I'm reading "Nepal, anche le montagne si muovono" [Nepal, even the mountains move] a book written in 1984 by Olga Ammann and Giulia Barletta, two Italian anthropologists studying relationships in Nepal.
They say Nepalis don't fall in love. Not like us at least.
After many interviews with Nepali men and women from every casts and of different ages, they affirm that love in Nepal is not about an individual passion but something related to family and society.
Europeans are individualist instead, family means few for us, we would never renounce to our personal goals to attend our parents or siblings. A woman expects her man gives more importance to her because he has chosen her while his family is a coincidence. Nepalis would hardly share this view, and this makes relationships complicated.
In spite the book has been written more than 30 years ago, things has not changed that much according to my personal experience. In Kathmandu and among the youths there is a trend to act differently, a desire to look 'modern' leading to a more 'free' behaviour. Walking hand in hand, holding or kissing in public places is not allowed, socially and in some cases also penally, but recent studies say premarital sex is more common than before and not especially linked to a future marriage.
Still sexual behaviour tells nothing about the inner feeling called love, defined in modern Europe by romantic traits like passion, individual choice, deep emotional engaggement.
Modern love was born with the modern concept of individuality, functional to a dynamic society based on social classes, money defined. In a static society, where 'class' (or 'cast') are birth defined, social mobility is not possible, and marriages are stricly inter-cast, decided by families according to social requirements. In a premodern society family is in first place an economic unit where relatives collaborate for their common survival, each one making their part, each one absolving a different duty in an objective preesisting structure.
In the book I'm reading men and women are asked about their feeling when they married, when they spend the first night with their wife or husband. Where they happy? unhappy? excited? relieved? scared? The answer invariably is: "There was no reason to feel happy or unhappy." Indifference about such a situation is unbelivable for 'us', we are quick to translate it with 'she is unhappy' or 'he doesn't care'. And I say 'she' is unhappy and 'he' doesn't care on purpose, because that is our perception, probably because in our culture 'love' is ascribed more to women than to men, and also because we know that 'she' is leaving her family and her loved one to go living in a family where she is a stranger to everybody, her husband included. The book reports that brides and their relatives always cry a lot. But women say they were not sad, nor happy. Marriage is normal, a natural law like seasons.
Another question is: "Do you ever say 'I love you' to your wife or husband?" and the answer invariably is: "Noooo! why?" laughing and surprised. In Europe man hardly say 'I love you', that's for special moments only and considered not virile, but women often do, and there is a kind of role play with women always complaining about their men's lack of romanticism. In Nepal it seems that women don't expect men to be romantic.
According to our concept of 'love', Nepali marriages look built on a very weak basis and destined to produce a lot of unhappiness. Divorce is now permitted - it was allowed in 1984 already - but socially despised and anyway rare. Nepali people say that their marriages are forever, and they normally are. They are invariably critical about our 'love marriages' and consider them a matter of whim. They observe divorce is way more common in our society and consider it a sign of failure and unhappiness, not a sign of freedom and self-esteem.
Something similar they think about the choice of a career: it's more about family needs and realistic social chances than about a personal dream, even if individual talent is apreciated and often supported by the whole community as a contribution to the general enhancement. Each one is expected to make their part, and ech one feel he or she IS a part, not the whole, so this expectation is deeply rooted in the individual concept of self. And that's why they are not unhappy. Not even so extremely happy.
I directly asked to a few good Nepali friends: "Is it true that Nepali don't fall in love?" and they said: "Yes. Not the way you do." Meaning: you are excessive.
So what is 'love' for Nepali people? In the book and also in my personal experience love looks connoted by special care and sober affection. Nepalis are very kind with everybody, much more than us, so kindness is not distinctive of love relationship. 'Love' can be found in a daily care made of small recurring acts more than in something showy, and very often it means that they quitly sacrifice their individual needs to the family's ones, for exemple going working far - in a town, in Kathmadu or abroad.
In our concept of 'love' the time is 'now' and it make no sense to marry someone, having children and go working abroad for years in order to send them money. But we are privileged son and daughters of the modern society, born in the right side of the world. "A person is very unlucky when born in Nepal" a friend of mine said yesterday. My heart haced for his words. Nepal is a wonderful country. But it's true that Nepalis have got a small range of opportunities and for the most of them life is very hard, still and just about survival. "Love is nothing when you have no money" my Nepali boyfriend once said. I didn't understand at that time and even got a little shocked, but I'm learning to watch with his eyes and I must admit I see that's also true.
Feedback by Nepali readers is very welcome!