Ask the Yangxifu: Dealing With “How Come You Aren’t Married Yet?”

A blurred photo of a bride and groom on the grass with a bouquet in clear view.
(photo by Fernando Weberich)

Single Overseas Chinese Guy asks:

Although this may not affect you yourself. It affects a whole load of us overseas born Chinese types. Simply how on earth do we respond to the constant questions of how come you aren’t married yet?

Parents go to Chinese weddings, and fiery arguments ensue about getting married.

Fake BFs/GFs are old utilised tricks. But over time they cease to work and to be honest it feels bad tricking parents like this.

In our first generation barely anybody is married these days. But there seems an increasing desperation in the voices of parents wanting you to get married. As if it is a magic bullet or something. They just simply do not seem to realise that getting married isn’t the be all and end all of things. Yet their old fashioned values don’t seem to tie in with single independent people!

——

You know, SOCG, I feel your pain — in a different sort of way. Every time I go back to my in-laws’ home, I get a different, though equally loaded question: how come you haven’t had a baby yet?

I once vented my frustration on this site:

The hardest was this past summer in China. My Chinese mother-in-law brought [having children] up once again — it was less of an admonition and more a friendly reminder. I think she is beginning to understand the pressure we have. Still, I felt depressed on one level. I imagined that my Chinese mother-in-law thought me especially unfilial. No child yet, from the one daughter-in-law who could, conceivably, have as many as she wanted. My uterus is like prime real estate that I haven’t even bothered to rent out or sell.

I don’t even live close to them, but the pressure of this question weighed on me even long after I returned to the US. You might say I have it easier than you.

Then again, I survived essentially an entire summer living with my in-laws, so I also know what it’s like to feel that pressure on a daily basis. Actually, after a while my mother-in-law didn’t even have to say anything — the fact that one of my sisters-in-law had a newborn baby in the home pretty much took the place of any potential nagging.

Still, whenever I complained about it to my husband, he always reminded me to understand them. And that’s advice you could probably use too.

Consider what the Book of Rites, more than 2,000 years old and considered one of the five Confucian classics, said on the subject of marriage:

Marriage combines two families. It serves your ancestors, and continues the family lineage. For gentlemen, this is very important.

…..

The marriage ritual is the foundation of all rituals.

Marriage (and, for that matter, having children) are the equivalents of required coursework in Chinese culture. You don’t skip them, you don’t take an incomplete — you do them because, from a Chinese perspective, that’s life, that’s what people do. Marriage is also a filial act, since it gives you the opportunity to have children (and as I’ve learned, not having children is the most unfilial thing a person can do in traditional Chinese culture). Remember, the Book of Rites said, “this is very important.”

So it’s no wonder your parents bug you about marriage. This is the culture they grew up with, and they’re just passing it on to you. But more than that, this isn’t them intentionally bugging you; it is also how parents and relatives show they care — which sounds weird, but trust me, it’s true. Actually, in China, asking someone if they’re married is in some sense another way of asking if you’re okay (the thinking is, if you’re married and settled down, you must be happy and okay in life). Next time they ask you, realize where they’re coming from, and that this isn’t an attack on your lifestyle. This is just their culture.

I still haven’t found the ultimate response to the “how come you haven’t had a baby yet” question, and I don’t know that I have any ultimate responses to recommend to you. But you know, you might sometime engage your parents and relatives in a conversation, where you ask them about when they were single. Say this: what was it like before you got married? I can almost guarantee they had to endure the same “how come you’re not married yet” questions from their parents and relatives when they were still singletons. Maybe they even had a hard time finding someone of their own. And if they tell you about it, they might remember what it felt like to be single and drowning in marriage pressure. That whole discussion might even lead into you helping them realize just how hard it is for you to find that special someone. They might even empathize with you for once…

At least, until they attend their next Chinese wedding. 😉

What do you think? What advice do you have?

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15 thoughts on “Ask the Yangxifu: Dealing With “How Come You Aren’t Married Yet?”

  • April 27, 2012 at 6:05 am
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    Hey, I got the same question for years from my family, and I’m white. I was just being picky and waiting for the right girl. And I found her /she found me online from southern China.

    Confucianism teaches many things, but the I-ching and foretelling is much older, and teaches about your destiny. Everything in life isn’t meant to be cookie-cutter-the-same with everyone else. Sometimes, destiny works in your favor, and sometimes it doesn’t. Buddhism also teaches about the impermanence of life and of just being a good and positive person. Karma can lead to great things in life. It did with me, and I have a wife that I am always proud of and in awe of (and we don’t have nor will we have any kids, either).

    And that’s my view on this topic 😉

    Reply
  • April 27, 2012 at 6:20 am
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    Margaret Cho has great advice for dealing with both topics. Weight issues too. I know she’s Korean-American, but I’m sure it’d go down roughly the same way to Chinese folks…

    Reply
  • April 27, 2012 at 11:40 am
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    There really is no answer to it. Whether you are Chinese or not, I guess every culture is concerned about marriage. Some, like the Chinese, are more insistent maybe because of the Confucian teaching equating marriage to being filial to your parents and even to ancestors! You just have to smile or play indifferent. The alternative is to go bonkers or go out find yourself a partner to get married to. But you might just regret the latter if you do so just to evade being pestered. Or you might just be lucky. Who knows? It is better to just smile or act indifferent and let your
    relatives have a field day. They will get tired eventually anyway, 孔子(kongzi) (Confucius) or not. Ha ha.

    Reply
  • April 27, 2012 at 8:52 pm
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    This is the quesiton I was asked a lot in my life because I have not got married till now. Now I am tired of answering, explaining to them how hard it is to find your Mr. Right. I just said: well, because no one wants to marry me. They will end the conversation with” how come, do not be so picky”.

    Reply
  • April 27, 2012 at 9:40 pm
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    In this day and age its hard to find someone right for you, or sometimes you try but then you fail. Mostly I get asked that question when I’m on QQ by different guys. I tell them I don’t know.

    Reply
  • April 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm
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    This is not only chinese thing or eastern thing. Anyone remembers “Bridget Jones’s Diary”? Her family members were asking her about marriage and babies all the time 😉

    Reply
  • April 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm
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    This is what I’ve been talking about for a long long time. It’s soooo damn hard to meet/find/hunt down a right person to marry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Finding a date is not hard but finding the right person to CONNECT WITH is really hard. Even an intensive,high tempered person like me can find a wonderful wife, so can you :). Each person’s personality is fit for a particular person so it’s possible to find someone. You can hook up with all the most beautiful women in the world or the most good looking men of the century but having this undertanding for a healthy marriage is difficult. You two must drive toward the same direction instead of another person thinking or wanting to turn left or right. This is the secret! If you’re an independent woman , let it be but at least give your man a chance to lead even though you make more money than him. YOu can say that I’m wrong but you have to prove me wrong. Take out your checklist for finding Mr Right and throw it in the trash can. ” He has to be tall, strong, musculine/muscular, money making machine, nice ( to what extent ?), never ever have a temper ( are you sure or dreaming?) etc” Adjusting to one’s personality is the key while driving in one direction. Amen

    Bruce

    Reply
  • April 29, 2012 at 3:05 am
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    I had to giggle at this one. My mom and all the women in the family dish this one out regularly. I’ve never personally had the desire for marriage and kids. That changed when I met the guy I thought was right, but now that he’s not here, it’s back to the original stance.

    When they ask (and my dad has asked too), I have simply told them I wanted to finish my PhD first. When that was put on hold to come to China, they started to worry. Thankfully (I know it sounds bad!), my sisters had major drama with their first marriages (and some in their current situations) and the family jumped in to fix things as they came up (and continue to) which drains us all.

    So now, when they ask…I simply say I’m trying to avoid …(and point to my sisters’ wedding photos). It stops all of it. No one asks anymore. My grandmother has finally decided to support me in this, which is a miracle in itself. She’s pretty old school with the marriage and family idea. After hearing my parents vent about the drama…she’s on board with me. If she’s ok with it, no one else will argue with her. She’s got mad defense skills.

    As far as kids, I have the circumstance of living overseas so I have to travel (back and forth to see family, and the occasional vacation). I can pull the argument that moving all the time would be difficult on a family (assuming I’m in a relationship when they’re asking about this). Grandma, being the be all end all in our family, is conflicted because she doesn’t believe in kids without marriage and says that I shouldn’t adopt because “you should make your own problems.” So if she’s on board with the anti-marriage stance, then she has to be on board with no kids either. She’s good and logical that way. That’s saved my butt more than once in these debates.

    Essentially, they’re looking for you to be happy and to have someone there to take care of you. It’s not a bad idea, just takes time to find the one you want there when you need taking care of.

    In the classroom, we’d say: “Find the ringleader and get them to side with you in order to get the behavior you want out of the group.” I think it works well here too.

    And Bruce: Hunt down? Really??? LOL…. You always keep me entertained…I’ve got Rambo images in my head now…LOL. =)

    Reply
  • April 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm
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    As everyone pointed out… this not an affliction of only the chinese. We all hear it… but culture probably determines at what age. Personally for me, the right person, companionship, commitment, kids and marriage are important in that order. Meaning that I care more about sharing a committed and serious relationship with the right person and of course I want to have kids. Marriage is simply a means to an end. I would do it if I have the right person.

    I used to have very anti marriage ideas when I was younger. But I think there is some sense in the prodding of parents even if I wish they did not do it the way they choose to so often. I guess sharing your life with someone is a beautiful thing. And yes having someone to share your ups and downs with, rely on and hold on makes life much easier. Typically if you are thinking of marriage as the ends to which relationship is a means, you are more likely to choose to stay in stable relationships (obviously this excludes the increasingly common cases of people who want to marry for “practical” reasons like money, car bla bla or to avoid social pressures). However if such a commitment is not your end goal, you would more likely date carelessly, choosing people you know you would not spend the rest of your life with. So their pressure has some sense to it.

    Of course I am not indicating that we should starting hunting people we would want to marry instead of dating those that seem interesting… I guess what I mean is that the thought behind why you choose to be in a relationship determines who you are with at that point. (and of course vice versa).

    So take the proddings with a grain of salt, and do not settle down for anyone except for the one who seems right for you. Before I met someone who did make me think marriage, I usually tuned my mind out to such proddings by replaying pop music in my head. 😀

    Reply
  • April 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm
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    hunting for*.. sorry about that..:D

    Reply
  • April 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm
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    Mayte,

    I’m glad you’re entertained by me 🙂 lol ha ha ha ha . Yes, some people will hunt down their wives once they’re obsessed about it . I’ve seen it . If I’m single , I would hunt her down and drag her by her hair to my cave like those cavemen during the dinosaur era 🙂 lol :). Anyway, have fun hunting for your mate :). I love it!!

    Reply
  • April 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm
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    This is the hard question. Marriage leads to kids, and things start to tangle togather. If one waits for the perfect one, one may never find it or too late for children (bioclock for woman: kid before 35). If one marries early, one misses out the fun of being single; marries in a rush, one may regret. Both can lead to breakup, bad for kids and family.
    Worse part of the situation is the more educated and sophisticated one is, the more likely one will marry late, have no or less children. That leads to reduction of quality of human race.
    Nowadays, the majority rule, right or wrong. And just what direction are we heading t
    Don’t get me wrong, marry late and have less children are good for the earth which is totally over populated. My concern is the over population is mostly coming from poor and uneducated… this is a dilemma in my opinion.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm
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    It’s good to see how some things are universal, no matter the culture. Always a great reminder that we all have parents who drive us crazy (but hopefully with love)!

    Reply
  • July 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm
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    Though the concept is universal, I reckon that Chinese families do put a lot lot more pressure into babies/marriage. My French in-laws have suggested Monsieur and I get married (but we’re based in Sydney, so this doesn’t make sense to have a wedding miles away on our own) whilst my chinese mother (also in France) offers to organize everything, wants to pay, and is completely at ease talking ceremony and baby issues with my frenchman over the phone/skype (“take your time, not too much stress… can take 1 month off may be?”) when we’re not even ready for any of this!
    I’m fortunate enough that monsieur finds it funny and doesn’t mind listening to my mum’s 2cts (more actually- but have to say how grateful I am not to be back in France with all that pressure that would weigh a lot more! 🙂

    Reply
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