Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Boyfriend’s Parents Think We’re Unnatural

A white woman with Cleopatra-like blue eye makeup and a jewel on her forehead.
Her Chinese-American boyfriend's parents think their relationship is "unnatural" because she's older and taller than him (and not because she's white). How can she get them to like her? (photo by Shonna Clark)

Andrea asks:

I am very in love with a Chinese-American guy and he feels the same way about me. We have similar educations and world outlooks. I really feel like he might be “the one” for me. The problem is that when he introduced me to his family they had a strong objection to me.  Although they said I was pretty and nice and spoke Chinese very well, they were not okay with the fact that I am four years older and two inches taller than him.  (A classic case of jiedilian I suppose).  They explained to him that our being together was “unnatural” and to prove their point cut him off financially until he found a more suitable girlfriend. I should also probably mention that I am white – but he has dated white girls before and they were okay with that so I don’t think that is the problem.

He is still very happy to be with me and told me not to worry and that they will “come around”.  Prior to being with him I lived in mainland China for three years and am skeptical that they will learn to ignore the height and age different.  What do you think is the best approach to winning them over?  Should I ignore their feelings towards our relationship and just continue to be sweet and friendly (aka play dumb)?  Should I try to bring it up with them somehow?  Is there some special way to make them like me I haven’t thought about?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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Whoa, the financial cut-off. That’s one way to say no.

Obviously, you’re dealing with some pretty authoritarian parents (which, for the record, not all Chinese parents are — my in-laws, for example, are ridiculously lax). Bringing it up with them will be no better than hitting your own head against a great wall, trust me. Such a challenge — where you question their judgment, as the elders in the family — could also reflect poorly on you, since it’s not exactly the filial thing to do.

Since your Chinese-American boyfriend seems unfazed by their behavior (perhaps they have used the “power of the purse” on occasions in the past — and later withdrawn their cut-off?), you should follow his lead. Don’t worry about it. That doesn’t mean you need to get all “Brady Bunch” about this and suddenly take on some syrupy sweet persona in their presence (though you might find some of these tips on building a relationship with a Chinese mother-in-law helpful). Just behave as if the cut-off and their disapproval never happened at all. That’s the most powerful way to let them know they can’t stop you.

As for action, I’d leave it to him. As I mentioned in my article on Asian Man White Woman, one way to help break through a parental impasse is with the support of other relatives. Maybe he has some more open-minded relatives, someone who won’t jump to slap an “unnatural” label on the two of you just because of an age/height difference? If so, have him see if they can do some family “lobbying” on your behalf — provided, of course, your boyfriend thinks that might even help.

Ultimately, I’d look to your Chinese-American boyfriend as the barometer of success in this relationship. Given that he sees sunshine in your forecast,  you should too.

Good luck!

What do you think? What advice do you have for Andrea?

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10 thoughts on “Ask the Yangxifu: My Chinese Boyfriend’s Parents Think We’re Unnatural

  • July 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm
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    Lucky! Many white people in the US regard any romantic relationship between whites and non-whites as unnatural.

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  • July 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm
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    @Andrea, it is sad to read of parents objecting to the children’s relationship with another of a different race and/or on the basis of age/height differences. If you both love and are sure of each, you should just continue and not be overly bothered about your bf’s parents’ objection. They will come around in time, when they realise that you both really care for each other. Of course in the meantime, continue to be cordial in your relationship with his parents. But like Joceyln said, don’t, and maybe it is not advisable, to make “special” efforts to win their approval. Just be your usual nice self. How long can the parents hold out once they come to see that their son truly loves and wants you and vice versa. But there is no harm like Joceyln said, to recruit relatives’ help where they are willing and able. The best gauge of this is again, your bf. 姐弟恋 (jiedilian) literally sister-brother love really shouldn’t factor here. After all, the age difference is not such a gap as any reasonable person would or should be concerned about. Relax. I believe your bf’s parents will come around.

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  • July 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm
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    Gee, that’s pretty harsh. But to be honest he shouldn’t really have to rely on his parents for financial support anyway. Being cut off financially is less hurtful than being cut off emotionally. I’m sure if they thought their precious son was in financial trouble they’d eventually come running!
    You guys are both adults, right? Are you employed/making money? You can take care of yourselves, everyone has to do it sooner or later!

    Stick with it. You know I actually think many Chinese parents almost pretend or purposely TRY to make things hard for their son’s potential partner, and after a while they usually let up if the will is strong, but they’re treating him like a child. Blackmailing their own son like this is very manipulative. Parents have a strong say in potential partners, yes, but of course they can’t keep their offspring away from the one they truly love. It’s almost impossible. Maybe they’re testing you to see if you’ll make a good spouse and that you’ll really stick by him through thick and thin – if he’s an only son, then you can bet they probably think their ‘little emperor’ deserves nothing less!

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  • July 9, 2011 at 3:41 am
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    I would agree that the parents are testing if you two are serious with each other. Also one thing came to my mind. How old are you? If you’re almost 30 or over, then the parents might be getting worried if their son is going to get married. And if it’s going to be with you.

    Like Jocelyn and other commenters, I would advice you to be your lovely self around them and so them you are going to stick together no matter what. They might just come around like your boyfriend says!

    Good luck!

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  • July 10, 2011 at 12:49 am
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    Ah! Sweet! They are controlling but at least they are upfront about it. It might sound weird but try to appreciate their candid approach. Think about it, in a different scenario, parents-in-law might hate your guts and make your life a living hell without even telling you why. 🙂

    Continue to be sweet and friendly because it doesn’t imply that you’re giving in. For example, you can playfully remind them of how, according to the 生肖, the animal signs that are four years apart are quite compatible with each other. Whether or not you believe in this stuff, chances are that they do. 😉

    Same thing about your height: don’t take what they say personally. Ultimately, they are entitled to their own opinions, no matter how absurd and unreasonable, and you can’t change their ingrained beliefs. But you can stay positive about it, by showing that you don’t consider it to be an issue. For example, you can emphasize the fact that, most likely, their grandchildren are going to be tall, something that’s usually considered a plus.

    They might never like you 100% but it doesn’t matter: you are not going to get married to them. Your man doesn’t seem to be worried about his parents. He knows them better than you do, so trust him on that. Perhaps, by making things a bit difficult, they are just testing their son’s determination. He is happy to be with you, that’s all that matters.

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  • July 10, 2011 at 3:08 am
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    Jocelyn wrote: “As for action, I’d leave it to him.”

    And I totally agree. I’ve had a few disagreements with my mother in law over the last three and a bit months, and apart from one occasion when my frustration had reached too high a level (and the result was not good), my preferred method is to hold my breath, count to 10, and find a convenient moment to explain to my wife, “Hey, your mum is doing this, and I know she’s [excited about her first grandchild/knows so little about cars she doesn’t even know how to fasten a seatbelt/whatever is bugging me], but you’ve got to explain this to her…” and every time the outcome has been far more effective than I would’ve hoped.

    @ordinary malaysian “姐弟恋 (jiedilian) literally sister-brother love really shouldn’t factor here.”

    Perhaps we need to emphasise that it’s an older sister-younger brother dynamic here, and it’s about age rather than siblinghood, sister/brother words being used rather more loosely in Chinese than English? I know I’m being fussy and pedantic, but the English phrase “sister-brother love” looks really quite different (and rather more icky) than what is implied by the Chinese “姐弟恋”.

    And I think @Sara has a point with her “If you’re almost 30 or over”. In my limited experience, China does tend to set the age barrier for safe pregnancy a bit lower than, well, us Kiwis at least. Which may be pushing issues a bit further than @Andrea wishes at this point (and my apologies if that is the case), but for how many Chinese parents would that not be a part of their calculations?

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  • July 11, 2011 at 11:32 am
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    Andrea,

    The most effective way for your situation is for your bf’s relatives/ friends to do the work for you. Just be yourself and show your heart and soul to your man’s relatives/friends. Majority of the people out there are looking for your true heart. I know a Chinese friend here and his wife died yrs ago. He had learned a great lesson in LOVE!!! He stated that ” as long as he/she is a loyal, honest person and be true to you, he will always accept his son marrying a white or black woman , older or younger ,etc” His parents were not approved of his marriage with his deceased wife (chinese) 30 yrs ago and his wife turned out to be the BEST AND GREATEST DAUGHTER IN LAW ever . Other daughters in laws are lousy and they don’t teach their kids regarding manners and respects. I have talked alot about this subject a few weeks ago with this Chinese friend. Andrea, you need to please nobody. All you need to do is to be good to your man and I can promise you that his parents will accept you 150 %. We may look different on the outside but our love and heart are the same. I don’t care if you are WHites , Blacks, Hispanic etc. My brother said ” older women make better wives”. Age is just a number on my book. I’m 40 yrs old and I don’t think I will ever grow up. I joke around 24/7 here. That’s the secret of looking and feeling young. Compatibility has nothing to do with age and height. If I pick a woman to be my wife based on age and height only, why don’t you guys kick me in the ass and slap me around for a few hrs. I know you guys are smart and you can figure out everything about relationship /marriage. Don’t ever let other people tell you who is right for you including parents. Only you know what you like and want in a person. 10 siblings can have 10 different personalities and how do parents know what you want in a person. I’m not a very smart person but my common sense surpasses many people in this dept or I’m just humble 🙂 *hint , hint* lol

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  • July 13, 2011 at 10:04 am
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    Andrea,

    Bruce sums it up beautifully:
    All you need to do is to be good to your man and I can promise you that his parents will accept you 150 %.

    When my wife brings up my son with manners, they love her even more.

    FYI my wife is older than me but is shorter. For my wife and I, it is a long term project.

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  • December 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm
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    It is every chinese mother’s nightmare, having their prized son being controlled by overbearing daughter in law. I think this is mainly because you being 4 years older than their son.

    Chinese culture (like many other asian cultures are) emphasize alot on age. The youngs have to respect the olders, olders mean have more authority over the youngs, etc etc…

    This is why your future in-laws, shun having older daughter in-law so much… They worried their son is under controlled of his wife and his mother have no say about her son’s well-being.

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  • January 3, 2015 at 5:18 pm
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    Ah just found this website. I live in Japan where I have done for 6 years and am recently dating a chinese guy I met here – we get on brilliantly and everything is great but he sat me down the other day to warn me he has to tell his mum about us..and it seems he’s worried about her reaction. Before he had a Japanese ex and his parents stayed with them for 3 months! During which time the mother picked holes in everything that his J-ex did..and eventually they broke up. I am concerned because I am european, not even asian, and so his mum’s reaction (i think she’s from the countryside too) is going to be really uncompromising. We communicate in Japanese (not chinese or english) so i am sure she’s not gonna like that for starters. Either way,he’s going to tell her after chinese new year but you can see it’s eating him up. We’ve only just started dating and it’s sad to see our fun be spoilt by this anxiety…wondering how long i should hang in there..

    Reply

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