There are three inches of separation between me and my Chinese husband. That is, three inches of separation between us being exactly the same height — because I’m five-foot-seven and he’s five-foot-four.
Five-four is not what I expected when I measured him a couple of weeks ago. I happened to ask for the measuring tape, just so I could size up our oven for the Thanksgiving turkey we planned to bake this past Thursday. But then he asked for it. “Could you measure me?”
He stood with his head high and chest out, just like the People’s Liberation Army had taught him years ago during those military exercises in the few precious weeks before he started his freshman year of college in China. But as I unraveled the metal strip all the way to his head, I suddenly realized that the five-foot-five I’d told him to put on his driver’s license was, well, one inch too tall.
Years ago, I couldn’t imagine the separation of one inch — let alone three inches — between me and my love.
As John and I flirted for weeks like teenagers, the fact that we always met each other sitting down made me believe in my own version of a tall tale — that he was as tall as I was. But then I invited him to lunch one Saturday, and the moment John stood up from his chair, I traded in one cliche for another — a tall tale for a short Chinese guy.
I’d already vanquished many stereotypes to fall in love with Chinese men before: not sexy enough, not handsome, too effeminate. With every soul-stirring kiss and embrace with one of the sons of Han, I discovered that the stereotypes were no match for the beauty, strength and passion of Chinese men. But now I faced the final dragon, and I didn’t know how to cross this river without faltering. After all, I’d never given my dream man a race or ethnicity, but somehow I’d always promised myself he’d be as tall, if not taller, than me.
To my friend Caroline, who schemed to match John and me up, the answer was obvious. “He may be short, but he is handsome.” Which was true, from his large, oolong-brown eyes to a striking straight nose. And then, she cocked her eyebrow and grinned, imagining another reason to look beyond appearances. “I think he’d make a good husband.”
At first, I didn’t know what to think. So, over time, I just listened to John and his stories. How he wanted to become a psychologist and open a “humanistic care center” to help heal others. The way he had confronted the growing menace of stone-processing factories in his hometown, and their noisome, 24/7 din that had disturbed the peace. His deep passion for philosophy, from Carl Jung to Erich Fromm, and the natural environment. The fact that he was madly in love with me, imperfections and all. And, with each new passage, with each new revelation, he stood taller — in ideals, in character — than any man I had ever known in my life.
So I stopped noticing the height of his stature, and instead embraced the height of his character. And, in 2004, I married him.
Which is probably why John doesn’t even see five-four the way the rest of the world might. “I’m a wusi qingnian!” a five-four youth, he declared, a joking reference to the May Fourth Movement when the youth of China rose up against the Chinese government’s weakness — a movement they call “five-four” in Chinese. While John never was one of those angry youths of the past, in a way, his very presence is like a demonstration — that the greatness of a Chinese man isn’t measured in inches.
Have you loved someone who didn’t “measure up” to your expectations? How did you overcome it?