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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - What is love but to know and to be known by another

What is love but to know and to be known by another

What is love but to know and to be known by another



There are different types and degrees of love. There is the universal love we

have for society and mankind (humanity); there is love we have for our friends (amity);

there is love we have for our parents, siblings and relatives (familial); there is

romantic love which is jealous and possessive as it should be; and for those of us

who hold religious beliefs, there is perfect, unconditional love (agape love of God).

We know love is fundamental to survival, as one study tells us of a twin raised separately-the

one raised without love died quickly and grimly, the other nurtured by love lived

on in health.

We find everyone in every nation in every language singing about love; love is truly

what makes the world go round.

Romantic love: Arranged marriages

Here, I am interested in focusing on one of the loves-romantic love, particularly

on the rapid changes of Cambodian culture on one expression of romantic love, arranged

marriages. As we know, culture is not static. It changes with time and the needs

driving society.

I find sublime beauty behind the ideal of bringing two people together into a union

based not on external love or appearance (more commonly known as lust), but rather

an internal love that burns with the passage of time. Herein exists complete safety,

for love casts out all fear. I have witnessed the wonderful working of this arrangement

in the relationships of my aunts and uncles.

But notice it is the 'ideal' of arranged marriages that I admire. This custom suits

a society where the parents of the couple know each other's background because of

the close-knit community they live in. There is truth in the rebuttable presumption

that the parents know best.

However, that assumption resonates but faintly in a situation where the individual's

world is no longer limited by village life but extends to life away from the parents.

The greater the experiences of the parents and the children diverge, the less convincing

is the argument for arranged marriages.

Moreover, the ethereal ideal of arranged marriages is more likely than not tainted

by practical calculations, for we are after all rational beings. The arranged union

of two individuals can and often does turn into business deals. My maternal grandfather

Kuy shrewdly broke off an engagement for my father when a richer, well-established

suitor came along.

Additionally, in an arranged marriage, the dowry given by man is often viewed as

a bride price. This in turn establishes a mentality of property that can lead to

abuse of the woman, either physically or emotionally whereby the man engages in profligacy.

My dear, dear family. I believe now they have given up all hope of ever arranging

anything for me. But only after I have had to suffer an earful many times over their

fear of me evolving into an old maid, kramome chah.

"A woman is like a flower," so begins their parable. "She blooms and

many choice men are attracted toward her like many bees are attracted to a flower.

But then the flower wilts; so too a woman. Men desire youth. If you wait too long,

you will no longer be desirable. You don't want to settle."

Alright. My aunts did not exactly use an original metaphor for I am certain other

daughters across the myriad of cultures have heard similar doomed prognosis.

Correspondingly, I am frequently asked the qualities I look for in a man. But I believe

this is the wrong question to ask. I can list all the traits in the world, but my

listing them has little power to affect or alter another's character.

I find it more instructive to ask instead: what are the qualities I want to develop

within myself? In preparation for a future mate. In preparation for life in general.

Here, I possess the power to affect the change.

Love actually, love universally

But let us come back and frame the example above of romantic love within the larger

context of the universal elements and definition of love and what it means for the

development of our society. For if love is so fundamental, so universal, and necessary

for survival, does it not make perfect sense that we should do everything as a society

to foster and encourage love? If we are to look around in current Cambodian society,

are we?

Let us be reminded of what love looks like:

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding

gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and

if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have

not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record

of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest

of these is love.

(I Corinthians 13, the Holy Bible)

Theary C. SENG

Executive Director

Past columns can be found at


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