When I came back to the states from China I met my current Chinese boyfriend and that has been an adventure. [He’s here in the US getting his PhD in Pharmaceutics] Now that the “honeymoon” is over with my new bf I’m looking to your blog and others for advice and ideas on how to keep things positive in this new relationship…. I always perceived Chinese men to be extermely gentle, but I have found that me new bf has a bit of a temper [I guess due to the stress of school & lack of decent income]. I heard from another family member that sometimes Chinese men change after they get married and don’t treat their wives well. I am horrified at even hearing this, but now my curiosity has kicked in. Can you tell me what you think?”
When I read your letter, I had flashbacks to when John and I first came to the US together.
That was our “transition period,” before John was accepted into a psychology Ph.D program. I’ll never forget that time — for the stress, arguments and lost tempers on both sides. Like your man, John was always a gentle, calm, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. But transplanting him to the US was like putting him in a pressure cooker. He had difficulty finding work — and when he did find it, faced discrimination and challenges from management. He failed to get in during his first year of applications, and, during the second year, got his acceptance letter at the last minute. He also had to retake the GREs twice, and do the TOEFL. And, of course, he faced people critiquing his English, and felt a constant need to refine and improve his pronunciation.
When I asked John about that time in our lives, he always tells me the same thing: I was demoralized. And it’s easy to see why. He felt lost in the US during that transitional period, wondering if he would ever be able to get into school and finally achieve his own goals and dreams. He also could not meaningfully contribute to our household income (which, for many men, can be difficult to deal with, even in this age of equality among the sexes). And he shouldered the burden of living life in a foreign language.
Even now, in a Ph.D program, he’s under pressure. It’s different pressure in some ways, but, believe me, sometimes we’re back in that pressure cooker all over again, and the stress/anxiety of getting a degree in a foreign country can sometimes turn an otherwise unflappable Chinese guy into the opposite.
So, for you, this isn’t a matter of temperament, but rather stress.
So, I’d say it’s perfectly normal for your Chinese boyfriend — as a Ph.D student abroad — to lose his temper, at least sometimes, even if he’s a gentle sort of guy. Remember, graduate school in the US is genuinely challenging. This is different from graduate school in China, where, once a student gets past the qualifying exam, he or she can look forward to two or three years of just drifting through their classes. Not so here. Add to that the fact he’s doing it in a foreign language. It’s no wonder, then, that he’ll be frustrated and need an outlet. Unfortunately, sometimes that outlet is you.
As for Chinese men not treating their wives well after marriage, that’s just a stereotype. Sure, China has its share of men who treat their wives badly. But you shouldn’t worry that marriage will somehow turn your gentle, loving man into something otherwise — or that his being stressed out is a sign of worse things to come.
If anything, he needs your support now more than ever. Often, just showing you care — from helping him navigate US grad school to cooking him his favorite Chinese comfort foods — will diffuse some of that stress, and help bring back the gentle man you fell in love with.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.