From dating an Asian man to living with him: Parents still don't know

I'm a white woman in my 40s. His parents don't approve of me. Am I just insecure?



Cary Tennis
February 7, 2007 5:04PM (UTC)

Dear Reader,

Betrayal Week is over! I woke up this morning and just couldn't do it one more day. It was messing with my head.

Sorry, Betrayal Week. You had your chance.

Sorry, Reader. I got a little carried away. But enough is enough.

As I said, the genius is in the form. So back to what works: one letter, one problem, one answer.

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Dear Cary,

My boyfriend is a Chinese-American in his 40s. I'm a white woman also in my 40s. My boyfriend's parents, who were born in China, have very definite ideas about the right woman for their son. They have told him that they disapprove of me because 1) I am white and 2) I am too old (to have a child). They have been sending him on serious guilt trips about being involved with someone who cannot carry on the family name. (He is their only son.)

I am not happy, of course, about the pain they are putting him through over me. And I am not happy about being the victim of their racism and ageism (and perhaps sexism as well). But I've accepted the reality that they're not likely to warm up. Rather, my big problem is that my boyfriend won't tell his parents that he and I are living together, and have been for eight months.

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For a long time he had "reasons" for not telling them -- he wanted to get them used to the idea of our being together, his father was too sick, it made sense to wait until after the holidays -- but now it seems to come down to the fact that he hasn't because can't bear to face their reaction. I'm beginning to think that they will find out the truth in some extremely awkward way that will lead to them having an even lower opinion of me, for going along with keeping this secret if not actually lying to them.

But I suppose what bothers me most is that I feel that my boyfriend is being cowardly and infantile and not standing up for me. I realize that I have too little understanding of the cultural basis for his parents' feelings or his sense that he is failing them. But I still find myself comparing myself to the "other woman" who is waiting for the wife to be told. I wonder if it will ever happen, or whether I will just continue to be a dirty little secret.

Am I expressing some sort of insecurity that has nothing to do with him by wanting him to tell them that we're living together? Should it even be any of my business whether he tells his parents? Should I just accept that he isn't going to tell them? Is it OK if he doesn't?

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Otherwise Very Happy

Dear Otherwise Very Happy,

It is paramount that his parents be informed of the situation. Until then, you are going to be living in tension and fear.

So set a deadline. One week should suffice. Make an agreement with your boyfriend now: Within one week of reading this, you will inform his parents that you are living together.

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Then discuss your tactics. Whether you do it out in public at a restaurant, say, as a celebration with friends, which might inhibit their rage but might also be shaming to them, or whether you do it in private, or even by letter, I don't know. You and he have to discuss this and come up with a plan.

Keep in mind certain dangers. You have entered a crucial period. It may be that he really cannot do this. In forcing the issue, either in the discussion or in the actual telling of his parents, it may become apparent that their hold on your boyfriend is more powerful than yours. They may very well win. You must recognize that he will still be capable of marrying a younger Chinese woman who can bear him a child, and it's possible that in the end his parents will succeed in pressuring him to do that. If they are going to win, it is best you learn that now, rather than some years down the road. So you need to take steps now to get everything out in the open, for your own good.

As you discuss this, questions about the future will arise. You need some answers.

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What are your plans? Have you ruled out marriage and having children?

Personally, I think it would be in your best interest to get married. If you do not get married, his parents will consider the relationship temporary, and may continue to exert unrelenting pressure on him to end this relationship, until they eventually may win. They may break him down. They have enormous power in this situation. Do not underestimate it. They can shame him. They can withhold recognition of his existence. This is a terrible thing for him to live with. And they can keep at it day after day.

Also, consider, in a tactical or operational sense, the low price they pay to exert this pressure. In fact, there is a payoff for them; it probably feels better to be putting constant pressure on their son than it would to sit back and accept the situation. Accepting the situation, while perhaps attractive from my perspective, is probably not at all attractive to them. It would be tantamount to accepting defeat. This is not something they are struggling to accept. This is something they are struggling to change.

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In their eyes, you are wronging them. So do not give in to the dream of charming them or becoming friends with them. Even if you become their daughter-in-law, you represent an outcome they did not wish for.

So I suggest you act in a way that allows you to say to yourself years later, "I did the right thing. It was unfortunate that everyone could not be happy about it, but I did the right thing. I did not shirk responsibility for my own actions. I did not pretend things were otherwise. I acted honestly and forthrightly in a very painful situation. I acted courageously in the name of love."

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