Monday, July 7, 2008

Thoughts on Chinese culture, psychology and women. Avboding emotional vampires.

[FIRST DRAFT: NEEDS FEEDBACK AND POLISHING. PLEASE BE PATIENT AND WORK WITH ME TO TURN THIS INTO SOMETHING THAT IS WORTH READING. I SUSPECT ANGER AND FRUSTRATION HAS SLIPPED THROUGH IN INAPPROPRIATE PLACES.]


Just some random, undoubtedly non-PC, yet hopefully useful thoughts on these intertwined things learned over the course of many years. These are observations and generalizations, not firm conclusions. At times, I am aware, they verge on being racial stereotyping, especially if the reader is reading quickly and quite sensitive to such things. It's my hope that perhaps they can eventually lead to a more polished, more mature understanding of these topics somewhere down the line. After all, every discussion needs to start somewhere.

Some preliminaries: Intercultural relationships can happen and can be good. When they work there is an extra richness to them, but there are also extra complications. In this off the cuff mini-essay, I'm going to discuss some of them.

Flirting, most romantic relationships begin with flirting. However, one needs to be wary when dealing with Chinese women as they have several habits that mimic flirting. Their body language and notions of body space are often different. In Western culture, one quick and easy way to judge a woman's level of comfort and interest in you is to enter her body space, stand a bit closer than you normally would with a friend. If she moves away, she's not comfortable. If she stays close, then she is comfortable and likes you being close. If you are interested in romance, this is a good sign. However, Chinese people often just plain stand closer to one another than Americans do. Therefore if you enter a Chinese woman's space, and she does not move away, it really does not mean terribly much as she perceives her personal space differently than a Western woman.

Secondly, flirting often involves light silly compliments to another. Guess what? In Chinese culture, polite behavior and giving face often involves giving light silly compliments to one another.

I've had Chinese women enter my space, engage in behavior that in our society could only be termed flirting and then suddenly begin speaking of her husband.

Do not assume that a Chinese woman is interested in a romantic relationship with you just because she appears to be flirting. She may be. She may not be. It's tough to say.

But let's talk about the ones who you really need to watch out for.

Life in China is not easy. There is a great deal of pressure on people, especially women, to succeed. Therefore Chinese and Taiwanese who have succeeded academically (which would include almost every Chinese graduate student in the USA today) have worked very hard, and been pushed very hard, under difficult, highly competitive and conditions (that start with learning a multi-thousand ideographic writing system and get worse from there), often suffering what we in the west would describe as emotional abuse to get there.

This often leaves psychological scars, including low self-esteem, insecurities and occasional gaps in social skills. (Then again, it's not uncommon for anyone anywhere who is working on a PhD to be a bit outside the mainstream psychologically and exhibit occasional social-skill gaps.)

Furthermore, it's my contention that because the Chinese education system is so memorization-intensive and so wary of teaching critical thinking skills, that many highly educated Chinese show imagination deficits although they often compensate by being able to pull skills out of a hat at a moment's notice.

For instance, once in Taiwan, a German exchange student told me he enjoyed the Chinese as they are such "compact people." I never really understood what he meant until I met one particular Chinese woman, a highly educated woman working on a PhD who was a master-musician, translator, knot-tier, research technician, medical doctor, calligrapher and more. On the other hand, with all these skills, there were also major deficits, social skill gaps and immaturities that undoubtedly had developed from spending too much time as a skill-learner or knowledge-receptacle and not enough as a child or person who was learning how to cope with the world.

And without imagination, it is impossible for someone to understand what other people want. Empathy for another is impossible without first having the imagination to picture what they might be thinking or feeling.

Although I am not a psychologist, and it is always dangerous for non-psychologists to use psychological terms to describe people they meet, I have found in some cases a knowledge of borderline personality disorder (gained from reading this book has proven useful to me in understanding the personalities of some highly educated Chinese that I have met. Then again, a critic would have to respond, "Of course, some Americans show signs of borderline personality disorder. The relevant question is not whether members of a certain ethnic group manifest this problem or signs of this problem, but what is the rate at which they manifest it? How does the rate of incidence of this condition compare from one population to other populations?"

Clearly I am not qualified to answer this very important question in anything resembling an academically rigorous way. I will, however, repeat that it has been useful to me to have read about borderline personality disorder when I have dealt with some of the highly-educated Chinese I have met.

One aspect of borderline personality disorder is that sufferers often seek or desire a "perfect" relationship to make up for the cold ones that they have suffered in the past. Perfect, it needs to be stated, means perfect from their point-of-view, as in one sided, with the other person caring for them and nurturing them in many ways, expecting nothing in return.

Secondly, many Chinese have distant fathers who work long hours and whose role in the family structure revolves around their role as disciplinarian, bread-earner and stern leader, rather than as a nurturing parent.

This, I think, leads to a desire for affection from males in many Chinese women.

Thirdly, Chinese culture has historically been radically different from Western-American culture. A generation or two ago, in many cultures, Asian women were (under ideal conditions) sheltered from the outside world, chaperoned, encouraged to remain chaste, and prohibited from dating until time came for them to enter into an arranged marriage that was probably brokered by their parents.

Now, what's scary is that these are the very same people who today are often teaching many members of the current generation of Chinese women about men and men's behaviors.

Therefore we have a group of people who have been discouraged from questioning received wisdom, who are getting much of their knowledge of relationships and men's behaviors from people who do not understand men's behaviors. Their picture of men is often rather sex-less and they often assume that men naturally would be quite content to be "just friends" with them. After all, their mother never told them anything differently and neither did their teachers.

Wait! Save the hate-mail or at least read what I say first. I never said men and women cannot be friends. However, it is unrealistic, naive, unimaginative, un-empathetic and lacking in imagination, not to mention emotionally and sometimes physically dangerous, for women to assume that the men they meet are content to be "just friends." Men and women can, indeed, be "just friends." However, in my opinion this can only happen when both of them are content and satisfied to be "just friends." If one of them wishes to be something other than "just-friends" then the resulting "just-friendship" will never be completely healthy and one will always be pining for the other, unhappy, discontent, and dissatisfied, feeling either stifled or rejected, forever trying to change things so that the two people in question are not, in fact, "just friends" but instead something else.

To achieve a healthy state of heterosexual, male-female "just-friendship" is an achievable goal, particularly if both partners in the friendship wish it and consider it desirable, and a life-enriching accomplishment, but it's far from easy and requires mutual understanding, empathy and communication. Platonic, healthy, male-female heterosexual relationships undoubtedly require a higher level of maturity on both sides than say, a fast, shallow physical relationship.

But please note that I said that we are dealing with some individuals who were raised in a way that limited both imagination and emphasized formal education over emotional maturity.

And, yes, yes, this is beginning to verge on a racist rant. I am not saying "ALL" --I am not saying "MANY" --I am saying "SOME." SOME!!! As in among the Chinese women I've met this sort of person is a visible minority who needs to be watched out for, recognized and dealt with. This type of person can be a major drain on your time and emotions if you do not recognize them.

Fourthly, it is not uncommon for Chinese graduate students in the USA to rush into a marriage or engagement before coming to this country for study. Often one half of the partnership stays in China and the other comes here, often for years at a time. For whatever reason, many of them feel insecure and self-conscious about this relationship and do not like to talk about it or else say they do not know how to tell people about it. I find this difficult to understand but have seen it more than once.

As I said, I do not understand this, and can only speculate on why a woman might routinely hide her marriage or engagement instead of strutting it proudly. Therefore, I think I'll just keep my mouth shut. I've generalized too much, already I suspect.

Anyway, bottom line. Chinese women, like any kind of women or any kind of people for that matter, can be neat. Some can be fascinating and teach you a lot about many things. However when dealing with Chinese women one needs to be very careful that you do not find yourself operating under a different assumption than they are. It does not hurt to directly ask, "Are you married or engaged?" before inviting a Chinese woman, particularly an educated Chinese woman, to do something socially. Although most of us assume that women are smart enough to reveal this if a man invites them to dinner, for the reasons stated above some of them will not do so. This will, inevitably, lead to problems down the line.

Secondly, should you deal with Chinese women, be very wary of the ones who latch on looking for some idealized version of a big-brother. Naturally, especially if you are a caring type person, you may be tempted to hang on, hoping that once they see what a wonderful, caring guy you are they will change their mind, and enter into a romantic relationship with you, but it's not likely to happen. Remember the old saying that women tell their daughters to discourage them from promiscuous behaviors, "Why should a man buy the cow if you give the milk away for free?"

It's like that, only these women do not want sex. They want affection, but affection of a fatherly type that is separate from a romantic or sexual relationship. Their image of a perfect relationship is platonic. It's cruel to say but in some cases these people have a big gaping hole in their psyche and they will take, take, take emotionally hoping that you will fill it. Watch out for these people. They will take a lot of your time, energy and leave you feeling drained and inadequate if you don't spot them early on and cut them loose.

2 comments:

  1. Peter,

    Couldn't agree with you more! Having been married to a Taiwanese lady for more than 10 years, I fully understand your points on their need for a "big brother". And mine demands a relationship that is both compassionate, nuturing, completely safe, and sex-free, business-like, and in which I defend her from the evil world out there,. All at the same time! No wonder I have a hard time living up to that standard. And yes, she does not react at all if I say what I need from the relationship. ;). But there is always hope... Or may be I'm just naive. Arthur

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  2. I'm married to a Shanghanese woman. It's interesting so far. It was pretty hot at first romantically. Then it died down and seems non existent now. I remember once she was joking with me and told me she asked her mom what is wrong with me that I want sex three times a day lol. She said they wondered if it was American culture lol. Anyways in the USA when she was going to school she was constantly late for class. Up all night playing league of legends. Wasting money of KFC and a stupid dog she bought. I had to go work in Kuwait so I sent her back to China and she spent 3500 on my credit card to get her dog back to China. I was beyond upset.... Now I've been in Kuwait 6 months and I get nothing from her emotionally. And she never messaged me and asks how I am. She makes comments to me about how I plan things but don't follow through after I share my financial worries to her. If I share my dreams with her and talk about the future I get told why talk about something that hasn't happened yet. It's very confusing behavior in my opinion. Your on point with this information about the emotional gaps Chinese women have. It's sad to see my wife has no ambitions and lacks the ability to imagine or dream. Maybe all she is is a piece of meat I can bang up when I want and do my laundry and waste my money. Tragic...

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