(Sources, edited: left, middle, right)
The following was originally posted as a short comment to Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks; for the sake of giving it more exposure, and thereby hopefully more chances of finding a solution, I encouraged the author to expand it into this separate post. If anyone can give her advice, especially those who’ve been in similar situations (please post anonymously if you prefer), and/or can direct her to helpful websites, she would be very grateful:
*********My name is Jess. My backstory is a depressing picture of humanity, so we’ll skip it. I complete my schooling and earn my certification in 8 months. My grandmother owns a massage therapy and alternative health shop, and I am set to join her in her practice. I hope to expand the business and hopefully retire her (if I can convince her to) before continuing my formal education. I have two beautiful, bright little girls.
H grew up in Southern California. I don’t understand the “generation” terms very well, but his parents moved here from Korea. He is a nurse (or a murse, he jokes), and works in the ICU of a hospital in the city he lives in. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll skip a lot of his backstory as well. I live midstate, he lives in the Northern part of the state.
We met in a bar. It’s a very funny story, but I can’t seem to tell even a bit of it without writing six pages. Basically, boy meets girl, boy hits on girl, girl tries to scare off boy with picture of her offspring and fails. Miserably. I spent the first half of our friendship trying to put him off.
The first time he ever called me, we talked for three hours. And this set the precedent. We had regular, lengthy conversations about immediately relevant things: who we are, what we do, how our minds work, etc. I’ve never felt so picked over in my life. I don’t think he expected to find a person like me in the stereotype I inhabited… just as I didn’t expect to find someone like him. Neither of us expected it, and I think that’s why it happened. We fell in love by accident and were fighting it all along for various reasons. He seemed terribly conflicted all the time. He would ask me repeatedly to date him—which I would decline—then turn around and insist that I not get attached to him. It never made sense.
Long story short, 6 or 7 months ago, we started seeing each other more regularly. The more I saw him, the more I found that I was falling for him. I was careful. I wanted to be sure that what I was feeling was real and not a byproduct of a past failure or the fact that he was a challenge. When I was certain of what I was feeling, I began to try to understand what was going on in his head. Eventually, I realized that his mixed signals weren’t purely because of him. It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in his mind. I realized that he wasn’t ALLOWED to have me. That didn’t make sense. The end result was the same, though, I wasn’t an option for him. Shortly after this, he admitted that he didn’t like me seeing anyone else. In short order, we were exclusive. Not only was I seeing him more, but now we were only seeing each other.
Over the year that we had known each other, our relationship shot through so many levels unimpeded, I’ve never felt anything like it. It was honest, right from the beginning because neither of us expected ANYTHING to evolve from it, let alone an exhilarating friendship or compatible romance. I knew all along H couldn’t have a relationship with me, but it wasn’t until after I was good and head over heels that he hinted at the real reasons why we couldn’t be together. When he did, our relationship started shifting. We began mourning. It got to be too much. It wasn’t fair. I tried breaking it off multiple times. The first time, he didn’t call me for three weeks. After nearly a year of talking to him regularly, it was a stark adjustment. I resolved myself to letting it go and getting on with my life. Then, I think it was the end of June.. he called me in the middle of the day. He had a long drive ahead of him. He was alarmed by how much he missed me. I was alarmed how high my heart soared hearing his voice. I didn’t even realize how badly I needed that. He “accidentally” told me he loved me. I gritted my teeth and brushed it off, just immensely soothed that he had no intentions of disappearing, still. That was all it took, though. One phone call and we were right back to seeing each other.
Over the next few months, we just had to admit to ourselves that we did love each other. There wasn’t anything we could do to change it. He finally told me in detail the reasons why his family wouldn’t approve of me. I began making every attempt to understand it. I never stopped. We never stopped seeing each other, but we were always worried about the anvil of his family hanging over our heads. Even if we found everything we needed in each other, when that anvil dropped the bond was doomed.
It unraveled when he went to his cousin’s wedding. He noticed that his uncle was so proud and happy looking at his son and new daughter-in-law. He remembered the way his father looked, at his brother’s wedding. H realized that he wouldn’t have that if he stayed with me. None of this was fair. He was torn. He felt he was wasting my time. He broke it off with me. I was shocked. He had changed gears again. He had gone from needing reassured that it wasn’t changing for me, to disappearing. It lasted a day. I was a mess; he called me hoping to help me out of it, and ended up worse himself. In my attempts to cope, I had started writing a letter. I knew my letter wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but I just wanted to know WHY it had to be this way… I didn’t tell him about the letter. But his mind (as always) was in the same place mine was. He asked me if I wanted to send one. I’ll state for the record, that this was a stupid idea born of two distressed minds, but I did. The letter was just as positively received as he imagined it would be. His mother cried. His father jumped to conclusions that were so far from possible that it let me know just how shocked and appalled they were. This was extremely upsetting for them. But… they did tell him that they couldn’t control him. He decided to stick to his guns and call it over. I was left coping. I had a simple birthday gift I’d had waiting for the next time I would see him. I almost didn’t go, but I took it to him, deciding that I was going to leave quickly.
I’m not sure which of us asked to talk, but we ended up curling up to talk about it. In my attempts to not be emotionally manipulative or force my needs on him, I had not told him how much time I’d spent researching the issue. I hadn’t told him that I’d looked up language lessons in the area, how far ahead I had thought and how prepared I was to sustain this effort for as long as it took, if he wanted me. I’m not sure if I was right or wrong, but it meant that he was unaware. He asked me to stay. I took him to the place that I grew up. I showed him key places from my childhood and teen years. He took me to a Korean restaurant. His fortune cookie read, “Discover your companion’s world. Two worlds are better than one.” Which is exactly what he had spent all day doing. Mine said, “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Which is exactly what I had been trying to explain to him all weekend. We had an uncomfortable laugh. By the end of the weekend, his thoughts and emotions were scattered again. He wanted to call his brother. I didn’t know what that would solve. I just wanted him to stop and think about what he was doing for once, because the whole time he had just been making it worse by getting ahead of himself and freaking out. If he wanted it to work, he needed to be calm and sure. If he didn’t want it to work, there was no need to alarm his family more. I would just leave. I made him stop and think about what he wanted to accomplish. We pulled out our schedules to figure out when we both had a good chunk of time. We made tentative plans for me to meet his brother (who lives out of state). He told me not to get my hopes up. To just calm down and be chill for a while. I couldn’t agree more. This has been taking up entirely too much energy. It’s time to get back to bantering, laughing deviously, outwitting each other, and discussing things of no import until we have to worry again.
I’ve spent a long time pondering, reading, and learning, trying to find a way around the problem. It’s not really about who I am as a person. I feel no pain from the absoluteness of how they look at me. It’s what I am. I’m not Korean. I have children. I am not at all what they would want for their son, their family. I can’t change what I am, but I know we are not the only people in this situation. I haven’t found many articles about the problems in my particular situation. Usually, racism is full of hatred and cold-hearted callousness. I have found MANY instances of couples overcoming and succeeding despite situations like that… but I haven’t been able to find many stories about families like H’s–just enough to have hope; not enough for a thorough understanding. Their disapproval isn’t like that. They aren’t hateful. They aren’t callous. This causes them pain. I have a lot to offer, but to say that I’m not what they expected… that’s an understatement of epic proportions. The advice that I seek is how to bridge that kind of a gap. I’m looking for anything that might help. I’m looking for people who’ve been in a situation like this and found success, I want to know what they’ve DONE or avoided doing. Even if not exactly (his parents are individuals, too, there’s no tried and true approach), each success story I can find could offer a pearl of wisdom to guide me through this. (END)
Again, any specific advice readers can provide would be appreciated, and/or links. For the latter, off the top of my head I would recommend Speaking of China, AMWF Love, and possibly Texan in Tokyo, the last found while searching for images to accompany this post (and failing — unfortunately, I don’t like to use “ordinary” couple’s pictures without their permission!). Also, there are of course a great many blogs by Western women with Korean or Asian partners out there, some of whom may have written about meeting his parents at some point — if anyone knows of any specific posts, again Jess would be very grateful. Thanks!
Update: Speaking of China has provided a round-up of links with dating advice for Chinese-Western couples here.