Guest Post: I Got Divorced in China, and What Happened in My Marriage Is More Common Than You Realize

When you blog about love, family and relationships in China for as long as I do, you get to know lots of couples. But while there are love stories, there are also breakups and divorce in China.

Alex is someone I’ve known for years. She shared her love story here back in 2013. But her marriage with a Chinese man unraveled, ending in divorce. Her tale of divorce in China has become an everyday story she tells to the taxi drivers of Qingdao. It’s an act of courage to share stories like this and I’m grateful Alex wrote this piece.

Do you have a story, whether divorce in China or love or otherwise, that you’d like to share here on the blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and contact me today with your ideas.

The taxi driver says, “I’m here! Where are you?”

I reply, “I’m nearly there! Wait one moment, what color is your car?” Moments later, I say to him, “Hi! This is the car I ordered, correct?”

Since 2010 I’ve realized that getting from point A to point B in China has always been a fairly simple task. When the cost of a car sets you back a couple dollars, and they are in high supply, the only time I ever worry about getting around would be during those peak traffic times. And in that case I will rarely leave the house.

Chinese taxi drivers certainly have a reputation for being curious – if anything they should be merited for their ability to test all foreigners in China on their Chinese-speaking abilities. If you can pass the first few questions of the journey, well that merits you have a certain level of experience in China.

When it comes to getting a taxi, it is all about creating a conversation. To communicate is to be human, and to tell a story is to be someone willing to share a piece of your life with an overworked, and often bored, taxi driver. This always seems to be the best opportunity for these conversations., I will never see you again, and you probably won’t see me again, so time for that beautiful exchange.

Qingdao is a city I have called home since my early twenties — a city of 8 million, with sea, mountains and locals that are beyond welcoming. To reiterate a story that I often share with those stranger taxi drivers reveals another side of those international love stories. Because not all love stories, not all magical moments are real life. And not everything we see is as it is.

I met my now ex-husband in 2010, and funnily enough a Chinese fortune-teller actually reminded me about this over a business lunch just yesterday! He was spot on that I had indeed met a love. The story of how I met my ex-husband has nearly been erased from my mind, but I cherish and hold on to the beginning where it seemed to be about love — true love, love that crosses thousands of miles — and that is what brought on my destiny.

Today I have to be brutally honest when I tell those taxi drivers that within the beautiful city of Qingdao, out of all those friendly, smiling, helpful Shandong faces there are in fact a few bad eggs.

Adultery, divorce, rumors, gossip, cheating, lying and manipulation. This side of marriage in China is more prevalent than ever – but would you ever know the truth? Of course not. It is buried so deep in “keeping face” and maintaining a reputation that what goes on after the wedding ceremony is rarely discussed. My own experience as a 22-year-old university graduate, madly in love and naïve as hell, is a simple representation.

What I have seen in only the past three months goes to show that this exists in many, many relationships. The Chinese version of “undiscussed” open relationships, staying together for the money, the kids, the face.

I wouldn’t and couldn’t endure it.

It began by discovering images on iCloud – you sneaky bastard! From that point on I became a professional private investigator. Once that “小三” (xiaosan) mistress was discovered I was basically looking to find out everything. Looking back now it was really pointless. This mistress culture is a part of many marriages in China. Perhaps this is the reason why two people can stay together for so long. Perhaps long-term monogamy is unrealistic.

What I really want to say is not a sad sob story of how I had to escape a manipulative, power-hungry businessman or how I left the company we built, that cute poodle puppy, apartment and the mini cooper car lifestyle. The life we had together from the outside looked ideal. We were set to have some great looking kids, and be able to exchange country residencies. We were on our way to building a successful company, and overall I loved this man. It was stupid love but it was true. After this entire experience I feel that marriage is about so much more than love or lust. It should be viewed as a partnership, a collaboration, and built from a foundation of reason and logic.

How I went from a married, power-couple team of wedding planners and designer to a single, nomadic dating coach in London – well, that process and series of events still surprises me. So much of what has happened, I look back on it and think, Wow, where did the time go? How did all of this happen?

So, what do these kindhearted, slightly coarse, smile-wrinkle taxi drivers have to do with it? They hear my story of divorce in China every day, because how else can I say the reason why my Chinese is spoken with some local dialect tones? How can I answer what kept me in Qingdao for over five years? I like to be open and share my story as I think so much of the reality is behind closed doors.

You would not believe the number of businessmen who find it completely normal to not inform me until the second date that they have a family and wife, but would still like to pursue me. Even today I attend dinner meetings and drinking spells with men like this, offering up this kind of proposal. After what I went through with my ex-husband, it’s odd to be on the other side of things, so to speak.

And yet, I continue to date Chinese men. I would still marry a Chinese man, but with so much more caution, and with more high-level requests as to what he will provide. I would ask for what I deserve upfront and first. I would want a house in my name, a nice car, and a wedding paid for by him, just like many Chinese women. That is the lesson I learned.

Will I find love once again in China? I couldn’t tell you because I’m not a fortune-teller. But I remain cautiously optimistic about the future. And every day, as I hail another taxi, it gets a little easier to tell the story of my divorce in China and embrace the possibilities for my future.

You can follow Alex on Instagram.

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16 Replies to “Guest Post: I Got Divorced in China, and What Happened in My Marriage Is More Common Than You Realize”

  1. Goodness, you’re gorgeous… I understand why you’d be cynical about the idea of love and romance after what you’ve been through but I hope you haven’t given up on finding love. One of the reasons that white women appeal to (some) Chinese men is that in you girls Chinese men see true romantics who do not care about how much money they make or whether they own an apartment. The worst thing you can do is become the stereotypical gold-digging Chinese woman who regards marriage as nothing more than a business transaction.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jesterleigh. As you can imagine, stories only capture a small portion of what actually happened — which means there is a lot behind the scenes you’re not aware of. What I took away from Alex’s story is that she was someone who trusted her ex, who put so much of herself into their business and partnership — and when the divorce came along, she lost a lot of the assets that she had helped build up through great efforts. This is not about “gold-digging”.

  2. Yeah, “gold-digging” is probably not the right word, but it is a word that is often used to refer to Chinese women who are also just seeking financial security for themselves. I understand the need to protect yourself financially, but my suggestion is that demanding a house and a car upfront is not the way to approach a relationship. If you want security of any kind in a relationship, the trick is to find a guy who you can trust, someone who, even in the event that the relationship breaks down, won’t screw you over — and this would apply to all men, not just Chinese men.

    When you impose a financial or material demand on a relationship as the basic condition you poison it, and essentially turn it into a business transaction, no matter what the motive behind such a demand is. And what if the guy is perfect in every way but cannot afford a house and a car to give to you; do you then dismiss him as ineligible or unworthy of your love? I’m probably being very naive here but I’m assuming that the goal is to find true love, and I would hope that this is not an unrealistic goal.

  3. Gold-diggers exist in the west, but it is just so plain obvious in China. Marriage is a negotiation in China, almost making you reminiscent of the era of the arranged marriage. I don’t think Chinese women don’t crave “free” love. They are taught to become rational in order not to sell themselves short. For the benefit of the bargain, Chinese women hope to secure their better future. However, there is no guarantee, but you can take that chance. It is often better than the alternative.
    It is up to the individuals to define their own marriages. What works for them is nobody else’s business.

    When the stories of sexual harassment are making waves in American media, China is silent on the issue. Call it a cultural relativism that men have an upper hand in the bargain in China. Once you have money, you can buy love and your mistresses. A relationship is always a power play.

    To give up your personal integrity for one failed marriage or an international partner seems a big price to pay. Cheating always has its victim. Time will tell who would that be.

    If a Chinese women want to demand a house before she marries, she probably knows EXACTLY what she wants from the relationship. How boring.

      1. Im a Canadian woman, born in UK who just married a Shandong man in Hong Kong. You mentioned your inability to tolerate certain aspects of culture, I will provide my 0.02 as a newlywed who just visited Shandong.
        My 0.02, although I am ethnically Chinese, there are still huge differences in culture. Much less the divide between Northern and Southern China, there is a disperstity between middle class Northern China and Southern China. I speak intermediate mandarin and yet could not understand a word of Shandong language, therefore context and face is difficult to explain.
        Shandong is Confuscious and traditionalist thinking. In that context 1) to be a small woman is what is needed to maintain face. A China man with certain financial success can have a xiao san/mistress and as the small woman you are supposed to look the other way. When in Rome or China, you have to adapt to that way of life. 2) The family and community pressures are immense. thats why my husband lives in Hong Kong even though he would love see his family more often. Born in Shandong 1983, I can compare him with my late husband born 1966 in Malaysia with the traditional Chinese views. 3) both my husbands do/did not speak directly as they dont feel a need to discuss their plans with you. Therefore as a wife it is your duty to adapt and negotiate communication, commitment and living arrangements. For example my late husband and I choose not to divorce because of his face but he agreed to sleep on the couch. My current husband has agreed to never to sleep in separate beds and to never go to bed angry. He has agreed to move to Canada and be a step father to my kids. However his family will never know that, Im older, widowed, have kids and make more money.
        My opinion is that resentment, discontent and cultural instability must be addressed in private to help the man not lose face, if you are staying in China.

  4. I’m so sorry about the divorce. I remember her wedding 5 yrs ago and she looked so beautiful on her wedding day. I really don’t care what you guys think here but having a mistress is the dumbest thing to do seriously!! First of all, that mistress knew that her ex-husband was a married man. Secondly, this mistress only wants financial gains. Third, there are 1.4 billion chinese men in china and she can’t even find a man who is good enough ? Why would a stupid man wants to leave his beautiful, successful, wife for another woman who is a leech ? Her ex husband was drawn on lust and naive. It’s hard to resist temptation . “Some” women will throw themselves on a married man ,too and I almost became a victim. Yup so be careful !

  5. Sorry about your divorce. I’ve been dating a chinese guy myself, but im about to break up. I feel so bad, cause he is such a nice guy. But its so hard, considering his cultural backroud – he has to take care of his parents. I dont want to stay in China after my studies, so we kinda agreed that the future is in a fog. Meanwhile we tell each other- enjoy every day together till we can. Now i have spent some time at home, and im coming back to china for New year’s. Originally i planned to stay with his family, but over the time spent at home – i made up my mind. I got to this point where i feel we need to end up our relationship. We have been together for over a year now, and it was even in the autumn where i wanted to break up but i wasnt 100% sure, he knew that. Thing got back to our good stereotypes back then. But now, i feel its really the time. I cant be in a relationship without a possible future. I dont want to be in China, he doesnt speak english- so it would be very hard to find job in my country. plus he is supposed to take care of his parents. Once i reliazed this, i kinda blocked myself, in intimate moments. I cant just have fun, while knowing these things. Also i feel so tired to date a foreign guy, its so tiring to always explain things i like, people, music, movies, he never heard about. Even though my chinese is not bad, its often tiring to explain my feelings and thoughts. . .
    The cruel thing is im coming back just before the celebrations…im supposed to have a dinner with his family, i dont know what to do. i feel like i need to tell him right away… do you, guys, have any advice for me?

    1. Hi Carla, I’m so sorry to hear you’re in this situation. It would seem to me the best thing to do would be to let him know as soon as possible. Having dinner with his family will only make you feel worse and more guilty, since you’ve already made up your mind. I would find a time to talk with him and break things off ASAP, and I would suggest making alternative plans instead of dinner with his family.

    2. That’s really sad to hear as it did not seem to be working at the beginning, for him who does not want to learn and understand your culture, this will not work.

      I recently met a girl who went to Shanghai for 3 months back in 2014. I just realized that there are American girls who could speak Chinese for being there such a short time so well and loves the authentic Chinese food which is totally different from those in the USA.

      Anyway, there are people like me who grew up in China and have been living in the USA or other western countries for quite a while. You could find someone in your country, because there are men who are in my exact situation are looking for a relationship.

  6. Obviously, honesty is the best way for both of you. To make it easier for the chinese guy (advice from another chinese guy), I would suggest not be so direct. Let me explain. You probably do not want to say things like:
    1. I am sorry I don’t see a future in our relationship because of your culture and our conflict because of it.
    2. I am sorry I can’t handle the fact you need to take care your parents. BTW, there is nothing wrong with doing that.
    3. I am sorry I feel tired because of the cultural differences.

    It is much easier to “lie” about your true feelings for his sake. Say something like:

    1. I need to go home because I can’t live in China longer.
    2. My feelings toward you have changed since we are apart.
    3. I don’t want to take care of your parents.
    4. I want to find someone who shares my cultural background.

    If you go to the family dinner, show all your appreciations. Tell the guy before the dinner and ask him what he thinks if you should go to the dinner. If he tries to change your mind, don’t go to the dinner.

    I think many women (chinese or western) are all pretty good at “lying” when they end a relationship with someone. lol

  7. Thanks to you both!

    For your advices on what to say:
    My feelings toward you have changed since we are apart.
    I don’t want to take care of your parents.
    I want to find someone who shares my cultural background.

    these are not even lies!

    Gosh, its so awkward. I know my decision is correct, but the timing is sooo wrong. Valentine’s day and Chinese new year..

  8. Carla,

    Just tell him that you guys are not fit for each other anymore. If he’s a strong guy like me , he’ll get over it and move on with his life. It’s not about taking care of his parents seriously. You mean in America we still don’t have to take care of our parents ? Yes we do! so don’t go to his dinner and don’t tell him in his face. Just call him or write an email to him. Some sissy men can’t handle a break up in person . An independent man recovers very fast from a break up.

  9. She makes such a good point. I noticed the toxic cheating culture in China, Japan, and South Korea. The likelihood goes up even higher with wealthy men, just like in America. Sadly because of logistics, language, and cultural issues, international marriages are more susceptible to divorce than normal. There are big rewards, but big risks. Especially for people who’s religion doesn’t permit divorce, like mine.

  10. Alex has a great point – ladies, if you like Chinese men and want to start dating Chinese men, go for those living abroad, or returners “haigui 海龟”!
    After testing the dating pool in China from northerners to southerners, those that come from small villages to those that have lived years abroad, I have to say that a Chinese guy with some foreign background makes things easier:

    – Speaks and writes multiple languages
    – Works in a multicultural corporation, can find a job in any country
    – Accepts different points of views. Less racist.
    – Is able to learn and change his mind. Questions cultural norms.
    – Can openly discuss his vision of marriage and children, how tasks are divided etc.
    – More fun-loving, less tight about money, more focus on life quality and family life
    – Independent, less attached to his parents’ and relatives’ opinions

    Of course, I’ve also met haigui that combine the “worst of both worlds”, being unethical AND self-centered.
    Generally I could say that any person from any country benefits from living in a different culture.

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