The Dynamics of Chinese Relationships

I should have known there was something a little out of whack way before this….last summer to be exact. Sun Tong, my Chinese roommate (and best Chinese friend) during the study abroad program last year had a boyfriend of over three years when I met her. I thought that that was adorable, but strangely her best friends (who also happened to be her classmates and roommates) had never met the guy…and he went to the same school as them. In America, we would find this EXTREMELY weird. I know it’s tacky to speak as the “voice” of America, because everyone’s not the same, but some things are just obvious and I’m sure most Americans would agree. Sun Tong was not the only one in this situation, I met at least 5 other people that summer who had significant others of many years who were not in their same social group. Maybe it seems strange because Americans start introducing their romantic interests to friends before labels even get drawn up, most of the time at least. While in China it is the opposite, first call them your boy/girlfriend and then see if they live up to the title? That’s my theory at least.

I started pestering Moon a week ago to introduce his girlfriend to us (did I mention that he has one now? It’s been going on since 2 or 3 months ago) but he said, “Probably not.” I was curious about this phenomenon of Chinese couples and asked another friend also why we haven’t met his girlfriend. He said, for him personally, it is because he doesn’t want to introduce her to his friends: what if she likes one of them and decides to date him? It would be too awkward…WHAT?! I told him that that made no sense, if he thought that she could ever do something like that then why are they dating? Then he looked at me like I was the crazy one. My theory: Since they are so quick to label, and it’s not common to introduce one’s social circle (unless you guys were already apart of the same circle of course), you have no idea what that person is really like.

Also, tonight I went to eat BBQ (Chinese style, which is different but oh so tasty) with my friends Avi, Patrick, Moon, and two Italian girls. We had a merry old time eating discussing topics from the universe (Moon is a physics major and he talks about some pretty cool deep stuff) to who had it worse growing up in America (minority battle-we had Black, Asian, and Indian, haha…my life was good though so I had no complaints). After that, Moon and I wanted to walk, so we strolled over to Helen’s while the others agree to meet us there later. Helen’s was nice as usual, but the important part was the walk home from Helen’s. I decided to go home early-ish because my voice was growing raspy and I have to teach in the morning. Moon of course accompanied me, he’ such a good friend, I actually feel bad sometimes because he’s such a gentleman (paying for things, going out of his way to do nice things, etc). While walking back to my dorm he got a call from his girlfriend (this whole not introducing them to friends thing is insane….I don’t even know her name! I will just call her GF) and she was asking where we were so that she could meet up with us. It was already 1am at this point so I asked him where she was coming from, he answered, “A dinner with old classmates, I know it’s late but its ok, I don’t let her drink.” My head rolled people! “ Let?…..let? Are you talking about your girlfriend or a pet? I had to clarify because my confusion was so great.  Granted people, translating words into different languages may convey a different tone or meaning, things naturally get lost in translation, but still I was offended for her. Our conversation went something like this-

Me: Let? Are you her father?……Mother then?

Moon: Come on, you know what I mean. I can’t allow my girlfriend to get drunk, what happens if someone wants to take advantage of her? It can get dangerous.

Me: Valid point, but I drink and nothing’s happened to me. You know why? Because I have friends that I trust there with me. Can’t she do the same?

Moon: But when you drink you do things you would never do, what happens if she gets involved with a guy there? Then I would have to forgive her but I would be angry.

Me: Don’t you trust her? When you drink it loosens you up a little bit, you don’t become a COMPLETELY different person, if she’s a good girl then don’t worry. You can’t boss her around like that. She has the right to personal freedom.

Moon: Of course she has freedom; I don’t complain about staying out this late, I just say not to drink. Most Japanese and Korean men don’t even let their women go outside at night (I know guys….what century right? I promise he’s not usually a Neanderthal, he honestly felt he was making sense)

Me: Why don’t you just get to know her friends to see if she’s safe with them? Caring about her safety is sweet, not trusting her is something else.

Moon: That would be intruding on her freedom, we both have our own circles (so then I understood, our concepts of freedom were clashing culturally). Besides what if she has a guy who likes her and I meet him, he wouldn’t want to be friends with her anymore if he sees me.

Me: Duh, that’s part of the point. Not to mention your lives should be semi-cohesive. In American relationships, telling your partner what to do and what not to do is seen as stepping over boundaries, impeding almost. But you know what, my ideals have been set in pretty far so I think we are going to have to agree to disagree, you are dating a Chinese girl so why care what Westerners think?

At this point his girlfriend finally found us and we continued on the walk to my dorm. I tried to make them head over to Moon’s place first but they wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted on walking me even though it was out of their way. I really wanted to talk to GF but Moon walked in between us and continued on with our above conversation…in English this time, I had a feeling it was to exclude GF from the conversation. I felt bad, but what could I do? I asked him why she arrived (naively thinking she lives in the same apartment block as him) but of course she was there to go back and spend the night with him. I told him he would NEVER be getting any from any self-proud Western girl, I would have put him on booty call time out. He was doing EVERYTHING wrong. He spoke to me in English for the rest of the 10 minute walk, insisted on walking me home, didn’t hold her hand (sure as the third wheel I appreciated it, but I’m listing reasons why he doesn’t deserve nooky here), didn’t talk with her at all, insisted on walking me to the gate, and when I left for my two minute walk from the gate to my door he called right away to talk with me until I got in because it might be “dangerous”…..for the first time I feel like I deserve the hate of a girlfriend, but she was totally fine. No complaints out of this girl, I told him to stick with timid, because he would die with a fierier girl, that’s for sure.

All of these things might seem as if he’s making a pass at m, but I swear he’s not. He knows how interested I am in meeting GF and talking with her (I complained about how he secluded us from each other) so we are going to have dinner together tomorrow. Wish me luck guys, hopefully she’s awesome despite my slightly feminist reservations, haha~


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