Interview with Yuta Aoki on “There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan”

Exploring cultural differences in my intercultural and international marriage has long been at the heart of my blog. Which is why, when Yuta Aoki contacted me about his new book exploring cultural differences for mixed couples dating in Japan, I jumped at the chance to do an interview.

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There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan profiles 15 different people (spanning eight nationalities, both straight and LGBT) dating across racial and cultural borders in the country. Yuta’s deeply personal interviews touch some of the most private and intimate details of their love lives. He follows up each of the stories with a discussion of the cultural dynamics going on between the couples, which makes the book even more valuable. Whether you’re curious about intercultural dating in Japan or already in an intercultural relationship, you’ll find this a fascinating addition to your library.

I’m excited to introduce you to Yuta Aoki and There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan through this interview.

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Here’s Yuta’s bio from Amazon.com:

Yuta Aoki is a Japanese author, blogger, and YouTuber. He writes about Japanese culture, multi-cultural communication, and dating.

He is a chronic traveler. He has been to more than thirty countries, from Eastern Europe all the way across to Southeast Asia. He enjoys talking to local people and listening to their stories. His desire to share the best of these stories inspired him to write There’s Something I Want to Tell You – True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan.

He dates internationally, although he’s slightly worried that he might end up spending more time writing about dating than actually doing it.

He was born and raised in Japan.

You can learn more about Yuta at his blog at YutaAoki.com.

I asked Yuta about everything from how he was able to get people to speak so candidly about their love lives, to his response to people who think culture doesn’t matter in intercultural dating:

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Tell us about the inspiration for writing this book.

One huge inspiration was my friend’s story about how she met her husband. She is African-American and her husband is Japanese.

One day, she was walking down the street of Gunma, a Japanese prefecture where she liked at that time. A car approached behind her and pulled up.

‘What’s up?’ the man inside shouted in English. He was Japanese.

‘Uh… good evening,’ she replied in Japanese, hesitantly.

He smiled, wanting to continue the conversation.

But she wasn’t up for a random chat. It was already getting dark. The sun was going down. She walked away.

She would have forgotten him, had it not been for the birthday party she was going to the same night. The party took place on the 2nd floor of a building where there were several bars.

During the party, her phone rang. It was her friend.

‘Hey, can you come downstairs? There’s someone I want to introduce you to,’ her friend said.

When she came downstairs, she noticed a familiar-looking man.

‘Hey, you are the guy from the car!’ she exclaimed.

That was how she met her husband.

This story made me realize that people had unusual dating stories. I also remembered a friend who had made countless crazy boyfriend, one of which had run 40 kilometers (25 miles) just to see her. I wanted to know more.

You share a variety of stories about dating in Japan from people of different nationalities, racial backgrounds and sexual orientations — many of them diving into very intimate and personal details about the relationships. How did you find the people to interview for this book? And how were you able to get them to speak so candidly on the record?

Finding people to interview was quite easy as I already knew very diverse people who lived in Japan. All I had to do was ask around. Then some of them introduced me to other people.

I think the reason why those people opened up was that most people actually want to talk about their relationships. Often, we are afraid of being judged. But once someone stars actively listening to you, you can’t stop.

I think being interviewed is a very interesting experience. I encourage you to try it if there’s an opportunity. If you have an interesting dating story, contact me!

What’s your favorite story from this book and why?

Every time people ask that question, I come up with a different answer because there are so many interesting stories.

There’s an American girl called Lily, and I loved her quasi-relationship with a dorky, smart, obsessive Japanese guy called Aiba-kun. Lily wants to be his friends because he’s a smart guy and likes Japanese literature which she likes a lot. He’s also one of few friends Lily made back in university in Nagoya. But Aiba-kun doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his romantic obsession. There have been countless misunderstandings—both personal and cultural—between them.

Once, Lily decided to go on a “date” with him. She knew he hadn’t dated any girl before, so she wanted him to experience what it was like to go out with a girl. She was always clear that she wasn’t interested in him, but it was difficult for him to hold back his feelings.

Lily had to go back to the States, but they continued exchange emails even though she found it difficult to write long messages in Japanese.

Eventually, she came back to Japan and started living in Tokyo, quite far from Nagoya. One day, Aiba-kun showed up in her house unnoticed. It was an awkward meeting. Lily had to take him to a nearby café and convince him to leave because he kept insisting on dating her.

But their (sort of) friendship still continues. Lily thinks that once he gets over his infatuation, they can be really good friends.

I like this story because it has several layers of misunderstanding. On one hand, there is American dating culture that tends to be more casual and relaxed. On the other hand, there is an awkward boy who is not experienced with women. I find their friendship kind of cute.

Was there anything you learned about dating in Japan in the process of writing this book that surprised or shocked you?

It’s not so much surprising as curious, but so many Japanese people in those stories are, well, Japanese, in their way of thinking.

Western women who date Japanese men often find it confusing that Japanese men don’t always express their emotions and thoughts verbally.

Michelle, a Finnish girl, says her Japanese ex-boyfriend didn’t want to talk about bad things because he didn’t like confrontations. He wasn’t a talkative guy, and when they went on a date, he didn’t have much to say. She wanted him to talk more.

Kala, another African-American woman, talks about the ‘automatic translator’ that she invented to decode her Japanese husband’s non-verbal messages. When her husband is hungry, he comes around the kitchen, where she is cooking, and asks, ‘Do you need any help?’ But Kala knows he is not really offering help. It’s his indirect way of saying, ‘I’m hungry.’

Lack of verbal, direct communication is just one thing. There are a lot of recurring themes about dating in Japan: mind-reading, passiveness in bed, accommodating personalities, private nature of dating, etc. It was interesting to re-discovering my own culture.

What would you say to people who claim that culture doesn’t matter in intercultural dating?

I think what they really mean is that cultural differences can be overcome, which isn’t false.

But some people overlook or simply don’t notice cultural differences and that can be a problem. I remember Andre, a Jamaican man, who dated a Japanese girl who had a completely different communication style.

When she wanted to stop seeing him, she simply stopped answering his text, which confused Andre a great deal because he needed a verbal, explicit explanation. The more he pushed, the more irritated she was. It wasn’t necessarily his fault because from her part, she was unable to communicate with him effectively. Instead, she just became angry and passive-aggressive, which confused him even more.

It turned out their relationship had been fraught with misunderstandings, which neither of them fully understood. I think a little understanding of cultural and personal differences would have made their relationship much more pleasant.

What do you hope people come away with after reading your book?

I hope that people come away with a good understanding of what to expect in dating in Japan. At the same time, I hope people notice that there are many Japanese people who don’t fit the Japanese stereotypes. I included very diverse people in my book, so I you can understand dating in Japan from different angles.

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Thanks so much to Yuta Aoki for this interview! Learn more about Yuta at his blog at YutaAoki.com. You can find There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating on Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Guest Post: Why Did I Assume I’d Never Find a Man to Date in China?

Why did I assume I’d never find a man to date in China? It’s a question that haunted white American Rosalie Zhao (who blogs at Rosie in BJ), surprised to find the love of her life in the Middle Kingdom (she shared her unforgettable love story here in the post “Enter Zhao Ming…China’s Answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger”). She writes, “With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices.”

Do you have a story worth sharing on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page today to learn how to become a guest poster on this blog.

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(Photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)

It’s been a couple years since my first guest post on Speaking of China. I wrote of how, against my initial expectations, I found love with a local man in China. Since that post, there’s been a rise of AMWF relationships in the media as well as a growing number of Asian men (and the western women who love them) speaking up and speaking out. With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices. I’ve also given some thought as to why I assumed I’d never find a man to date in China, an assumption that many western women living in Asia seem to make. Then, the reason finally came to me—a man that was such a small part of my past but who I’ve come to realize had a seemingly profound impact on how I viewed Asian men and perhaps even how I saw myself.

It was freshman year of college and I was in a dating slump. The good news was that I got along fabulously with the other girls I lived with in my dormitory suite. There were five of us in total; I was the only one without a boyfriend. The two girls in the room next door, Laura and Erin, each were dating guys who attended a university on the other side of our state, which meant they were away most weekends visiting their beaus. I don’t know whose idea it was, theirs or mine, but somehow we came up with the idea of me having a blind date with one of their boyfriends’ friends. They quickly ran through their mental rolladexes (this was, of course, pre-Facebook). Who among these friends would be a good match? Laura looked up suddenly. “We should set you up with Johnny!” she exclaimed. “Yeah, he’s really cute!” Erin assured me. They shuffled through all the junk in their dorm room, eventually scrounging up a photo. Laura showed me his picture.

For a second, I was taken aback. I assumed he would be white, but he was in fact East Asian. I quickly admonished myself—what did it matter? He looked fairly cute from the photo and they eagerly sang his other praises: he was kind, smart, and 21 (old enough to buy us beer!). I decided to throw caution to the wind and join them on their next road trip across state, in hopes Johnny might be the man of my dreams. Or maybe someone fun to make-out with for the weekend. Whatever. When you’re 19 and in college, it hardly matters.

As fate would have it, Johnny was neither my future husband or make-out partner. The second I laid eyes on him I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I’m short. This guy? He was barely taller than me. He also weighed about 30 pounds less than me. The chemistry wasn’t there. I wanted a man who eclipsed me in size and strength, a man who would wrap me up into his arms and protect me from all danger. If Johnny was a little bigger and I a little smaller, maybe something could be there, I thought. Johnny, however, didn’t share my sentiments. He seemed very much into the idea of us becoming an item. He was smart enough to read my signals and not push me too hard, but he subtly pursued me that weekend and later, online.

I felt bad initially and even worse as time wore on. Johnny and I became closer friends while talking on MSN messenger and it became clear to me that he was suffering from a far worse dating slump than I was. He had been rejected over and over, to the point where he felt his efforts were futile. He was never going to find a girlfriend. I wanted to assure him that the right girl was out there, but I didn’t know how to do that without returning to an awkward conversation in which he asked why I didn’t like him. Eventually, our chats online became less frequent and I guiltily sighed with relief.

After that, I fell for my own perception bias. I viewed all Asian men as being smaller than me and therefore undatable. I assumed I could never again be attracted to them because I’d feel like an ogre in their presence. But then I came to China and discovered that Asian men come in all sizes and shapes. I also realized something else—a man’s true strength isn’t determined by his height in inches or weight in pounds; in the years since coming to China, I have found men attractive who had physiques similar to that of Johnny’s. And I have also realized that my own self-worth cannot be calculated by how small my jean size is. I don’t have to be thin for a man to find me beautiful.

I see now that I never gave Johnny a fair chance. Perhaps a romance could have blossomed and chemistry forged if I had had an open mind. Was I racist? Sizist? Self-loathing? I don’t know. But I don’t want to judge my 19-year-old self too harshly. I’m just glad that in time I was able to open myself up to the possibilities of dating cross-culturally and the idea of dating in China. I’m not sure where in the world I’d be today if I hadn’t.

Rosalie Zhao resides with her family in Hebei, China, where she writes a blog called Rosie in BJ.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

3 Myths About Failed Interracial & Intercultural Relationships

(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)
(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)

“Oh, I knew it would never work out…”

It’s a familiar phrase we’ve all heard time and again applied to relationships that failed. He wasn’t good enough for her. She couldn’t commit to anyone. They were always arguing.

But what if someone says this ONLY because it was an interracial and intercultural relationship?

Yikes.

Yes, when you choose to date outside the lines, even your breakup attracts a level of scrutiny that nobody should have to endure during this painful time.

What are some of the myths about failed interracial and intercultural relationships? Here are three major ones:

Myth #1: Racial and/or cultural differences mainly caused your breakup

Back when I started dating Chinese men years ago in China, I didn’t just encounter surprised looks from fellow foreigners; I also learned that many foreigners assumed it could never work out. Why? Because they believed the cultural differences were too great and would eventually bust our relationship.

Just substitute “racial differences” for “cultural differences” – that’s what you’ll hear back places like the US (and other Western countries) for relationships like mine.

Can race or culture play a role when interracial and intercultural relationships fail? Yes, sometimes. Race might get in the way if, say, your girlfriend’s racist grandpa won’t leave you alone about the fact that you’re Chinese. And I’ve met many a yangxifu (foreign wife of a Chinese man) griping about how their in-laws or even husbands don’t agree with them on how to raise the kids (sometimes, to the point of a divorce).

But it’s wrong to assume that race and/or culture is always the culprit for a breakup or divorce.

Sometimes, it’s just an issue of personality. After all, I’ve met so many yangxifu here in China – and every one of their husbands (and relationships) is unique and different. I think Susan Blumberg-Kason – author of the terrific memoir Good Chinese Wifeputs it perfectly in this interview about her book:

I wanted to show how people sometimes justify their relationship problems as cultural differences when they are involved with someone from another country. This happens with people from all over the world and isn’t unique to Asia by any means. What I’ve learned is that when something doesn’t sit well with someone, it doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t matter if this issue stems from a cultural difference or a personality one. Respect is crucial for a successful relationship.

Exactly!

Myth #2: You’ll never want to date someone else like your ex

Years ago when I first came to China, I fell fiercely in love with a Zhengzhou native who quickly became my steady boyfriend. I had never fallen so hopelessly in love with a man like this and I was completely charmed by him – from his rugged James Dean good looks to the romantic way he would wine and dine me out on the town. (For the first time in my life, I even pondered the prospect of marriage with him.)

Well, it all came crashing down on me months later when, while he studied abroad in Europe, we broke up. I wept for days over what I had secretly dubbed my first real adult love, asking myself again and again how this could have happened?

But not once did I ever say to myself, “I’ll never date Chinese men or Asian men again.”

You know, that wasn’t even the last time a Chinese guy would stomp all over my heart. I’ve had enough heartbreaking experiences to make one heck of a dramatic romance novel and then some. Still deep down I loved China so much and believed I would find a husband here. And sure enough, I did.

While I’m sure there will always be people who swear off dating someone from a certain race, culture or country, don’t assume it’s a given.

Myth #3: Your failed relationship proves why people shouldn’t date “outside the lines”

Remember the scandal a few years ago with Li Yang (the founder of Crazy English) and Kim Lee, where she posted the dramatic and frighteningly graphic photos of her bruised face on Chinese social media, putting a very public face to domestic violence. It was such a big story even the international news covered it, along with the divorce proceedings.

Yet I’m sure some folks read that story and concluded something like this: “Good god, why did she marry that Chinese man? She should have known it would never work.”

Yes, Kim Lee and Li Yang, a cautionary tale of why you should never date people outside the racial/cultural lines.

You could arguably say the same about Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir Good Chinese Wife, the heart-wrenching tale of her own personal “love affair with China gone wrong.”

But is it fair to come to these conclusions? Personally, I don’t think so.

It’s always a foregone conclusion that when people get together, a certain percentage of them will eventually break up or divorce. It happens all around the world. I’ve seen it happen in the yangxifu community in China over the years too (including this very public divorce).

While I’ve come across articles reporting divorce rates as higher among interracial and intercultural couples, I’ve also met many Western women who found their happily-ever-after with a guy from China. (John and I have passed the 10-year mark in our marriage and I still love him just as much as when we first met.)

Divorce or breakup doesn’t have to be the obvious conclusion to an intercultural or interracial relationship. So why should anyone use a broken up or divorced couple to represent every intercultural or interracial relationship?

Meanwhile, those people who do break up or divorce have enough trouble to deal with – heartache, stress and, in the case of divorce, all sorts of unpleasant legal issues that will keep you up late at night. The last thing they need is someone holding them up as a “bad example” or another “I told you so!”

Ugh.

As I often say on this blog, love just happens – and sometimes, it happens to create an interracial or intercultural couple.

Whether you’re happily coupled up, contemplating a split, already apart, or hoping to land your perfect partner, here’s hoping for a little less judgment and a little more understanding in the world for all of our messy, imperfect but ultimately beautiful lives.

3 Challenging Things About Meeting the Parents for People in Intercultural/Interracial Relationships

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When John first told his parents about me, here’s what his father said: “You can be friends with foreign women but not date them.”

Anxious doesn’t even start to describe the way I felt after John said this to me. And, believe me, I had reason to worry. My previous relationship with a Chinese guy ended in an ugly breakup simply because he could never take me home to meet the parents. He said his mom and dad would never accept having a foreign woman in the family. Ever.

Yikes!

Growing up in a very white, very middle class suburb of Midwestern America did nothing to prepare me for surviving meeting the parents in China. It’s the complete opposite from the casual way I used to shake hands and chat with a white guy’s mom and dad back in America, even on the first date! How was I supposed to know that meeting the parents in China was as serious as an engagement announcement, a promise of wedding bells in the near future? For that matter, how could I have ever guessed on the many other cultural pitfalls on the pathway to becoming the foreign wife of a Chinese man?

Here are four things that I’ve found challenging about meeting the parents and family in intercultural and international relationships:

1. When the Family Doesn’t Want You to Date

When your boyfriend’s father says you should be friends but not date, it’s the polar opposite of getting that ever-coveted family blessing. And even if your boyfriend smiles and reassures you it’s not a big deal (like John did), in your mind you’re envisioning all of the future family feuding over your relationship. And, quite possibly, a breakup on the horizon.

Sigh.

Yes, it’s a huge headache and then some. Still, John and I survived it, all because he insisted on staying by my side. (Never thought I would say this, but thank goodness for John’s stubbornness!) We’re living proof that you can indeed overcome this, provided you and your partner are totally committed to the relationship. Just realize you might be in for a very bumpy ride if the parents initially say “no” – the kind that could make the movie “Meet the Parents” look like kindergarten stuff.

2. When Relatives Say Totally Inappropriate Things About Your Relationship

Back in May, I ran a guest post from the blogger behind Big Asian Package, a Chinese American guy who shared his crushing experience meeting the family of his white girlfriend:

“Are you happy about those secrets?” said a voice from beside me.

“What? I’m sorry?” I said. It was my girlfriend’s grandpa.

“The nuclear secrets. I know you came here to steal from us,” said her grandpa,

“I go to school…” I say, protesting.

“You’re Chinese, I know you are,” he says quietly, triumphantly, like he’s got me checkmated.

“Yes,” I say, now seriously confused, not quite believing what I’m hearing.

Oh my. There’s nothing like a racist comment or two from grandpa to turn meeting the family into one of the most chilling experiences you’ll ever have.

Sometimes it’s not even a direct attack, but an assumption based on stereotypes or prejudice. Like how I’ve heard some relatives praise John for being great at computers (because, of course, all Chinese are that way….). If only they knew that my husband calls on me for all things computer and tech-related. (I’m the one who just set up his new smartphone!)

People have even expressed concern about the fact that John and I have a bilingual relationship, and have cautioned us against speaking one language too much over another. (Insert image of me banging my head on a wall.)

What makes this super-hard is the fact that you’re often related to the people in question. You’re not exactly going to win points with family by calling grandpa a racist.

That doesn’t mean you always have to let these things go. Over the years, I’ve had some really thoughtful conversations with family about racism and prejudice. John and I have educated relatives about what modern racism actually looks like (it’s not what you think it is) and, in the process, become even closer as a family. Who’d have thought you could bond over stuff like this?

3. When the Family Gets Confused by Your Relationship

Yocelyn of My Chinese Boyfriend voiced another issue with meeting the parents:

I don’t think our families could comprehend our relationship at first. They were too confused by it. 😛

What happens if parents aren’t in opposition to you, but they just don’t understand why you would want to be with this person?

I’ve only ever experienced this with other expats – people totally mystified by how a white American woman would even think of dating Chinese men in China. Let me tell you, it already hurts even when someone you’re not related to suddenly thinks it’s weird to date this amazing person you’re deeply in love with. I can only imagine the pain you’d feel when people who you’re stuck with by marriage or blood think this way about your relationship.

Love just happens between two people for good reasons. Why can’t the people we care about understand why we love someone as well?

Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will always understand us 100 percent of the time, including relatives. Which means that some of us will get the questions and odd looks from family when we decide to date “outside the box”, so to speak.

I don’t know that I can say anything to make a situation like this better. I’d like to hope that things will get better for you with time, and chances are they will, but who really knows?

Still, whatever challenges you face with the family, remember that you’re not alone. There are lots of people out there in interracial, intercultural and (like in my case) international relationships who have survived all sorts of familial scrutiny. People like me, who have lived to tell the tale – and will be happy to listen to your stories, nodding as we say, “Yes, I’ve been there and I’m here for you too.”

Wanted: More Guest Posts from Asian Men on Love, Dating and More

(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com)

Today’s the first day of May (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in the US) and it’s the perfect time to put out my latest call for submissions. If you’re an Asian man and you have something to say about love and dating, I want to hear from you!

Here’s a snippet from an anonymous reader’s e-mail that inspired me to put this call for submissions:

The simple thing is that many of us Asian men have a very hard time escaping not only our own paradigms of the world, but the paradigms of American white women. I know that the only paradigm we can really change is ours. Change our paradigm and soon how the world looks at us changes, too. But that paradigm has such a powerful hold on our lives that I find myself constantly falling back upon my old thought patterns of worthless and asexuality. And I work out and have been improving my fashion sense and people skills for the past couple of years!

Here’s where I hope that an influential site such as yours can help to effect the change I want to see in the world. The majority of your posts seem to be mainly about couples in China. Would it be possible to get a balance of couples in America, models that men like me can see and then believe in the possibility of love where skin color do not exist?

I think it would also be a great idea for your blog to have guest posts by men who were able to overcome their f***ed up beliefs, gain more confidence in themselves, and what they did to find love.

Additionally, this post by Big Asian Package also gave me an extra nudge:

Asian men, bros, let me have your attention for a moment. I don’t need to tell you about the discrimination, you’re living in it. You have to act if you want change. It’s a hostile environment, but the ladies are leading the charge, kicking all kinds of ass, and you’re not helping enough. So don’t think of it in terms of modesty, privacy, or hassle; think of it in terms of picking up a fair share of the work that we all agree needs to be done. Write your experiences. They are worthwhile.

Exactly!

So, what should you write about? Here’s a sampling:

  • Stories of how you found interracial love (that classic tale of how you met and, if you married, how you tied the knot)
  • Stories about how you were able to gain confidence in dating and overcome barriers (such as stereotypes and racism)
  • Your personal experiences with interracial dating anywhere in the world

Of course, you’re welcome to write about anything that you feel fits within the scope of this blog. See my blog’s tagline above for starters or peruse my submit a post page for additional ideas.

I’m looking forward to your submissions and can’t wait to hear from the men out there!

The “love, location, career” dilemma for Chinese men/Western women in love

John and I knew exactly where we wanted to live and work in the future: China. But these decisions don't always come easy for other couples -- and sometimes lead to breakups.
John and I knew exactly where we wanted to live and work in the future: China. But these decisions don’t always come easy for other couples — and sometimes lead to breakups.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a certain e-mail finds its way into my Ask the Yangxifu inbox. The story usually goes like this: Chinese boy who was born and raised in China meets Western girl, they fall crazy in love and the future seems ripe with possibilities for the two of them…until reality hits in the form of a few simple questions. What about our careers? Where will we live?

So when I receive these questions — which are invariably confidential — it either happens that 1) the couple can’t decide where to live (often China versus her Western country) because each country somehow handicaps one person career-wise, or 2) the relationship ended because one or both of them gave up.

Whenever people talk about Chinese-Western international marriages, you would think that language or culture pose the greatest barriers. But when it comes to Chinese men and Western women in love, this “love, location, career” dilemma more often threatens an otherwise outstanding relationship. Career options aren’t always the same for both people in his home country (China or another Asian country) versus hers. Sometimes, when a couple can’t reach an agreement, they sadly break up — just as my Chinese ex and I did years ago.

At the time, he had moved from China to a European country for university and hoped I would follow him and, in his words, “be his wife.” It sounded glorious at first when he whispered this to in my arms…but not when I discovered the unappealing possibilities for a US national in this European country (not to mention all of the visa headaches for me). It didn’t help that his phone calls, e-mails and other communications dwindled over time, until an entire month passed without a single e-mail from him. So on top of the whole “where to live/work” issue, I also started doubting our very relationship — the foundation of everything we had together. In the end, I had to say, “Enough!” I couldn’t justify all of the headaches of moving to this country when he couldn’t make the time to even write me a simple e-mail or call me.

My face was glazed with tears the day that I called him and said I couldn’t move there. I knew our relationship would collapse and sure enough, we broke things off officially in the weeks that followed. But looking back, I also realize that — in a sense — he determined our fate the moment he put down a deposit for that European university. He was fluent in English and could easily have chosen to study abroad in the US, my home country…but he didn’t, citing a personal distaste for America.

Hence I learned my first lesson in cross-cultural relationships: love isn’t always enough. When you add into the mix each person’s careers and dreams (often linked with a specific country or place in the world, especially if a person only speaks one language) it complicates things in a way that couples from the same country would hardly understand.

I think about my stepsister, for example, who is happily married to her college sweetheart. They both were born and raised in the Cleveland, Ohio region in the US and, naturally, always wanted to settle and build their careers up there as well. There was never any question about what country might offer the two of them the most opportunities and most benefits, no tug-of-war about living here versus there or somewhere else.

Nothing like what I experienced with my ex-boyfriend in China. It was his lifelong dream to reside in this European country, so naturally he wanted to study abroad there. But his dreams clashed completely with mine. Granted, I was still trying to find my way in the world at the time. But the longer I pondered moving there with him, the more I intuitively realized I just didn’t belong in that country — that following him would be a colossal mistake.

With my husband John, though, the choices were a lot easier and, in the end, much more obvious. John had always envisioned getting educated in the US and then bringing his talents back to China to start a business. We had discussed this years before when we started dating, developing a long-term plan together to help him achieve his dreams. But it’s not as if I was putting his needs before mine. In fact, China made sense for me personally and professionally for a variety of reasons…not to mention that I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese, absolutely love this place, and find endless inspiration here for my writing.

Unfortunately, decisions don’t always come so easy.

For example, I’ve heard from couples where she wants to settle in her home country in the West for career reasons, but he doesn’t for reasons of his own (he can’t speak the language, he has better opportunities in China). I’ve also met couples who decided to live in her country, only to realize even more problems with his career — for example, people don’t value his degree from China. Even gaining an education in her country offers no guarantees of employment, as prospective employers may discriminate against him.

Then there’s the flip side — he says, “Let’s live in China,” and she’s not sure. Maybe she struggles with Mandarin Chinese or can’t even say a word. Or she spent years studying in a certain field — which offers few or no opportunities in China — and doesn’t want to abandon her chosen career.

How should Chinese men and Western women handle a “love, location, career” dilemma? Here are some of my thoughts:

Support, support, support. He’s into pharmacy, she dreams of being a physical therapist. Whatever your partner’s work dreams are, you should say, “More power to you!” In other words, support them.

Think about both of your respective careers first and foremost. Don’t get caught up in finding the ideal for your own career — instead, the question you should be asking is, “What’s good for both of us?”

Don’t fall into the “sacrifice your job for my sake” trap either. I’ve heard of couples, where one person expects the other to quit their careers or jobs for all sorts of reasons — but that should honestly be your last resort, if at all. It breeds resentment (i.e., “How come I have to make the sacrifice and he/she doesn’t?”), and resentment is not a good bedfellow in any relationship.

Compromises sometimes have to be made — but if so, give it an expiration date. For example, my husband washed dishes in a restaurant in the US, but we both agreed he would only do this for half a year. I also know of an American woman considering teaching English in China for a year, which would give her the chance to remain closer to her fiancee while they apply for his US green card from China.

Never choose places over him/her. Preferences and prejudices about where to live and work can sometimes wreck an otherwise awesome international relationship. For example, my Chinese ex could have chosen to go to the US; maybe that wasn’t his dream location, but he would have had no problem finding endless universities with his field of study (a very popular one) and I would have had no problems finding a job. Instead, he prioritized geography over me — and contributed to our eventual breakup.

If you and your partner both agree on where to live (like John and me) you’re fortunate! If not, look for locations that benefit both of you career-wise. It could be your home countries or even a third country or region. For example, one American woman married to a fellow from Northeast China agreed to try living in the US first, with Hong Kong and Singapore as backup options.

Back to school. Sometimes all you or your partner needs is a little education — whether graduate school or business school — and suddenly you end up with a great location for everyone in the relationship. I know several couples of American women and Chinese men who are moving to the US, where both husband and wife will enroll in graduate school. Studying Mandarin Chinese at one of China’s many universities (like Sara Jaaksola) can offer foreign women a wealth of career opportunities in China.

It’s the relationship, stupid. Still butting heads over London versus Shanghai? Sometimes that’s just a symptom and the real issue is your relationship. Look at my Chinese ex — he didn’t e-mail me for an entire month, proving that we had bigger issues going on in our relationship.

If you have a relationship problem and both of you feel motivated to work on it, consider relationship counseling.

What do you think? What advice do you have for couples struggling over where to work and live?

Why limit yourself? Logan Lo shares his interracial dating story

(photo by kevin dooley via Flickr.com)

Logan Lo wrote, “Life limits you enough, why do it to yourself?” That’s true in many things, including the dating scene he writes about today in his guest post. An Asian-American blogger in New York City who authored the book The Men Made of Stone, Logan stepped outside of his own comfort zone in interracial dating — and eventually met his Irish/Italian-American wife.

Thanks so much to Logan for sharing his story!

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When America was young, the last place you’d expect to be the preeminent United States city was New York. After all, it was solidly occupied by the British for the entirety of the war. It should have been Boston, Philadelphia, or even Charleston.

But a great fire happened in 1776, which burned much of Manhattan; so much so that the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 allowed them to re-map city streets into the current, orderly, grid-pattern. Immigrants – like my parents – who then came to America found that they could navigate the streets, even if they couldn’t speak the language well.

We all have these fires in our lives, don’t we? And we face that choice to let it leave us broken, unchanged, or better.

Essentially, all of your life’s problems can be divided up into three categories: Health, wealth, and relationships. When I was 33, all three of these things took a massive hit. It was my great fire, if you will.

As I tried to right myself, took it as an opportunity to not just get my life back to where it once was, but to make it better.

Health and wealth each probably deserves their own entries so let’s just talk about relationships.

On that front, I realized that, like most people, I just kind of ended up with the people I dated. They were always women that were just hanging around with people I hung around with and we just gravitated towards each other. At 33 years of age, I never walked up to a total stranger and said, “Hi, what’s your name?”

So that’s exactly what I did for few years.

Along the way, in addition to meeting and finding out about all of these really interesting people, I found out more about myself.

For example, I learned that there are a lot of 22-year-old women out there in the party scene. Unfortunately, I also learned that 22 year olds and 34 year olds generally do not have a lot in common.

Something I found out about myself was that I liked girls with colored eyes.

It’s just a thing. Everyone has a thing.

But this particular thing meant that I – as an Asian-American – was often asking out people that weren’t Asian. And I heard something so often that I had a pat answer for it:

Her: You’re the first Asian guy I’ve ever been attracted to.
Me: Ah, you’re missing out. We’re lovely. Plus, wait until you meet the really good looking ones.

Which brings me to the point of this post and the most important thing I learned about myself during those dating years: Life limits you enough, why do it to yourself?

Let me be honest and tell you that the first year or so of me talking to complete strangers was absolutely terrifying. I’d never done anything like that before. I always had one reason or another to do it because it was outside my comfort zone.

After all, things outside your comfort zone are, by definition, uncomfortable.

And when you’re not comfortable, you either stop what you’re doing or stop making excuses and deal with the discomfort. I decided to do the latter.

I cannot tell you the number of times where I’m out with friends and one of them shot themselves down before someone else could.

Him: Let’s get outta here.
Me: Why?
Him: There’re four or five guys to every girl here.
Me: Come on, we’re having a good time. (laughing) Besides, there’re four or five regular guys to every girl here. There’s only one set of you and me. These, my friend, are great odds.

Along the way, I met a beautiful girl who has become my favorite person in the world. She has green eyes, an easy laugh, and a surprising tolerance for all my little idiosyncrasies.

And I was the only non-white person my wife ever dated. And this was true with almost all of the women I dated.

The thing is, I wouldn’t be happily married to my favorite person in the world, nor have met all these people, if I let kept shooting myself down before someone else had the chance to do so.

Do you know the story of the four-minute mile?

Essentially, for thousands of years, it was thought that it was impossible that someone could run a mile in less than four minutes. But in 1954, a fella named Roger Bannister ran it in 3:59.4 minutes.

Since 1954, so many people have broken the “four-minute barrier” that’s it’s gone from an impossibility to “the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.”

Even more interesting is the fact that Bannister did it while he was a full-time medical student! The world limited him enough and he chose not to do it to himself.

So then, I end this entry with a conversation I had dozens of times while I was out and about.

Me: So what’s your story morning glory?
Her: (rolling eyes) Does that line really work?
Me: You’re talking to me aren’t you?
Her: (laughs)

Life limits you enough. Why do it to yourself?

Logan Lo is a native New Yorker who’s been blogging since 2006. In between practicing law by day and teaching Filipino fencing by night, he’s managed to get married and write a popular article on online dating titled “eHarmony vs. Match,” as well as a book on Asian gangs titled The Men Made of Stone. He currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and his plant, Harold.

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We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love — or out of love — to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.