This is the weekly Amplify newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web or someone forwarded this e-mail newsletter to you, you can sign up for Amplify and all Globe newsletters here.
Twenty-five is a magical age for many single women from Asia. In my experience, and that of many I know, that’s about the time we start to think that maybe we should look for a partner and settle down. Or, we brace for the alternative: the immense pressure from our families to get married.
Yes, it’s 2019. Yet, many women born and raised in Asia still can’t shake this traditional, family-oriented social expectation. Myself included.
I’m Xiao Xu, a reporter at The Globe and Mail. After I turned 25, my mom, who lives in China, would ask me the same question almost every time we spoke: “Are you dating anyone?”
If my answer was a truthful “no,” then my mom would come up with 10 other questions: “Why? Life is too busy? Is there no good guy around? What are you busy with every day?”
So I adopted a strategy: I’d either ignore her initial question or sneakily change the subject. But she soon levelled up her tactics as well. She shot trickier questions that were hard to predict:
Mom: “What are you doing now?”
Me: “Having dinner with my friends.”
Mom: “Any guy friends?”
When this ploy hit a dead end, she turned passive aggressive, sending me pictures of her hanging out with my cousins’ kids, later murmuring on the phone: how I wish to have my own grandchildren.
Last year, my father, who used to be reluctant to even acknowledge that his daughter might be interested in dating, joined my mom’s camp, asking me all sorts of questions about why I‘m single. That’s when I realized: the pressure is on.
My mom and I are very close, and I know she asked these questions out of love. But they weren’t exactly bringing out feelings of affection in me. Instead, they just made my blood boil. They were like constant commentary that I won’t be complete until I’m married with children.
While that’s a notion I don’t agree with, at least some part of me can understand where her concern (and that of other parents, some far pushier) is coming from.
Chinese state-run media says the country’s marriage rate was 7.2 per cent last year, hitting an 11-year low. The number is even lower in more developed regions such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong. And according to the country’s 2015 census, 27 per cent of women between 25 and 29 were unmarried, compared to less than 5 per cent in their mother’s generation.
All those unmarried women are getting people’s attention – even earning their own (truly wicked) moniker: “sheng nu,” which translates to“leftover women.”
It’s also worth pointing out that China now faces a huge gender imbalance, with men outnumbering women by about 34 million. So why are there still so many unmarried women? One reason explored by American journalist Roseann Lake, the author of Leftover in China, is that a large number of these single women are highly-educated urban professionals. But in traditional Chinese culture, guys usually “marry down” – preferring women who are less successful than they are.
And today, women are more selective too, since more and more of us no longer see marriage as a must.
I recently met one such woman. Let’s call her Rosie.
Rosie, from Vietnam, now studies logistics at a college in Vancouver. Working and living in Canada had long been her dream, so a few months ago, the 28 year old left a stable job and a four-year relationship behind, settling down on the other side of the Pacific. But Rosie’s boyfriend, who has a career in Vietnam, was not willing to set off with her. She chose to chase her dream anyway. “I consider career much more important than marriage," she told me.
I see myself in Rosie in some ways, but I’m not sure I could have been so courageous.
A few months ago, my mom and I had a heart-to-heart talk. I told her the truth – that although I’m not dating anyone, I do want to start a family some day. But I’m waiting for the right person. I’m not settling. I borrowed a line from a friend of mine, and so far, it seems to have convinced my mom. “I’m going to spend the next 40 years with this man. Do you still want me to rush it?” She hasn’t nagged since then.
But, honestly, if I never meet my so-called Mr. Right, then I will learn to embrace that too – because I don’t believe that marriage and family are always meant to be.
So I want to thank Rosie, and all the other Rosies out there, for embracing their singledom and tearing down that social stigma. Thank you for setting inspiring examples for young Asian women like me.
Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.