Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Not Everyone Does DTR (Defining the Relationship)

Picture 462One of my favorite stories from when John and I started dating is the day when he moved into my apartment without any “should we move in together” conversation.

In America, we all know about the conversation, even if we’ve never had it before. We’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, that pivotal moment when someone says, “Let’s move in together” – a simple question that’s never all that simple. People agonize over this, to the point of proliferating totally conflicting advice (from “You’ve got to move in with him to test things out!” to “If he moves in with you, he’ll never propose!).

Well, we never had that conversation. Instead, I came home one day after work and, lo and behold, there was a duffel bag lying in the guest room of my apartment, filled with a soccer ball, a pair of soccer shoes, and some rather familiar T-shirts. When John returned back later that evening, the conversation went like this:

Me: “Is that your bag?”

John: “Uh, yeah.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

You might wonder, why did I just answer “okay” and not grill him about furtively depositing his things in my apartment? Well, for starters, I did give him a key to my place and told him to come over whenever he wanted. I figured he just interpreted that more liberally – that “whenever he wanted” could mean all the time. (And, besides, I was under the deep, romantic spell of love, which has a way of clouding your judgment, especially whenever you think of that hot weekend the two of you just enjoyed at your place.)

Years later, when I asked John about this “moving in without a discussion” thing, he had a very simple explanation for it. “Our relationship was already settled. We didn’t need to discuss things like that.”

I discovered that the fact he kissed me beside the West Lake – and later spent the night at my place – qualified as evidence of our relationship as the real deal. We didn’t have to hash out our relationship status over coffee, debating whether we should just “keep it casual” or “make it serious.” In John’s eyes, we were a serious couple.

This was like a revelation to me – that people could actually enter into a relationship, secure in what it was without ever having some big, nervewracking conversation about it.

I’m reminded of a post I saw a few years back on VOA written by a Chinese girl titled Everything You Need to Know about Dating an American and Having the ‘Relationship Talk’:

Why do Americans have these big relationship talks?

Well, there are so many types of relationships in the U.S.: dating, casual dating, relationship, open relationship (this one does not make any sense to me), serious relationship, etc.  It’s easy to see how people could be confused about which stage they are and which stage their partners are….

In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship.  You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends, so there is no chance to be confused.  In other words, when it comes to V-Day [Valentine’s Day], people either have it for sure, or don’t even think of it.  No discussion needed.

It’s fascinating that a relationship could either be really simple and obvious, or incredibly complicated and worthy of long discussions, depending on who you are and the cultural background you grew up with.

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18 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Not Everyone Does DTR (Defining the Relationship)

  • October 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm
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    I’ve got a friend who always says, “If you actually have to have ‘the talk,’ your relationship is doomed.”

    She’s got a point. Andy and I were both so crazy in love that neither of us wanted to date anyone else. It was simply understood that we would be together forever.

    Or at least until I go to jail for murdering his parents. 😉

    Reply
    • October 19, 2015 at 11:17 pm
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      Ha, yeah, your friend is so right about that!

      Now, as for you murdering his parents…umm, maybe not so right. 😉

      Reply
    • October 20, 2015 at 9:59 pm
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      Haha ???? I love that your comments have the same humour as your blog Autumn!

      Given my Chinese fiance and I were flatmates when we got together there was definitely no conversation about moving in but even a lot of other things that people traditionally agonise about we just did and it seemed very obvious and natural.

      I think because we were good friends before we got together it meant there really wasn’t any game playing.

      I also believe that guys tend to know very early on in a relationship how serious they are about a girl – I truly believe the quote “If a man wants you nothing can keep him away. If he doesn’t, nothing can make him stay”.

      Reply
      • October 20, 2015 at 10:42 pm
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        Thanks, Cat!

        And, yes, Jocelyn, I am kidding.

        Or maybe I’m blogging from San Quentin.

        Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 7:51 am
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    Communication is really important in any type of relationship. Well, at least to me, depends on the relationship. But, if some people know what type of relationship they have without expressing, I’m so jealous of them.

    Lastly, that quote you added… I feel like I now finally understand WHY my best friend, whom is Vietnamese, didn’t want to start dating all those years ago. Long story short he told me if he was to have a girlfriend, he would pick me…but never got it until now.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 8:02 am
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    Really wish I would have read that post years and years ago…although even then I would have been confused about the relationship status. Seriously, if you and the guy sleep together, but he refuses to acknowledge you as a girlfriend what kind of relationship would that be? He saw it as casual I guess, while I hoped it would turn out to be serious. Guess despite the length, it was a casual relationship.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 1:22 pm
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    My husband and I fell for each other real hard and I honestly can’t think of having ‘the talk.’

    I knew it was serious when I met the parents and the entire family at a wedding a couple of weeks after meeting.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 4:50 pm
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    Interesting you write about DTR. It’s not common to do this in Austria either. You would probably talk about moving in together beforehand, though.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 5:17 pm
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    Yeah We don’t have that kind of talk here in Austria. Our conversation was like “My roommate quit the renting contract.” “You can live with me, my parents will be ok, I guess.” That said I only slept 3 nights in my so-called apartment and was already “living” with him for half a year anyway.

    And how we started dating? “Will we meet again?” “Yes, you must come to visit me next weekend!!!”
    I guess some “cultures” just make a complicated matter out of a simple one 🙂
    Because when you know it’s “the one”, you don’t need to talk much, you are just crazy for each other.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm
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    This was such an interesting read to me, because I encountered exactly the same thing with my Taiwanese boyfriend.

    We went on a date (overnight trip), we kissed and had a wonderful time.
    The following week this conversation took place over sms.

    Him: “My friends and their girlfriends are going to this lavender garden on Thursday, would you like to go with me?”

    Me: “Uhm, sure! But isn’t that to imposing? I mean they are taking their girlfriends and you are just taking a foreign girl who you know for just a couple of weeks?”

    Him: “It’s okay, you are my girlfriend now”

    Me: (thinking to myself: okaaaaay, didn’t see that coming)
    ” Wow, sure let’s go”

    That was pretty much our relationship conversation and definition, under 2 min.
    That was 4,5 years ago, though I questioned it at first, now I see the similarities in a lot of his decision processes.

    To tell you the truth I really love this point, why make something uncomplicated become complicated, it saves you from so much unnecessary stress.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm
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    This was such an interesting read to me, because I encountered exactly the same thing with my Taiwanese boyfriend.

    We went on a date (overnight trip), we kissed and had a wonderful time.
    The following week this conversation took place over sms.

    Him: “My friends and their girlfriends are going to this lavender garden on Thursday, would you like to go with me?”

    Me: “Uhm, sure! But isn’t that to imposing? I mean they are taking their girlfriends and you are just taking a foreign girl who you know for just a couple of weeks?”

    Him: “It’s okay, you are my girlfriend now”

    Me: (thinking to myself: okaaaaay, didn’t see that coming)
    ” Wow, sure let’s go”

    That was pretty much our relationship conversation and definition, under 2 min.
    That was 4,5 years ago, though I questioned it at first, now I see the similarities in a lot of his decision processes.

    To tell you the truth I really love this point, why make something uncomplicated become complicated, it saves you from so much unnecessary stress.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2015 at 2:40 am
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    From what I understand from my girlfriends in Paris (both local and expat), the French are the same way. Much less ambiguity.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2015 at 4:59 am
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    Things have changed so much in the United States. When Eugene and I got married in 1967, there were only two relationships, dating and married. Women were still expected to be virgins when they married. And though that wasn’t always the case, living together before marriage was very rare. So there wasn’t much to discuss besides whether or not to get married.

    The pill was approved for contraceptive use in 1960, but it took a while to catch on, especially for Catholics. In 1967, Planned Parenthood was accused of genocide for providing the pill in poor and minority neighborhoods.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2015 at 10:51 am
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    I am not sure about this, I think it comes down to many factors such as the individuals themselves , fate, luck, timing, maturity, quiet understanding, in sync with each other, confidence in yourself and in the other person, both wanting the same thing at the same time.

    Many people don’t have the talk and the relationship flows with an even keel, many individuals however presume they habe “the type” of relationship only to find out the other partner doesn’t see it this way.

    For Jocelyn to accept John moving in without “having the talk” many factors came into play at the same time to make it work, however it may not be like this for other couples.

    It’s similar as when 2 people meet and they instantly know he or she’s the one for them…..the planets must have aligned simultaneously to ensure such a meeting happened.

    As individuals there is nothing wrong with having a discussion …… it clarifies confusion, presumptions, and misunderstandings.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2015 at 11:02 am
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    I’ve had the same experience about the dating talk–or lack of. For my ex and me, we went from friends to fiance(e)s. I was fine with that and thought it eliminated the bulls*(# games couples in the US play. Interestingly, though, we didn’t move in together until we’d been married a few months. When I became engaged to someone else years later, my new fiance didn’t move in with me until a month before our wedding. My traditional mother actually begged us to move in together so Tom wouldn’t waste money on rent. I’m not sure what it is that makes guys reluctant to move in with me. LOL.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2015 at 11:00 pm
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    Uhm, I don’t think we had a conversation about it either… it was more like: “hey, you are here all the time anyway… why don’t you just move in and save your rent?”. At that moment I was living in an apartment paid by my company so it made total sense, hehe. He could live with me for free!

    Reply
  • February 4, 2016 at 6:58 pm
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    I was on a hunt to learn more about Chinese New Year, but this caught my eye! It’s actually very similar in Indian culture. In our early relationship years, it went right over my head that he thought of relationships this way, and I was (meanwhile) complaining that he wasn’t defining anything. It sounded dodgy to me, and I didn’t want to get into something just to be told “Well I never said we were together” or something like that, which happens in the US.
    But he broke it down for me and explained that it was already obvious to him that we were together and the next step was marriage. And that’s the story I tell people when I explained that my husband never proposed.

    Reply
  • October 26, 2016 at 6:58 am
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    Australians seem to be pretty similar with the relationship defining thing. I don’t know if we get it from American media – we are pretty heavily influenced by America.

    But with my ex boyfriend, who was Cambodian Australian, we didn’t have any awkward talks. We just kept seeing each other and never really had the defining moment of when we are officially “boyfriend and girlfiend”. We always defined the day we began our relationship as the day we met. Same thing with moving in together. I just spent more and more time at his house. We are both quite unconventional people, though, and his family just accepts that he doesn’t ‘play by the rules’. They loved me though and I loved them. We were together for nearly 6 years but I finally broke it off after finally having enough of some serious issues. Leaving him broke his heart (as he is a “one woman” kinda man) but the way I see it is, that actions speak louder than words, and if he wasn’t willing to address these issues which had a MAJOR affect on my quality of life and possibility of a future with him, then why should I keep sacrificing my life, health, and wellbeing for him?

    One thing that honestly puts me off white Australian guys though is the fact that they are conditioned to not take relationships too seriously… Our culture basically teaches “you need a lot of practice before you find “the one” “. That is the advice parents likely give, even my own mum sees it this way. For instance, my brother has a girlfriend who he’s been with for around 4 years (he’s 22) and my mum often wonders if he will need to “spread his wings” before settling down – and that’s what she views as normal.

    I don’t want to be that practice. For me, it’s either a serious relationship or it’s nothing at all. I don’t want any of that play around stuff. The next man I’m with will be the man I marry. I don’t want to have to guess my partner’s intentions and whether he views me as serious future material or just another fling.

    Reply

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