Cultural Dynamics: Love and Marriage

My parents are married.

They have the legal papers to prove it. They’re yellowed and old like antique documents and they’re in Chinese.

They file for taxes together, sign property papers together, make mortgage payments together, have joint bank accounts.

They call themselves husband and wife, if asked.

They don’t fight… much.

They get along and even though sometimes he rolls his eyes when he thinks she’s being a little insensible or silly and sometimes she’ll sigh with frustration when she thinks he’s being lazy and unhelpful, they don’t really fight.

They raised us well. Amazingly well, I’d say, and for that, I am grateful. My dad taught me how to sharpen my work ethic, how to prioritize and be practical, how to do complicated physics problems that my teacher in high school never made clear. My mom taught me how to be sympathetic, how to care for people and how to care a little too much sometimes, how to be stubborn and how to take care of myself.

They do not kiss. I’ve only seen them kiss once- New Year’s Eve two years ago when Ryan Seacrest was counting down with the rest of Times Square and all the kids egged the parents on- “Kiss! Kiss! You have to, it’s gonna be midnight!”- and they finally gave in and did it. Briefly. A quick peck. And “gave in” being the key words.

Are they in love? I don’t know.

When I was younger, I used to badger them with questions about how they met, how he proposed, what their wedding was like. I was a starry-eyed romantic at a young age and I wanted to know.

Their answers?

We were introduced.
He just asked.
Not too big.

I drank those answers in like cough medicine. Reluctantly. As a kid growing up with ideals of happily ever afters, how was I supposed to accept that my parents didn’t fall hopelessly in love, didn’t have a story worthy of fairy tales? At that point, I didn’t believe they were in love. Now, I’m not so sure.

My parents’ story is still incomplete in my mind, mostly because they don’t really share the details with my brother and me. They sort of brush it off as unimportant and the topic tends to fizzle out before it even gets the chance to be broached. All I know is that they met, they wed, and they began their lives together. There were no bells and whistles, no white lace wedding, no tropical honeymoon, no big shebang that I expected as a little kid. I used to be horrified that they didn’t wear their wedding rings, and especially that they’d forget their anniversaries each year, but my parents would just chuckle and say “It’s just a date”.

Western ideals of “love” are so different from those that my parents grew up with. It’s okay, maybe, that here in North America, we paint pictures of falling madly in love with The One and having a flawless wedding- a perfect series of snapshots to cherish and remember forever.

And just because Eastern culture- one that I could never claim to fully understand- might have a different schema for love and marriage, doesn’t mean I can say that a couple isn’t actually in love.

My parents don’t stare into each other’s eyes over dinner and hold hands when they walk through the grocery store aisles. But she’ll rest her head on his shoulder when she’s tired and he’ll carry her bag for her when she tries on clothes in the dressing room. They’ll watch TV together on the couch and they’ll tease each other once in a while from across the room.

Maybe my parents are in love. Maybe they aren’t.

I don’t know how much it really matters, to be honest. They do love each other. And maybe the only interpretation of “in love” that matters for them is their own. They’re happy. They’re not perfect, but I can safely say that despite the cultural differences, they truly do inspire me.

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213 thoughts on “Cultural Dynamics: Love and Marriage

  1. Your parents marriage sounds like my marriage (we were also “introduced”). Thanks for this, it was very comforting reading your perspective, accepting the good in what is rather than judging from a western perspective.

  2. I love this. I’m actually (very recently) completely turned-off by the concept of marriage as it stands today in America. The amount of cheating and discontentment I’m discovering as those around me grow older and commit everything to one person is astonishing. It seems that after tying-the-knot, something snaps the unwillingness to be open and truthful disappears.

  3. A truly wonderful post. So great for your parents. I think being “in love” is for early in relationships. When they grow and mature they mutate into “they do love each other”. Eventually “they” become better then best friends or partners. They become one soul in two bodies. THAT’S the best kind of love… dependable, resilient and able to withstand anything thrown against it.

  4. Beautiful! I’ve been married over 30 years to a guy I met at a dance, “fell madly in love” with, and shared a fairy tale wedding day with! To be still in our marriage after all these years, living a life similar to your parents, makes us some of the lucky ones!

  5. I loved your inquiry into a topic that is truly large for all of us I think. I loved how you moved from inquisition to celebration so gracefully and lovingly in a piece where efficacy and efficiency were hard at work. Unlike my comment you said a great deal with very little — the mark of a lovely mind and a great tracker of words.
    Thank you

  6. I enjoyed your perspective and story. It SOUNDS like they are in love if you based on the Love being an action word instead of a feeling- a choice instead of fleeting emotions. A much more realistic example to see and reflect on.

  7. Sometimes people express love through work and respect, rather than romance or emotion. It’s assumed in the US, Europe, etc. that people should marry if they are “in love,” meaning generally a sort of physical attraction, a quickening of the pulse when you are near them. But often what makes a marriage last is not romantic love, but rather dedication to each other, to the marriage. People don’t even have to be in love to have good marriages, to live happy lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.

  8. I think that everyone of us has an idea of love, probably the “ideal love”.
    I share your doubts about my parents, and often I ask myself “how’s possible they do not have that passion anymore?” if they had of course!

    In my mind love is something stronger than anything else. I’m not talking about pricesses and princes, it is not a tale what I imagine or I believe love is.

    For example, I am a young woman and some years ago I can say I was weak, I was thinking that love never came around… and all the thoughts an idiot teen can have! Then, I grown up and I think that love is strong, when you are in love with someone, everyone around you can see it in your eyes, your eyes sparkle, the beat of your heart is growing and growing, you always have that happy face, that smile… love makes you sleepless, happy, angry, sometimes sad and depressed, other times you think you can fight against the whole world!

    The kind of love that has happened to me is something like that.. something that upsets me soooo deeply!
    If I think of marriage, I think that you can keep on that passion, maybe it can be moderated during time, but if two people are really in love I think they keep on that way during their whole lives.
    Of course marriage needs you are devoted, but I can’t imagine a love story without emotions, passion, a little bit of madness and jealousy!

    That’s my point of view!

    Your post made me think! ;)

  9. You just described my parents in a nutshell. And probably a lot of other parents, Chinese or otherwise. Wonderful writing and thanks for sharing.

  10. When I was younger, I used to fall “in love” seems like every few months with a different boy. Being “in love” doesn’t really last, in my opinion, and is nothing more than infatuation where we superimpose fabulous qualities on a person to whom we are superficially physically attracted. “Love” lasts. Love is when you don’t have any misconceptions/unfounded ideas about the other person, and you want to be with them anyway. Sounds like your parents have that :)

  11. Lovely post! Isn’t it amazing how different our parents seem from our idea of love…but deep inside we feel that this is the kind of marriage I want! :)

  12. A beautiful reflection on marriage. To many in the west, the idea of such a marriage seems absurd, but I’m sure the idea of fairytale weddings and constantly demonstrating your love for each other might seem over the top and unrealistic to many others as well.

  13. This is wonderful and I particularly love your conclusion: I don’t know how much it really matters, to be honest. They do love each other. And maybe the only interpretation of “in love” that matters for them is their own. They’re happy. They’re not perfect, but I can safely say that despite the cultural differences, they truly do inspire me.

  14. Beautiful insight! Thank you, I think we all need to decide what our own definition of love should be, rather than letting others decide it for us.

  15. You’ve written something that is missed by so many. Love is not a noun; it’s a verb. And one can chose to do it or not. You are so right that Western culture has this skewed belief that love is something you “fall” into and you have to have fireworks and shooting stars or it’s not real. Thanks for sharing this.

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