Three Inches of Separation: On Loving a Shorter Chinese Man

Western wife and Chinese husband, getting married
There are three inches of separation between me and my Chinese husband — because I’m five-foot-seven and he’s five-foot-four.

There are three inches of separation between me and my Chinese husband. That is, three inches of separation between us being exactly the same height — because I’m five-foot-seven and he’s five-foot-four.

Five-four is not what I expected when I measured him a couple of weeks ago. I happened to ask for the measuring tape, just so I could size up our oven for the Thanksgiving turkey we planned to bake this past Thursday. But then he asked for it. “Could you measure me?”

He stood with his head high and chest out, just like the People’s Liberation Army had taught him years ago during those military exercises in the few precious weeks before he started his freshman year of college in China. But as I unraveled the metal strip all the way to his head, I suddenly realized that the five-foot-five I’d told him to put on his driver’s license was, well, one inch too tall.

Years ago, I couldn’t imagine the separation of one inch — let alone three inches — between me and my love.

As John and I flirted for weeks like teenagers, the fact that we always met each other sitting down made me believe in my own version of a tall tale — that he was as tall as I was. But then I invited him to lunch one Saturday, and the moment John stood up from his chair, I traded in one cliche for another — a tall tale for a short Chinese guy.

I’d already vanquished many stereotypes to fall in love with Chinese men before: not sexy enough, not handsome, too effeminate. With every soul-stirring kiss and embrace with one of the sons of Han, I discovered that the stereotypes were no match for the beauty, strength and passion of Chinese men. But now I faced the final dragon, and I didn’t know how to cross this river without faltering. After all, I’d never given my dream man a race or ethnicity, but somehow I’d always promised myself he’d be as tall, if not taller, than me.

To my friend Caroline, who schemed to match John and me up, the answer was obvious. “He may be short, but he is handsome.” Which was true, from his large, oolong-brown eyes to a striking straight nose. And then, she cocked her eyebrow and grinned, imagining another reason to look beyond appearances. “I think he’d make a good husband.”

At first, I didn’t know what to think. So, over time, I just listened to John and his stories. How he wanted to become a psychologist and open a “humanistic care center” to help heal others. The way he had confronted the growing menace of stone-processing factories in his hometown, and their noisome, 24/7 din that had disturbed the peace. His deep passion for philosophy, from Carl Jung to Erich Fromm, and the natural environment. The fact that he was madly in love with me, imperfections and all. And, with each new passage, with each new revelation, he stood taller — in ideals, in character — than any man I had ever known in my life.

So I stopped noticing the height of his stature, and instead embraced the height of his character. And, in 2004, I married him.

Which is probably why John doesn’t even see five-four the way the rest of the world might. “I’m a wusi qingnian!” a five-four youth, he declared, a joking reference to the May Fourth Movement when the youth of China rose up against the Chinese government’s weakness — a movement they call “five-four” in Chinese. While John never was one of those angry youths of the past, in a way, his very presence is like a demonstration — that the greatness of a Chinese man isn’t measured in inches.

Have you loved someone who didn’t “measure up” to your expectations? How did you overcome it?

41 Replies to “Three Inches of Separation: On Loving a Shorter Chinese Man”

  1. Cute post Jocelyn. My husband is tall enough for a Chinese guy, and taller than me anyhow. I’m about 164cm and he’s about 172cm I think, whatever that translates to it feet. He’s probably about the same height as my college boyfriend in America was.

    At the high school where I work in Beijing I have some seriously TALL students, like over 6 feet. It is a stereotype, but I think it is true that northern people are just bigger, and that, maybe combined with the fact that this younger generation is better fed than previous generations makes for some really tall kids!

  2. My boyfriend is as tall as I am but another thing is that he is younger. Before I thought that the guy should always be little bit older and little bit taller, but later I’ve learned that other things are more important than looks. I heard that Chinese guys usually don’t look girls that are even year or two older than them. Is that so?

  3. Dear Jocelyn,
    Upon seeing the title of your post I thought: Why does he have to be Chinese? LOL
    My husband is actually taller then I am (but 2 1/4 years younger) but my father was several inches shorter than my mother. You can see it really well on their wedding day picture, for she didn’t shy away from wearing her high heels. I don’t have that picture at hand, but I’ve got one on my website that shows the three of us (or four if you include the shortest member of our family Fat Pete).
    As for myself, my experience with shorter men is that I can look them in the eye without looking up and that gives me the feeling we’re the same height.

  4. Actually, your husband really isn’t considered in Chinese society but more of the borderline average. When I grew up in Taiwan, one of beauty standard is to be flat-chested and unfortunately for me, I didn’t fit the bill. My husband, an Irish American, 6′-2″ and he really towers over my 5′-4″ height, interesting enough that he melts as I “ask” him to do things and he willingly do so. Other than the obvious difference, I think what connects couples is the inevitable and powerful emotion, “love” (at least I think it is more than just boobs, in my case:-)

    People always wonder what holds bi-racial marriages together – some speculate to be the curiousity of other culture, and some think the taboos that bear subtle excitement that others couldn’t experience…but truthfully, without love that binds all of us, one can ride the red dragon and still be bored with adventures.

    1. @Christine, my pleasure! You really did inspire me with that e-mail of yours, so I should say thank you!

      @Jessica, thanks for the comment. Sounds like your husband is about my height (I think I’m 171 cm). I agree — unscientific as it sounds, it does seem that the Northerners in China tend to be blessed with being tall. And, indeed, with better nutrition, we should probably see people getting taller all over the country.

      @Sara, thanks for sharing. Actually, I didn’t write it up there, but in fact, John is also younger than I am. I think it depends on the guy, and it depends on their age — but it does seem (from my own VERY unscientific observations/understanding) that most Chinese men will not usually marry women who are older than them.

      @Michelle, thanks for the comment, and I’m so glad to hear about your blog! I will add it to my links.

      @Judith, what a lovely comment, and lovely story. The photos are so precious! And you’re so right, there is something nice about being able to look a guy in the eye without looking up. I guess I’ve gotten so used to my man I forgot what it was like to look up… 😉

      Though, I will say, John doesn’t like it if I wear heels…however, I don’t really like heels that much anyhow, so it all seems to balance out. 😉

      @Tiffany, thanks for the comment, and for sharing your own experience. So true, it really is the love that brings us all together.

      @Kin, thanks for the comment, and glad you enjoyed this! 😉

  5. I read a research which recorded all the differences between spouses in U.S. Different aspects were taken in account and all the gaps were taken in account. And what do you think was the rarest combination in married couples?

    It wasn’t different religions or different races, not a gap in education or socio-economic status. The rarest EVER combination was when wife was taller than husband!

  6. Hey, just find your website and even posted this article on my Facebook. I’m 5″6 and pretty much every girl is taller than me. I’m sure it would have been great being tall, dark and handsome, but I think I can settle for being short, stunning, and smooth 😉

    I also run a blog which is aimed at giving practical dating/pickup advice for Asian Men. I’d love to do a link exchange if you’re down.

  7. Aside from the physical height, something I am compelled to mention. Today, women are much more independent than my mother’s generation who was more submissive. I am certain men from most western countries appreciate such female independence. This brings out another dimension of male/female attraction – while traditional view of Chinese female to be quiet and submissive, men stern with their social status and physical stature, many rules change when it comes to husband/wife matching. In the old time, match makers would look into 八卦 (a form of reading astrology of husband/wife to be) to make sure all stars lined up for both parties – the matchmaker bore more responsibility than just finding the “correct” suiter for a woman; the match maker earned her commission also based on such astrology and years after the couples were married. So it was quite a serious business.

    1. @Chinamatt, thanks for the comment! That’s really sweet that you want to share this, I’m touched. 🙂

      @Crystal, I love the research you do, and how interesting — that height is such a huge turnoff! Wow! I knew his height was an obstacle, but I never realized that I’d be such a minority to get beyond it.

      @JT Tran, wow, I am just SO honored to find your comment on my site. I have known about the Asian Playboy for some time, and admire what you do. Yes, I would love to do a link exchange, and perhaps more. Will be in touch with you by e-mail.

      @juvy and @sam, thanks for the comments — I’m sure you’ll find a lot of women here who would love to meet both of you.

      @Tiffany, thanks for sharing your mother’s experience. It reminds me of my mother-in-law’s and husband’s grandmother’s experiences in getting matched.

      @Andi, thanks for the comment, and I’m so touched you enjoy my writing.

  8. I love your post, personally I am in relationship with a guy form China, my problem is not the height, is the weight he is very slim, and given the amount of food he shovel down, I admire his metabolize.

  9. Jocelyn, I love your blog!

    Heh, it’s true~ When you are in love with someone, you begin to love all the ‘flaws’ about that person too. (Not saying that being shorter is a flaw!!)

    I’m only 5’5 but I still feel insecure from time to time about my height. I envy some of my petite girlfriends who can wear sky high heels and still only be average height. I love wearing high heels, but as soon as I put them on I become almost 5’10 – many Asian guys hit the 5’6/5’7 mark, I just hate feeling taller than a man…it makes me feel so…manly! LOL. But nowadays I just tell myself, ‘It’s not me who is too tall – you men are just too small!’

    One of the most handsome and gorgeous Chinese men I ever knew was probably only 5’4-5’5…but it certainly didn’t take away from his beauty. Luckily I have a shuai Chinese BF who is 182cm – I can wear my favourite shoes and he still makes me feel all woman, haha.

  10. My parents were both western and my mother is taller than my father. Maybe because of that, I never really cared about height in relationships. Before I married I went out w/ men taller than me and men shorter than me. I generally preferred a man who didn’t tower over me. My husband and I are the same height.

  11. Hi! I would like to say that I’m actually Chinese (not Japanese, just using a pen name) and that, I’m actually 172 cm or 5’8. I’ve met a Swiss girl (not my girlfriend though) who is 5’6 tall. Actually I like petite girls. The last girl I dated was a Chinese girl who only 4’11 who I later broke up but still remained as friends.

    I even heard about petite Western women with tall Chinese husbands too. Quite a reverse isn’t it?

  12. My partner is 172cm (5’7 1/2) and I’m 167cm (5’5) Although he’s a northerner, he’s pretty short by most standards :)) I’ve always preferred my men either my height or only an inch or two taller – I don’t guys like towering over me!
    When I visited Dalian and his actual hometown, wayyy up near the top of China, I noticed there were a lot of rather tall men, say 6’2 +…In fact, go to Beijing or any northern city and you might spot men a lot taller, bigger builds (not like stereotypical super-skinny little Asian boys) and have surprisingly similar features to Koreans, who are reputedly taller than average for Asians too. Perhaps it’s true that northerners and Koreans share their neighbouring Mongolian features – big bones, narrow eyes, ‘horse muscle’, and the sharpest cheekbones you’ve ever seen! It really makes me wonder sometimes…

  13. I read with interest your blog post on: “On Loving a Shorter Chinese Man”, and the comments from people that were posted after it. I just would like to add my observation and say that although one poster said that, according to her reasearch, the rarest type of couple was when a wife was taller than her husband, that, in my observation, that that exact type of couple is actually happening more and more often in America.

    I live in a suburban area in a state located in the American Northeast, and when I go to the mall, I see more and more shorter man-taller woman relationships and couples more and more often year by year. It is semi-routine now in the malls near where I live, (they are located near New York City), to see shorter men dating taller women and also shorter man-taller woman couples. In fact, regarding Asians alone, I have seen 3 shorter Asian Man-taller White/Latin Women couples in my local area Shop Rite alone, (a supermarket chain we have here in the Northeast). And that is not even counting the Asian Man-Woman of Another Race Couples that I have seen where the male is around the same height as the female.

    I have also seen in my lifetime at least 5 Asian Man-White/Latina Woman couples out there where the male is significantly shorter than his wife. Now I am not talking about 1, or even 2 or 3 inches. I am talking about 6 inches or more! I personally even know a Chinese Man/White Woman couple in which the Chinese Man husband is 5 foot 5 inches and his White Woman wife is 6 foot 2 inches! The Chinese Man husband used to be a youth minister at the Chinese church that I go to. I even personally attended their wedding at that very same church! Eventually, he and his wife left that church and moved away and he is now Pastor of a large church in Philadelphia.

    I think that it is great that more and more men and women are falling in love, finding their life mate, and finding true love as you said in your blog post by looking at who the person is on the inside and not the outside and not letting a little height, race, or physical appearance, in general stop them from finding happiness. And your marriage to your Chinese husband is an example of it, and I applaud you both for it. Your relationship fulfills more of the idea of “true love” than many same race relationships.

    I am glad that there are women out there who still believe in idealism and true love and are deeper people and believe that the measure of a man and his worth lie not in in how tall he is or what race he is or how strong his physical body is, but rather in his character, virtues, nobility, heart, and spirit. It is refreshing to hear that kind of thinking from a woman and to know that there are still women out there who are like this and who still believe in the ideal of true love and of what love really is and who still follow the older traditional way of looking at things of what makes a person attractive and who still hold in their hearts the fairytale way of finding true happiness.

    And, I might add, it extends to more than just men, it also extends to women just as much, regardless of how short or tall or what her weight is or whatnot she is as well. That kind of thinking keeps you young and strong, hopeful, healthy, and happy, believing that men and women are worth more than just their height and their weight, and their physical appearance period, and that it is the inside of a person that counts the most and makes them attractive and not their outside. And that you can still find true love with a person regardless of what their physical appearance looks like and regardless of what your physical appearance looks like also.

    Cheers to you, best wishes to you and your husband and family, and thank you for writing your blog post.

  14. Jocelyn: You and your husband are a beautiful couple and I wish you two a lifetime of happiness and contentment. Your union is example of how love and understanding can overcome major differences in culture, nationality, ethnicity and even height.

    When I, an Asian man, married my wife, a Caucasian lady, many years ago, it was a rare pairing in America (and in the world) and I’m very pleased to see such union has become more and more common.

    I’m 5’10” and weigh 175 lbs. so there’s no issue about height. But I could imagine how many Asian men have to overcome the height difference when dating Caucasian women. I salute you and your husband for your courage and love.


  15. My Korean boyfriend is 3 inches shorter than me, which is still 2 inches taller than my ex-boyfriend who was European. I guess I never cared about guy’s height. There are things that are far more important in a guy for me than the length of his bones.

    1. @oegukeen, thanks for the comment — and nice to meet another woman like myself who doesn’t think height really matters in the end. BTW, nice website, just added it to my blogroll.

      @Eileen, thanks! Well, even if the opposite is true for you, I have to say it’s cool that you only wear flats. Too many women who are shorter than their guys will wear those stilettos, as if they’re afraid to be just the height they are. So I salute you.

  16. I fondly recall seeing a picture of my former Chinese Tai Chi instructor with his “white” wife (they had been together for several decades until his passing, a few years back) who was taller by what seemed like also around three to four inches….I think she too had become “fixated” by the “height” of his character…..:) For people to get past certain “superficial” barriers takes a higher level of maturity that is needed more these days….But I wouldn’t “judge” anyone who finds “discomfort” with another person’s “short-comings” (forgive the pun) even something like “height differences.” If for instance, someone were to “reject” me for something like that, I wouldn’t hold that against them….I feel everyone is “entitled” to their preferences, themselves included…..But I think for many, they eventually “overcome” biases that they later deem “irrelevant” once they become aware of the more appealing traits that they somehow had overlooked or had not discovered, early on…..And I personally would not mind being “friend-zoned” because I did not meet some height requirement….:)

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