Asian Girl Problem #127: Being Excellent To Oneself

Signs I’ve Mellowed Out (Or Why 27 Is Way Better Than 26)

  1. I don’t do commit to any social activity I’m not interested in
  2. I feel less anxious about food and body issues
  3. I rarely feel like I’m missing out when I stay home on a weekend
  4. I don’t feel so pressured to act like the person I think my parents want me to be
  5. I blaze more because there’s less risk of unleashing anxieties
  6. I enjoy slow and sometimes sad music for the first time since high school
  7. I single-task better and enjoy it more, whether it’s reading, listening to a podcast or doing yoga at home
  8. I worry less about dating and making the “right” impression on people
  9. I don’t feel like doing high-intensity workouts and don’t care if I’m losing my “edge”
  10. I initiate more conversations with strangers, while also caring less about being liked

Based on an unofficial poll, 27 is the age when people begin stressing about a lady’s single status in China. It’s paradoxically the prime time of my life, as well as a cue for the clock to start ticking a little louder every day until I “settle down” or turn 40. Of course, people will start giving up earlier than that–somewhere around 35.

Luckily I’m not held to the same standards, having been severed from China and most bossy relatives (except my mother, who I’ve yet to escape). I get a few more years before I earn the old maid apron. However, I did inherit something meaningful from my mom several years ago–her wedding ring.

The kind of ring I hope to get from that special someone

If you knew her, you’d know she’d never want a wedding ring. It was more accurately a regular $40 ring from a department store in Ohio that my dad bought her shortly after immigrating to this country, when they’d earned enough money to take care of their initial bills and expenses. According to her, she didn’t see the need, but he insisted on getting some token to symbolize the union–probably one of the only attempts he’s made to assimilate to America.

Before Western culture took over, wedding rings were not a thing in China. My parents put on their best clothes, went to the offices to get the marriage license and take a photo together, and later hosted a dinner party, where they would get some gifts, like blankets to conceive on (I don’t know why I say this stuff except that I like to gross myself out).

So when they came to America my dad finally put a ring on it. It was a cute, tiny little ring just like my mother, with a “diamond” so small I’ve never really seen it. Smaller than a fleck of glitter, and if it didn’t catch the light on sunny days, I would’ve denied its existence.

True to character, my mom never wore it because she said it felt awkward and got in the way of cooking and washing dishes. So when I saw it in her things one day as a teenager, I convinced her to give it to me in exchange for my $5 swap meet mood ring. We were both very pleased with the trade and wore our rings for many years after that.

I have a few friends who wear rings to remember their contract to themselves–the most important marriage one can be in, and the one that never ends. The relationship you’ll never escape, and has the most power to determine your short time on earth. Although I’ve stopped wearing any jewelry for many years, I’m tending more to the relationship with myself again, and every day I discover new aspects of self-care, feel more comfortable in my own skin, and more at peace with future unknowns.


Asian Girl Problem #76: Why I Like Jerks

I hate assholes but I date assholes.

I broke a personal record by going out with a guy I met online for the fifth time. I liked him a lot because he was interesting and witty and “got me.” He is also immature and broke and entitled and vain and unaware of others and not particularly attentive to what goes on in my life. He likes conflict and control and one of the ways he gets his kicks is by negging people. Why is he still in my life? I’ve dated other versions of him before. At 22, it was understandable. But 26? Way too old for that shit.

I wonder why I wasn’t 100% inclined to break it off. (Not to worry, I have. I’m too proud and principled to ignore the fact I feel disrespected.) And as usual, I look to my father to shed light on my preference for jerks. He negs all the time and can rarely be described as “agreeable.” Whether it’s schooling us or playing devil’s advocate, he’s always interested in posing an alternate view, which a lot of people (like my mother) see as a fundamental need to argue.

Now bear with me as a make a gross generalization and stretch between my family/culture and love life.

A lot of men I know who grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China are the same way. For them it wasn’t called negging or about getting a girl interested,  it was just being normal in a landscape that demanded it. Chinese marriage used to be based on obligation, sacrifice and survival. Headstrong refusal to accept defeat, even if it means sleeping in separate bedrooms and having a relationship that, at best, is just platonic. Instead of romance and emotions, my parents valued efficiency and honesty. If a girl was too fat or a guy came from too poor of a family, you’d just come out with it and move on to the next person. As unhealthy as it is, I admire the strength and restraint behind it. There were less feelings to avoid hurting. My childhood was absent of heart to hearts, crying or coddling, and that’s kind of how my romantic relationships tend to be. Doesn’t mean I have to date someone who is a bad boyfriend–but there is an understandably wide overlap between the two.

Give me a few days to get over it. But in the meantime, I am telling myself: I do not have to be my parents. Nor are they necessarily related to all my issues with dating.

Asian Girl Problem #65: Don’t Hate the Player

“Love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.” The opening line of the Married, with Children theme song is the earliest lesson about love that I committed to memory. Neither I nor my parents knew what “carriage” was, but we didn’t understand the show much anyway. The flaboyant, deafening laugh track helped us make sense, telling us how to feel when age (mine) and culture (my dad’s)  prevented our understanding. My favorite character was the daughter Kelly, who I thought was Barbie.

I know a little more about love now than I did at five. I mean, I know what a carriage is. And I learn a lot more about how kids in China date through these game shows on Chinese television. Most of them have the same premise, but the one most popular shows 20 girls on stage, all very eligible and with distinctive personas/styles that the producers play up. Each game starts with a single guy who comes out and chooses his favorite girl. Then he introduces himself via answering questions, performing talents and video montages of his life and friends. As they get to know him more, the girls who lose interest turn off their lights until he’s gone through his whole bio.

Next, he narrows those left down to two girls to go into the final round. If the girl he chose earlier as his favorite is not one of those two, she also moves onto the finals. Finally, he asks two more questions, and extends his hand out to the girl he selects. If she accepts, they go off to canoodle. If not, he goes home alone and she returns to her spot on the stage to see the next guy.

Things I learned from this show:

– Guys have to own a car and apartment before they can think about looking for a girlfriend. Marrying without those prerequisites is called “naked marriage”
– Having work or educational experience abroad is a huge benefit, and those people usually prefer each other
– People play the game with the hopes of finding a husband or wife, so they’ll ask super practical questions about housekeeping, cooking, relatives, etc
– There are way more eligible women than men, which is representative of the country. As they say, the weakest men and strongest women become the leftovers
– Since China opened its doors to foreigners in the 90s, there are a ton more immigrants, from Korea, Africa, Europe and beyond. Race relations are still hugely confusing and frustrating
– if a girl weighs more than 100 pounds, people will make quips about her weight, and she’ll take them very graciously

Asian Girl Problem #32: The Proverbial Womanly Wiles

I don’t know much about ancient, legendary Chinese figures. There’s Confucious, the bloodthirsty leader Qinshihuang who built part of the Great Wall and other wonders, that rabbit lady who lives in the moon, and Yangguifei. I’ve always liked Yangguifei the most, since my grandparents would call me that when I was younger.

Yangguifei was one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China (at the very right), so yeah I grew up a little vain–but it’s pretty impossible for a Chinese girl with a bowl cut to stay vain when she lives in Ohio.

Basically, all stories about Yangguifei revolve around her beauty. As the favorite consort of the emperor, she had 700 seamstresses, had lychee delivered to her on horseback from the south, and give or take a billion tributes made depicting her “fleshy” figure. Some say she was executed for distracted the emperor from his responsibilities.

Intrigued by the strict gender roles of my parents’ generation, I researched “The Classic for Girls” the other day. It’s a short book of simple lessons all Chinese people are familiar with, and still often used for educating young people (the boys have their own version). A mother goose rhyme for all matter of pleasing your parents, husband, children and keeping your head vacant, if you will.

Some gems include:

You should rise from bed, as early in the morning as the sun,
Nor retire at evening’s closing, till your work is wholly done.
Then by wrapping in a towel,
So that clean your hair may keep,
You should early take your brushes and should neatly dust and sweep.
Pay particular attention that the dust may not arise,
Clean your own apartments neatly, and ’twill glad your parents’ eyes.

“Girls are difficult to manage,”
This is often said as true,
So from youth til grown to teach them is the best that we can do.
If she disregards instruction and refuses to be good,
Husband’s parents will abuse her, as indeed they often should.
Girls have three on whom dependent, All their lives they must expect,
While at home to follow father, who a husband will select,
With her husband live in concord from the day that she is wed,
And her son’s directions follow if her husband should be dead.

Have you ever learned the reason
For the binding of your feet ?
‘Tis from fear that ’twill be easy to go out upon the street..
It is not that they are handsome when thus like a crooked bow,
That ten thousand wraps and bindings are enswathed around them so.

Asian Girl Problem #13: Slut or Old Maid?

Had this conversation with my mother when I got home last night.

me: I got an email from this lady asking you to send her some pictures?
mom: I’m trying to help her single friend find a girlfriend.
me: You know single guys??
mom: I’m a matchmaker!
me: Why don’t you help me find someone?
mom: Are you interested?
me: No.

Even though she’ll attempt to play matchmaker when she has nothing better to do, my mom knows she would never make me a match. We laugh about how backwards the culture is. How a girl just can’t catch a break. Especially back in her day, if you were under 20 and dating, you were loose and dumb for wasting time on boys instead of focusing on studies. Those who went to college had to wait even longer because dating on campus was grounds for expulsion. As soon as you entered the workforce, the pressure began. If you hadn’t started dating, people would take it upon themselves to push their single acquaintances on you. After all, you only had 8 years before you hit 30 and were considered an old maid. At that point the speculations began. You were too ugly, too short, too tall, too fat, too picky, too butch etc…Escaping the gossip was enough reason to get married. Of course, you rarely heard about a girl being too stupid, too meek or too poor to get married. Those were never turn-offs. But those too smart, too strong or too bourgeois who struggled to find a husband.

After 30, your reputation plummeted fast. And if you happened to get married at a proper time but missed the boat on marital bliss, the gossip was worse. Even if you didn’t get a divorce since they were so uncommon, people still knew when you couldn’t keep a husband because you were either too brash, unattractive, uncompromising, bad in the kitchen or in bed.

We laugh about it now, but it’s still a reality. Many of my friends are pressured to spend more time on dating so they can marry before 30. My mom still gives me advice on who to look for and how to improve myself, although her advice is getting better over the years. (In high school, she told me I should eventually grow my hair out, stop wearing glasses and lose weight. What used to be taboo seemed to turn into an obsession seemingly overnight. Suddenly, everyone wants to know my relationship status and the dates I’ve been on. I went from going on secret dates in high school to disappointing people whenever I showed up alone to a party. Despite several reminders that I’m straight, there will still be questions surrounding my sexuality until I find a permanent +1.

Only one person has tried to set me up. She was my dad’s friend who took the initiative before any of us knew about it and had a chance to object. She emailed him a photo of the guy and after one look, my mom declared that he would not be a kind husband. Something based on the ratios of his face. Which is why I will always enjoy discussing the theories of dating and marriage with her, but am keeping any boyfriends a secret until the wedding day.