesn’t always work out.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Now, now this is such an interesting topic, Mabel. After reading the post, I just read Balroop comment and agree in toto with her. Asians are more reserved about expressing love in words than in the western part of the world, and yet you see the population growth is the highest in Asia. 😀 😀 As you have said, maybe that is because sex is considered as a tool for procreation, while desire is considered immoral.
    Your description of how sexless military dress-sense was advocated and adultery punished in the midst of women becoming victims of sexual violence in another contradictory practice, which is still observed in many parts of Asia and in the Middle Eastern countries.
    Overall, I loved this detailed scrutiny of expressions of love. With love and good wishes.

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  37. A smart, evocative post; as usual.

    Being in love is one of the human condition’s imperfect but extremely important experiences that we will forever try to get right. I may have to say that again, or something similar, in an upcoming post.

    On a different love, I love the bold colours in your shots.

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    • Thanks, Allan. This post took a while to write, and reflect upon. You are right. Love is imperfect, and it makes us try again and again. I’m really looking forward to what you have to say on that.

      All of these shots were taken in the autumn/winter months here. It was freezing taking these shots, but am hoping to do more of the kind soon.

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  38. Mabel as always I appreciate your honesty and openness about yourself and your culture. Growing up in rural Canada as part of a Catholic family the verbalization of love or open affection was not a day to day experience. With Dave and our own kids it is much different and we express ourselves quite openly.

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  39. I have read your text, Mabel, and enjoyed it – as usual. And most of the comments I have read as well, and I agree with most of them. I also admit that I almost never use those three words. They do not come easily to me….in fact the only times I have used them is when I met my husband, some years in the beginning of our life together and all the other times are with my children and to my grandmother. There is something stopping me from using those words…unless I know I will get unconditional love back. I have a couple of old friends that I love and use “I love you” to as well. It is easier to say I love certain things or places – in fact I have never really analyzed the reasons here…

    I have deeply loved all my animals. Unconditional love – I am always sure they will love me back. People tend to overuse this phrase I feel…You cannot love that many people! Often people in the US say they love you, or sprinkle “love” over everyone. It is difficult to take this seriously…But everything always boils down to the very definition of our words, doesn’t it. And culture, and upbringing. I guess in Sweden we generally must have a very deep feeling for someone to use that phrase…it is not to be taken lightly on.

    A big hug to you, Mabel. I love your philosophic writings.

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    • Maybe you only used ‘I love you’ in the beginning because you wanted to get the attention of our husband (guys…) 😀 Agree with you some people do say the word a lot until you wonder if it is said with meaning anymore. They could be people who have a lot of love to give, or they just find it as a greeting.

      Unconditional love is hard to come by but I believe it is often expressed in the smallest of ways. Good on you that your animals love you right back and from your IG photos, I can see that this is so 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Leya. It is always, always, always appreciated ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  40. Mabel…a very enjoyable and enlightening read!! I do find it interesting how different cultures address, or don’t address certain issues. And how the reasons for doing or not doing vary so very much. I rarely use the words “I love you.” But when I do, I mean them. I LOVE your photography in this post!! And although I never before heard Andie Case, I love her, also.

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  41. I feel like a fake Asian after reading this, I express my feeling easily somehow. It makes me uneasy when I am unable to express my feeling, thus sometimes I do say I love you to people I care and exactly when I feel it. The same thing when I feel angry or disappointed over something. My parents are not as open as I am though. They are hardly express their feelings by saying I love you..they do tell me that they miss me though which I feel it close enough to expressing love.

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    • Haha, I like to think that you are confident with yourself and your feelings, Indah! Also very nice of you to make good feelings shared and felt all round – because sometimes even a simple phrase like that can perk someone up 🙂

      Like

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