The Secret Fan

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Batteries Not Included
Tags: , , ,

I came across this book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a story about two women who were paired together as “same-olds” (laotong), or lifelong friends. But this is not any ordinary friendship. This is the deepest of friendships, a friend you can go to for love and intimacy and bonding, because in the China of the the story’s timeline, women were not expected to find love in their marriages, where their sole duty is to produce children. These friends would communicate with their own women-language, a secret code only they understood. (Snow Flower and Lily, the two protagonists of the book, passed their secret messages to one another on fans, hence the title of the book.) So whoever came up with the idea of “same-olds” recognized the human need for love and created an alternative for women who would be married into loveless marriages.

It broke my heart to read the synopsis of the story, to understand that there was a time in our culture where love was not expected to exist between man and wife. See, I think deep down, each and every one of us has a need to be needed, and the deepest fulfillment of that need can be found in marriage – the keywords being “can be.” And even though I came from a family with divorced parents, I believe that deep inside, my biggest hope of redemption was that I would find love in my own marriage, that I would prove the world wrong when it was my turn. I imagined a union where my wife and I were the most important beings in each other’s lives.

But.. I’ve been told that in order for a marriage to succeed, there was to be a greater goal outside the marriage. It can’t just be about the two people. At one point I agreed with this, but nowadays I wonder if it’s true. What I see now is two people who give their lives to a common cause, at the expense of their relationship with each other… and at the end of the day, when the cause is over, when the common goal has been achieved, they sit down and realize that between the two of them, nothing exists. It’s an emptiness. The only things that they shared were wrapped up in the common goal; now that it’s over, their common ground was also over.

In many companies, bonds between team members grow as they delve into their project; once that project is over, the team is either assigned to the next project, or reshuffled into different teams for different projects, where new relationships grow. Whichever the case, those relationships exist within the context of the projects. If there were no projects, most likely those relationships would slowly falter and fade – unless those team members had taken time OUTSIDE of the project to get to know each other, and to create a bond outside the foundation of the project.

In the same way, I think husband and wife need to have a strong bond before investing themselves into that common goal, where they find all their time spent working, working, working, with their closest companions being their laptops and social networks and cellphones. Husband and wife need to have a secret fan outside of that project through which they can communicate. Otherwise they’ll find themselves totally wrapped up in the project, and when the project ends, they’ll find themselves itching for another project, because they have nothing to talk about outside of the project, or heaven forbid, itching to reshuffle teams to find new team members.

So what’s your secret fan? (And please, don’t tell me it’s your kids – what an unfair burden to place on them!)

  1. Bora says:

    We used to be very steady about having a weekly date night–nothing fancy or expensive, just a couple of hours to hang out and talk. As our kids are grown older and adopted crazy schedules of their own, date night has gone by the wayside. We’re trying to find a way to bring it back.

  2. Waitaminute… you mean to tell me it gets WORSE as the kids get older??

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