Ask the Yangxifu: Motherly Chinese Ayi Not So Motherly To New Girlfriend

Two women talking
Her boyfriend considers his ayi like a Chinese mother. But this "Chinese mother," who still works for his ex girlfriend, continues to keep the ex's memory alive and well. What can she do?

Rebecca asks:

I have been dating a man in China for over a year now. He has this ayi. She has been working for him for five years now, and cares for him very much, like a son, and I’ve come to see her as his “Chinese mom.” He says that, aside from me, she is the woman he trusts most in China. I don’t doubt that they have a good relationship.

Then there is the story of how he got this ayi. She was introduced to him by his former girlfriend, a woman he was with for a very long time. The ayi’s main employer is still the former girlfriend. When they broke up, his only request was “I’m keeping the ayi,” and in the year before he met me, the arrangement was peaceful. He and the ex no longer communicate, and he doesn’t ask the ayi for news of the ex.

However, the ex asks the ayi for news of him, especially news of his new girlfriend, myself. Personal info is thus brought back to the ex, and the ayi also tells me things about my boyfriend when he was with the ex. She keeps his past open and alive. The things she says don’t make me feel good, although I really don’t believe she means any harm, and that she likes me. I think the problem is that, no matter how much she likes me and wants him to have somebody to love, she is fiercely loyal to her main employer–the ex-girlfriend–and part of her needs to put me down and reiterate how good they were together, how awesome the ex is, how long they spent together, how he seemed happier before, how they should still be friends, etc. She tells me these stories about the ex as if she is scared the ex will fade from his/our lives if she doesn’t.

I am writing to you because I’m torn about what to do. It’s like dealing with a mother-in-law, Chinese or otherwise, who loves and prefers the ex-girlfriend, although in this case she is, thankfully, NOT his mother and thus we can cut her off if we need to. Me avoiding her is not a solution; she will still talk about us to the ex, and I don’t want that. But how can I tell him, fire this woman who has cared for you for five years? A woman who needs the money? A woman who, when NOT reminiscing about the ex, is actually very kind to me? What do I do? I want the past to stay in the past, and she’s not letting me do that.

Thanks for any help and advice.


Like a Chinese mother, yet you can fire her at will. Rebecca, I think you’ve made anyone who has ever complained in the Chinese mother-in-law thread very, very jealous. 😉

Or have you? When you think about the situation, firing her seems about as crazy as firing a real Chinese mother-in-law. As you say, your boyfriend has cultivated this almost family-like connection with her over five years of employment; she needs the money; and, a majority of the time, she’s a pretty darned cool to you. So, we’re just going to cross “firing her” off the list.

Then what can you do?

Let’s start with your interactions with this ayi. You certainly can’t avoid her, as you mentioned. But that doesn’t mean you have to participate in or encourage the conversation. For example, let’s just say the ayi says something to you about your boyfriend and the ex and how much better they were together. You then could either 1) ignore what she said entirely and not say anything or 2) say something completely different that isn’t in any way related to change the subject (i.e. Wow, isn’t this a hot day? I love the way you did your hair today. I heard you’re making dumplings tonight for dinner.). Never suggest you’re irritated or upset — just give her a blank, generic smile. She may or may not get the message over time to stop talking about the ex and your boyfriend. But by not engaging or reacting, you’re not giving her or the ex satisfaction.

Realize, also, the people you’re dealing with here.

You have an ayi who sees herself as this mother figure and is trying to help her daughter out – not realizing she’s mucking things up (I’m reminded of how some of my relatives have no problem telling me “you’re fat” as many as four times in a conversation).

On the other hand, you have the ex — the “puppetmaster” of this real-life Beijing Opera — who frankly strikes me as quite pathetic and tragic (kind of makes me wonder if she belongs in an opera herself, as the villain). I mean, anyone who thinks she can use her ayi to manipulate an ex’s relationship and get back a boyfriend is a little bizarre in my book. It’s no wonder he dumped her.

Speaking of your boyfriend, could he help you out? I don’t know – it really depends on him and whether or not he appreciates the sort of nastiness behind all of this. On the other hand, even if he’s pissed, I doubt he’s going to enjoy being caught between you and his “practically a Chinese mother” ayi. And even if he asks her to cut it out, what’s to stop her when he’s not around? She is, after all, still acting as a sort of “domestic spy” for the ex (sad!).

I still have a feeling that ignoring the comments and/or changing the subject is your best line of defense. The only people still living in the past are the ex and the ayi (when she’s spreading her pro-ex propaganda in front of you) — and they’re trying to drag you backwards. You can always choose to live in the present, no matter what the ayi says or does.

That’s probably not the advice you had in mind. But look it at it this way – this might just be the perfect training ground for dealing with mettlesome future in-laws. 😉

What advice do you have for Rebecca?

9 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Motherly Chinese Ayi Not So Motherly To New Girlfriend”

  1. what a mess. an ayi introduced by a previous girlfriend? Oh my.

    By the way… why does this guy have an ayi?? Can’t he do all the household stuff by himself??

  2. I COMPLETELY agree with Jocelyn. Their really isn’t anything you can do about the Ayi, and you DEFINITELY cannot have her fired…But, like I did to my boyfriend when he used to compare me to ex’s(yes, he is now broken of this habit!), just ignore any pro-ex statements and change the subject. A good example of this would be when my ex would say to me: “Why can’t you drink beer like a normal girl? One or two and you’re buzzed”. I used to yell back:”Because I’m 5’9″ and weigh 250lbs!” but now I don’t say anything, I just look at him, blink a few times and ask him to pass me another beer! haha!
    Does your boyfriend realize that his Ayi’s statements hurt you? I think you should maybe ask your boyfriend in a non-confrontational way how he feels about her suggestions that his ex were better. Does he know she says this stuff around you? If he does and he lets it go, maybe you should too. Or you can tell him that it really hurts, and that it especially hurts because you have com to care for her as well, and it upsets you that she doesn’t accept you. Either way you have to make the decision…either stay quiet about it or say something and hope it doesn’t cause too many waves….Good Luck!!!

  3. Messy situation, really. But foremost in my mind is why can’t the boyfriend do without the aiyi? if the whole thing is going to make the girlfriend upset. Doesn’t the boyfriend know? And if he knows, I think he needs to tell the aiyi to stop trying to meddle. Or PERHAPS the aiyi doesn’t even see it as meddling, just a gossipy thing? I think the girlfriend should let the boyfriend know how she feels, of course not in the confrontational manner like Rebekah suggested. Or like Jocelyn suggested, just ignore what the aiyi says. Sooner or later, the aiyi will see that whatever she says will not impact on their relationship anyway and will eventually come to accept the relationship, especially seeing also that she quite likes the girlfriend.

  4. Having lived with a Chinese woman for more than 20 years, one thing I can assure you is that ignoring her or changing the subject won’t help. Even if she stop talking to you, she’ll still talk to the ex. I am sure you don’t want that.

    What you should do, in my opinion, is have an open conversation with your boyfriend and the ayi face to face so both him and her know what you are concerned with. The main goal is to let them both know what’s comfortable and what’s a line that she shouldn’t cross: it’s ok to keep her around but she should not interfere with your relationship with your boyfriend.

    Now, how well is your relationship with your boyfriend’s family? In a situation like this, if you can get their sympathy it may help to put pressure on your boyfriend to act. This depends on family dynamics and personality. I would say talk to both of them first and see if things do change.

    Best of luck!

  5. The 3 of you (you + ayi + bf) need to sit down together and have a serious conversation about this issue. It’s completely unacceptable for her to say stuff like that and your boyfriend needs to know about it.

  6. I agree with George. Why can’t your boyfriend, as the ayi’s employer, put an end to this? She’s not his mother. She doesn’t have the right to meddle in his relationships. Really, boyfriend needs to put his foot down and tell the ayi that the ex girlfriend is not to be discussed with the current girlfriend and that his intimate life is not to be discussed outside the house. The ayi’s behavior is ridiculously unprofessional and a huge violation of privacy. I would find it a little concerning if the boyfriend is just ok with this.

  7. Stop being a child and have her fired. You over analyze the situation. Either your boyfriend knows nothing about this behavior and you need to tell him so he can actually do something about it (fire her or have her stop the silliness) or he knows and you have a bigger problem. Make it clear to him that this is not to continue under his watch or you will leave.

  8. Sorry folks, but I think this boyfriend needs to man up a little bit. Seriously, what’s the deal with letting the ayi do this? I’ve read about how some single men develop this weird relationship with their ayis and they end up becoming more important then girlfriends. I find that pretty ridiculous and a sign of a guy who has mommy issues.

    If he doesn’t want to get back with his ex (who seems quite pathetic) he should tell the ayi to cut it off.

    My opinion.

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