Lessons in young love

Updated: 2013-09-07 00:45

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Look at Sun Yang, China's superstar swimmer. He has had several fallouts with his coach because the latter forbids him from romantic involvement with anyone. To keep on winning championships across the world, Sun must devote himself completely to training, argues the coach. But Sun is 21 and has a right and a need for a little romance. It is inhumane to try to turn him into a sporting machine. Whether he is dating the right girl is irrelevant.

Chinese students should be taught the concept of time management. The skill of managing several tasks does not come intuitively, at least not for everyone. College is the place where one grows mature by trying out different things, including various disciplines of learning. It is better to try and fail in college than repeat the same process out in the real world. Here, they have a protective layer of counselors, teachers and classmates.

Compared with my time, a college curriculum is much more diverse now, with many courses that open up a wider vista of knowledge and interests. Extracurricular groups have also proliferated and people are constantly juggling their schedules and rushing from one classroom to another, or one group event to another. Students as a result have a stronger grasp of handling multiple jobs than I had while I was in college.

It is high time the school authorities endorsed romantic courtship as a normal activity for students.

Courting is a learning process. People are mostly clumsy at first, though guys love to brag about their feats.

While romantic stories tend to trumpet love-at-first-sight serendipity, in reality most will require trial and error to get things right. For my parent's generation, it seems much simpler: either there is mutual attraction or there is not. So, they prohibit their children from dating in college, yet they expect youngsters to hitch up right after graduation.

"Get married one year later, and have a kid of your own in two years,"so goes their master plan. Dating is essentially squeezed to one or two meetings.

If the two of you date for a whole year and break up, they may think you have something wrong and accuse you of behaving irresponsibly. They have taken it for granted, from their own experience, that courtship should be simple and straightforward. No wonder their generation went through an outbreak of divorces when the social atmosphere was loosened up. Many of the inherent problems that plague a couple did not surface until they had started a family and had kids of their own.

Granted, romantic love is more an art than a science. By pushing it to the periphery of a youngster's pursuit, we have relegated it to a status only those with a high emotional quotient can intuitively achieve. Nobody teaches the proper use of pick-up lines and no textbook, as far as I know, imparts the skill of fending off undesirable approaches. Even the task of teaching young women defense against rape falls on the mother alone. In Chinese culture, love and sex belong to an area traditionally more suggested than analyzed.

Sometimes I imagine that one day some college may open a course on romantic love. It may sound like a horrible idea because it will demystify what many hold as sacred. "It's chemistry,"they would say. If real chemistry can be taught, why not the psychological kind? Leaving everything to instinct seems fine for previous generations, but the chances of a successful match will be higher if both sides know how to express themselves on top of what to express, and for self-protection or respecting the other party, where to draw the line.

As it stands, knowledge of this kind is embodied in popular entertainment like romance novels and romantic comedy movies. As such, it is often exaggerated. Of course glossy magazines have an abundance of related information. But a college course could be more comprehensive and backed up with science. And like the Ningbo guideline, it will make the news.

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