Bad Asian girl

I'm dating a non-Asian man who sleeps over, I almost didn't go to medical school, and I'm a liberal. How can I get my parents to accept me as I am?

By Cary Tennis
Published December 4, 2002 8:20PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I grew up as the good daughter of two conservative Asian parents. I got into the best college (fulfilling the Asian-American dream) and then came the liberation of me. Now, I swear occasionally, I'm a goddamn liberal, and I almost didn't go to medical school (I took a few years off after college). I learned to drink beer, did pot once, smoked cigarettes, dated non-Asian men, and lost my virginity. Now, I am dating a non-Asian man who sleeps over when he comes to visit from far away. I am not the person of my parents' expectations.

Problem is, my parents had no inkling of my evolution. They still don't know, or want to know, that I drink, although they've caught on to my liberal inclinations. This blindness is no longer tenable for a number of reasons. The main one is the sweet boyfriend who is unfortunately caught in the crossfire of culture. I told my parents about him, they met him once, and they don't approve: You're not compatible, he's too old, he corrupted you, etc. My mother is having a hard time dealing with the fact that I might be sleeping over at his place when I visit (I now evade her questions when she asks where I'm staying). This has meant that my parents treat my boyfriend very coolly. They refuse to see him. He was specifically not invited to come over for Thanksgiving, for example, which really hurt his feelings, and mine, too. From a distance they can still make their feelings pretty apparent. The disapproval is taking its toll, as I feel that I constantly have to choose between boyfriend and family, and both feel that I choose the other.

At the heart of it, I really think my parents would love to see me set up with a nice Asian surgery resident, one who preferably speaks the native language. I want my parents to accept that I've grown up and that they must love me as I am, because I like who I am. I mean, I'm 25 fucking years old, for fuck's sake, but I hate myself for feeling like I'm 15 when I'm talking to them. They don't bring up the subject of boyfriend, or the subject of what I do after 10, unless I do. In fact, they don't really bring up much of anything.

I do love my parents. We have a good relationship. But how do I get them to accept the man who might be The One, and more important, to understand who I am and what that means? Does this mean brutal honesty about everything that I've ever done, or does it mean that I continue to not discuss certain parts of my life (like the part that streaked across the freshman quad my senior year)? Meanwhile, how do I get the sweet boyfriend to understand that the disapproval is no reflection of how I feel or the kind of person he really is?

Why can't everyone just get along?

Bad Asian Girl

Dear Bad Asian Girl,

Everyone cannot just get along because everyone disapproves of everyone else. Which wouldn't matter except we seem to think that a) it matters what the fuck they think about us and b) we must do something about it. The truth is, it doesn't matter and there's nothing we could do about it if it did.

So for your own good, rather than try to get your parents to accept this man, try instead to get yourself to accept your parents. Accept their disapproval. Accept their inability to change. Accept their stolid fealty to ancestral whatever. That doesn't mean obey them. It just means accept their disapproval of your disobedience.

The only way to live serenely is to accept it all, accept the dagger eyes, the haughty deafness, the back turned, the silent treatment, the withholding. Live with it. It doesn't mean they don't love you. It just means that they think you should marry an Asian surgical resident. Don't fall for it. Because if you marry an Asian surgical resident, it won't stop there. Then you'll have to have three children, one a future surgeon, one a future lawyer, and one a future bond trader. And even if you finish medical school as they want you to, now that you have the three little future BMW-driving conservative professionals, you won't be spending enough time with your children because of the selfish pursuit of your career, which only makes your husband look bad every time you get promoted and your parents look bad every time they have to take care of your kids because you were called away to save the life of some poor Caucasian sucker who was probably unhealthy from not eating enough duck with his family at a big round table.

Their disapproval probably feels like a withholding of love, but it's really the opposite; in a twisted way their withholding of love is their love itself. It's just not a love of your ego. It's a love of you their daughter, the projected avatar of themselves that in their eyes has no ego because it's just a projection of them. Hey, you're Asian: You ought to understand this better than me.

Your parents are being incredibly selfish, of course, and cruel, because all you want is their blessing. But that's the way parents are, and they're much better at this game than you are. As long as you continue to try to get your parents' blessing, you're playing right into their hands. So have fun with your boyfriend and tell him that what your parents think of him doesn't matter. And get back to your studying, because if you're not going to marry the Asian surgical resident, somebody is going to have to make the money.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

Cary Tennis

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