I had never stood next to John before the day we rode the “green skinned” train to Yiwu. I asked John out for lunch before we rode the train, and, as he stood up from his chair, there he was — more than two inches below me, and many pounds lighter.
I always believed I wasn’t superficial, until now — I felt disappointed, just because John was shorter.You never want to admit it, but your whole life, you tell yourself a story about the person you might fall in love with. In my story, he could have been from any country, of any color or ethnicity. But, after a lifetime of movies and television, perpetuating the idea that the man must be bigger and taller, I wanted my dream man to be the same. I didn’t know what to do now.
We went to my favorite restaurant — the Foreign Students’ Dining Room at Hangzhou University — and ordered youmen eggplant, tofu-skin baby bok choy, and two coconut milks. John told me about his plans. “I’m going to be studying psychology at Shanghai Normal University this fall….Someday, I hope to create a humanistic care center in China, to help people.” His aspirations reached far beyond his 5’5″ (165 cm) stature.
But still, I couldn’t shake the opposite thought: if only he stood so tall in reality.
After lunch, as we walked out, I obsessively glanced at the gap between my shoulders and his. Did he notice? Did I make him feel short? I tried slouching a little — maybe that would help. Or, rather, maybe I needed help. Psychological help, that is.
Help had a name — Caroline, my scheming, matchmaking friend. The week of July 14, after the trip to Yiwu, Caroline went with me to my gym on a guest pass, and delayed me afterwards in the lobby of the hotel, for a little conversation. Was she there to only work out, or work me out of my prejudices?
“I don’t know about him,” I said, sitting in the lobby of the international hotel with Caroline, after exercising upstairs. “I’m confused.”
“Confused about what?”
His height. His weight. His whole stature, I thought. But how could I say that? I liked John, even if I didn’t know what to do with my preconceptions of what a boyfriend should be. So, I lied. “I don’t know.”
The thing is, I’m a terrible liar in the US, and even worse in China — a country where burying thoughts and feelings has been second nature for thousands of years. Caroline knows me better than I even want to admit — even the parts I’m ashamed of. “He may be short, but he is handsome.” She cocked her head a bit, grinning and raising an eyebrow, adding this. “I think he’d make a good husband.”
A good husband? How can I think forever when I haven’t even dated him yet? I shuddered, even as I understood that Caroline said what Chinese girls would want to hear. They would think marriage before dating.
I thought about Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend. He was tall and sturdy. Now, he was gone, forever. I never would have thoughtÂ he would have gone so fast, so soon. But how was I to know? You cannot read your destiny in his eyes, or glances, or kisses — or even his stature.
He may be short, but he is handsome.
Did you have to give up your expectations — cultural or societal — to date someone in China?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.