This spur-of-the-moment midnight post might not be for everyone. But a fellow Western Woman involved with an Asian Male is heartsick now. Maybe there are a few other women out there running into this same cultural clash.
Maybe I can help. So here I am, riding in on my white horse, with this post about one of the biggest struggles I face with my Chinese-American guy. Not every white woman’s experience will mirror mine, and not every guy with Chinese parents will turn out like Andy. But some of you might see just enough of the same dynamic to find our story helpful.
In my white, American family, dissent was acceptable. I mean, yeah, you sometimes got a smack in the face (or on the butt) for misbehaving or talking back. But if you believed in a cause, or a person, and you stood up for your person or cause, you got respect. Of course, in my family of Extremely Over-Educated Persons, you
might would also get ridicule if your arguments sucked or you turned out to be VERY WRONG. (We are still making fun of Big Brother for voting for George W. Bush, because look how that turned out.)
For example, if I could present a good case to my lawyer mother for a change in my curfew, I might get to stay out an extra hour.
Not so much with Dad. I once spent fifteen minutes presenting opening arguments, evidence, and closing arguments on a Homecoming night curfew readjustment. My father listened while working on the computer. Then he said, “No.”
I wailed, “But you’re being unreasonable!”
Dad said, “Yes.” He turned his back on me and went back to the keyboard.
One Saturday night, I discovered a bunch of foolish freshmen stranded in Tyson’s Corner by irresponsible upperclassmen. I called Dad on a pay phone near midnight. I told him I was going to miss curfew, because I had to get these schoolmates of mine home. I told him I understood there would be consequences. He yelled at me to get home right away. I told him no. He hung up on me.
I was an hour-and-a-half late, driving four kids who weren’t even sure where they lived all over Northern Virginia.
All Sunday, I waited to be chewed out and grounded for a year. Dad never mentioned the incident again. Though it’s possible that Ex-Stepmother interceded on my behalf and told my dad he was being an ass, I got the sense that Dad was proud of me for disobeying his rules to do the right thing. Even if he didn’t know how to say so.
It’s considered a good thing, in my family, not to knuckle under. To stand up for yourself, especially when it’s hard, and to fight for what you want. Even against your parents. Because in a WASPish, American family, it is expected that, male or female, you will leave the house when you’re 18. You’d better be ready to face the world on your own.
My dad wanted me to go to an economical, local college. I took a scholarship to a college thousands of miles away. He never argued, accepting that it was my turn to make the decisions.
The Chinese-American household Andy grew up in could not have been more different. Andy and his siblings did what their father wanted or else. And “else” was a knuckle to the head, at the very least. There was no discussion, no haggling, no whining, no questioning of authority.
Andy was told to stay out of trouble in school. This meant no arguing with teachers, or other kids — even when they stole his lunch money.
Andy’s parents didn’t want to drive him to sports or clubs. Andy did no activities.
Andy’s parents wanted him to be an engineer. Andy became an engineer.
Andy’s parents wanted him to save money and live at home during college and graduate school. He did.
Andy’s parents wanted him to buy real estate. As soon as he had a job, he bought a townhouse. Never mind that his parents were 3,000 miles away — Andy did what they said. This left him with no money. While other twenty-somethings were off vacationing and partying, Andy was eating hot dogs in the dark.
Andy never won any battles, thus Andy never gained any confidence in himself, nor any reward for making a choice different from that of his parents. Throw in a sprinkling of Chinese fatalism and acceptance, and Andy became a person used to taking the path of least resistance.
This more passive mentality damned near doomed our romantic relationship before it started. Andy and I were acquaintances first. I dated and wanted to dance competitively with his friend Ethan. But Ethan gradually grew dissatisfied with dancing. He stayed home with his video games and told me I should be dance partners with Andy.
Andy and I were a way better fit than Ethan and I were. I realized this before Andy did. I broke up with Ethan and pined over Andy, while planted firmly in the dreaded friend zone.
During one dance event, Andy and I shared a hotel room with another dancer, Big John. Big John was 6’8″ and looked like a truck driver, but was one of the gayest dancers around. When I told him he could room with us, Big John widened his eyes and said, “Oh, no, Autumn. Being the third wheel is the worst.”
I glumly told him that Andy and I weren’t involved.
He said, “Why not?!”
I said, “Because he and Ethan are friends and that’s not always cool and also, I’m pretty sure he thinks of me as his sister.”
Big John winced and agreed to room with us. He showed up with a new, skin-tight catsuit for me, and gushed, “Honey, my partner Amy got it at a clearance sale and then she tried it on for me and I said, No, girl. Just no. It shows everything and you’ve had three kids. There’s not enough spanx in the world! And so she said to give it to you and if you like it, you can pay her back. Now go and try it on!”
So I went into the bathroom and tried it on. I’m a pretty conservative dresser from the East Coast. That midnight blue catsuit was the most form-fitting outfit I have ever worn. I exited the bathroom and nervously twirled in front of Big John and Andy.
“Do you think it’s too tight? Are there bulges?”
Big John whistled and told me I looked fierce.
Andy said nothing. I stood in front of him spun again, did a body roll, and said, “Well? Is it okay? Can I wear it for our hustle routine?”
Andy blurted out, “Uh…I gotta go!” He ran out of the room.
Big John cackled, “I don’t think he thinks you’re his sister anymore!”
Two nights later, I kissed Andy. He kissed me back.
The next morning, I asked him if he wanted to pursue a romantic relationship, or if we shouldn’t because of his friendship with my ex. I waited for him to say, “Yes! Let’s go for it!”
He said, “We probably shouldn’t.”
It was a knife to the heart. I told him I didn’t think I could stand to be “just” his friend and his dance partner anymore. If we couldn’t be a couple, I said, he should just walk away. I expected him to fight, to argue, to do SOMETHING that would prove our relationship was worth fighting for.
He walked away. He was crying, I think, but he walked away.
I cried, too. All the way back to Burbank. But in between sniffles, I thought about Ethan. I thought about how I would feel if he dated one of my friends. And I realized that I would be okay with that. Because while he and I weren’t right for each other, I wanted him to be happy.
With that expert rationalization down, I called Andy and asked, “Are you home?”
“What are you doing?”
Thus encouraged, I declared, “I think I should come over.”
Andy said, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“Fine,” I yelled. “I WON’T come over!”
Andy quickly said, “No, no, you should come over!”
I went back down the 405 Freeway. Andy met me at the door of his townhouse.
We never made it out of the front hall.
We’ve been together ever since.
When Andy first met the various branches of my family, I was ready. One racist comment, one snide remark, and I would have crushed the offender instantly (verbally, of course). I was on my white horse (or maybe my high horse), primed to ride to the rescue.
So of course my entire huge and contentious family that agrees on nothing agreed that they loved Andy. No white horse needed. Damn it.
At various times, when visiting or being visited by Andy’s family, I have been upbraided, bullied, threatened, and, in one memorable instance, SPANKED ON THE BUTT by his mother (post forthcoming…some day). His parents threatened to disown Andy for wanting to hyphenate our names.
I waited for Andy to stand up to his parents, to tell them off, to make the grand gesture in my defense. Because that’s what I’d do, of course.
Andy never did. I even cried over it once, and told him how unsupported I felt. He told me he was sorry, but there was just no point. His parents would never listen.
Since his parents never listened, I did. And I saw, gradually, the dynamic at work. I saw, too, after many bitter encounters, that he was right. His parents simply do not listen, and they cannot conceive of a world where the children override the wishes of the parents. Standing up for yourself, forcing a confrontation, and demanding that someone recognize the worth of your cause or opinion is useless.
Last night, I asked my husband, “What would have happened if I never called you after you walked away? Would you have ever called me or tried to get me back?”
He said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “Bullshit. You know you never would have called me. You’re damned lucky that I fight for what I want.”
He laughed and said, “Yeah. I am. Mostly.”
I no longer take Andy’s non-confrontational style personally, but I won’t lie. I find it very frustrating that my husband won’t tell annoying, pushy, combative people to fuck off.
And then I remember that I am also an annoying, pushy, combative person.
One of the reasons that our relationship survives is because Andy won’t fight with me. He’ll let me rage until I am again rational (or sobbing incoherently), which works better than arguing and further inflaming a temper like mine.
Another reason we survive is because I try to remember to ask his opinion and let him know I value his ideas. Andy won’t always offer up his thoughts as frequently and unrelentingly as I do.
I have accepted that Andy’s style will never, ever, be riding up on a big white horse, waving a sword, ready to do battle for his beloved.
It’s fine. Cuz I got my own horse, and my own sword. And with President-elect racist Donald Trump, those are good things to have.
Come at me, bro.