One of my first romantic encounters with the opposite sex was when, in the seventh grade, a boy (I’ll call him Carlos) asked me if I would go out with him. I liked Carlos and Carlos liked me back, so I told him yes.
Yet, even at the tender age of twelve, I was apprehensive as to how my parents would react to my newfound romantic interest. My parents had never explicitly told me I couldn’t date before, but their reaction to me even hanging out with boys had been frigid with a lot of the stern glances that Asian parents know how to wield so well. Also, Carlos was Latino, not Korean, so I knew my parents would disapprove on the basis of race.
Although I tried to hide my little middle-school relationship from my parents, my shrewd mother found out and forced me to break things off with Carlos; all because she and my dad felt that I was too young to date and needed to focus on school rather than boys. Ever since then, throughout middle school and high school, my parents made it very clear to me that they didn’t want me dating. To them, boys were an unnecessary distraction to my studies and just the sort of thing that could turn their good Asian daughter into a troublemaker.
So you can imagine my surprise when one day, in the summer before I started college, my mother suddenly asked me if I had a boyfriend. She was folding laundry while I was watching TV, and she casually slipped this question into the conversation.
“Are you dating anyone?” asked my mother, in Korean. I could only stare at her for a few seconds and then reply with a quick “No”.
“Why not? You know, you need to get married soon,” she said, “before it’s too late!”
“Mom, what are you saying? I’m not even in college yet,” I replied, in utter disbelief. When I asked her why she wasn’t more concerned about my brother’s romantic life (since he’s older than me), she informed me that guys stay “good” for far longer than girls, who age quickly and are only beautiful for a short while. According to my mother, if I didn’t get a boyfriend and get married to him soon, it would be hard for me to find a husband later on in life (when I’m presumably too old and ugly).
Upon hearing these oh-so-charming gender expectations, I could only roll my eyes and throw my hands up in exasperation. Still, I couldn’t help but feel shocked at my mother’s attitude change towards me dating because it almost seemed like it happened overnight. How does one go from banning all boys to practically demanding a wedding date?
Judging from what my other Asian friends have told me, I’m not the only one who has gotten caught in the epiphany that our parents have about our romantic lives. Asian girls and guys alike, forced at a young age by our parents to hit the books and stay at home rather than going out on dates, suddenly find ourselves bombarded by questions like: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend yet?”, “Why don’t you try and meet a nice Korean (or Chinese, Japanese, etc.) girl?”, and “When are you going to get married?”
Unlike most conventional American households where parents cover “the birds and the bees” and are fairly open to their children dating at a young age, those of us from Asian families are often discouraged from even thinking about dating for most of our youth. My parents, like many other Asian parents, never went over “the birds and the bees” with me or my siblings, so everything I knew about romance and dating, I had to glean from teenage novels, word of mouth, and chick flicks. I’m pretty sure there is no Asian equivalent to “the birds and the bees” because Asian parents just don’t talk about it. Period. If there is, I think it would go something like this:
You meet boy (or girl).
You meet parents.
You get married.
And yet one day, the demand for a spouse is thrust upon us when we reach the age that our parents deem to be “good”. Frustrating, right? How are we supposed to enjoy committed relationships at the drop of a hat when we’ve been romantically stunted for all these years? As I get ready to go back home to my parents for the holidays, I find myself mentally preparing for their endless barrage of inquiries about my romantic life and my nonexistent boyfriend. But then again, as any Asian person can tell you, not even the ring on your finger will stop Asian parents from digging into your personal lives.