We suffered a uncomfortably hot and sweaty high-speed train security check in Beijing to arrive in Jinan, Shandong (where my Dad and his family is from) a few days ago.
Jinan is a city known for its many natural springs, and I could feel the humidity instantly as my Dad, my Uncle (the younger brother of my Dad’s two brothers), my cousin and I climbed the stairs out of the the train station. It was late-afternoon: the sun was beginning its slow crawl down to the horizon and filtered golden through the smog.
I was still beautifully, gracefully hacking up phlegm every 15 minutes. I knew deep down that the sky’s golden hue was disastrously unhealthy but it didn’t stop me from liking the colour.
My Mom and Dad have hilariously symmetrical families, in that they’re both the eldest siblings of two other siblings of the same gender. My cousins all align pretty closely in age with my brother and I, as well, with exception of Yuki, the second-eldest cousin on my Dad’s side (after me– I’m the eldest of all of my cousins).
The youngest cousin on my Dad’s side is named Zhou Ge Shu (idk if I’m butchering the pinyin version of his name). He’s almost 13, has an interest in animals and living things (maybe he’ll be a scientist, my uncle says to us the next day) but also Pokemon and anime, is precocious and so respectful. His cheeks are adorably plump, like my brother’s (who is two years younger than him).
When I get in beside him in my uncle’s car, his first question to me is do you have a boyfriend? I laugh, say no, and ask if he has a girlfriend, to which he sheepishly replies no.
I’m not sure what his intention was in asking– just plain curiosity? Did he desperately want to attend a wedding too, like I did at his age? Later, my aunt (his Mom), would ask me the same thing as we walked back from dinner. I tell her that it’s still too early, and honestly, few of my friends were thinking about it right now, she exclaimed, “Make sure you don’t become a leftover woman!”
I probably will be, I wanted to tell her, but I bit my tongue.
I’ve made my mental calculations– it’ll still be years before I feel even ready to actively search for a partner (though, of course, if I meet someone before then, I’ll make myself some humble pie and eat it while I re-read this blogpost).
My parents married late, and it’s pretty common for people our age to do the same (especially women). My friend Tim mentioned to me once that his parents noticed two ages when marriage tended to happen: the early and late twenties. I’d fall into the late twenties– so what? There’s so much more that I want to focus on, on my self, on knowing, on building, on learning to love my self– for better or for worse, I think all that is pretty difficult to do in a relationship.
I wondered if the ways relationships are built in North America and China have something to do with it, too (or at least the ways they’re presented in media and fed to us). the way my parents have explained relationships and marriages (and the ones that I’ve seen) don’t necessarily center around love, but around devotion and loyalty, of banding with a life partner who you don’t necessarily have to be in love with, but will be there through thick and thin.
When I was younger, I thought that this was an enormous tragedy. I used to fantasize endlessly about meeting someone who’d sweep me off my feet and for whom I’d be breathlessly, hopelessly, head over heels (and who’d obviously be the same for me). But I think I’ve started to skew toward my parents’ idea of what marriage should be (oh god), and I don’t think I’m going to be in an emotional/mental space to look for that until my late twenties.
Maybe it’s because I’ve started believing that the idea of being in love doesn’t really exist? I’m writing this and I’m realizing how it looks– don’t take it as a single person’s MANIFESTO AGAINST ALL RELATIONSHIPS AND EVERY FORM OF LOVE BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST AND EMOTIONS ARE BAD. I just meant that I previously had a vision of what being in love meant, and that involved fast-beating hearts, infatuation…. and not much else.
I, on the other hand, do believe wholeheartedly in love, which is slowly, slowly strengthening relationships with other people because you want to be in their life and they want to be in yours. It’s sticking with them in spite of the things you find so grating about their personalities, wanting to learn to be more patient, more giving and kind. It’s having common values and shared goals, not just for yourselves, but for your communities, and more.
I’m not bothered about when I’ll get married, or even if I will. I haven’t always been like this (I’ve texted many people in a panic because mutual friends have gotten engaged) but I’m grateful to be in this place. I’m lucky to have so much love in my life that I spent much of my childhood aching for, and I’ve finally recognized this.
Let me be a leftover woman– I’d be happy to be one.