“Is he your foreign exchange student?” When you’re a white woman who looks older than her Asian husband

Actually, he's my husband.
Actually, he’s my husband.

I never thought a simple trip to the grocery store with my husband would give me one of the most embarrassing experiences I’ve ever had.

It happened while we were checking out of a grocery store in the US. My husband, as usual, started bagging our stuff while I pulled out my credit card to pay for everything. It was just another typical checkout experience – until the cashier, a white woman in her fifties, started chatting with me.

“Nice to have some help,” she said, referring to my husband who had already bagged everything and placed it neatly in our shopping cart.

“Yeah, he is pretty great.” I couldn’t help but smile with pride. Who doesn’t love it when her husband is the envy of others?

Or so I thought, until the cashier opened her mouth again.

“So, is he your foreign exchange student?”

That’s right – a casher in America actually mistook my own husband for some foreign exchange student I was hosting.

A flush of red mounted my face as I realized exactly what this meant. One, that she had noticed my thirty-something husband was a foreigner and thought he looked old enough to be an undergraduate in college or younger. And two, that she thought I looked too old to be his wife.

She might as well have pointed out every single wrinkle on my thirty-something face, because that’s exactly how embarrassed I felt.

I cleared my throat. “Actually, he’s my husband.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” The cashier seemed genuinely apologetic, right down to the way her own cheeks turned a self-conscious shade of scarlet.

But it was too late for that. She’d already put the idea out there. And let me tell you, I never hurried out of a checkout line faster than that moment.

I never thought a simple trip to the grocery store with my husband would give me one of the most embarrassing experiences I’ve ever had.
I never thought a simple trip to the grocery store with my husband would give me one of the most embarrassing experiences I’ve ever had.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Long before this ever happened, relatives and friends doted on John’s youthful appearance. In fact, it seemed like a month never went by in America without my dad saying, “John, you look like you’re still in high school!” They schooled me a reality that had remained hidden to me until I married an Asian man: the popular belief that Asians look younger than white people.

But until that moment in that checkout line, I was blissfully unaware that some Americans might actually think I was old enough to, say, be a guardian to a foreign exchange student. And might mistake my Asian husband for said student.

Of course, I’m not the only white woman in an AMWF relationship who has had an embarrassingly personal reminder of how Asians look younger than white people, as Constance of Foreign Sanctuary reminds me in her post My Taiwanese Husband & His Most Amazing Moment in Vegas!!:

While dining in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, my 30-something year old husband (who, might I add, is two years older than me) heard the most magical words from a waitress when he tried to order a beer.

‘May I see your ID, please?’

Smiling from ear to ear, his dimples as defined as ever, like a kid in a candy store, he turned to me and asked me for his passport which I was holding for safe keeping in my bag.

He passed her his passport and she began to examine it. She looked at his passport photo, she looked at him, and then back at the photo. She continued by checking the edges, clearly thinking that it must have been a fake one.

Then, she said ‘Oh my God! You are in your 30’s!!’

Talk about inflating someone’s ego with one sentence!

Trying to salvage some dignity, even just a little, I casually asked the following question.

‘Would you like to see mine as well?’

And to add more salt to the wound, to drive the dagger further into my heart, she made the following reply:.

‘No, that’s fine! You’re OK.’

Oh, the humiliation! The embarrassment!

Ouch.

I’ll be honest – for the longest time, I swore I would never go public with this encounter in the grocery store. I wanted it to be like the diary I used to hide under my mattress in grade school, forever safe from scrutiny. Who wants to admit before the world that, in fact, people think she looks old?

(John to me): Is that a gray hair?
(John to me): Is that a gray hair?

Yet, 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?”

Besides, my husband still thinks I’m the sexiest woman in the world. He can’t keep his hands off me – wrinkles and stretch marks and hidden gray hairs and all. He loves me just as passionately as that night over 12 years ago when we first kissed beside the West Lake.

So what if he doesn’t “look” like he matches me in age to some folks? I know he’s my perfect match and that’s all I’ll ever need to know.

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Have you ever had an experience where someone mistook you or your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse for a different age? How did it make you feel?

P.S.: This post was inspired by Constance’s post My Taiwanese Husband & His Most Amazing Moment in Vegas!! Head over to Constance’s blog Foreign Sanctuary and read her post, as well as the comment section, which is packed with examples of other people who have had embarrassing experiences of their own!

On the racism against AMWF couple Lorde and James Lowe

Lorde and James Lowe, a very public face for AMWF couples everywhereBack in December, many of you — including myself — followed a rather disturbing news story regarding racist backlash against Lorde and her Asian boyfriend James Lowe. Many readers sent along links and encouraged me to write something about it. That proved challenging in December when I just moved to China and was juggling a ton of post-moving/settling in issues that drained my energy, along with some technical difficulties for my website. Well, it’s nearly a month since the incident…but never too late for me to put my 2 cents out there and start out 2014 with a bang. 

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Sometimes people say to me, Why do you write about your relationship? You’re a white woman dating a Chinese man, so what’s the big deal? Thanks to what happened in December, I have a new answer for them: Lorde and James Lowe.

For those of you who were hibernating in December or busy with Christmas shopping, here’s the scoop:

After Kiwi chanteuse Lorde apparently said (to someone, somewhere—I literally can’t find any sources on it besides teens on Twitter) that Justin Bieber and the members of One Direction are “ugly,” wounded superfans began firing back with a barrage of potshots at James Lowe, Lorde’s rumored boyfriend. In the way that the overemotional rantings of the ignorant so often do, the attacks turned racist almost immediately.

I was still dazed and jet-lagged in the wake of an exhausting move from the US to China, but even then the news hit me hard. In the midst of the Christmas season, traditionally that time of “peace on earth and goodwill to all men”, here was a gang of cyberbullies spewing racist comments about Lorde and her boyfriend (see this story for examples) and laughing about it. And to date, no evidence has surfaced proving Lorde made the alleged “ugly” remarks about Bieber/OD…which makes me wonder if someone just went ahead and fabricated the whole thing as an excuse to humiliate Lorde.

Ugh. It’s just chilling to see this sort of thing.

But Lorde isn’t alone in her experience. After all, I’ve had to moderate hundreds of racist comments on my blog, and still receive the occasional hate mail because I’m married to a Chinese guy and blog about it with great pride.

What happened to Lorde stands as a very public example of how the Anglosphere (people in English-speaking countries) still harbors negative attitudes about dating Asian men. As much as it shouldn’t matter who you date, the racist reaction to Lorde’s boyfriend only proves that other people will make it an issue when your special someone happens to be an Asian guy.

Maybe you’ve never been publicly insulted like Lorde, but might understand this in a different way. Perhaps your great uncle made a racist comment in passing about your Asian boyfriend or husband. Or someone said you shouldn’t move back to China with him because the society is too patriarchal and you’ll be oppressed by him. (Never mind, of course, that your guy is such a kind and caring sweetheart who has never been oppressive or sexist towards you.) Or what if, like Grace of Texan in Tokyo, you discover that “You will need a coping mechanism to deal with the question ‘Why don’t you just date a white guy?’”

When it comes to dating Asian men, there’s a mountain of racism and ignorance out there as far too many folks still buy into the popular stereotypes that Asian men are somehow undatable. This is why Ranier Maningding is right on when he wrote the following regarding how to respond to the Lorde/James Lowe racist backlash:

Please, especially if you’re a non-Asian WOMAN, you need to speak up against this shit. You need to be the counteractive voice to these idiotic children. Write something, post something, or share this. You say you like Asian culture? Then voice your opinions.

Amen.

And Lorde, if you’re reading this, know that you’re a sister in the community of Western women and Asian men. We’ve got your back, girl.

P.S.: Sharing your stories is also one of the best ways to combat racism. If you’ve got something to share, why not submit your story or guest post for Speaking of China?

What’s your opinion on the Lorde/James Lowe backlash? Sound off in the comments!