“Are You Mother and Son?” No, I’m a White Woman Who Looks Older Than Her Asian Husband

When you’re in an interracial relationship with an Asian man, you get used to a number of things – including the occasional embarrassing question or assumption from other people. Take, for example, many years ago in the US when someone working the cash register at a supermarket saw my husband Jun with me and then asked if he was my exchange student.

But I have to say, nothing could have prepared me for the remark I heard the other day, when Jun and I were assisting a man in the community.

We offered to help carry his bags, and in the process also introduced himselves. After I told him our names and shook hands with him, he said:

“So, are you mother and son?”

Yes, this man actually believed my loving husband was my “love child”. Granted I am older than Jun by over a year — but whenever people joked about me “robbing the cradle”, I don’t think they meant it in the “your husband could be your son” sense.

I glimpsed a look of guilt in his eyes over the remark, but of course it was too late. This man thought I was easily 10 or 15 years older than the man I’d married. Or worse, he thought I appeared “old” for my age.

In a world where women are told not to “look their age”, this is the sort of thing that should have triggered a flurry of insecure thoughts about appearances. I know those thoughts all too well. I’ve written before about coming to grips with being a curvier woman, unlike the images of ultrathin models that we’re bombarded with in the media. And while I’d love to tell you that I’m some “wonder woman” who has conquered every single insecurity about her body or appearance, that’s just not true. I still have those moments when I struggle with aspects of how I look.

So you can imagine my surprise to find that I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed by what he had said about me. Was it wisdom from deep within, or just plain shock?

Whatever it was, for once in my life, my internal reaction was — f*** it. And boy, did it feel empowering.

I’m reminded of what I wrote a few years back, about a time when I was also perceived as looking much older than my husband:

…the older I get, the more I realize the importance of accepting myself, warts and all. After all, aging is a reality for everyone. Maybe some of us are lucky enough to look younger (ahem, John), while others are not so lucky (ahem, me!). But in the end, we’re all headed in the same direction.

And honestly, who hasn’t seen the person with the dyed hair that’s obviously there to hide the gray and isn’t fooling anyone? Or someone like the late Joan Rivers, with so much plastic surgery and botox she doesn’t even look real anymore?

I cringe over the extremes we turn to just to hide our real age, when the treatment we really need is simple — accepting ourselves exactly as we are.

I also recognize that looking younger isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, as Mabel Kwong points out in her post “Asians’ Youthful Looks: A Blessing or A Curse In Disguise?”

Chances are, this won’t be the last time I’ll run into someone who thinks my husband is just a child under my care (whether someone else’s or my own). But if my reaction this time is any measure, I feel like I’ve taken a great step forward in acceptance of myself and how my relationship looks to the world. And for now, that’s enough.

Has anyone ever mistaken you or your partner for being older or younger than you actually are?

15 Replies to ““Are You Mother and Son?” No, I’m a White Woman Who Looks Older Than Her Asian Husband”

  1. I’m curious, was it a Chinese or a Western person? Anyway, I don’t think your husband looks so young as to be your son, and you don’t look older than your age either. People usually have difficulties guessing the age of other races, though.
    I’m sometimes still asked if I’m a student and people are surprised when I say I’ve been in China since 2006 and ask if I was a child when I arrived. Haha! This has happened with both Chinese and Westerners. I think I look more or less my age, but maybe I don’t really dress like an adult so that might confuse people xD

    1. Hey Marta, thanks for the comment! It was a Western person, actually.

      That’s interesting people think you’re a student, or that you even came to China as a child! Ha! I don’t dress much like an adult myself, so I hear you on that.

  2. Like Marta, I am wondering the person’s background who asked that question. It does sound every bit the presumptuous question. I also wondered what you said. Was it just a f**k it internally and then walking away, or correcting him. A lot of people seem to assume I am very young for my age, both Asians and Westerners alike. Many think I am a young student in university when in reality I finished university a very long time ago. Also like Marta said, I don’t dress my age and usually my go-to attire is a shirt (like a music band T-shirt) and shorts or jeans, and I’m not a huge fan of doing a full face of makeup. Also, thank you so much for the link, Jocelyn. I’ve always admired your blog and writing over the years, and you always never seem to run out of intriguing things to write about 🙂

    1. Hey Mabel, thanks for the comment! As I mentioned to Marta, it was a Western person. I corrected him, but the “f*** it” was more my internal reaction.

      That’s interesting that both Asians and Westerners think you’re younger than you actually are. Like Marta, your dress choices sound a lot like mine — and I am so not into makeup at all, so I’m with you there.

      My pleasure to link to you! You have an outstanding blog and I’ve enjoyed following you over the years. Your post on the pluses and minus of appearing youthful is an excellent read.

  3. Perhaps because you give off vibes of wisdom and intelligence, so they can’t imagine you being as young as you are.

    I have the opposite problem. My husband gets mistaken as a Pedo. People think I am in my late teens when I’m 35. Awkward for my husband. Haha.

  4. When my Chinese-American husband’s female, Asian colleagues get mistaken for interns — invariably by old, white coworkers — he always quips, “Asian don’t raisin!” Then he and the Asian woman laugh and the white man retreats in embarrassment.

    Thank God he has grey hair now or I am sure we would get the same reaction as you and Jun.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Autumn — that’s a cute saying!

      That’s fortunate Andy has enough gray that you guys don’t get that reaction. Actually Jun has some gray hair but apparently it’s not enough. (*palm in face*)

  5. Hey yo, some of us dye our hair to hide the gray not because the gray bothers us in terms of aging, but because our complexions just don’t look good with it (or it looks weird, because our faces actually look quite young – I have a baby face but a fair amount of gray hair, and it’s just…odd). Or we never liked our natural hair color even before the gray and have been actually dying it for years, long before that became a problem (that’s also me).

    Also dying, for some reason, tends to smooth out the more wiry gray hairs, making them act more like young hair (hair often changes texture as it grays).

    There are those who dye their hair just to hide gray, but I don’t judge them either: ageism is a real problem and it may have nothing to do with their own fear of aging or how they see themselves, but very real worries about how others see them. I know someone who is in her 50s and dyes her gray hair – and could pass for late 40s – because it would be harder to find a job if she actually looked her age. That’s not a trivial concern. It’s not all about youth-obsession or even looks-obsession.

  6. Thank you for writing this. My boyfriend of 10 months is Chinese, I’m white. He recently just told his mom about us, which is a big deal for him since he’s never told his parents about any relationship before (he’s 32, I’m 33). She asked him a lot of questions about me and then, when he showed me our picture, her reaction was “she looks older than you”. It was hurtful though am glad he told me the truth so I know what to prepare for before I meet her. I guess it’s just taken more of an insecure toll on me than expected – compared to other white women, I look very young for my age! But I guess a reality is, Asian people just simply look younger longer, so this is likely something I’m just going to have to find a way to accept. Your article is a step in that direction, I appreciate you and any advice you can continue to share. Thanks Jocelyn!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nicole. I can understand feeling a bit insecure about that comment. (Even as I wrote in that post, I certainly have my moments when I struggle with acceptance!) I’m glad the article provided some comfort. One of the things that I think has really made a difference is having a supportive husband who loves me exactly as I am, even if that means “looking older” or otherwise. So if your boyfriend has that kind of perspective, it can overcome so much, even when people make remarks like that. Having him have your back matters!

  7. For Chinese people I look like 70yo…but I’m 40. I have a 3yo mixed girl, and she gets a little bit angry when people says that I’m her nainai, or the older sister of her nainai hahaha.

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