I can’t recall a time my parents have been excited about a partner of mine. Like many parents, they’re skeptical of the men in my life and “only want the best for me.” But there is something to be said about Asian parents and unreasonably high expectations. They want you to strive for perfection in every single avenue. This may have, at one time, mostly applied to grades. When you’re in your late 20s, it’s all about your love life.
If I had to guess, I’d say my parents want me to end up with a handsome and rich Chinese-American engineer. My mom used to suggest, “Why don’t you date an engineer?” to me every time I was single, as if there were a 1-800-Date-An-Engineer hotline I didn’t know about. My father, who not so coincidentally works in the IT field, probably wants me to be with someone as career-driven as himself, someone who can provide for a family of five like he has.
The thing is, I am not my parents. They did a wonderful job raising me and my siblings, but heck, I don’t even know for sure if I want kids. I have no plans to move to a mostly white, affluent suburb in Middle America. It’s how I grew up, but I’ve always wanted a different, more liberating life for myself — and anyone I’d share a future with.
My current partner, Adam, is someone who mostly gets me. In the near-year we’ve been together, I’ve found he’s someone I can be myself around. However, Adam is white, self-employed, and interested in architecture and guitars — someone my parents would call a “free spirit.” He’s not an engineer, doctor, or lawyer. He’s hardly someone they would approve of. If not for an inevitable meetup at the wedding of my best childhood friend, which my parents were also attending, I don’t know if I ever would have suggested they meet.
But meet they did. The wedding was in San Francisco, and I was in the bridal party. Adam, my sister, Lisa, my sister’s boyfriend, Eric, and I drove up from Los Angeles. My parents flew in from Ohio. Whether they were ready or not, Adam and my parents were going to meet and even spend some quality time together. I spent much of the drive up having minor freakouts. What if it turns out to be completely awkward? What if they have nothing to talk about? What if my parents’ judgements are totally visible on their faces?
I was playing out worst-case scenarios and recounting times in the past when my parents disapproved of my partners. This led to both Adam and Eric also freaking out and asking why I was bringing this up right before the big meeting (oops). However, both Lisa and I assured Eric that because he was a programmer, he had nothing to worry about. This left Adam a bit on edge, but Adam’s always been good at striking up conversation. He was confident he would find ways to connect with my parents.
When we all met for the first time outside the hotel lobby, there were handshakes and smiles all around. We then walked into the lobby, ordered some drinks, and chatted. It was polite and respectful. I waited. Was something about to go wrong? How about now? To my surprise, everything continued to go smoothly, and soon my dad and Adam were looking at tourist maps together to figure out our post-wedding sightseeing itinerary. Cue a sigh of relief. Within an hour, I had to go to the rehearsal dinner, and left the group to their own devices.
That night, I asked Adam what he thought of my parents based on his time with them, Lisa, and Eric, and without me. He said they were really nice people, and he could actually see the resemblance between my parents and his. Both he and Eric are originally from the South, and he even gave Eric a point of advice: “Just treat them like the nice, conservative folks from the South. You know the ones.” Both guys were significantly less freaked out when they were actually with my parents than when they were awaiting the meeting.
My parents decided on a double-decker bus and boat tour for after the wedding, which meant a whole day of triple-dating. Yeah, I never imagined I’d be on a triple date with my parents, but there we were. Surprise: It was actually a lot of fun, and I could tell my parents appreciated Adam, a disciplined traveler who’s always glued to a map, often leading the way or helping out. There were no awkward questions or judgement, just six people having an eventful day of trying to not puke on a boat, eating seafood, and watching sea lions bask in the sun.
Halfway through the day, I pulled my mother aside to ask her what she thought about Adam. She replied, “I’ve barely had a chance to get to know him.” This curt reply made sense, but it also left me worried. Fortunately, the rest of the day went as planned, and it at least seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves. If there’s one thing I know about Asian parents, it’s that they aren’t always open with their emotions and aren’t quick to praise.
And then it hit me. I was so worried about my parents’ judgement that I forgot that they are just people — people I care about, don’t get to see that often, and wanted to spend more quality time with. I was so busy trying to impress them that i was missing the opportunity to connect with them. That introspection changed my whole outlook. I was able to relax and enjoy one of the best mini-vacations and triple dates I’ve ever been on. As little as I expected to feel this way, I was sad to part ways with my parents when it all came to a close.
When my baby sister, Kelly (who couldn’t make it on the trip) asked about Adam, my parents reported that they liked him. She told me they said he was “helpful during the trip and had a good personality.” I’ll take it. Although I heard it from a third party (and never from my parents themselves), the comments made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy.
The thing about my relationship with Adam is that it’s actually brought me closer to my parents. Adam and his parents speak on the phone almost every day. Asian families are notorious for being less emotionally open and affectionate, and mine fits that stereotype. I’ve always kind of distanced myself from my folks, in part due to my strict upbringing and our different world views.
But seeing Adam connect with his parents had made me miss mine. They live 2,000 miles away and are not getting younger. I want to make a real effort and not go through the motions both when I’m with them and when I’m apart from them. Since dating Adam, I’ve tried to do just that, and the trip proved to me that we can all get along. Knowing they accept my white boyfriend is a bonus.