When I first started dating John, my future Chinese husband, everything seemed as perfect as our first kiss by the lake.
We could have entire conversations with just a glance. Our chemistry was so good that, for weeks, I came to work every morning, beaming from bedroom bliss. And within weeks of getting together, we had taken two romantic dates together, and planned a third trip to Beijing.
So finally, after a little over a month together, John decided to go home and tell his Asian parents all about me. His report?
“My father said I can be friends with you, but not date you.”
Gulp. Not exactly what you’d call, uh, “perfect.”
So if you have a white girlfriend or fiancee, what do you do when your Asian family gets in the way of happily ever after?
Asian Parents Tip #1: Introduce Your Girlfriend, Please!
As long as your white girlfriend or fiancee exists only in their imagination, your Asian parents will fill in the blanks with the worst possible stereotypes about her. So it is vital that you introduce your girlfriend.
It’s no wonder my future Chinese father-in-law discouraged his son from dating me when he first heard about me. He thought I’d be another loose American woman, just like he’d seen in the movies (thank you, Hollywood stereotypes).
But after I met him during Chinese New Year, where we bonded over photos I brought of my own family, the tables turned and my guy never heard another discouraging word from his father again.
Sometimes, the ultimate way to get beyond “no” is to know — as in, having your Asian parents get to know your white girlfriend or fiancee, and discover that (surprise, surprise) she’s actually pretty nice.
Asian Parents Tip #2: Find Common Ground
Got something in common? The more your white girlfriend / fiancee shares with your Asian family, the harder it is to just write her off.
Let’s say your Asian family values a good education, and a good job. So if your woman graduated from Harvard, or works for NASA, don’t keep it to yourself!
That goes for anything your family might value (which, in the case of my Chinese mother-in-law, includes knowing that I, the vegan daughter-in-law, feed her son chicken, salmon and ribs every single week).
Speaking of my family, my Chinese mother-in-law loves when I ask her for more recipes and Chinese father-in-law gets a kick out of teaching me Chinese idioms.
Why? Because I’m interested in their culture.
So if your sweetheart has that kind interest in your Asian family’s culture — from studying Korean to taking Judo lessons — share it with them.
Asian Parents Tip #3: Show She’s One Filial Female
Chances are, your Asian family thinks your white girlfriend/fiancee is clueless on the most important Confucian value of all.
They’ve seen non-Asians on television sassing their parents, and putting them in nursing homes — and it’s the equivalent of an Asian parents’ horror movie playing over and over in their minds.
So why not replace that with a much nicer, more filial mental picture? Start by showing them photos of her with her family, especially with grandparents and older relatives.
Share comforting anecdotes, such as how she helped grandma put on diabetic socks, or made her dad his favorite scrambled eggs for breakfast. Just make sure they get the “she’s friendly to family” message loud and clear.
Asian Parents #4: Get Support In Your Corner
Even people can benefit from more rave reviews — and who else better than your Asian family members, the people your family trusts above all?
If your siblings, aunts/uncles or anyone else you’re related to adores your white girlfriend/fiancee, have them tell your Asian family members standing in the way. It definitely helped one white woman navigate some tough future Asian in-laws.
Asian Parents Tip #5: Rinse and Repeat
Your Asian parents may not open up at the first, second or even third meeting with your white girlfriend or fiancee. And sometimes, it can even take months or years to get them on your side. This is why persistence can be your best friend in times like these.
When his family dug in their heels, John refused to give up, instead staying by my side, and even bringing me home for Chinese New Year in order to introduce his girlfriend to his Asian parents.
Eventually, it worked — and I became his wife. Which turned out to be just perfect.
Writer, Chinese translator and founder of Speaking of China, Jocelyn Eikenburg wonders if you can say “filial female” five times fast.