When a Leftover Woman Asks for My Thoughts on Love

April 15, 2013

Note: Most of my Chinese friends are approximately 30 years old and unmarried. There’s a word for them in Beijing: 剩女. The leftover women.

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I had sung with her in Beijing’s International Festival Chorus. She was the best soprano we had.

I stare at my Chinese WeChat phone app in puzzlement.

“There’s someone who likes me that I don’t like,” she had typed. “There’s so much pressure from my friends and family.

“They want me to fall in love and marry as quickly as possible. They’re telling me to try it out with this guy. I’m trying to decide whether or not to try talking to him, see how it goes.”

“I’m so confused,” she adds presently. “I’m not in a very good mood.”

“But this is your whole life ahead of you!” I protest on voice message. I type so dreadfully slowly in Chinese.

“They want you to be married, but you’re the one who’ll have to deal with being married to someone you don’t like for the rest of your life!”

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Hey, I’m an American from the East Coast. She’s writing to me for a reason, and what she gets is my own strong opinion, East Coast American as it is.

“I think you’re exactly right!” she exclaims in reply. ” I can’t be in a hurry, but instead insist on someone I like myself.”

“Right,” I reply. “Anyways, that’s how I see it. I’d prefer to be single than with someone I don’t like.”

“Actually, I feel the same way as you do!!” she types back.

What can I say in response? Clearly, she already knows what she wants. Or rather, what she doesn’t want.

“Haha. Yay!” I exclaim back. “Add oil!” For some unfathomable reason, uttering “add oil” in Chinese in an upbeat voice somehow expresses enthusiastic encouragement.

“会的会的!” comes back at me. Kinda sounds like “Yes, we can!” to me, and so I send her the most ridiculously optimistic emoticons I have in my WeChat repertoire.

Her: “Haha, I like this emoticon!!”

Me: “Super cool,” and I send her an extra dancing rabbit for good measure.

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Further Reading:

China’s ‘leftover women’, unmarried at 27 (BBC News Magazine, February 20, 2013)
China’s ‘leftover women’ phenomenon arouses heated debate in West (Response to BBC article) (People’s Daily, February 26, 2013)
China’s ‘Leftover’ Women (The New York Times, October 11, 2012)
Don’t pity China’s ‘leftover women’, they’ve got more going for them than you realise (The Independent, March 19, 2013)


6 Responses to “When a Leftover Woman Asks for My Thoughts on Love”

  1. jaypinho said

    The dancing rabbit was definitely a nice touch. 🙂

  2. Zhiyou Deng said

    This “leftover women(剩女)” phenomenon is mostly caused by the tradition in China, which exerts great pressure on them because their parents and peers keep pressing. You know the saying that ” 男大当婚,女大当嫁“? Like the saying goes, people are expected to get married when they reach their late twenties. So, it’s not that they don’t know what to do, just too much pressure. They do understand that they should pursue someone they like rather than do with someone who likes them, and that’s exactly why they are “left”–they haven’t found the right person. But why? Are there no right ones for them? Is it because they are too shy or too greedy(nobody is perfect)? I dunno. They probably know this best. Anyways, very interesting topic.

  3. It’s crazy how some families try to force that sort of thing on you, without thinking past step one or two. Go to step three with the difficult marriage and the counselling, and then how good an idea is it to have all that pressure? Not to mention, get married, then you’re being pressured to have kids, because the pressure already worked once, so they’ll try it some more. What happens if one of the couple can’t have kids, what emotional stress would that cause?

    I think it’s a bit sad when people seem to have families only to be a reflection of what they think life should be about. I think families should be about growing yourself and being open to new ways of living as you help the next generation take on the best of yours, and work on those things that need improving. Sometimes that means that people will get married later, if at all, and have kids later, if at all.

    • I wanted to take my time to reply to this thoughtful comment because I have mixed thoughts on the matter. Personally, I could not agree with you more. I am intensely individualistic and view my relationships as means to mutual fulfillment; the people in my life to whom I am closest are meaningful companions on my journey to self-actualization. However, I have been raised in an environment that encouraged such individualism and that praised autonomy and thoughtful, long-sighted decision-making.

      My family supports me unquestioningly, trusts my judgment, and invites me to tell stories about my many adventures. There is very little input on my life, unless I ask for it. (That said, if I ask for it, it is there, and in abundance. I have affirmation, encouragement, and solid love supporting me at all times.)

      On the other hand, I have many friends who receive frequent pressure from their nears and dears to aggressively seek out husbands and safely seal their familial futures early on in life. And frankly, there is something compelling about this kind of familial relationship. These friends are constantly tied to their family. Moms are dropping in unannounced, cousins are meeting boyfriends to (dis)approve, aunts are expecting great home-cooked food contributions to family events.

      To me, there is something lovely about this. This is a very different kind of closeness than the one I know. In these families, a woman knows she is loved because Mom is poking her nose into her career, Sister is coming to carry that new couch up the stairs and meanwhile comment on her apartment, and, perhaps, Dad is worrying about her loneliness or her stability or her finances or her future, and asks her about her love life. There are questions and nitpicking and endless commentary and family coming by just to bring a basket of fruit at the most inconvenient times and so much pressure to do what will make the rest of the family rest easy that she is being cared for.

      And I have come to respect this pressure as another form of love.

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