It’s a mystery how my brother and I were conceived as my old school Chinese mom and dad rarely expressed any affection with one another. And yet, with no real displays of romance between my parents, my mother still felt that she was an authority on love and courtship. But that should not be surprising as with all old school Chinese mothers – especially mine, it’s a given that they will be dogmatic about all important matters from finding your life partner to the optimum way of folding your underwear.
With mom, dating is only a path towards marriage which is only a vehicle for legitimate procreation to produce children and maintain the family’s profile within the community (or rather, loose network of Chinese friends and family who one up each other through their offspring). There is no love or romance in that equation. Love is war and romance is agent orange – it will leave you defenseless and utterly useless. So in the spirit of Valentine’s Week, I wanted to share some rules of romance and dating that could only come from an Old School Chinese Mom.
1. LIKE A VIRGIN: For girls – don’t lose your virginity before marriage – or else you’ll lose face! This rule is more challenging for atheists, agnostics and secular, loosely observant Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. Essentially anyone who doesn’t want to risk the possibility of poor sexual chemistry to God and chance. Boys just have to make sure they don’t get the girl pregnant.
2. MONEY…AND FOOD TALKS: For girls, if you marry or date non-Chinese, they better be rich. But not too rich, otherwise they will cheat on you. It’s all about the man having enough to be impressive but not so much that they attract gold diggers and hot, young mistresses…For boys, just make sure your non-Chinese lady can cook Chinese food, bear children, do housework, respects your Old School mama, and cooks…did I say cook?
3. FINE PEDIGREE: If you marry or date a Chinese, they should come from a “good” family and have graduated from a “good” school. When she said “good” family, I didn’t know what that meant. Was it a family simply devoid of gangsters or gamblers? Or, a family worthy of a Chinatown plaque emblazoned with their name and a Rose Bowl style parade for the patriarch’s funeral service? I don’t know if “good” school meant Harvard (a brand-name school for Chinese families) or UCSF (where all the good Chinese kids become doctors) or University of Chicago (the tough school for smart kids that Chinese families have never heard of). I think she used the term “good” in a deliberately subjective way so that you’d never be sure if you were completely in the clear. It’s like doing itemized deductions for the IRS – even if you follow the rules, you’re still living in fear of an audit.
4. LOOK LIKE A LADY: For girls, don’t dress like a floozy or else you’re asking for trouble. But alternatively, make an effort - otherwise you may as well have “Old Maid” tattooed on your forehead. For boys, don’t even think about bringing a girl home unless she’s properly dressed for mom. I suspect if porn star is at 10 and Buddhist nun is at 1, then a Singapore Airlines stewardess is at 5 – the amount of hotness that falls on the right side of appropriateness.
5. DON’T PARTY: For girls, don’t drink from open bottles at parties as someone may be slipping rufies and before you know it, that “nice” guy you met will have you shooting porn to cover your room and board at his shit hole apartment in the Valley. And boys, don’t even think about inhaling – you could crash your car, get a girl pregnant, or get arrested. Basically, turn into Charlie Sheen after one drag. With all my mother’s concerns regarding drugs, you’d think that the film, Reefer Madness – the cautionary tale about marijuana, came with Chinese subtitles.
6. THE KIDS ARE NOT ALRIGHT: Don’t marry anyone who came from a divorced family or else you will eventually divorce as well. Instead, marry someone with parents who also believed marriage was about a lifetime commitment to annoying the crap out of one another and is on board to continue with that glorious tradition.
Was my mother alone in killing the allure of romance…seeing marriage as deal to broker and love as a hazard that can only bring bad decisions, embarrassment, and shame?