Ask the Yangxifu: Waiting to Marry a Chinese Man

waiting girl
A girl must wait three years before marrying her long-time Chinese boyfriend. Will he marry her when time is up? (photo by Vinícius Sgarbe)

Waitingbride asks:

Im 29, into a 5yrs realationship with a chinese man,whom i really love and want to be with the rest of my life,but the problem is that his parents does’nt want a non-Chinese for him,although he promise me that he will fight for me and build a family together in a right time,he asked me to wait 3 more years coz his father was passed away one year ago..and its a tradition..he told me that we will face  the problem together regarding his family after that,besides he told me that he can fight for me coz he has enough savings and stable job and he dont need there family wealth incase his mother unrecognized him,he has his own investment too,I know how much he loves me but some times i feel so depressed coz im not getting younger anymore,i want to have a baby and family,many questions comes on my mind…what if i wait then nothing happens,sometimes i feel so lonely especially if theres an occassion and he cant stay any longer coz his relatives might caught him having a relationship wd me,i realy love him and i know he loves me too and he loves also my family…i am afraid and sometimes tired and wanna give up of waiting but i realy love family and friends pressuring me why we’re not planning marriage 5yrs is enough they said, everytime i heard that i pity my self,ang cried ,pls give me advice,


It’s never easy to wait for a marriage, but your Chinese boyfriend has his reasons.

His father’s death, for one. In some parts of China, people observe shouxiao (守孝) in the wake of a parent’s death, to show respect for them. That means either getting married within three months of their passing, or three years after that.

Financial security, for another. In loving you, he faces losing all family ties. And while Chinese don’t necessarily live off their parents and relatives, these people are there for them in need. He’s going to lose that emergency financial help, so he’s going to want to make sure his finances are truly in order before walking down the aisle. Anyhow, most Chinese men simply cannot marry unless they have the savings, home and, often, car that the celebration demands (think of savings/home/car as the modern version of a dowry in China, except now it’s his responsibility).

While you’re not that old, your worries — at least from a Chinese point of view — have merit. After all, in China, when a woman reaches the age of 30, it’s as if she expired, marriage-wise. She’s often stamped as “too old,” and tossed aside in the scrapheap of unmarriageable women. Sad, but true.

Still, a baby won’t solve your problems. If you had a baby now, you’d just be replacing one worry (I’m too old) with many, many more (such as — How to take care of the child without his parents knowing? How to balance your relationship and work with child care?).

Most Chinese men do date seriously, with the intent to marry, so, chances are, you can count on a marriage when the time is up. But, it doesn’t hurt to make that intention more official.

What you need is his promise to marry you when those three years are over. You might call it an engagement, or a commitment. But whatever you call it, you need his understanding.

I would invite him out to dinner and have a nice, long talk. Say you love him very much, and he is the man you hope to spend the rest of your life with. Tell him you’re fine with waiting three years, that you realize this is part of his culture. You just would really like something that symbolizes your intentions to marry, once those three years pass (most Chinese, incidentally, do get “engaged” in a way — they call it dengji/登记, or registering the marriage in a government office, which comes before an official Chinese wedding).

It doesn’t have to be a lavish diamond ring or the queen’s jewels. It doesn’t even have to be jewelry. Just something — anything — to make your commitment official between the two of you. You could even offer to pay or share the costs (though, chances are, he won’t let you pay for anything).

Whatever you decide to say to him, make sure you don’t make this a “shotgun” engagement (as in, promise marriage or I’m gone). Otherwise, instead of waiting to marry, you could be waiting to find a new boyfriend.

Good luck!

What advice do you have?


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.

17 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Waiting to Marry a Chinese Man”

  1. I would tell Waitingbride the same thing, make sure you will marry three years after. My situation with my Chinese ex was different but the similarity was that his parents didn’t approve me because I was waiguoren, not Chinese. He promised me everything and said he want’s to spend his life with me. But after five years he listened to his parents, met a Chinese girl and left me. In that order.

    I really do understand your concern with waiting. And I don’t know how to know that your boyfriend will surely marry you after. Well, maybe the registering the marriage would be the strongest proof.

    I really do hope that everything will go fine with you two and you will get married after three years. I hope my comment doesn’t make you worry more, but I wanted to tell I’ve been there.

  2. Maybe I’m being cynical but I do see some red flags. 5 years is a long time to be together, especially in China, without a firm commitment or a promise of one. As for the mourning period, it really depends on how strictly traditional your guy is. My husband lost his mother about a year and a half before we were married and although my husband is a “filial” son from a relatively traditional part of China, the mourning period never factored into our marriage plans. According to my husband these days not many people follow these old customs, although your milage may vary depending on where exactly in China your boyfriend is from. However, add to that the family disapproval, I would be worried that he’s making excuses, that what is really going on is that he can’t bear to go against his mom’s wishes and he’s biding his time hoping that something will change.

    I would tell him that I respect the mourning period, but ask if you could register your marriage like the others suggested. In China it is the wedding banquet that really “counts” even if the registration is what makes you married in the eyes of the law. Or perhaps he could take you and declare his intention to marry you after the 3 years are up in front of his mother, thus making it “real.” He’s Chinese, he should understand better almost that a Western guy wanting to married before you get “too old” because Chinese parents put this sort of pressure on their own kids all the time. In fact, I can’t imagine a Chinese guy asking a 29 year old Chinese woman to wait another 3 years to get married, since her parents most likely would be having none of it. I don’t think a shotgun wedding is the answer, but I do think you need to get some sort of real promise of commitment otherwise it just isn’t fair to ask you to keep waiting. Just my opinion, of course!

  3. I don’t want to sound cynical either…and I’m sure this post will probably get a lot of responses from men and women who have been in the same position, so I recognize that my experience is not true for everyone. I will just tell you a bit about my experience.

    I was in love with an American-born Korean man for about 4 years. We were set up by friends, immediately became inseparable, and had a truly wonderful friendship and relationship. However, his parents were VERY strongly against him marrying a non-Korean woman. Without their approval, our marriage would be very difficult to go forward. It was hard to stomach their hypocrisy, which I will not get into here out of respect for elders.

    What it really boils down to, though, is does the man want to marry you or not? If he does, he will have the strength to weather what life throws at him to be with you in order to be your husband. If not, he will drag things out – probably forever if you’ll let him.

    To contrast that with my Chinese born and raised husband… We met and married within 6 months. It feels 10000 times more right and I love him 10000 more than I could ever love anyone else, including my ex that I was so sure I wanted to marry. I think one of the reasons it feels so right with my husband is that he is MAN enough to go for what he wants!!

    Also, his family treats me like their own daughter, and they have MUCH more to lose than my ex. Our marriage could mean he will never live in China again (his parents still live there). My ex-husband’s family lived in the same city as us. It’s not like they were going to lose their son to a foreign land, never to return. So that brings me to another point. If the extended family is making things this difficult for you now, are they going to always treat you this way? Marriage is HARD WORK…way more than you can imagine. It’s hard enough when you are madly in love with one another and have family support. Take either of those away, and I just don’t see how this will work.

    My advice (you asked for it)…see if he is willing to register the marriage now…if not, move on. You might be just as surprised as I was to find your TRUE love out there.

    One last note… that ex that I was so in love with has now been stringing another American girl along for 3 years. I think it’s very telling that he’d only date “forbidden fruit”…hmm seems like someone doesn’t actually WANT to settle down!!! Glad I didn’t wait!!!

    I will pray for you to have guidance and direction for your relationship. I really hope things will work out with this man if he is in fact the right one.

  4. I’m Chinese Chinese and grew up in Dongbei. This story sounds very weird to me. Is such long “filial wait” still happening in China? A wait of several months or any time shorter than a year is reasonable before marriage after one’s parent passes away. It should not be a reason for asking you to wait. As I see it, it’s perfectly done to get a marriage certificate NOW from the authorities and postpone your wedding until some day when the wait is long enough.

  5. Hello

    As a Chinese who grew up in Fujian province, and lived in China most my Life. I don’t ever remember me even hearing about this …..thing.

    The 3 years wait…what is he even talking about? I have never even heard of it.

    In fact, a lot of the things on this blog seems “foreign” to me, and I am Chinese myself!

    hehe…but then again that is why I love it so much.

  6. Never heard of such a long wait…

    I would however whatcha call it old Chinese phrase, um two feet one in each boat… in my twisted view of the world is means he is keeping you to one side as a booty call. While looking out for something better in the mean time.

    Do not think with your heart think with your head! There are 700,000,000 other Chinese men out there some are good evil and all the things inbetween.

    Wow that sounded weird from somebody who is somewhat anti marriage…

    But my point is you can never get the 5 years back, and in ‘investing’ 3 more years will you get it back?

  7. I’m thinking this is what he wants to say: “I want to be brutally honest with you. Right now, I love you and want to be with you forever, but there are some complications that I can’t get into. So, I’m going to ask you to wait 3 years before we (tentatively) marry. However, there’s no guarantee that I won’t change my mind during those 3 years. This is just how I am. If you can’t handle that, it would be best to break up now so you won’t have to endure it.”

  8. I would agree with the other commenters and say that waiting for 3 years is not a reasonable request/demand.
    The guy does not want to confront his relatives now and there is no guarantee he will be ready to do it later.

    1. @Sara, @Jessica, @Laura, @AOA, @Rui, @The Chinese Guy, @Richard, @Crystal, thank you all for the comments! Well, I can see I misjudged this one, being a little too understanding of the man in this relationship. I hope Waitingbride is reading your words.

  9. As a Chinese man, I would like to tell you that some Chinese old tredition do not deserve any courage. It is ” MIXIN”. JUST INSIST YOUR CORE VALUE

    1. @Lueex, thanks for adding your voice to the conversation! Again, your comment echoes the tidal wave of sentiments here, that waiting three years is just not reasonable.

  10. Love in the next 3 years, no guarantee!! I wish you good luck. If he really love you, he will come back and married you but on the basis that you are not married yet.

  11. Waitingbride: The Chinese like all other peoples are exclusive, but mostly from cultual point of view, because the Chinese is a big melting pot or thousand of years. I would try to reach out to his mom and try to follow the traditions more than another Chinese woman to change her mind towards you. She will soften up in time and reach back your way, because deep down she understands where you came from. I think your deliemma is mom wants to move in with her son. If you can show that you are a true Chinese wife, you may not be living with her, but she is always welcomed in your house. This problem affects not only in mixed marriages but modern Chinese wives in general. You have found a true love and you are older you may want to give this suggestion a shot.

  12. I am not so sure where you husband is from. I am A CHINESE guy but my parents do not care what kind of girls I love since what they really care is whether the girl their son loves really loves their son….:-) They will judge from their own perspectives. Let me tell you some secrets. You must understand Chinese culture about how to be a wife and then at least show something in front of your bf’s mummy. This is not cheating. The first impression is really important on if they approve your marriage or not.

  13. I married an ethnic Chinese immigrant in the 1970’s. This was not easy, but I learned not to put up with his bull shit. We are still married after 38 years, but you have to remain a strong person, meaning don’t let his family overwhelm you. You need to place good boundaries to stay healthy.

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