Ask the Yangxifu: Dealing with “When Will You Get Married?” & Other Awkward Chinese Family Questions

(Photo by Davi Ozolin via
(Photo by Davi Ozolin via

Vickie” asks:

So I’m living in China with my boyfriend. We have lived in China for the majority of our relationship, and I am learning Chinese full time. His little sister is getting married next week and as a consequence his Mom takes every opportunity to ask me when we are going to get married. There are some reasons this sits uncomfortably with me:

1. It is assumed that we are getting married but we haven’t really talked about it openly.
2. I would kind of like the surprise proposal if we ever did get married, and being constantly asked about this completely spoils that.
3. His mother obviously assumes that because I have lived here for a few years now I’m going to stay here forever (which I’m more and more certain that I don’t want to do).

His mother’s questions are so direct that it’s impossible to answer vaguely, and so I’m at risk of stepping on some cultural sensitive points, when really, she’s the last person I want to be talking about it with (before me and my boyfriend have even talked about it properly).

She thinks that I should stay in China and teach English and that’s the end of the story – so I had to tell her that I don’t necessarily want to stay in China for the rest of my life. How can I put this message across to her more politely without offending her, and giving her the idea that actually, me and my boyfriend need to talk about it without family pressure bothering us?


I hate to say this, but welcome to Chinese culture — where everyone is in your face about things that we consider highly personal and private. Like marriage and having babies and even where you plan to live. (See my past Ask the Yangxifu column on Dealing With “How Come You Aren’t Married Yet?”)

Every time I go back home to John’s hometown we always get asked, “When are you having kids?” There’s nothing we can do or say to stop people (mostly family) from inquiring about it. They will ask! Trying to explain or tell them not to will create misunderstandings or even put a dent in our relationship. It’s just not worth it.

Instead, here’s my suggestion — don’t take it too seriously. Really. As personal and and imposing as the questions might feel, the reality is that people often ask as a way to show care or concern (not unlike asking about someone’s health).

Sometimes I’m even convinced my family members ask us about having kids because it gives them something to talk about!

Next time his mom asks when you’re getting married, the best way to answer is “Soon!” (快了,快了! Kuài le,kuài le!). Chances are that will satisfy her and she won’t trouble you anymore.

My husband and I always say “soon” whenever someone asks when we’re going to have kids. But guess what? We’re NOT having kids any time soon. And yet, every time we answer like this, it really works. They stop asking about it!

So just smile and say “Soon!”

You could take a similar approach to all of the questions about staying in China. Just tell her, “Okay, we will think it over.” (好的,我们考虑考虑。Hǎo de,wǒmen kǎolǜ kǎolǜ.) It’s not a lie because you have thought it over (or are thinking it over). And again, chances are she’ll feel happy about your answer and change the subject.

Maybe this isn’t the answer you hoped for. But I’ve just found that you’re better off responding to questions like these with a positive and vague response. The positive part makes them happy, the vague part means you’re not actually promising anything. And here’s the thing – in Chinese culture, people are comfortable with vagueness and uncertainty. In all likelihood, nobody’s going to follow up and ask “How soon?” or “When?”

Instead, they’ll probably just move on to something else and you’ll be safe. (Until the next conversation, at least!)

What do you think? What advice do you have?


Do you have a question about love, dating, marriage or family in Chinese or Western culture? Send me yours today.

15 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Dealing with “When Will You Get Married?” & Other Awkward Chinese Family Questions”

  1. I am not so sure that your boyfriend’s mother is any different than any American mother in wanting to know when you will get married. In our generation (I am in my late forties), we did indeed marry either directly after high school or college if we were in a long-term relationship. The modern trend of delaying marriage doesn’t necessarily seem ‘right’ to us.

    I am facing the opposite situation. Having just married a Chinese man, I will be meeting my new in-laws later this year. Their question will not be “when are you getting married” but “why did you get married” as we are both past the age of having more children and that is the only reason they can comprehend for getting married. This should be an interesting experience.

  2. My experience is that Chinese assume marriage will happen; at least to those born in the 1970s and before, dating is for marriage.

    I love the “soon” phrase. Now that I think of it, this one Chinese friend of ours has said it to my mother-in-law , when asked when she and her husband are having kids, every Spring Festival for the 8 years that I’ve been married. Keeps them happy for another year.

    Funny thing: just last week the gal told her mom that she’s pregnant…but not with the husband the mom knows. They’ve actually been divorced for five years, he comes home with her regularly, but back in the city where they live they’ve met and married other people. Just an insight as to how Chinese parerents (hers are late 60s, she’s 40) view marriage. She felt she couldn’t even tell them she’d divorced until she was finally remarried and having a baby.

  3. Jocelyn, you took the words (or word) right out of my mouth. Whether my mother-in-law asks me when my husband and I are going to have a baby, I also reply ‘Soon’ in English. I have said the word so often now that she doesn’t even wait for a reply anymore and asks the question, answers ‘Soon’ herself, and smiles and laughs. 🙂

    So I agree with ‘Soon.’

  4. This is so true! My Chinese fiance’s parents constantly ask about job/marriage/kids/living arrangements.

    At first I found it weird that my fiance was so vague with them and always put a slight positive spin on things but after learning that they will ask these questions CONSTANTLY – I am starting to understand his approach!

    I also don’t find it offensive when they ask – I have learned that everything they ask (in their view) relates to your well-being and as Jocelyn said is almost the equivalent of asking how you are of asking about your health.

    I totally agree that sometimes it seems like they are just asking as something to say!

  5. We’re lucky. My girlfriend has two sisters who get all the motherly “attention” 😉
    But I feel for all the Chinese people who’re tired of the constant nagging.

  6. You can try to get your boyfriend to appease the parents. He has a part in it.
    Dodging the question about intention to staying in China would only cause problems down the road. I would suggest to be up front and let them know how you truly feel about it. If the parents won’t approve the relationship, you will have a chance to address it early on.

    I can’t agree with the suggestion of dodging the questions. You can try to communicate the ideas in a cultural sensitive way. Put the parents’ interests first and acknowledge them before communicating your needs. Your messages get delivered less directly, but they will need to be delivered.

  7. I agree with Jocelyn’s advice though I haven’t always followed it. When I got harassed about having kids, I always said quite bluntly that I didn’t want them (haha, turns out I actually did). This was accepted due to circumstances I won’t go into details about here. I don’t think I could have gotten away with it had I had a different set of Chinese in-laws. You need to know your audience and decide what you can and can’t get away with saying. It’s difficult to strike a balance between being true to yourself and appeasing others but I’ve found sometimes its best to just try not to take it too seriously.

  8. My (Chinese) boyfriends’s advice to you is: Just tell her that you’re both still young now and need to work on getting a better job first, earn a little more savings and let your life get more stable before you settle down.

    I guess that’s an answer along the lines of Jocelyn’s advice, and the additions in the comments here. Keep it vague but stay positive. 🙂

  9. This is just the normal view in China still to this day. We were constantly asked also when we would get married and we would get a baby. Back then we were actually still young, about 23 but the family asked and asked and asked again.

    Well, we took our time, sure we are married now and have a child but we didnt let ourselves get pressured by the Chinese family. However, one thing is for certain:
    We had it much easier as we live abroad and are only once a year in China!
    I dont know how it would have gone in case we actually lived back then in China. It was already annoying enough to have nearly every day those phone calls and also when we traveled for a month always how much we would be pestered about this topic…

  10. Hi,Eikenburg.It was really interesting to read you experience.I am a chinese man,who is currently living in Germany.So,I could image the Pictures ,when your in-law talks with about it and totally understand your feeling with the experience in europe.wish you had a great time there.

  11. I actually benefited from this aspect of Chinese societal expectations, as my in-laws found nothing weird about me (British) moving to China with the boyfriend I had known 6 months, moving in with them, registering our marriage 4 months later, and announcing our pregnancy the next month. My parents however…. I think they still have their reservations.

    The only sticking point for my in-laws I think was the fact that we didn’t have time to fit in a wedding banquet before the baby is due, and I think when we do get round to the banquet, our little one may not be welcome and certainly won’t be celebrated. Whereas my parents would be thrilled to show him/her off, I’m sure.

  12. I totally agree with this answer! My in-laws keep on asking us all the time, “when will you get married?” , “when will you give me a baby?” .. give her a baby?! hah, the day CC and I have kids, we wont give it to her. I understand what she means though, because in China it is so normal to leave the child with the grandparents.. I have also started to answer “Soon” and whenever I answer that it makes her happy, but then she will ask again the next day! haha.

  13. I think that “soon” advice is sound, and would work in Japan as well. Or some sort of other version like “We’re thinking about it”. I’ve not been bothered by any baby questions yet, but YJ gets his share when he goes home to his parents’ place on his ownーmostly from his granddad (who is very convinced he’s going to die soon, so we should hurry up!) and his dad. His mom has better things to do than keep asking it seems as she’s never brought it up, haha!
    Probably impossible to enforce, but having family members/others distracted with other “issues” if you can come up with them may work.

  14. “Soon!” How I wish I had known this phrase sooner. I was like the guy, “Dan” in this comment section — convinced that my Chinese-American boyfriend simply hadn’t tried to talk to his parents in the right/white way when they badgered me incessantly about moving in together, marriage, and children. I would say I “soon” learned that no matter how forcefully, loudly, and repeatedly explained about caution and birth control, they wouldn’t listen, but that would be a lie. It took me ages to figure out. 🙂 Listen to Jocelyn, Vickie!

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