I think for women, there’s only one difference when it comes to dating in your early twenties as opposed to your later twenties:
Even the most liberal of us start to countdown to 30 and hear the impending doom of the ‘clock ticking’ after we surpass 25. It’s when we start telling ourselves that we can’t goof around and date losers anymore. Being in the same band or liking the same indie movies doesn’t constitute as appealing qualifications for boyfriend material anymore. Instead, women start to look beyond the personality and into the ‘what he can do for you’ category: In other words, salary, job, social status, and age. The things we used to tell ourselves didn’t matter look far more enticing after 25.
And of course, this belief is amplified ten fold in Asia. While Japan may be a bit different, most of China wants to get married before 25 and have a house to boot.
While I always emphasize the fact that Chinese people are in this mad dash to get married, I have to admit that my female Japanese friends in China (age range 27-29) have all uttered the following phrase to me:
“早く結婚したい” (I want to get married. Now.)
Wanting to Settle Down
I went out to dinner with three people from Niigata yesterday. My lone Niigata friend in Shanghai will be moving to bigger and better places in two weeks (aka Hong Kong), and before his departure he wanted to introduce me to other Niigata natives. Of course I couldn’t say no to Niigata, so I decided to meet them at a Japanese restaurant near my office.
One of the girls, Sachiko, was a bright and spunky 29 year old that was not only fluent in Chinese, but currently on her way to mastering Korean. While I usually don’t get along with Japanese women that well, the moment Sachiko and I exchanged greetings we instantly opened up about our work and personal life, talking as if we had been friends for months and were merely just catching up on the latest happenings.
When TK asked about Sachiko’s love life, she pouted her lips and cried,
“I really want to get married. I want to get married now, now, now! Why is it so hard?”
“She’s always talking about this,” my friend TK look at me reassuringly. “She’s always on the prowl for a husband.”
“What about you TK, do you have the けっこんがんぼう?”
“You answer first, Mary” TK smiled at me. “けっこんがんぼうある？”
I write it in hiragana because I didn’t understand the phrase. I looked at him like a lost puppy until he finally explained it in simple Japanese:
“結婚したい気持ち (that feeling of wanting to get married).”
Suddenly the kanji formulates in my mind, “あ！結婚願望だね！分かった！”
Sachiko became patient and looked at TK grudgingly for an answer.
“Right now I have no desire whatsoever,” he said without a moment’s hesitation.
Matsumoto, the 29-year-old banker sitting next to me, chimes in.
“You don’t want to get married at all, TK? You haven’t even thought about it? Me, I mean, I have a house, a car–all I’m missing is the wife. I did everything backwards. And even now, I think I don’t want to get married. But I want kids. If I get married just because I want kids, is that selfish?”
“I want kids too,” TK replied. “But I don’t think I’ll have the 結婚願望 until I meet the right person. Until then, I’m ok being alone.”
“Easy for you to say,” Sachiko sighs again. “You men have it easy. Being single at 28 or 29 isn’t a big deal; in fact, marriage is probably the last thing on your mind. But for women having kids after 35 is hard–so if I don’t get married soon I just feel like I’ll dry up and lose my chance.”
“It’s ok,” I try to console her with a smile. “You’re still young, and you have six years to find someone to make you happy. That’s a long time.”
“How about you Mary?” all three of them ask simultaneously with a stare.
DO I want to get married?
Marriage has always scared me. It’s scared me ever since I can remember, which is strange to think of mostly considering my parents have been happily married for almost 40 years and I’m not really surrounded by divorce in the slightest.
But the commitment to spend the rest of your life with one person is daunting. It’s such a strong and overwhelming sense of responsibility, the mere thought of walking down the aisle and saying “I do” can strangle me with an anxiety attack. In my early twenties, I thought this fear of commitment was merely from being young and inexperienced. After a few years, I told myself, I’ll be married around 28 or 29 and be ready for the “m” word.
Yet even now at 27, the thought of it still strangles me with unease. I’m afraid that once I marry somebody, my life will be over. Those experiences to travel and see new things will vanish, and the sacrifice needed to make a relationship work for, well, the rest of your life–it’s gigantic. It’s larger than myself, my life, my being.
While the crazed frenzy to get married in China definitely impacts me on a daily basis, I still strongly feel that marriage shouldn’t happen because we’re getting old and scared to be alone. We shouldn’t choose somebody because we merely want to have kids. We shouldn’t pick a partner to have a ‘normal’ life in a newly purchased designer home. We shouldn’t choose marriage for the sole sake of pleasing our parents.
Marriage is a lifelong partnership. It’s a contract that binds two people together for the rest of eternity. Marriage should happen because you love a certain someone and you love them at the right time.
Sometimes we get caught up in the norms of society. We let the pressure of everyday life frighten us of the possibilities that have yet to come. We fear the thought of being alone. We worry about not finding a husband that is as successful or handsome as our friend’s. We worry about our degenerating looks, about our reproductive organs slow decay, about the competition we face with 25 year olds.
But what we need to do is forget all of that. Forget all of the garbage that society shoves into our heads, and remember the most important thing of all:
So I looked TK in the eye and smiled softly.
“I’ll have the 結婚願望 when I find the right person, at the right time. But right now, I’m just fine.”
And That’s Okay
I was on a boat on the Indian ocean getting ready to dive into the waters and explore the vast underwater world of Bali. My companions were composed of 4 Chinese people, both couples and both extremely nice. After the usual greetings between us finished, we started to chat it up on the boat to kill time while we went deeper out onto the ocean.
Wife A: “How old are you two?”
Wife B: “We’re both 22.”
(Wife A almost stumbles overboard in shock. 九零后来了。)
Wife A: “And you’re married?”
Wife B: “We’re from Fujian; people from there usually get married very young, but even 22 is still considered somewhat old. I already feel like an aging housewife.”
Wife A: “Yeah, I was pretty much a 神女 when I got married. I’m 35 now, but I didn’t get married until I was 27!”
Wife B: “Wow, that is super old! How about you, Mary? Do you have a boyfriend?”
I smile and respond: “I’m 27, single, and recently broken up.”
Wife A and B shift uncomfortably in their seats. Before they can say anymore, I look at both of them with a warm and genuine smile.
“I’m single, I’m 27, and I’m happy.
Really, this is exactly where I need to be.”