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?