Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Husband Forgot Valentine’s Day

heart-shaped red candle burning
A Chinese husband lets Valentine's Day go without the kind of romantic surprise his Western wife hoped for. How can she get through it? (Photo by Muris Kuloglija Kula)

romantic asks:

I’ve been married now to my husband (Chinese) for almost 7 years, the past four here in China.

Basically, as Valentine’s Day passed without a hint of romance…..I’ve been pouring over whether or not my western conditioning has been detrimental to my marriage. I know I certainly can not expect my husband to prepare breakfast in bed (a habit he detests, as it leaves crumbs in the sheets), or carry me to the unromantic crowds of youngsters fulfilling the newest western trend of Valentine’s rituals (he’s pretty stubborn to trends, which I also appreciate), but couldn’t he have at least bought flowers or something? I can’t help feeling that my negative reactions are more my problem. I feel flat out silly in wishing he had “bought” me something. And I feel this is directly related to hallmark campaigns I grew up with in the U.S. BUT, despite the western consumerism marketing campaigns, I do feel I truly need a little spark or spirit of romance every once in awhile. How do we get through this????


Maybe it’s time to introduce your Chinese husband to the phrase “in the doghouse.” 😉

Listen, you’re writing to a woman who has given her own husband Valentine’s Day cards for the past several years, and it was only this year that he finally came to this realization: “Oh, you have this greeting card culture.” And all the while, I’m wondering, so it took you this long to notice?

Look, I know his family just doesn’t show love like that. He didn’t grow up seeing his dad bring home roses and cards for mom. He doesn’t even get that excited about his own birthday (which his parents used to mark with a few hard-boiled eggs, and not much else).

But the truth is, I’ve felt the same tug of war over my feelings that you have, wondering if I’ve been destroyed by Hallmark and all of those insidious jewelry commercials (you know who you are). There’s this ridiculous part of me that wants some surprise something — a gift, a special evening, whatever. Heck, I even end up choosing the gifts my husband “gives me” for Christmas.

So, I’m going to do something about it — talk to him.

That’s the thing. Sometimes, our Chinese husbands don’t realize what they’re supposed to do for romance. Why not take the opportunity to educate your guy? Tell him what your perfect romantic evening would be all about. Maybe it’s a bouquet of roses, or a box of chocolate covered strawberries, or just a romantic dinner for two at your favorite Thai restaurant. Whatever it is, he ought to know — and realize that you value this attention every now and then.

Why not also jumpstart things by designating at least one night a week for something romantic? You can plan the first evening — to set the standard — and then let him plan the next one, and so on. And don’t be afraid to give him hints in the beginning — or even steer him to articles on how to plan a romantic evening.

As for my Chinese husband, he’s not in the doghouse this time. He’s planning to make up for Valentine’s Day with an evening at my favorite hot springs resort. It’s not a surprise, but it’s still damn romantic — and I’ll take romance any day. 😉

What do you think?


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

22 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese Husband Forgot Valentine’s Day”

  1. Valentine’s Day isn’t that big in Finland and actually there it’s Friend’s Day. So for me it’s not special at all and I didn’t matter even my boyfriend didn’t do anything special at that day. He did apologize that before going to sleep that night, but I said don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. And we did go to Italian restaurant two days after.

    That’s why I don’t have any good advice to her, but I think Jocelyn said it already. If the guy doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, then the best way is to tell them. Even we girls might sometimes act so, guys can’t read our minds 😉

  2. I remember with my ex boyfriend being really disappointed and annoyed when he didn’t get me a card for Valentines day, I wasn’t that upset about not getting candy. I just wanted a card.

    Then the following year on Valentines day he arrived at my door with big bouquet of red roses. I was so happy. I think western girls in general just expect that.

  3. Great post. Great ideas. It’s a bit different the other way around, Chinese wife and western husband. I’ve tried many a romantic thing and MX is always concerned about the cost which totally ruins the moment. So, I’ve gone to more specific DEEDS that would SHOW my love. Also, I think the age old idea in the west, “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” works well with the Chinese too. Perhaps it should be “The best way to a Chinese person’s heart is through their stomach.”

    That idea of teaching him doghouse though made me laugh. Look for this one on our site soon!

  4. I think the asker’s underlying complaint isn’t just specific to Valentine’s day. She probably is suffering from a lack of romance in general in her marriage. While it’s true that couples settle into a routine after a while, it’s important for both partners to keep the spark going.

    Jocelyn hit things spot on in her recommendations. Most Chinese women marry expecting to shape/mold/change their husbands. That’s why most select wealthy and handsome men. “Personalities can be taught, but material success can’t” is their mode of thinking.

    If you haven’t made your expectations clear to your husband, I’m not surprised that he hasn’t done anything. Men expect that if the women aren’t complaining, they themselves are doing enough to keep her satisfied.

  5. I have to agree with the general consensus here…communication is key. It is key in any marriage, but in an intercultural marriage with different ideas and expectations, it is even more important. A female characteristic that seems pretty consistent across the board is this idea that their men should be able to read their minds. Well, we can’t. We try our darndest, and get closer to it the more we get to know our women, but we never quite make that breakthrough to telepathy. So women, it may make it feel less “romantic” and “spontaneous” if you have to educate us about what you want, but it’s a heck of a lot more romantic than nothing at all (which is what you may get if you don’t tell us anything). Give a little to get a little.

    Let me give you an example. I am American, and my wife is Chinese. Now, I like to imagine that I am pretty familiar with Chinese culture; at least I know all of the important holidays. I know that Spring Festival is important. However, my wife’s mother passed away around Spring Festival time a number of years ago, and because of that, it has changed her attitude towards the holiday. Ever since I met her, she has told me that she doesn’t like Spring Festival/Lunar New Year that much, and it’s not that important to her. Of course, when we were in China we always celebrated with her family, and our first year in the US we celebrated with other Chinese friends. However, I always thought that was more for other people than it was for her. This year, our second in the US, we had no plans to celebrate with friends, and my wife didn’t mention Lunar New Year as the time approached (although I was aware that it was approaching). On the actual day, my wife suddenly said she wanted to go out on the town for Lunar New Year. My initial response was “I thought it wasn’t that special to you?” Big mistake. That led to an extremely uncomfortable night with more than a few tears shed. It wasn’t due to my insensitivity to her culture, but a miscommunication about what part of her culture was important to her.

    So ladies, help us out and tell us what you’re thinking!

  6. You could forgo the usual February 14th Valentine’s day in favor of Qi Xi (also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day) which falls on August 6 this year
    A closer date is “White Day” on March 14 (celebrated in Japan) which is becoming popular in a number of Asian areas and communities as “the day” for the men to reciprocate the presents (friendly as well as romantic) received on the traditional western Valentine’s Day.
    Perhaps introducing hubby to one of these options will allow him to still make a timely (and much appreciated) declaration of love?

  7. Here in Malaysia, treating your girl friend/wife/lover to a romantic dinner for two, buying her valentine card/flowers is catching on largely owing to commercialisation. It hasn’t always been like that. But what is romance really? Romance means different things to different people. Giving or receiving flowers/cards is really a western cultural thing. Asians do not have this culture, until recently. But that does not mean we aren’t romantic. We just have different ways to express it. Just don’t feel bad that your Chinese guy did not buy you a valentine gift or forgot about the whole thing. Maybe he did not see valentine celebration as important. And if it is so important to you, then like Joscelyn said, let your man know. Nobody is so heartless or cynical as not do something nice for his partner once he understands how much valentine’s days means to her.

  8. I recommend reading the 5 love languages by Gary Chapman! My man in China was not a Valentines day believer.. this year I converted him by making it extra special for him… a care package to China, and showing off my new corset via skype. – I made his job easy by telling him what he could do to make me feel loved and had flowers delivered to me at school. I think the overall point of Valentines day is not the flowers, dinners, or complaining about the consumerism… most important part is just another day to have extra sexy romping time!!

  9. My guy is a sort-of boyfriend (?) from whom I heard not one peep on Valentine’s Day. He is Chinese, but also raised in the West. I never know if his lack of romanticism is due to his culture/upbringing or just garden variety game playing/shyness/vague interest, etc. I’m pretty sure it’s cultural, but it can be pretty excruciating when we have our sights set high in the romance realm. I was hoping for at least a humorous “will you be my Valentine” email or the like. Nada.

    He did, however, send some nice photos he had promised the next day, and called the day after that. I almost wonder if he purposely avoided Valentines’ Day, not because of his culture, but because he didn’t want to risk not finding me at home on Valentine’s night. (Of course, I was home alone eating chocolate, waiting for a call from China!) I get the feeling he just can’t believe I find him desirable.

    I agree with the PPs who find the consumerism off-putting. But a gesture of romance that costs nothing is always appreciated. Maybe next year?

  10. Ohh.. Honey.. I feel your pain… my husband has remember my birthday one time in the few years we have been married and on that one time he bought me a floor heater. Yes… so romantic huh? Even on Double 7s Day here in China, he often just doesnt notice that everyone is walking around with flowers and large stuffed animals.
    I just take it as a training process… you have to train him to understand your needs… in my case nagging helps.. hehehe… My anniversary is coming up soon hopefully… he will remember the day he married me… and do something.. besides the 3 dove candy bars he remembered to pick up for me last year. Ahh.. Chinese men you just gotta love em or you will end up strangling them to death… hehehe…
    Keep on him… and eventually he will get a clue… Many Chinese women tell me .. that most Chinese men never get then any gifts or anything… so.. it is just not instilled in them …. YET…good luck

  11. I like Micah S.’s questions and the implications therein, although I hope he’s not reading too much into the original request for help. Marriage, or any kind of partnership, requires compromise, and it seems to me safe to assume that a cross-cultural partnership is going to require more compromise than your common- or garden-variety monocultural partnership. Micah’s raising of Chinese festivals and the Chinese calendar hits home for me (in large part because I’ve always found it difficult, having a very poor sense of time to begin with, to keep track of two calendars, and because a few years back Micah did the online equivalent of taking me out back and kicking some sense into me over a calendar issue – cheers, Micah, that lesson is still much appreciated), and I have to ask: Does your man understand the importance of Valentine’s Day or other Western/your home country’s holidays and festivals to you? Does he understand what you expect to happen on these days?

    Because, you know, it’s one thing intellectually knowing in Country X they celebrate Festival Y on Z date. It’s a whole other thing fully comprehending the significance of said festival and how it should be observed. To then take it to the “My spouse expects xxx on yyy day” is a whole different story, and I suspect a lifelong process given how our relationships to various festivals and other aspects of our native and host cultures change as we age (my wife has commented that I pay far more attention to Spring Festival/Chinese New Year than Christmas, and I remember the last times I observed ANZAC and Waitangi Days and Easter – and in each case it was a long time ago, just as some examples).

    And some of us, typically men, although I suspect more than a few women, are just really bad at this whole romance and gift-giving thing. I have tried, but my attempts have generally been dumped in the “Thoroughly Incompetent” bin. And so this year my wife said, “Let’s go to Caibai on the weekend and buy me some jewellery, it can double as a Valentine’s Day and birthday present, as this year Valentine’s Day is on Monday and my birthday on Tuesday”, and I said, “Of course”, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The dates and days were marked in a way I would be able to keep track of, and the stress (and for me it is stressful, really) of picking out a decent gift had been alleviated. Pity it turned into such a hellish shopping trip (for both of us – and shopping is her favourite leisure activity – but you can’t win ’em all), but we managed the happy compromise between my incompetence and her desire to be treated.

    And at eight months pregnant with our first she thoroughly deserves a treat or three thousand!

    So all I’m saying is:
    1: Compromise is essential, and compromise involves as much giving as taking, and cross-cultural relationships seem to require far more compromise than monocultural relationships.
    2: Some of us, myself being a prime example, are kinda dumb in that social interaction sense and need training. Don’t be afraid to offer that training, but do be gentle.

  12. Oh dear. I’m having the opposite problem.
    Valentine’s Day, I hate you for creating make-or-break situations and putting such financial and emotional pressure on couples. How dare you!
    My Chinese boyfriend of a few months is the ‘hopeless romantic’ type that seems more and more prominent among this optimistic ‘Generation Y’ of modern China these days. Like a lot of attached young Chinese men, he feels quite obligated to prove his love by spending money on his girl for Valentine’s Day. Which is lovely, but I feel Valentine’s day is so horribly tied up with money and material goods than expressing real love. I can’t deal with that added effort that comes with commercialised romantic gestures.

    Last week, he had to travel back to his hometown because of some family stuff. I insisted he wouldn’t make a big deal out of the 14th of February since family are first priority, and we are so far apart anyway. But to my surprise, determined to make up for his absence, he bought me all these lovely gifts and mailed them to my house, only for me to have missed the delivery and subsequently the parcel has been ‘lost in the post’ for a while now. I’m completely gutted as they were specific Valentine’s presents which he used his hard-earned, could-have-spent-on-his-family money to buy specially for me, and I feel guilty as I never bought him anything yet. I’ll have to make it up to him somehow. Buying gifts for guys is impossible enough – so what do you buy the guy who lives in a country where 90% of stuff we have is already made?!

    Usually for Valentine’s I would get all dolled up for my guy, make him dinner, treat him to a massage…among other things 😉 But how do you do that when your better half is currently hundreds of miles away? Perhaps I can use the excuse of ‘White Day’ on March 15th 😀

    Anyway, screw Valentine’s Day, show your love EVERY DAY.

  13. I think you nailed it. When your dad doesn’t do anything like this for your mom, then it’s hard for you to know what to do on Valentine’s day. My dad sort of does it, and having grown up in California I’m better at it than he is. Hopefully this means that if I have a kid then they will be even better!

  14. In my previous relationship, my boyfriend (who happened to be a westerner) did not do anything for me for Valentine’s day. In fact, he invited one of his single guy friends over that evening. I didn’t complain because I thought, “Asking you to do something special for me defeats the purpose of having you do something special for me.” So in my melodramatic mind, I imagined spending Valentine’s day the rest of my life lonely sad and resentful.

    Now, however, after much thought, I imagine my future valentine’s differently. I will take the initiative. I will, in the very least, buy new evening clothes for myself on valentine’s day, and I will make reservations to the restaurant of my choice. I will plan all this a month ahead of time. I imagine that this kind of enthousiasm on my part will send a pretty strong message to whoever my partner will be, that Valentine’s day is special to me and that he’d better buck up and reciprocate for the day.

    I now imagine my future valentine’s day with great anticipation and high expectations because I will have control (except for the fact that I first have to meet this guy, my future valentines).

  15. This week I asked my newly-married Chinese coworker what he was planning to do for his wife for Valentine’s day. He gave me a blank look and said, “But we’re married now.” He’s from the younger generation and fairly Western-influenced, but to him Valentine’s day was something you do before the ring is on the finger. I don’t know if this is a common way of thinking, but there’s only one way to find out: straw poll at work!

  16. Went to an upscale gourmet grocery store today (am in Canada) and passed by a 30ish Caucasian woman holding a box of ready-to-eat food in her hands. She was angrily huffing to her male partner: “Well, that’s just great, no reservations. I guess THIS is my Valentines Day dinner then.” Her companion was a Caucasian male. The point of this story is….some things simply have no boundaries: Men are simply clueless! That needs another type of site entirely XD

  17. Hah, the funny thing is that in Poland we don’t celebrate Valentines Day actually. It’s considered as an american custom, like Halloween, and some people do buy gifts for their loved ones, but also for their family members or friends. For example, this year I got a book from my sister. But generally speaking, it’s not such a big deal.
    We celebrate Midsummer Night at 23/24th of June and the custom has it’s roots in Slavic pagan rites. Unmarried girls put garlands with candles on a river, young people gather together and jump over a bonfire, there are concerts and fireworks. I like it much more than Valentines Day and hope that I’ll have a chance to celebrate Midsummer Night with my bf and chinese friends in China.
    Nevertheless, my bf remembered about Valentines. He says that nowadays it becomes more popular than Double Seven among young chinese couples. Well, we celebrate Double Seven 😉 and I’m gonna make my own garland for the Midsummer Night, hope my bf will catch it 😉

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