Recently, there was a sensational news about the romance between Taichung City Deputy Mayor, Hsiao Chia-chi's (蕭家淇) 18-year-old son and his 40-year-old female cram school teacher. According to the report, this romantic liaison began after Hsiao’s son entered college this summer, and was prohibited shortly after Hsiao knew this affair. Hsiao revealed how shocked he was initially by the fact that such an affair befell his son, only to admit later that perhaps falling for one's teacher is a rite of passage for his son’s mental growth. Interestingly enough, before such an enlightenment dawned on him, he fiercely accused the teacher of seducing his innocent son, who had the misfortune to fall prey to her female erotic power! (「課業輔導到床上去這像話嗎？」「她怎麼會對一個剛上大學、沒談過戀愛的小男生下手！」Now, the cram school teacher has fled to China, and Hsiao's son publicly lamented on his Facebook profile how adults’ interference caused him to lose everything.
This is a glaring example of something perfectly legal yet looked down upon by society. The teacher is unmarried; so is the student. There is no adultery involved here, only that gender and age still reign supreme in such affairs. Would people be as disturbed if the two criteria were reversed? What if it’s an elderly male teacher dating a young female student? Is it still a curse or is it a blessing? Some such marriages happened in the past and met with earnest applause, with the elderly males being respected celebrities and younger females their students or worshippers. Why didn’t our society denounce such a liaison? What is at stake here, the “should” or “should not” for the May-December romance?
For those who side with the May-December romance, love is a personal affair based on mutual consent. The liberal philosophy applies here, for I am free to choose what I like; I am the owner of myself. No one can prohibit me from choosing a lover double my age because I am a rational being worthy of respect. My autonomy grants me the freedom to love and marry anyone I like, be it the old or the same-sex. From the liberal perspective, there seems no room for the governmental or familial interference when it comes to personal relationships.
For those who strongly object to such a liaison, what’s the core problem that bothers them? Don’t they support the ideal of individual freedom? Of course they do, unless their children fall for elderly lovers! Clearly, there exists in this liaison something disapproved by our society. That is, May-December romance, especially that of an elderly female dating a younger male, lacks the virtues that our society values and honors. For one thing, the liaison goes against the principle of eugenics. When a middle-aged ovum meets young sperms, the inferior quality of the product may be expected! Cast aside the purpose of reproduction, the May-December liaison still leaves room to be desired. It implies the feminization of the younger male under the care of the elderly female. Effeminacy in a male is certainly an unfavorable quality. Even worse, the younger male may be exploited as a tool to gratify the elderly female’s sexual crave. This relationship therefore may erode the honorific aspect of masculinity in a bourgeois society.
The real issue in May-December liaison is not freedom of choice as some liberals embrace, but whether it is worthy of the honor and recognition by our society. The Deputy Mayor’s rage at this liaison indicates that he considers it an act of shame and dishonor. This love, in his assumption, is nothing but seduction and exploitation. But is it really so, or just an illusion of an anxious parent? While some outsiders hesitate to give it a definite answer, I borrow Professor Michael Sandel’s view in the book, Justice to help clarify it. Like the issue of same-sex marriage, this liaison involves not only a deeply personal commitment, but also the social values of mutuality, companionship, intimacy and fidelity. We are not autonomous beings as we imagine, but born in a certain society which emphasizes certain values far above others. Granted that the purpose of this love is not marriage or procreation, it must involve a loving commitment between two partners. As long as they stick to such virtues as fidelity and companionship, we are not justified to disparage this relationship as immoral or indecent. But as human beings are so whimsical that they often make a breach of such virtues as years roll on. By then, their love is a curse instead of a blessing!