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Culture Clash

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 2/27/2002

Although both my parents were born in the United States, they still consider themselves Chinese, and it has always been very important to them that my siblings and I honor our cultural heritage. My oldest sister created a huge crisis by marrying a white man and, although they are OK now, it took a couple of years and the birth of a grandson for my parents to accept her husband. Now I have met a wonderful woman who also happens to be white. Knowing my family's feelings, I tried to stay just friends at first, so I wouldn't even have to introduce her to them. But over the course of the last few months, our feelings for each other have deepened and we have realized that we're in love. I hate the idea of putting my girlfriend--or my family--through the kind of ordeal we went through with my sister, but I don't want to lose her either. Any suggestions?

Crossing Cultures

Dear Crossing:
I know nothing about Chinese-American culture, but having been raised Catholic, I know something about exclusion. I had an aunt who, as family legend goes, gave up the man she loved because he was divorced, which at the time was unacceptable to the Church. She lived her whole life with her mother and, as far as I know, died a virgin. And I have been thoroughly disliked by enough of the Jewish mothers of men that I've dated to staff a medium-sized Hadassah thrift shop.

If you're serious enough to consider marrying this woman, a good first step would be to introduce your ladylove to your sister. She knows better than anyone the costs of disappointing your parents and what might be done to soften the blow, and she can fill your girlfriend in on what to expect. You also have to consider and discuss what your (and her) cultural heritage means to each of you, and if and how you plan to incorporate it into your married life. Then, when the two of you are as well prepared as possible, she can meet the family.

Or you can elope to Las Vegas and live in another state under an assumed name for the first five years of your marriage. Then, when your third child is born, you can finally call the folks, who will be so happy you're alive and well they won't care if you married a tree frog.

My boyfriend is smothering me. He's stopped spending time with his own friends and wants to be with me every minute. We're both seniors at the same high school and I really like being with him, but I want to spend some time with my other friends. He even joined the French club and the drama society so he could spend more time with me. I tried to talk him out of it without hurting his feelings, but he said that when two people love each other they're supposed to want to be together all the time. He tells me his whole life revolves around me, and he can't wait until we're out of college and can get married. At first I thought it was incredibly romantic, but now I'm feeling sort of trapped. I don't want to break up with him, so how can I get him to give me a little breathing room?

Gasping for Air

Dear Gasping:
In our secret romantic fantasies, many of us thrill to the idea of an all-attentive, truly adoring lover--someone who is always there for us, eager to please; someone to cheer us when we're down, play with us when we're up, and, in general, just plain love us to death no matter how long it has been since we had a good hair day or got better than a C-minus on an English exam. In reality that kind of slavish devotion is tolerable only in dogs, and even they can get on our nerves when they start nagging us to throw sticks or slobbering all over our favorite new cashmere sweater.

I can't imagine where your boyfriend got such odd ideas about love and togetherness, unless he's been spending his few off-hours reading 19th-century romance novels. But even those Brontë gals allowed their heroines an occasional moment alone. If you're going to have a chance of staying together at all, you need to bring him into the 21st century. Start gently. Tell him you really enjoy having things to tell him about, and if he's always there you never have any new stories. Tell him that you like hearing about stuff he's doing without you too. If that doesn't work, tell him that as much as you love him, you're too young to be so tightly tied down and you're feeling a need to spend some time alone and with your other friends. Reassure him that you don't want to date anyone else, but make sure to make at least some plans that don't include him. And if that doesn't work, or if he starts to pressure you even more, tell him that, in the garden of your life, love means never having to say, "Get away from me before I squirt Roundup on your kudzu-ass head." You may end up losing him, but single beats the hell out of suffocated any day.

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