Chapter 3: Shortcomings

I had never stood next to John before the day we rode the “green skinned” train to Yiwu. I asked John out for lunch before we rode the train, and, as he stood up from his chair, there he was — more than two inches below me, and many pounds lighter.

I always believed I wasn’t superficial, until now — I felt disappointed, just because John was shorter.You never want to admit it, but your whole life, you tell yourself a story about the person you might fall in love with. In my story, he could have been from any country, of any color or ethnicity. But, after a lifetime of movies and television, perpetuating the idea that the man must be bigger and taller, I wanted my dream man to be the same. I didn’t know what to do now.

We went to my favorite restaurant — the Foreign Students’ Dining Room at Hangzhou University — and ordered youmen eggplant, tofu-skin baby bok choy, and two coconut milks. John told me about his plans. “I’m going to be studying psychology at Shanghai Normal University this fall….Someday, I hope to create a humanistic care center in China, to help people.” His aspirations reached far beyond his 5’5″ (165 cm) stature.

But still, I couldn’t shake the opposite thought: if only he stood so tall in reality.

After lunch, as we walked out, I obsessively glanced at the gap between my shoulders and his. Did he notice? Did I make him feel short? I tried slouching a little — maybe that would help. Or, rather, maybe I needed help. Psychological help, that is.

Help had a name — Caroline, my scheming, matchmaking friend. The week of July 14, after the trip to Yiwu, Caroline went with me to my gym on a guest pass, and delayed me afterwards in the lobby of the hotel, for a little conversation. Was she there to only work out, or work me out of my prejudices?

“I don’t know about him,” I said, sitting in the lobby of the international hotel with Caroline, after exercising upstairs. “I’m confused.”

“Confused about what?”

His height. His weight. His whole stature, I thought. But how could I say that? I liked John, even if I didn’t know what to do with my preconceptions of what a boyfriend should be. So, I lied. “I don’t know.”

The thing is, I’m a terrible liar in the US, and even worse in China — a country where burying thoughts and feelings has been second nature for thousands of years. Caroline knows me better than I even want to admit — even the parts I’m ashamed of. “He may be short, but he is handsome.” She cocked her head a bit, grinning and raising an eyebrow, adding this. “I think he’d make a good husband.”
A good husband? How can I think forever when I haven’t even dated him yet? I shuddered, even as I understood that Caroline said what Chinese girls would want to hear. They would think marriage before dating.

I thought about Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend. He was tall and sturdy. Now, he was gone, forever. I never would have thought  he would have gone so fast, so soon. But how was I to know? You cannot read your destiny in his eyes, or glances, or kisses — or even his stature.

He may be short, but he is handsome.


Did you have to give up your expectations — cultural or societal — to date someone in China?


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.

Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up now and receive an email whenever I publish new blog posts. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
gifts to china

6 thoughts on “Chapter 3: Shortcomings

  • January 6, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Jocelyn I think you are my twin. Except you’re the nice one who was able to get over the difference in stature. When I was in Japan I was seeing this very nice guy who was surely not my soul mate but a good guy to spend time with. He was just a hair shorter than me, so I was able to get past that. But one day he casually mentioned his weight and it was lower than mine. And I mentioned that we were about the same height so that adds insult to injury. It was more than I could take, I had to break up with him. It was so incredibly superficial of me. But I knew we weren’t going to get married so it was for the best.

    On a side note, I have those same brown glasses! Seriously. I’m sure they’re even the exact same brand and model. But we shouldn’t check that because we would probably discover that I’m wrong, which wrecks my theory about us being twins.

  • January 7, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Being 5’11” (180 cm), I can totally relate to this, but I’ve never had a boyfriend of any nationality who was taller than I am. People always ask me if I’d date a shorter man and honestly it hasn’t really bothered me, though I don’t know how I’d feel if there was a difference of five or six inches. I know lots of women won’t even consider a shorter man, but that seems like a silly thing to let get in the way of feelings. It’s always hard to get over what we first perceived as our ideal, but when/if we do, it’s usually more than worth it.

    • January 8, 2010 at 11:27 pm

      Dear Melanie,

      Thanks for the comment — and how uncanny that you had a similar reaction to another man (and, for that matter, even similar glasses — which, for the record, I bought in China at 美式眼镜 ;-)). It’s really hard to get over…I certainly needed some encouragement. Maybe it would have been different if you had a “Caroline” of your own? Anyhow, you’ve got a fantastic husband now, and that’s what counts.

      Dear Ellis,

      Thanks so much for weighing in as well — clearly, you’re the experienced one in this realm of dating shorter men! Whoever gets you, shorter or taller, is going to be getting a girl who truly can see beyond stature into so much more.

  • March 9, 2010 at 11:51 am

    I can totally relate. I’m also taller than my Chinese husband, not by much but it is visible. I’m at least 173cm (last time I cared to measure) and my husband is no taller than 172cm, but despite it being such small difference it’s so visible especially if I wear high heels. But who cares! It just looks a bit funny on pictures but I’ll give people that smile 🙂 I’m taller than most of my husband’s family. But what they don’t have in height, they have in heart. I adore my husband and his whole family!

    • March 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Jennie! It’s so great to hear from other women who looked behind height to find love. Wow, so your husband lets you wear high heels, huh? I think mine would, but he likes to say they’re “banned” (though, in reality, I really cannot wear high heels — they hurt my feet too much).

  • December 26, 2010 at 1:02 am

    hahhaha ,this part is also quite full of fun, I think .
    About the height, I think it is an universally conception that ,especially in China from what I know ,girls want to marry a tall man, at least taller than her. So I think you are great to give up the height issue and pay more attention to his heart ,that is of course the most important.
    When I was in my small village, my mom worried about my height because my father is very short, 155 cm I think. After I grew up ,my height reached 178 cm, then she never worried about my height anymore,but right now the only thing she’s worrying about is my marriage .heheh


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: