I have been dating a man in China for over a year now. He has this ayi. She has been working for him for five years now, and cares for him very much, like a son, and I’ve come to see her as his “Chinese mom.” He says that, aside from me, she is the woman he trusts most in China. I don’t doubt that they have a good relationship.
Then there is the story of how he got this ayi. She was introduced to him by his former girlfriend, a woman he was with for a very long time. The ayi’s main employer is still the former girlfriend. When they broke up, his only request was “I’m keeping the ayi,” and in the year before he met me, the arrangement was peaceful. He and the ex no longer communicate, and he doesn’t ask the ayi for news of the ex.
However, the ex asks the ayi for news of him, especially news of his new girlfriend, myself. Personal info is thus brought back to the ex, and the ayi also tells me things about my boyfriend when he was with the ex. She keeps his past open and alive. The things she says don’t make me feel good, although I really don’t believe she means any harm, and that she likes me. I think the problem is that, no matter how much she likes me and wants him to have somebody to love, she is fiercely loyal to her main employer–the ex-girlfriend–and part of her needs to put me down and reiterate how good they were together, how awesome the ex is, how long they spent together, how he seemed happier before, how they should still be friends, etc. She tells me these stories about the ex as if she is scared the ex will fade from his/our lives if she doesn’t.
I am writing to you because I’m torn about what to do. It’s like dealing with a mother-in-law, Chinese or otherwise, who loves and prefers the ex-girlfriend, although in this case she is, thankfully, NOT his mother and thus we can cut her off if we need to. Me avoiding her is not a solution; she will still talk about us to the ex, and I don’t want that. But how can I tell him, fire this woman who has cared for you for five years? A woman who needs the money? A woman who, when NOT reminiscing about the ex, is actually very kind to me? What do I do? I want the past to stay in the past, and she’s not letting me do that.
Thanks for any help and advice.
Like a Chinese mother, yet you can fire her at will. Rebecca, I think you’ve made anyone who has ever complained in the Chinese mother-in-law thread very, very jealous. 😉
Or have you? When you think about the situation, firing her seems about as crazy as firing a real Chinese mother-in-law. As you say, your boyfriend has cultivated this almost family-like connection with her over five years of employment; she needs the money; and, a majority of the time, she’s a pretty darned cool to you. So, we’re just going to cross “firing her” off the list.
Then what can you do?
Let’s start with your interactions with this ayi. You certainly can’t avoid her, as you mentioned. But that doesn’t mean you have to participate in or encourage the conversation. For example, let’s just say the ayi says something to you about your boyfriend and the ex and how much better they were together. You then could either 1) ignore what she said entirely and not say anything or 2) say something completely different that isn’t in any way related to change the subject (i.e. Wow, isn’t this a hot day? I love the way you did your hair today. I heard you’re making dumplings tonight for dinner.). Never suggest you’re irritated or upset — just give her a blank, generic smile. She may or may not get the message over time to stop talking about the ex and your boyfriend. But by not engaging or reacting, you’re not giving her or the ex satisfaction.
Realize, also, the people you’re dealing with here.
You have an ayi who sees herself as this mother figure and is trying to help her daughter out – not realizing she’s mucking things up (I’m reminded of how some of my relatives have no problem telling me “you’re fat” as many as four times in a conversation).
On the other hand, you have the ex — the “puppetmaster” of this real-life Beijing Opera — who frankly strikes me as quite pathetic and tragic (kind of makes me wonder if she belongs in an opera herself, as the villain). I mean, anyone who thinks she can use her ayi to manipulate an ex’s relationship and get back a boyfriend is a little bizarre in my book. It’s no wonder he dumped her.
Speaking of your boyfriend, could he help you out? I don’t know – it really depends on him and whether or not he appreciates the sort of nastiness behind all of this. On the other hand, even if he’s pissed, I doubt he’s going to enjoy being caught between you and his “practically a Chinese mother” ayi. And even if he asks her to cut it out, what’s to stop her when he’s not around? She is, after all, still acting as a sort of “domestic spy” for the ex (sad!).
I still have a feeling that ignoring the comments and/or changing the subject is your best line of defense. The only people still living in the past are the ex and the ayi (when she’s spreading her pro-ex propaganda in front of you) — and they’re trying to drag you backwards. You can always choose to live in the present, no matter what the ayi says or does.
That’s probably not the advice you had in mind. But look it at it this way – this might just be the perfect training ground for dealing with mettlesome future in-laws. 😉
What advice do you have for Rebecca?