Post # 1
Hi all- I’m writing here to ask for help regarding my current relationship and my parents. I’m a 30 year old American born Chinese with 2 immigrant parents from Hong Kong. Similar to many Asian couples, my grandparents were family friends and my parents were an arranged marriage. From as far as I know, my parents never dated anyone else. Growing up, my parents taught me to be a very independent and outspoken person. I’m also an only child so there were no siblings to mirror off of.
I’ve been in an almost 3 year relationship with my boyfriend. My parents initially were introduced to him as a friend and had a sit down dinner with him at that point. We have spent almost every weekend together now, and my parents have heard of our time spent together. I have mentioned in the past that we’re dating and I’ve met my boyfriend’s entire family. Fast forward 2 years and I have not introduced my boyfriend to much of my extended family, mainly because he has not gone to any family events. He only met my aunt and grandma at my birthday dinner because I insisted. There hasn’t been any open invitation or encouragement from my parents. I asked my mom about this recently, and a few things came up. She said that in eastern culture, dating and terms used are a sensitive matter. She considers a “boyfriend” simply a “friend” until engagement. She also emphasizes that a relationship should be focused between the two involved. Her private stance on dating meant a lot of her friends didn’t know of her dating life until her bridal shower. Her factual tone made it feel like she doesn’t truly understand that meeting extended family and getting to know the parents are part of the dating process. She also finds bringing a “boyfriend” to a family event as showy, and if it doesn’t work out, its a huge risk and just opening up a can of worms for gossip. My dad is very quiet and keeps out of most conversations. In fact, my boyfriend has said that its hard to bond with him because his body language is somewhat cold, and he never will start a conversation. My parents are the opposite of nosy parents, in fact they never inquire about my dating life or push it on me. I admit I have become more westernized in my dating framework and that may be a reason for my perception that getting to know parents better and meeting extended family are the next steps toward progressing this relationship. Any advice on this or a similar experience/how you dealt with it?
Post # 2
The good news is it’s not personal and they may very well warm up after you are engaged. You gave them their chance, but if you can’t change their mindset, then you can’t. If they aren’t arranging your marriage they probably think of themselves as liberal.
If it makes you feel better, many people have limited opportunity due to distance or circumstance to get to know their in laws or extended family before becoming a part of the family. H knew my parents well but had not met aunts, uncles, etc. before our wedding and had only met my grandparents once or twice.
Post # 3
This is a cultural difference. You take as given when you assert “she doesn’t truly understand that meeting extended family and getting to know the parents are part of the dating process”, when from her
perspective, it isn’t. Neither are wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised though, given that you are 30 and knowing you’ve been dating for 3 years, that your parents are either wondering when you two will marry or at this point assuming it won’t happen.
Post # 4
My family was very much the same. My husband wasn’t included in family events (even when it was our small little family thing) until after our engagement. In their minds, dating is not the step it is in yours.
Its just something you’ll have to accept about them, I think. My parents did a pretty big switch the moment we did the tea ceremony. At that point, he became their son. And to all my relatives who hadn’t met him either, he was family.
It’s a mindset you’ll have to come to terms with and learn how to move forward in your relationship anyways.
Post # 5
My husband didn’t meet any of my extended family (he maybe briefly met one set of grandparents, I’m not sure though) while we were dating. We didn’t meet any of each other’s extended family until the wedding actually. Meeting extended family certainly does not have to be a part of dating. I’m not even sure that’s necessarily a norm in more Western dating.
To me, it feels like you’re making all of this into a bigger deal than it needs to be. He doesn’t need to meet everyone and as long as your parents are nice/polite to him he doesn’t need to have a close relationship with them. You two are the ones dating, you’re not dating each other’s families.
Post # 6
So I can’t speak about Asian parents (though I have an ex who is second generation and one side of my family comes from a culture where generations of family live together and extended family plays a more significant role).
But I think you are also over-generalizing dating in Western culture. Many families in Western culture and many western subcultures don’t involve the extended family. In fact, much of Western culture, save for some subcultures, emphasizes independence, especially in relationships, where extended family just isn’t really relevant in a lot of contexts (including dating). Its not even a privacy thing like with the culture your parents are up with – it’s a relevance thing. If I had to estimate of my long-term relationships, I’ve only met anyone outside of immediate family (parents and siblings) maybe in one relationship? My SO hasn’t met anyone in my extended family yet (he would have at one occassion a couple of years ago but unfortunately there was a conflict last minute) because my extended family isn’t particularly relevant or involved in my daily life. Many of my married friends met aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents of their spouse for the first time at their wedding. Its not that unusual or isolated to Asian cultures as you may think. Nothing about my extended family (except my grandmother who was really more immediate family to me) would change or really affect my relationship so if they meet at sometime great and if they don’t that’s fine, too. My one friend hadn’t even met her parents-in-law until the rehearsal dinner. I have friends who are close with their in-laws. I have friends who barely talk to theirs save for large family gatherings. It’s as varied and individual as the people involved are.
So maybe these are things that are important to you personally because you highly regard your extended family, but is an overgeneralization as a whole and I don’t think is particularly indicative of the state of your relationship and any sort of level of acceptance so long as both you and your boyfriend are ok with how your relationship is between the two of you and happy with the progression. I think you may be putting undue pressure on this aspect of family and relationship when things seem pretty fine overall save for the semantics of calling him “friend” instead of “boyfriend”.
As for your parents, there’s some cultural element there and maybe just their nature to be reserved. Nothing you’ve said seems to indicate they dislike your boyfriend or don’t accept him in your life – they seem to respect your relationship though perhaps place more importance on engagement or marriage. But if you’re looking for the warm fuzzy open-armed treat him like the son they never had treatment from people who are reserved by nature and also from a more reserved cultural upbringing you’re likely never going to get it, even once you get engaged. And that’s ok even though it may not be your preference. Many in-law relationships in all cultures are like that. At a certain point you have to learn to accept people for who they are, as long as they are generally respectful and accepting even if it’s different from what you want. Their way isn’t wrong or bad – just different. Your way isn’t wrong or bad – just different.
Is there anything stopping you from organizing your own opportunity to bring your boyfriend and extended family together if it is that important to you, rather than waiting for them to invite him when that may be beyond their norm or comfort level to do? For example, hosting a dinner party. You don’t need an excuse to invite people and host them in your home beyond enjoying their company. Or volunteer to host a special occasion or holidays at your home. Then you can control the guest list and make introductions.
Post # 7
I have quite a few friends with a similar cultural background to you, and there’s been a huge range in how their parents have handled their relationships, but at least one has had a very similar experience to you — her parents have never asked about her dating life, haven’t met most of her serious boyfriends, and still don’t ask about and haven’t met the man she’s been living with for a year (she lives in a different country). It sounds like your parents trust you to find a good path and relationship for yourself, and are waiting to see if this moves ahead to marriage before investing and engaging personally with him. You might just have to explain to your partner that it’s not personal, and that if you do marry in the future he’ll be welcomed into the family at that point.
And the fact is not everyone bonds particularly with their in-laws! It sounds like he’s craving more of a connection with your dad, and maybe that will come with time. But it also might not and that’s ok, and also not necessarily because of a cultural difference!
Post # 8
“my perception that getting to know parents better and meeting extended family are the next steps toward progressing this relationship.”
Why is knowing the parents better and meeting extended family members the next step to progressing your relationship?
Coming from a western background, I kind of agree with your mom that a relationship is about the two involved. And while it is a little odd to not invite him to family get-togethers to me that would have no bearing on moving forward. Is your future determined by if he likes your extended family or if they like him, or his relationship with your parents? Or is it about the two of you? If you want to spend the rest of your lives together I don’t see how they would come into play unless either of your parents disapproved or something, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I met H’s parents 10 months in at Thanksgiving and see them one to two times a year. H and I see my parents once a year. We both like each other’s parents but I was a grown woman when I met them so our relationship is very much a peer to peer relationship. My grandma didn’t meet H until our wedding. Now, this wasn’t an intentional thing, she lives far away but them having a relationship or meeting had no bearing on moving our relationship forward.
Does he need to be close to your extended family to know if he wants a future with you?
While I don’t see her point about gossip as someone with an ex who my entire family loved. It made our relationship ending that much harder and worse. Everyone was sad.
Post # 9
I really appreciate all the responses! I’ve spoken to my boyfriend about his desire to meet my family, and it really comes down to the saying “when you marry, you marry the family.” His logic is if I don’t know your family well, how am I suppose to work with them/spend time with them in the future. I agree with the topic of relevancy on this, it would only apply to my parents. In terms of creating opportunities for them to get to know each other better, I could host dinner at my apartment.
When we visit my parents, it’s usually brief and not really a sit-down event to talk much. My parents are always busy bees, working on home projects around the house. It doesn’t mean he’s not included though, we have built furniture and helped on other landscaping projects. His family is more relaxed when we’ve hung out (sitting to watch movies or lounge by the pool) its also a whole weekend affair because his parents don’t live in the same state as us. My boyfriend does have a people-pleasing tendency, where I’m the opposite, so that may have created different expectations of relationship progression.
Post # 10
Do you see this friction as an impediment to the progression of your relationship? While getting to know the family might be important to you boyfriend, it’s ultimately the relationship with you that is paramount, and he should be respectful of their cultural perspective. I’d be concerned if he’s holding the progression of your relationship as contingent on his relationship with your family.
Post # 11
So for him he has to get to know your family better in order to decide if he wants to marry you… and “your family”? Because he doesn’t know how they will work together in the future or know them well enough to decide if he wants to marry you?
Personally it sounds like a weird stalling tactic. An “it’s not that I don’t know if I want to marry you after three years, but I don’t know if I want to marry your family.” What type of relationship and contact and working together is he expecting to have with them?
It’s strange to put that much pressure on having a bond and deep connection with your parents. They obviously get along just fine. If he was their son in law over time the relationship would develop, as do all relationships over time, and he would get to know them, but requiring a bond with your parents before deciding if he wants to get engaged or marrying you is strange. As he is saying his relationship with them directly effects how he feels about you and your future. What happens if this “bond” never forms, my guess is it’s an easy out to say “it’s not you I just don’t feel connected enough to your parents to want to marry you”
Your relationship isn’t about your parents, it’s about the two of you. I would definetly say I had a much closer relationship with an ex’s parents than I do with my husbands parents, but that has no bearing on who I should have married.
Post # 12
I have to agree with elodie on this one and I’d probably have another chat with him.
A) He needs to be more cognizant and accepting of the diverse cultural elements at play here.
B) While I know there is a saying that you don’t just marry a person, you marry their family…that isn’t literal. He wouldn’t be up there saying vows to your parents…he’d be saying them to you and you alone. You don’t pick your family. Lots of completely shitty people in the world procreate (I am speaking generally, not about your parents specifically – they sound like decent people). And lots of really amazing and admirable people come from really shitty childhood situations or shitty parents. So is he really saying someone with shit parents who grew into a really amazing, empathetic, kind human being isn’t worthy of marriage if he couldn’t get along and have a great relationship with their parents? Cause that’s kinda where his logic is headed there. He’s either saying that or he’s using it as an excuse to stall committing further to you.
And just like you can’t pick your family, you can’t pick your in-laws. There is no law that says in-laws have to be close and BFF’s. It is great when it works out that way, but it isn’t required. Your parents aren’t picking him…you are. And not everyone gets along or clicks with everyone. Does your boyfriend like every person he meets? Does he hang out with every person he meets and become confidantes with them? I’m sure not. There’s 7+ billion people on the planet with varied temperaments and interests and personalities. Not everyone gets along with everyone or has close relationships and that’s ok. The key is… is there respect and acceptance of those differences? And it sounds like there is on your parents part. They aren’t rude or disrespectful to him. They aren’t talking badly behind his back and denying his place in your life by trying to arrange a marriage for you. They aren’t trying to convince you to dump him. They’re just quiet and reserved. People are allowed to be quiet and reserved.
If being able to become BFFs with his (future) in-laws is a dealbreaker for him or required to be able to commit to you (the person he is actually in a relationship with)…then this may be a compatibility issue and not the right relationship for him.
Post # 13
I’m not Asian but I can relate to older parents and relatives who don’t care much for dating aspect of peoples lives until they engage or marry. Some people don’t even include your boyfriends to thier weddings as it’s not seen serious. My concern is not your parents, as they seem accepting of you, more like if you want your relationship to move forward you just move forward to the next step. Are you guys ready to be accepted as a married couple? A unit? You can’t change how older people think and how they accept people. and distant relatives have nothing to do with your relationship. My mother in law told me herself that she didn’t care much for our relationship because we weren’t married and we were just wasting time. A year later we got engaged because after dating for 5 years I thought it was a great next step. We moved in together the next day after a civil ceremony.
Maybe they just you to start a new chapter in your life.
Post # 14
I’m not Asian or have been in that situation, however I feel like part of this falls on you to help facilitate the relationship. You know how your parents are and you understand your culture. This has to be about helping to educate your boyfriend on the situation BUT also gently giving your parents a push to get to know him. He needs to give them some grace and understand the cultural difference in how they are used to things, and they need to remember they raised a prodominantly “Western” child who has different expectations about family/dating. I can understand that it’s just not how they do things but that doesn’t mean people can’t be flexible. Perhaps they haven’t put the effort in because you haven’t expressed that you’d like them to?
Have you ever sat down and flat out said “Mom & Dad – boyfriend and I are serious and moving towards the next step. I know this isn’t how it’s normally done in our culture but I was raised in a Western environment and it would really mean a lot to me and him if you guys would put in some more effort to be interested in our lives. He really wants to get to know you, but you guys have a tendancy to be standoff-ish and it’s making him intimidated that you don’t recirprocate when he tries to get to know you.” ???
The only way to find some resolve to situations like this is to TALK about it with everyone. As for your boyfriend wanting to get to know your family before marriage, Ill be the lone ranger and say I can somewhat agree with him. Maybe not extended family, but most certainly immediate family you’d see on a pretty regular basis. I would not have married someone that I didn’t like their family. I love my husband but I would not voluntarily sign myself up for a lifetime of being miserable with his family if I hadn’t liked them or enjoyed their company because he’s close with them. If he wasn’t close and never saw them it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. It sounds as though you are close with your parents and see them often? Imagine being in your boyfriends shoes where he comes over and your dad is cold and doesn’t make an effort? Meanwhile you speak of movies nights and afternoons around the pool with his family and being relaxed and welcoming. This whole situation sounds like you just need to have some conversations with everyone involved.
Post # 15
I’m also from a similar culture (South Asian). My parents also do not really consider a relationship “official” enough for extended family until engagement. Which is unfortunate, but I can understand some of their reasoning as well. All I can say is that if you are fairly confident in the future of your relationship, there will be plenty of time after you get engaged/married (if you do go that route) to have face time with family! And now’s not the best time for family gatherings either with Covid. So that might be a good excuse :).
One positive way to look at it is that extended family can be exhuasting in Asian cultures and I personally would not want to be involved anyone’s extended family until I really needed to be haha.