Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Not Everyone Does DTR (Defining the Relationship)

Picture 462One of my favorite stories from when John and I started dating is the day when he moved into my apartment without any “should we move in together” conversation.

In America, we all know about the conversation, even if we’ve never had it before. We’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, that pivotal moment when someone says, “Let’s move in together” – a simple question that’s never all that simple. People agonize over this, to the point of proliferating totally conflicting advice (from “You’ve got to move in with him to test things out!” to “If he moves in with you, he’ll never propose!).

Well, we never had that conversation. Instead, I came home one day after work and, lo and behold, there was a duffel bag lying in the guest room of my apartment, filled with a soccer ball, a pair of soccer shoes, and some rather familiar T-shirts. When John returned back later that evening, the conversation went like this:

Me: “Is that your bag?”

John: “Uh, yeah.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

You might wonder, why did I just answer “okay” and not grill him about furtively depositing his things in my apartment? Well, for starters, I did give him a key to my place and told him to come over whenever he wanted. I figured he just interpreted that more liberally – that “whenever he wanted” could mean all the time. (And, besides, I was under the deep, romantic spell of love, which has a way of clouding your judgment, especially whenever you think of that hot weekend the two of you just enjoyed at your place.)

Years later, when I asked John about this “moving in without a discussion” thing, he had a very simple explanation for it. “Our relationship was already settled. We didn’t need to discuss things like that.”

I discovered that the fact he kissed me beside the West Lake – and later spent the night at my place – qualified as evidence of our relationship as the real deal. We didn’t have to hash out our relationship status over coffee, debating whether we should just “keep it casual” or “make it serious.” In John’s eyes, we were a serious couple.

This was like a revelation to me – that people could actually enter into a relationship, secure in what it was without ever having some big, nervewracking conversation about it.

I’m reminded of a post I saw a few years back on VOA written by a Chinese girl titled Everything You Need to Know about Dating an American and Having the ‘Relationship Talk’:

Why do Americans have these big relationship talks?

Well, there are so many types of relationships in the U.S.: dating, casual dating, relationship, open relationship (this one does not make any sense to me), serious relationship, etc.  It’s easy to see how people could be confused about which stage they are and which stage their partners are….

In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship.  You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends, so there is no chance to be confused.  In other words, when it comes to V-Day [Valentine’s Day], people either have it for sure, or don’t even think of it.  No discussion needed.

It’s fascinating that a relationship could either be really simple and obvious, or incredibly complicated and worthy of long discussions, depending on who you are and the cultural background you grew up with.