Chapter 24: Tied in Chinese Knots over John

Red Chinese Knot
I was getting tied up in knots over my relationship with my Chinese boyfriend, John, when I never needed to. (Photo from Wikimedia, shot by Ucla90024)

As John, my Chinese boyfriend, and I spent more time together, it was as if we were creating a Chinese knot of our own, promising forever — a forever I had never known with anyone else. And I was tying myself up in knots, because in the world I had known before — where love came and went as effortlessly as the rain across the West Lake in Hangzhou — forever seemed so hard to find, and so hard to believe.

I found solace in my Chinese friend Swallow, one of the translators, a “spicy Sichuan girl” who knew John too. She gave me one of her easy smiles when I told her of my worries, and the experience I had with him during National Day. It was as if she had to laugh at all of the ridiculous mental knots I had created.

“You know, you’re forgetting the love and the understanding between you and John. There is so much good between the two of you.”

I nodded, sitting next to to Swallow, who seemed to enjoy being my therapist in residence. “He is a good guy.”

“Exactly! He’s very good. So maybe he isn’t perfect — he is short, smaller, quiet. Maybe not the kind of guy you imagined. But so what? There is no perfection in love.”

Swallow nudged my inner perfectionist with her words, and she was right. Sometimes I did expect too much. But as I pondered what she said, I couldn’t help but realize it was more than just hoping for some ideal. It was about embracing forever. “You’re right about all that. But what about the idea of a relationship lasting forever. I’ve never been with anyone where I could imagine a ‘forever.’ I think…I think it scares me.”

“Commitment is scary. But you don’t need to be worried about it. Just enjoy what you have with John now.”

Suddenly, my mental knots began to untangle themselves. I had been so focused on what would happen — would we be forever — that I lost sight of the happiness we already had. And maybe that was because John and I had spoken less since he went to school. On Swallow’s suggestion, I started calling my Chinese boyfriend more often, to reconnect with my love, to remember the same excitement of our first date beside the West Lake.

It’s inevitable that couples tie themselves together. With every day, every moment, our own Chinese knot becomes stronger. But sometimes, the most important thing is not what the knot will become, but what it is, right now.


Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 24: Tied in Chinese Knots over John

  • February 16, 2010 at 7:24 am

    I had interesting discussions about the different attitudes toward relationships (a.k.a. marriage life, this is China, after all).

    China: you are married, so you gotta stay together.
    The way this seems strongly related to the strong social stigma attached to divorce, for women, seems pretty patriarchal and misogynist to me. Especially when it gets to the point where women will stay with husbands who have affairs, et cetera, just for the sake of keeping up appearances. Harmony? No, just silence.

    “The West,” of course, has the attitude that, if there are problems, one may just as well decide to go separate ways – and here, I prefer China: people who have decided that they make a good couple will do their darndest to stay together, be good together. And, not least, they will accept that everyone has good and bad sides, look for the good sides in the relationship to have the upper hand – and not look for the “perfect” partner, influenced all the while by the likes of Brangelina, thinking they could have somebody better rather than seeking to appreciate the relationship they do have.

    • February 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Gerald.

      It really is true that, in the West, we can sometimes go overboard looking for this perfect, mythical Adonis who doesn’t really exist. Sometimes, we just forget to appreciate the good in a relationship. We’re too willing to part over superficial things.

      I so cherish the devotion of my Chinese husband, knowing that, if things became difficult, he would rather fight for us to stay together than to suggest that we part ways.

  • Pingback:Chapter 36: Leaning on Your Chinese Friends and Lovers | Speaking of China

  • May 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Sorry for spamming every post of yours from a year ago. But quite simply: My feelings EXACTLY. And the advice Swallow gave you is the exact advice one of my chinese girlfriend gave me: focussing on the good in our relationship right now than worrying about what the future might hold.

  • May 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    You’ve found the right website! You are not spamming in my opinion.
    You are concerned about your relationship and you want to find out
    More information that’s allllllll.Just be true to yourself and love yourself first ;therefore, you will find happiness in life. Love your chinese bf llike any men.Don’t see him as a Chinese man, white man, Indian man etc, see him as a person who you will love forever.You always have to treat your wife or husband as equal.Of course, everybody has a short fuss and I have a temper also.It’s how you make it up with your gf/bf and make him/her understand that you are not mad at allllllll.You are just expressing your points of view, dear. It is fine to give each other a silent treatment but not too long okay.once , he/she knows your personality, everything is back to normal in minutes. Men suppose to have a big heart and we should not keep little things inside of us. We are meant to do big things. Attention all men out there,!! let it go. I think women find it so attractive w/qualities like that in men . I’m speaking from my experience. Anyway, don’t worry so much.with time and patience, your bond will be stronger. Don’t give a damn what other people think because he is Chinese. You need no approval from anybody on this planet to date or marry someone who is different ethnicity.Trust and love conquer all.


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