Does Marrying a Chinese Man Prove I’m an Outcast?

A girl sitting all alone in the corner of a playground, with two girls in the background gossiping about her.
Does my marriage to a Chinese man prove I'm an outcast and more? (photo by sanja gjenero)

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for my car to get checked at the auto shop, I started reading a book called Intercultural Marriage: Promises and Pitfalls. When I got to the discussion about the kind of people who married someone from another culture, I discovered this list:

1. Outcasts
2. Rebels
3. Mavericks
4. Compensators
5. Adventurers
6. Escapists
7. Unstables

The author described it as the “seven types of people who enter intercultural marriages — people who share certain personality tendencies or matrimonial motives,” and even mentioned that most people fall into more than one category. Yet, I had this uncomfortable feeling as I read the names of these “types of people” — maybe because the labels reminded me of men who hit on me on the few times I went to bars (often the creepy, unshaven types with sour, alcoholic breath that make you swear off bars for the rest of your life).

Then I read the description for the Outcasts, which started out like this:

Classic outcast personality types, for one reason or another, don’t fit or can’t make it in their own society and either feel or actually are ostracized by it. When they fall in love and marry people from another culture, it is often an unconscious attempt to find a place where they can belong.

I gulped audibly, and then looked up from my book self-consciously, to make sure no one else around noticed (they didn’t). That’s because those sentences immediately sent my mind flying through years of social hell in middle school and high school. Sure, I had boyfriends and dated guys back then. But I also got slammed into lockers, mocked, shoved and sneered at by many of my peers for many years. My god, I thought as I skimmed the paragraphs in the “Outcast” section. That sounds a lot like me.

But that wasn’t the only one. I identified with the Mavericks, nonconformists, remembering how I abandoned my Catholic upbringing and became the only vegan in my entire family. Wasn’t I a Compensator, since I lost my mother at a young age and longed for the kind of stable, supportive family my Chinese husband had? Jumping into China with no background in the country — and what I like to call “phrasebook Mandarin” — made me an Adventurer, no doubt. And as for Escapists, well, when I first when to China I didn’t get along so well with my stepmother (who, for the record, I now adore as if she were my own mother). All of these labels still reeked of something unpleasant — and as I juggled them in my mind, I felt myself turning into a sideshow freak (fortunately, though, I have nothing in common with the Unstables). Maybe I disliked them even more because I knew they had some truth in them. But I couldn’t help but wonder, does my marriage to a Chinese man prove they’re true for me? That, say, I’m a proven outcast? And more?

When I got home, I sat down with John to get his opinion on this. His thoughts? “They’re just labels. Personality is a complex thing. Even experts don’t agree on what personality is. So this doesn’t necessarily say anything about you.” He then smiled at me gently, the way he does when my mind wanders a little too far for its own good. “You don’t have to think of these words as negative. That’s just your interpretation.”

Thank goodness my husband is a psychologist in training — because I mentally breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s true.”

“Besides, this is something people probably debate. It’s not black and white,” he added.

“So you don’t even think they apply to you?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Not really.”

Maybe he’s right, I thought. This isn’t some exact science. Who can say that those labels absolutely apply to me?

Then John flipped through those pages with me and leaned over. “Well, maybe I’m an Adventurer.” 😉

What do you think of these labels? If you’re in an intercultural relationship, do you think any these labels fit you, or prove something about you?

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26 Replies to “Does Marrying a Chinese Man Prove I’m an Outcast?”

  1. Ha, many of those could apply to me too. And same for my Chinese husband. And as John says, they aren’t necessarily bad. Being an “outcast” makes you more open to the rest of the world and other “different” people, which is actually a good thing. And so many things go into our marriage decisions, that can’t be so easily classified.

  2. I had a hellish life in American schools. (Arrived to America straight from Russia at almost nine years old, had to be in class with students one or two years younger than I, was always friendless and lonely, could never fit in anywhere, outside of family never had a best friend, misunderstood, used, made fun of because of my name, etc. etc.) I’d like to think that the experiences I had gave me a perspective and opened me up to how outsiders are treated in America. Before I’d be ashamed to fall into the label of outcast, but oddly enough, now I accept it, and it’s not a big deal to me. I started being interested in Asian culture because I was seeking a place to belong, and unlike people my age from my own race and religion, Asians treated me like a human being. (My attraction to Asian men was way before I became interested in their culture…) I also think that because I was an outcast for my whole life, that sometimes it’s hard to imagine myself as being part of a majority ever again. Hope my story helps.

    Outcasts make history as well make world go round.

  3. Labels are a way to pigeon-hole people so that we can feel more secure in our dealings with others. But they are often mostly a convenience only and don’t truly describe a person. So what if you are classified as an outcast because you married outside of your race? Not everybody does it and in fact people are scared to or prejudiced or whatever to even want to think of it or they lack the opportunity. I like maverick and rebel though. One has to be a maverick or a rebel of sorts to even want to consider or enjoy inter-cultural relationship. And being a rebel is an alive thing. A rebel is always looking to test the waters, the boundaries and go beyond and not be stifled by the status quo. Congratulations!

  4. While I definitely fall into some of those categories, I very much think that they are somewhat useles. Or actually, totally. Rather like horoscopes they are just typo vague to really mean anything much-which us also why they work, because you can find yourself in them. Use the list for “what kind of person marries in times like these,” maybe with the social conformist added for good measure, and it still works just as “well.”

  5. When some people come across something seemingly outside the norm, they tend to try and break it all down into logical categories and paste these with their lovely labels. Come on, we know very well this can’t and shouldn’t be done with issues of the heart! While we may see similarities between our experiences, we can never forget we are each a unique, individual identity who ought not to be categorized because of the choices we make for love! And this doesn’t stop at issues of inter-racial and inter-cultural marriage. Inter-religious marriages can face even tougher challenges from others. How much nicer it is to simply embrace your marriage for what you see it as and spend wonderful years together enjoying one another rather than indulging others erroneous theories on who and what you might be. Marrying a Chinese shouldn’t be surprising in the slightest considering there are more of them on the earth than any other race! And how we love them!

  6. I think a lot of those labels could easily apply to those people who had married within their own cultures too! I disagree with not only the labels but also the entire point of the book (which I haven’t read, but..) as it sounds like they’re trying to rationalise marrying outside of your culture as if that is something outrageously weird and in need of rationalising. Like, who does that, this marrying people who are not racially the same as themselves? This is very odd. We must explain what kinds of people these folks are!!

    Why did I marry a Taiwanese guy? Because the guy I fell for happened to be Taiwanese. His being Taiwanese is a great thing, making for a very interesting and colourful life, yes, but it’s not the reason I married him.

    Very interesting post, thanks!

  7. It’s true that most people in intercultural relationships fall under one of those 7 categories. So does the rest of the world. I think we could make just about anyone fit into at least one of those categories. So what the book was really telling you is that people who marry into other cultures are just like everyone else.

  8. When I was young (like teens and before) I was quite ignorant because I felt the same way when I saw intercultural couples. As if there is something weird about them, especially if it’s a Western woman and non-Western man. Vice Versa I saw quite a lot when I was young, so it didn’t feel that weird but I still had some awkward feelings.

    However, over the years, I put most of those silly thoughts aside. Overall, they’re not bad people, and I’ve met so many such couples that I just look at the individual rather than his or her cultural background.

  9. Ah those labels ! But then again, those labels apply or mean anything to you if you yourself actually believe that they are true. Quite frankly, you are what you believe to be.
    most of us went through HELL during high school so cheer up ! At least you have decent company.

  10. Haha, I started reading that same book and had a lot of the same first impressions – I remember being a bit offended and then outright rejecting the ideas and then realizing that yeah, maybe it kinda sorta related to me. 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one!

  11. I can tell my share from that list;

    -Outcast, maverick (I do have some really good friends but they live in another cities so I’m most of my time alone..)
    -Rebel (This is a little bit hard to admit here, but nobody in my family knows I’m married. My parents think I’m only engaged. I’m going to tell them after I finish my studies..if they don’t find my blog before that.) My relationship is still a taboo in family meetings.
    -Adventurer, escapist (I have always liked travelling and I feel much more courageous when I have to survive with another language..)

    I only do not find myself as compensator or unstable.

  12. If we had to choose then I think maybe I’m a Compensator or an Unstable since I never trusted men ever since my abusive alcoholic father was kicked out of our home and I literally hated pretty much all men until I met my current fiance – who is the most kindhearted, stand up guy I have ever known. And he does give me a sense of security and emotional strength that I never experienced while growing up or found in a Western boyfriend; perhaps his traditional, sometimes conservative, overly concerned and stern ways ‘compensates’ for a lack of a father figure. He was the first boyfriend I ever had who paid attention, who listened and actively tried to reassure and help. I remember one thing he said which truly moved me was when said something like ‘Now you are my wifey, my father is your father: I promise, he can give you back all the love your dad never gave you’. He definitely has a stabilising influence on me. Escapist fits me emotionally but not physically – because leaving my family and ‘other life’ behind is one of the most painful but at the same time, liberating, consequences of being in a relationship with a Chinese man.

    I’d be interested to know what ‘category’ he fits into! Rebel, perhaps? Hehe.

    But at the same time, some people just fall in love and there is no hidden agenda involved. They are not looking to be ‘fixed’.

  13. Wow. I actually had an ok life. Used to be fat when I was a kid but then straightened myself out. I was the cool kid in school and had loads of friends. I guess I’m just the adventurous type. B-)

  14. I think I will have to pick up this book from the library or have to buy it. (possibly going to buy it.)

    To the honest truth, I feel as if I am an outsider myself. My family doesn’t really understand me, they don’t understand why I love Chinese culture and other cultures around this world. I hate labels, but I’m labeling myself. -sigh- Although, I feel like a rebel too. But, people are who they are, no one can change them. 😉

  15. Like Gerald, I find these categories to be a lot like horoscopes: specific enough to push our buttons and make us think they apply; vague enough to be essentially meaningless unless we allow them to push our buttons. Sure, we can all identify with at least some of these labels, but so what?

  16. Not sure “Outcast” is the right description. I am married to an Irish American and we have 3 kids – we call it a fun family:-)
    People tend to describe others based on their own knowledge and frame of reference, personally, I like my own independency hence I chose to marry an American – at least, I considered my choice of marriage based upon my opinions of being married to a Chinese man, (less free) 20 years ago.

  17. For something as general as this, I would be surprised if most people didn’t go through the thought process you did. If the article was about being in a couple with a dog, and listed those personality types, I can do it too. I was an outcast because I was in a primarily Caucasian town. I am a maverick because I listened to metal. So on and so forth.

    In other words I think your husband is right. And on top of that, these aren’t just broad, they’re fortune cookie broad. Or horoscope broad. Maybe there is some basis for it, but a conclusion like this shouldn’t be taken very seriously anyway, in my opinion!

  18. I am not sure that I agree with any of those categories. I’m marrying a man who is kind, funny, silly, intelligent, generous and so many more wonderful qualities. He just so happens to be Chinese. I didn’t have any agenda when we got together, he was someone who made me feel happy and I hope I made him feel happy and that’s what attracted me to him.

    I’m not sure why Americans feel the need to categorise people. And if you must put people into distinct categories, shouldn’t there also be one called ‘colour-blind’?

  19. Labels are used by those who can’t be confident about who they are and must rationalize that they are the best and everyone else is inferior. In short, bullies like to label people and yet they are probably the bunch with the lowest self-esteem. I never cared what people labeled me as. Do what you like, as long as it’s legal and ethical, and enjoy your life!

  20. @ Fran,
    Thank you for the comment. I love your comment so much. We should have more western women just like you. Yes, loving someone should have NO agenda and we should a habit of GOING THE EXTRA MILE for everything like our jobs, relationship, friendship and marriage!!!!! sorry for the exclamation mark. I’m just excited . I like to be different in taste of woman, colors, foods and hobbies/sports. I even have trees that are different from my friends and familes. If your wife (white) or your husband ( Chinese) makes you happy and feel really good inside, we should cherish that the most. Who cares what people think? Life is fascinating and we should have fascinating husbands/wives in our lives. I don’t need a blog of my own to make this comment to be recognized .

  21. Hey – nice post Jocelyn! I don’t really have anything to add to the other great comments already posted, but I’d like to to add “hip” and “awesome” to the list! I mean, who doesn’t want world peace? (so maybe I should add idealistic?) Spreading multi-cultural understanding via our collective mixed-culture marriages is wonderful (so maybe I should add altruistic?), right? Oh well, I’m being redundant. I’m a bit crushed to think anyone ever pushed you into a locker, writer about love that you are. Happy autumn, my friend.

  22. It doesnt apply to you its just a guessing on how to try to lable human behaviour. The mind is to complex to measure through that few concepts. 7 concepts can’t lable how you kiss John tenderly when you miss him much or how you made him his fravorite chicken or how you took the time to make him rice. Or why he loves you the way he does. So forget about this 7 concepts. They never mention Johns name wonce in this book so throw that book down the alley way.

  23. It doesnt apply to you its just a guessing on how to try to lable human behaviour. The mind is to complex to measure through that few concepts. 7 concepts can’t lable how you kiss John tenderly when you miss him much or how you made him his fravorite chicken or how you took the time to make him rice. Or the way you both love each other. So forget about this 7 concepts. They never mention Johns name wonce in this book so throw that book down the alley way.

  24. I open a new question..if those are labels for international couples…what kind of labels are applied to traditional ones?

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