Twenty-First Century Loves in Cuba

Being “sweathearts” in Cuba, becomes a mixture of tradition and postmodernism, where the trends of old customs are still preserved in the contemporary social framework, also influenced by the dilemmas of our time.

By Richard Potts

The Malecon, that 7-kilometer-long “sofa”, usually houses couples of all ages, day or night.  Photo: Richard Potts

HAVANA TIMES – February is suitable for declarations of love and reconciliation, on Valentine’s Day, with exchange of kisses, poems and flowers. For Cubans, it is still the “Day of Lovers”, with new meanings in this new millennium.

“We are sweethearts, we keep a clean and pure affection” – says the song of the Mexican author Armando Manzanero. – “Nonsense,” says my neighbor, Eddy, 23 years old. Today, nobody is content only with kisses and caresses, and the girls know that without direct contact, the matter does not last long.”

“Today we still have some romantics that fell in love in the old ways – says my friend Pepe, 35 years old – but most of the young people go directly to the material”.

These phenomena among the youngest Cuban population occur in a country where the tradition of “pater familias” had deep roots, but many young women no longer wait for parental approval to begin in the mysteries of love with relationships at an early age. So what are the main characteristics of courtship among Cubans today?

According to specialist Elsida Alvarez, of the Adolescent Clinic in Havana, being sweethearts is a loving relationship defined by a level of commitment and intimacy between the couple, as well as desire and physical attraction. “One of the components of courtship is sexual attraction and falling in love begins in adolescence with the arousing of sexual desire. However, there can be faster and more casual relationships, even if they do not reach such a degree of intimacy and commitment.”

Perhaps that is why many adult Cubans believe that current generations tend to confuse terms such as courtship, casual relationships, love relationships, desire and sympathy, and begin to have sexual contacts early on. Only a couple of decades ago, most people did not admit sexual intercourse prior to marriage, but today it is a common practice for couples of all ages.

Dating or relationship?

“The courtship has changed,” says Elsida Alvarez, “but it is still important before marriage, as a relationship of intimacy and commitment with a strong spiritual charge. Of course, contradictions often arise, males often consider sex and other material aspects important, while girls demand more of the spiritual; however, many girls follow the current mainstream and begin sexual relations before being well prepared.”

Young couples. Photo: Richard Potts

According to Carolina Díaz Bravo, psychologist at the National Center for Sexual Education, there are three levels: sexual desire, whose orientation is consolidated in adolescence. Attraction -which also involves desire- is influenced by the cultural environment. The third level is falling in love, in which desire, attraction and fascination are mixed, turning the beloved into an engine that moves the emotional, cognitive and behavioral life.

About the confusion between formal and fortuitous relationships, Carolina clarifies that relationships can arise based only on desire, but ideally they should be supported by love and admiration, so that both people are truly enriched by the encounter.

For Dr. Patricia Ares, psychologist and professor at the University of Havana, the theme of romantic love sometimes becomes “a relationship model that tries to turn two into one, with expectations of fusion, community of ideas and total commitment of the relationship. While this model is important as an ideal, it is not real in practice, placing the happiness of the subject in the hands of another, and loss is perceived as something disintegrating and means losing half of one.”

“Fusing is a false conception that hinders authentic love” – s??he concludes and agrees with other experts that “two people love each other when they are able to live without each other but decide to live together.”

From physical attractiveness and age to economics

Beauty parameters have also become more complex. The fashionable physical attractiveness is a slender woman, that does not correspond with the dietary patterns and real figure of the Latin culture. Cuban males used to prefer the “criollita de Wilson” type, the Cuban caricaturist who painted his female characters with generous curves.

Of course, in terms of beauty patterns these criteria have been changing, the preferences point to women neither too bulky nor too fat, so that the latter can sometimes be somewhat excluded from the usual parameters for choice of partner.

On the other hand, girls often admire the young athletic physique, and more or less good-looking popularized by film, television and fashion. In a general sense, Cuban girls are trending to reject the kind of “beer belly” that many Cubans used to acquire.

These definitions, along with the promotion of a healthier and less sedentary life, have produced in recent years the emergence of private gyms, some surprisingly well equipped, with rates that the average Cuban can’t pay … and yet, the gyms are successful.

Age and their differences are another matter. According to experts, the man usually seeks a younger woman and the woman a man somewhat older than her. Reflection and exaggeration of these trends in popular imagery was a fashionable song in the 80s, which satirized the so-called “titimanía”, (from “Titi”, very young girl) as the desire of men of 40 to 50 years to engage with girls in her twenties.

The trend affects to a certain extent an age group of the adult female population, women over 40 years whose chances of choosing a partner decreased because while she is looking for a man a little older than her, that man could be in search of a younger girl.

Young couple. Photo: Richard Potts

Furthermore, there is a large group of young women weary of some negative experience with immature boys of their age, who choose to search for a couple several years older, also reflected in a current fashion song: “I like older men, those who open you the door and send flowers …”

On the other hand, with the economic difficulties that the Cuban population is going through today (low salaries, rising cost of living, scarcity of food and clothing, lack of transportation) criteria from traditional patriarchal culture reappear, when many women aspired to a man affectionate, tender and dedicated, but also with economic ease. Today the average Cuban doesn’t have that position, and this leads us to consider a usual pattern of the adulterous couple: the economically successful Cuban who supports two houses: his home with wife and kids, and the house of a younger lover. This situation in today´s Cuba, reminds that of 60 years ago, when the trend used to be frequent.

There are even tragicomic situations, such as the butcher of my neighborhood, a prosperous man thanks to the smuggling of meat, who died of a heart attack and whose wake came to mourn four more women, apart from the wife. I commented the incident with Pedrito the singer of the Van Van orchestra, and shortly after their director Juan Formell released a song that also became popular “The Butcher”.

In short, the island is experiencing problems similar to those of the rest of the world: breaking of the patriarchal family, increasing divorce, increasing consensual unions, weakening the value of “marriage” as an institution, and the search for continuity of the couple as a life option, which leads to “reconstructed” – or “multinuclear” families, as expressed by Havana psychologist professor Calviño, in his Cuban TV program.

In Cuba there are other problems like housing, which causes the coexistence of several generations in the same home and the clash of criteria. The dilemmas of the Cuban young couple largely come on account of economic conditions and solutions do not depend on psychologists or sociologists, but on the economic situation of the country and its society. To analyze them, a much more extensive article would be required, but as regards the topic that concerns us, simply Love, as singer Silvio Rodríguez would say in a popular song…..

What can be done with love?

What can be done then? According to experts, the important thing for young generations to enter the universe of love with open eyes is to offer them social and sexual orientation so that they better understand what can expect from their experiences. “This enriches them -says Carolina Díaz- with more pleasant relationships that generate security and stability, in a kind of “scale of tenderness” that must be explored before reaching a more intimate relationship with other levels of commitment and implications.”

“We can’t define exactly the age at which a young person should initiate courtships and sexual relations, it is a personal decision conditioned by individual development and values ??and social norms, which the family has been instilling on the adolescent.” Research shows similar data to those of other countries on the beginning of relationships at an early age, since Cuban adolescents are not in this respect very different from the rest of the world.

And what does the average Cuban think?

According to some criteria collected by a Cuban TV program on the street: “Courtship is important, something very serious by mutual agreement as a couple and the rest comes with time (Gerardo, 28 years old). “To be real boyfriends you have to be deep in love (María, 18). “While I interacted with my girlfriend, it helped me to know her better, that was what the courtship was for. Today life has changed, boys become boyfriends earlier. (Elderly).

“Today young people are free to do almost everything they want” (middle-aged woman). “In my house, I would not allow my grandchild or my granddaughter to sleep with their partners in their room.” (Older adult). “If he is going to be with her on the street, I prefer he talks to me first and see how we fix the issue” (middle-aged woman). “Parents worry when a young woman spends a lot of time alone in her room with her boyfriend, and they are actually studying or in another activity that is not necessarily sexual.” (young mother)

So, in this third millennium of our era, Cubans also fight their own internal battle between the dynamics, the demands and the problems of modern life and the attempt of not to lose “the fright of love”, as said writer Gabriel García said Márquez. Cuban writer and patriot, José Martí, who also marked modernism in the romantic literature of Latin America, said referring to love: “Perpetual work of every moment is tenderness. If not, thinking not satisfied looks for another job. There is a word that gives the idea of ??all tactics of love: Dew, drip. ”

Or in short, we will have to repeat with Manzanero, “without any more comments, we are sweethearts.”