Making a cross-cultural relationship work

by ashkaufen

About a year and a half ago, my husband had a job wherein he was quite friendly with his supervisor. That guy was kind of like a second father to him. Anyway, at one point his son, whom he had sent to Texas USA to be raised by his sister (the son’s auntie) was coming to Taiwan to visit. Of course he had come to visit previously many times, after all they are father and son.

But anyway, the son was now an adult and married. Still living in Texas, he was of course fluent in English- with an American/Texan accent. Apparently sending him to America had been a good move, he seemed quite educated and was apparently succesful, having just bought a new house.

Since we all decided to meet up at one of Taipei’s many night markets, where we ended up eating teppanyaki at an outdoor stall (I guess they can actually prepare teppanyaki at a stall, who knew?!), our dinner was followed by a sociable stroll. At that point, my now husband Lawrence and I were just engaged.

I asked the son if he had married a non-Asian woman. He replied “oh no, I couldn’t the culture is just too different,” then he caught me looking at him perplexedly so he sputtered “but I’m not saying it’s not going to work for you guys!”

After all those years in America, still a protective guardian of one’s sacred culture? I can’t hold it against him. Lawrence’s former supervisor’s son is a good guy. Like all of us, he just had just had a space cadet moment and forgot he was talking to a white girl. I wonder what aspects of outside cultures he feels threatened by?

I have read a lot online about Chinese/Western relationships and of course I’ve talked about it with a lot of people as well. People pretty much unanimously concur that Chinese culture is more patriarchal, even to this day. In fact, that is one argument to explain the popular phenomenon of Chinese women (or Taiwanese) choosing  to instead date or marry foreigner men.

Numerous Taiwanese girls and women have said to me over the past couple of years “Chinese men are not romantic, foreigners are romantic but have many girlfriends.” To a certain extent and in many cases, their assumptions about western guys are true. A lot of Taiwanese girls and women were or are baffled at my choice to date and marry a Chinese/Taiwanese guy.

Just like with anything, these blanket statements are not 100% accurate 100% of the time. I’m no pushover, in fact I have bitch-face tendencies at times. So any guy who is in a relationship with me is going to see my opinionated and unedited side, the side of me which people who don’t know me well enough would never expect to exist. I am not materialistic or demanding, but I am not above complaining if I ever feel that my needs are not being met in a relationship.

Most people would probably agree that every relationship, whether long-term or short lived goes through stages. The first stage being the giddy, infatuated, head-in-the-clouds phase. Both parties are head over heels mad about each other and it couldn’t be more perfect. But at some point the reality sets in and you start to notice one another’s faults. And how that phase is handled can really make or break how things workout for the long run. In the long run it becomes all about compromise.

Are you going to criticize and nitpick each other until you are both reduced to little nubs? Or are you going to try and focus on the positive and redeeming qualities (which are hopefully still prominent enough) of that person?

I think that for girls the hardest part of progressing beyond the first relationship stage is that you are no longer made to feel like you are a princess. I mean, of course you never expected anyone to treat you like a princess in the first place which is exactly why you were so charmed by your guy. But when you come back down to earth and he’s kind of just indifferent or “used to it” we might panic.

I think that’s why a lot of relationships fail and people just date forever without commitment. Everyone wants to be special and to have another person recognize it, it’s almost like the key to relationship success is ongoing reciprocity in making each other feel special. So people just quit their relationships as soon as the infatuation wears off and move on to the next shiny object across the room.

I mean, I’ve heard guys say that they like to feel useful or needed and that that’s often enough to make them want to stick around with a girl. But that’s American guys. I don’t really know that much about how the collective Asian man culture thinks. But it seems like couples really commit to their marriages as if it’s an obligation and romance is never really even a part of it. This culture is very sensible.

The older generation was much more patriarchal, so women who were getting married had better to have been raised to be prepared to stand up to their long list of wifely duties. But these days it seems like things are opening up even though it’s a slow process since the younger generation and the older generation are so much more closely involved in Taiwan (it’s a filial piety thing).

Sometimes, and I realize this might make many people take offense, I feel like filial piety holds Taiwan back and impedes progress. Parents shape their children so much here and outside of that the children are shaped through institutions, like school or the media. And adult children don’t leave home until they get married. So there’s a lack of individuality and spunky personalities.

It’s almost like they don’t have a chance to grow up before they find a husband or wife, or develop life skills or become interesting. I’m not saying that every Taiwanese person is dull. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people here don’t try to be interesting. They’re too consumed with work or responsibilities. What’s more, it seems like a lot of people don’t expect anyone else to be interesting, either. Conversely, Americans are competitive about trying to be interesting. Well, at least in cities like Portland, Oregon, where I lived previously.

When my husband and I argue we often both cite cultural differences to back ourselves up. We use cultural differences to excuse our behavior that the other didn’t like and we use cultural differences to complain about each other’s inadequacies. But more often than not, I think this reason is just too convenient and it’s not the real reason that we had an issue in the first place. I mean, I never would have married a patriarchal, overly-serious armchair King who makes me do all of the household chores. And that is exactly what I have asserted I would never be able to accept in a husband to my husband. He knows I’m outspoken and that I am highly critical of popular ideas in Taiwan that put men on a pedestal above girls, yet he’s not afraid.

The things that bother us both the most about each other most of the time are very run-of-the-mill with any couple. We’re both committed and we trust each other wholeheartedly, so there’s no jealousy. But we still get annoyed with each other all of the time. Even so, it’s never reached the point of being intolerable because we love each other a lot. Even when we get so mad that we can’t stand the sight of each other it’s inevitable that it won’t be long before we can’t wait to put that issue behind us. I think we both know that these idiosyncrasies are just a natural part of adapting. And that ultimately our struggles to make it work will reward us immeasurably.