Talk to Me asks:
I’ve become involved with a chinese man and yes, I find communication to be a real problem. We email quite often since he is out of town, but I notice that there are times that he will not respond to one of my emails. Prime example, he thinks that I’ve been asking questions about his return home to one of his friends. When he asked me through email if his friend has been discussing with me about his return, I simply answered “It has nothing to do with who has been telling me things, these things I want to come from you because I trust it hearing this from you.” He has not responded to my email. He has completely shut down. I’m at the point of giving up on the relationship because I never know when he’s going to stop talking to me, and at this point, I’m wondering if he has broken up with me. Can you please shed some light on what I’m experiencing.
You’re not the first one to be stunned by the silence of a Chinese man.
After my first Chinese boyfriend moved abroad for study, I experienced a dropoff in e-mail communications with him, as if our relationship had fallen off of some metaphorical continental shelf of the ocean into the depths of uncertainty. Nearly a month passed with no e-mail, no phone calls and no reassurances. And like you, those doubts surfaced little by little until I too wondered if our relationship sank or swam.
Why would a Chinese man suddenly withdraw from communicating with you, his girlfriend — supposedly, the most important person in his world?
He failed. A great example of this comes from my Henan friend, Qiang. He and I had a mutual friend, Guobin, who disappeared off Qiang’s radar quite suddenly, and unexpectedly, for many years. Qiang didn’t believe it, because Guobin had been one of his closest confidants in college. Later, when Guobin called Qiang up, out of nowhere, the truth came out — Guobin had failed his graduate entrance exams during those years, and didn’t even want to tell his closest friend. Why? Because he had been in a position of weakness, which he considered an embarrassing loss of face.
Maybe he’s facing hard times — which was the case with my first Chinese boyfriend. Turns out he ran out of money abroad, and was scrambling to find a job (he eventually ended up working at a McDonald’s). Like the “he failed” scenario, this is all about face — his unwillingness to appear weak, or less of a man, before you.
Sometimes it’s about machismo. Some — but certainly not all — Chinese men subscribe to the notion that the relationship revolves around them, including when and how they communicate with you. And that might extend to that most unmentionable of all possibilities: that he’s cheating on you, and hiding it.
And, of course, there’s the other unmentionable — that he wants to breakup, but doesn’t know how to tell you directly. That breakup in communications could be the preamble to a breakup in reality.
So what’s going on with your Chinese boyfriend?
I get the sense there’s a little machismo behind his actions, given his reaction to the fact you were getting information about his return from a friend. He clearly wants to control how he communicates with you, and how you hear about him.
But he’s probably hiding something too — otherwise, why would he care if you hear about him through a friend? The question is, what is he hiding? At best, he’s just failing or facing hard times, and doesn’t want you to know about it. At worst, he’s having an affair with another woman. You probably won’t really know, unless he tells you or you find out through someone else — and given his silence, good luck getting it from him.
Even if you discovered it was all because of some benign reason, would it really make things better? Intercultural/international relationships wither away without getting a good dose of honest communication. Look at John and I — we’re both fluent in English and Chinese, and we’ve still weathered some pretty explosive arguments over the years. Our relationship would have been shipwrecked without that safety ring of communication to save us. Trust me, things get way more complicated and dicey after you tie the knot — so if they’re already complicated and dicey, and you’re not even close to that kind of commitment, something’s not right.
Plus, as my readers will attest to, there are plenty of outstanding Chinese men out there that “get it” when it comes to communication — and would never want to keep you worrying.
What do you think? What advice do you have for Talk to Me?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.