A lot of foreign girlfriends I meet wonder how Chinese girlfriends have such doting boyfriends.
They wonder about the dynamics of these relationships that produce boyfriends who are attentive, adoring, and even willing to do all household chores. Often, these foreign girlfriends wonder whether they will be able to have such boyfriends too. Well, I can tell you that anyone can be a Chinese girlfriend, if you are able to enforce some basic rules.
Here are some of the things my boyfriend is required to do:
• carry my purse in public
• not complain about carrying my purse in public
• text me his coordinates every hour outside of school/work hours
• spend the weekend with me (except in special circumstances)
• befriend only married female classmates/colleagues
• cook exquisite meals
• buy me a thoughtful present every month
• coax me into forgiving him when he makes a mistake
I’m using the term “Chinese girlfriend/s” loosely.
What I mean by this term is, certain Chinese girls living in Shanghai.
What I really mean by this term is, ME, so don’t get your panties all in a twist.
I just like the idea that I represent an entire population because I have the best boyfriend in the world. Just take “Chinese girlfriend/s” as “girls who act like I do.”
I also use the term “foreign girlfriend/s” loosely. It just refers to “girls who don’t act like I do, because they are from a different culture, so are less likely to know how to act like I do without these specific instructions.”
When foreign girlfriends think they have their boyfriends under control, they have no idea what control really means.
For example, my foreign friend who thinks she is rather strict with her boyfriend (who lives in nearby Hangzhou) requires that he calls her for at least 15 minutes every night before bed so they can catch up and tell each other about everything going on in their lives. He must also come visit her in Shanghai at least once a month.
My response: Are you kidding me?! When my boyfriend went to Nanjing on a six-month internship, I required the following:
• a phone call in the mornings before work
• a text during lunch breaks
• a text when leaving work
• a 1,000-character email in the evenings, emoticons not counted
• a phone call before bed to tell me anything he may have left out
• visits every weekend, except in exceptional circumstances (such as company events on Saturday, in which case I went to visit him)
Foreign girlfriends are extremely obsessed with giving their boyfriends enough “space.” In my own small-scale study, a comparison of my 8 foreign girlfriend colleagues and 10 Chinese girlfriend colleagues, 99% of the foreign girlfriends said giving their boyfriends lots of freedom and “breathing room” was important for a healthy relationship.
By contrast, 0% of the Chinese girlfriends felt the same way.
Instead, all these Chinese girlfriends argued that allowing some distance and so-called “freedom” for themselves and their boyfriends meant they were not committed to the relationship, and that their failure to put tight leashes on their partners meant it would be their fault if the men strayed.
What Chinese girlfriends understand is that for any relationship to succeed, you must throw yourself 100% into it. Sometimes, that 100% seems like clinginess, insecurity, and neediness to foreigners, but it is actually good for Chinese men’s psyches. An attentive and demanding girlfriend is a girlfriend who cares. Chinese girlfriends ask for 100% but also give 100% back.
I am willing to do things that many foreign women find uncomfortable, such as pluck my boyfriend’s unibrow in public, do his homework, throw tantrums in public. But all this is for my man’s confidence, even the tantrums; it shows that he means the world to a beautiful Chinese girl.
He is an all-important man capable of provoking female passions.
Unlike many foreign girlfriends who give up hope and break up with their boyfriends when the inevitable disagreements happen, Chinese girlfriends see arguments as positive occurrences that continuously develop the relationship.
But our way of showing displeasure is unique.
Foreign couples are vocal, which leads to more problems when neither partner is willing to concede defeat.
An argument with a Chinese girlfriend, on the other hand, goes like this:
Chinese girlfriend (CG): How dare you!
Boyfriend (B): Huh?
CG: Not talking to you! Hurt my feelings!
B: Baby, what did I do wrong?
CG: [No reply, turns her back to him.]
B: Baby, I’m so sorry…
CG: [A delicate tear falls down her cheek, followed by a sob.]
B: Please forgive me, I’ll never hurt you again.
CG: [Turns her teary face to him with a forgiving smile.]
B: I love you! [Wraps his arms around her.]
Now, in the above situation, the Chinese girlfriend is able to make it known to her boyfriend that he has done something to upset her, but she does not make him lose face by explaining exactly what it is he has done wrong. That he understands he was wrong is enough.
Then, she gives him the chance to hōng 哄 her, or coax her into forgiving him. This way, she gives him the fun of a challenge, confidence in his coaxing abilities, and the pleasure of a successful re-wooing.
Chinese girlfriends can get away with things that foreign girlfriends can’t. Foreign girlfriends call their boyfriends by sweet endearments — “Honey,” “sweetheart,” “darling,” that sort of thing.
But for Chinese girlfriends, the real sign of affection is in insult. The top three things I call my boyfriend:
1. 猪头 Zhū tóu, meaning “pig head,” “moron.” Very popular among young Chinese.
2. 阿呆 Ādāi, meaning “dummy.” Comparable to foreign habit of affectionately and occasionally referring to your little brother as dummy. Except, you know, I use it for my boyfriend, constantly.
3. 窝囊废 Wōnángfèi, meaning “good-for-nothing,” “loser.” When I told a foreign colleague that I liked calling my boyfriend these things, she looked really upset, like she wanted to cry or something. She actually had to leave the office, take the rest of the day off.
What an Ādāi herself! But it was okay; the next day, she was back at work, and brought along this book about real Chinese words used by Chinese people, called Niubi! by one Eveline Chao. My colleague had highlighted this passage, which she said helped her understand my flippant meanness:
…Chinese people, perhaps as a result of their collective thick skin, tend to demonstrate affection by being mean. Or rather, they speak frankly to each other in a way that, for them, indicates a level of familiarity that only a close relationship can have. But, to outside observers, it resembles, at best, a sort of constant, low-level stream of verbal abuse. For a young Chinese woman, there is no better way to express love for her boyfriend than by whacking him with her purse while telling him he’s horrible.
Wow, I thought when I read this. I whacked my boyfriend while telling him he was horrible last week.
It’s been too long; I must remember to do it again today.
Chinese girlfriends can order their boyfriends to pay attention to them. Foreign girlfriends can only hope that their charming qualities, patience and understanding will instill such devotion. They have to tip-toe around their own wants, needs and longings and try to persuade themselves that they are modern women who don’t need a “suffocating” male presence in their lives and that they don’t have the time to “smother” anyone either.
Foreign girlfriends care too much about respecting their boyfriends’ individuality. By contrast, Chinese girlfriends believe that the best way to nurture a relationship is by stripping their boyfriends of individuality, so that existence as a couple – complete with its many rules and expectations — is the only existence these men will know, and be able to survive in.
P.S. Writer CHINESE GIRLFRIEND is channeling Amy Chua of current parenting-controversy fame, whose piece in the Wall Street Journal was hilarious… and hilariously bad. However, her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which I am in the middle of, is a very funny, touching, self-effacing, complicated work. The 1-star reviews of the book appear to be mostly from people who haven’t read it and are reacting to the WSJ piece. Pity. Update: Have finished Chua’s book. One of the best memoirs ever. Instant classic. When she starts obsessing over whether she can train her dog like she trained her daughters, you know she’s started to doubt herself.