Question 1: How do you feel the expat life affects you as an independent, feminist woman looking for a husband in Confucian cultural settings? Has moving around complicated your search? What relationships worked and why?
I will answer this to the best of my ability. I’ll start with the second question as I believe moving around did complicate my search to meet someone. When you move around a lot it can be harder to meet someone than if you stay in the same spot. However, I don’t think that is impossible. I was single for almost six years, a year and a half in the USA, (8 months and 7 months), 4 years in Korea, and 4 months in China. It went USA, Korea, USA, China.
But, I won’t say that moving around has complicated it as much as my own self complicated it. When I first was living in the USA and then chose to move to Korea, I just came out of a divorce. So I wasn’t ready to meet someone new right away, as time went on I was wondering why I wasn’t meeting anyone and I realized I had a lot of work to do on myself. So slowly through the last two years in Korea, I began to deal with my own inner demons and start to love myself more. People always told me I had to love myself for someone else to love me and I didn’t want to believe that as plenty of people who don’t love themselves are in relationships. So I began to do the work, I met the occasional person and went on a date, but I never clicked with anyone. This was around the time I was contemplating what to do with my life and I wasn’t sure.
So, I went on vacation to Tibet, and decided fuck this I don’t want to be here anymore. So I went home not knowing what I wanted to do, but after 7 months I moved to China to be closer to Tibet, which I wanted to visit more before deciding what to do with life. I should add that I really wasn’t expecting to meet anyone nor did I think it would go somewhere with someone I had been talking to from there, which it didn’t because I was smart enough to eventually move on and realize my worth. (This is why working on and loving myself was so important. It took me awhile, but I finally found my worth and shortly after I realized I deserve to be treated well, I met someone.) However, I decided to take the chance and go to be where I wanted. I had wanted to see more of Tibet for years since high school I believe and I had put it on the back burner. I told myself it is only 8 months of my life, if I really don’t like it I can always move home after 8 months and start again. I think this was the most important realization for me during these six years.
I also was told several times by many people that I should just go home or stay where I was if I wanted to find love. That I could not travel and find love at the same time. I hated that fucking answer and never believed it. I think it is absolutely possible to be able to do both, it just might take longer than normal.
Although I really wanted to stay in Korea, had many friends in Korea, I spoke the language well, and I understood a lot of the culture, I just felt like I didn’t belong and it was time to go. That was a hard decision to make, because I wanted to stay and I didn’t want to start all over again. But starting over again is what I needed to do. I needed time to relax and regroup with family and friends and to head to a new place after. I’ve met amazing new friends here and it has given me an appreciation for how my life has unfolded, including my love life. I think being open and honest with where you are in life and if the place you are at is somewhere where you can see yourself is a good question. I think that it can take longer to find love as an expat, but I don’t think it is impossible. For me it is still hard to accept that the timeline I had wanted in life has long passed and my life is going to happen on the timeline I didn’t want it to. That is life and I’m slowly beginning to embrace those changes. I don’t want to say give up or lose hope, instead I would say find the things you like and try not to be too much of a planner. I think what helped the most was just going with the flow more.
I’ll also add to that, don’t be afraid to follow the wrong choices. Sometimes we meet people and we think maybe things will go somewhere or they are a good friend, and it turns out not how we imagined in our minds. But at the end of the day that person may have been serving a purpose in helping you find out what you are looking for in life or where you want to go in life. So I like to think each person we meet, helps us on our life journey and it was never a waste of time or we wouldn’t be where we are now.
As for the first question about finding a husband in confucian cultural settings, I think part of it is proximity and age. If I never left the USA, I would try and find a husband back home who lived near me most likely. But because I live overseas the vast majority of men around me grew up in a culture with different values to me. However, the values in each country are continuously changing.
I think being an independent woman while living in Korea and China has been interesting. To be honest, I am all for gender equality, but I’m also someone who doesn’t mind traditional roles of a woman. I really enjoy cooking and I find cleaning relaxing. I’ve always dreamt of having my own family, taking care of them, and raising them. So in many ways, as independent as I am I also embrace a lot of traditional roles. But, I think that men should also help when it comes to things such as cooking, cleaning, and caretaking. Back home you may find more men who do more than those in our father’s generation, but in reality no matter where you are in most places women take on the majority of household roles. Do I think it should change? Yes. And I think it will change slowly around the world as more people have access to an education and get to see more styles of living to decide how they want to live. For me, if a woman is okay being in a traditional role then there is nothing wrong with that, that is her choice and I will respect it.
As independent as I am, I also believe that since I chose to live in this country then I should also learn what the cultural norms are. They are not going to be the same as back home. I might not like all of them or agree with some of them, but as a guest here it is my job to respect and learn the local culture. I have a rule for myself, in my house I will live how I want and how I see fit, and this will come as a compromise and agreement between me and my partner. It is a bridge between cultures. When I am in someone’s house I will abide by the local culture, however, when people view me as a guest I won’t necessarily be treated the same as a local would. This is something to keep in mind when planning to meet someone from a different place and culture.
I think if you are looking for a husband where you currently are you have to ask yourself if you are okay with the culture. Are you okay with the inner workings of the culture? Or are you only okay with the youth culture? Are you okay being part of traditional roles such as cooking and preparing for holidays? Are you prepared to serve food for guests, while men may sit and not help? Are you prepared to possibly live with your in-laws? Are you prepared to adopt parts of their culture? Or is it your way or the highway? Are you willing to learn about holidays, culture, food, and the language? Or are you only expecting them to adopt to yours?
I think there is nothing wrong with being independent, but I think you should ask yourself some of the other questions for the long haul. You would have encountered them back home as well. I believe that my house is different than my neighbor’s house, and when I have children I hope to have a blending of the best of both cultures. There are things you aren’t going to like, or will question. Ask a local about the culture, why is it this way? What do you think about women doing this? Or men doing that?
For example, my boyfriend is Tibetan, so he wasn’t raised with confucian values, but traditional Tibetan values. Some of those values are universal around the world, like the roles of men and women and their expected duties. He doesn’t agree with some of them, but he also recognizes sometimes it is hard to change because it is so ingrained in the culture. Women traditionally cook, but he is the only male in his family that cooks. He is one of five, one older sister, two older brothers and one younger brother. He took a job as a cook while living in a city so he learned how to cook and is actually a much better cook than I am! He also cooks a lot for his family, so he breaks with tradition that way. He also helps clean the house, not as much as I do, but he is a hard worker and is willing to help where needed. He always says thank you if I have been cleaning, or cooking. I always tell him thank you when he cooks. Sometimes even showing appreciation is acknowledging someone’s hard work. He believes women and men are equal, and should be treated that way, but he warned me that most of the people in his village haven’t begun to think that way yet. So when we are visiting, don’t be surprised by that. He says things are changing slowly as there is more access to education and videos showing the importance of equality, but it is still slow going and a lot of materials aren’t easily accessible for many as it isn’t in their language.
The only relationship that has worked so far is the one I am currently in because we both have patience, respect, and dedication to each other. And a whole lot of love! We started this relationship unable to utter more than hello , thank you, eat, drink, to each other. Relying on translation apps to convey the harder things, but we both have been committed in making strides to learn together. I spent 6 weeks with his family in the summer to see how they live, what a normal day was like and to help improve my language skills. My language skills improved slowly, but we still had minor disagreements because a lot of things were lost in translation. Or don’t roll your eyeballs if you can’t explain it. ( That was me.) In September, he came to live with me and over the last four months my Tibetan has gotten much much better. I can say little sentences, and tell simple stories and ask questions. My listening is much better than my speaking. He can now speak some simple English sentences and understand more of what I am saying as well. We barely use the translation app now unless it is absolutely needed.
Why is this one working? Because we are both actively trying to learn about each other. We want to speak each other’s language fluently and we want to hear stories about each other. We talk to each other about the future and how to raise our future children. We talk about the differences between Tibetans and Americans. When we make cultural mistakes we correct each other. And explain why it is bad and that we shouldn’t do that next time. We compliment each other and say thank you when someone does something kind or good for us. All relationships require work, but I think when you meet someone from a different place than you it is important to work hard to make a relationship successful. I think if you are in a cross-cultural relationship you need to express interest in the other person’s language, culture, food, etc. I think both parties need to be open-minded to each other and realize you were raised differently and think differently. You might not agree on everything, but if you are open with each other then you both have the capacity to learn and grow together.