Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m Chinese and My Boyfriend is White and I’m Worried About Losing my Culture With Him”

I’ve been dating my boyfriend, “Roger,” for about a year and a half. I am Chinese and he is white. He is my first serious boyfriend and the first man I’ve brought home to my family. He is beyond “accepting” of my culture, which has always been important to me. Recently, though, I came across a situation and I hope I can get your advice.

My whole family speaks English fluently. I usually speak in a mix of Chinese and English with my parents and just English with a bit of Chinese vocabulary with my siblings and brother-in-law.

My boyfriend met my family after about eight months, partly because we are a more conservative family so I wanted to be a bit more sure. At our first lunch, we all spoke English and around 1% Chinese. Now, when my family goes out with my boyfriend, we will all speak English out of politeness with maybe 5% Chinese. I try mostly to translate it back to my boyfriend. I have asked my boyfriend if he minds this, and he said as long as we aren’t talking about him (which we aren’t), he doesn’t mind.

The other night my boyfriend, my dad, and I went to a concert. This was the first time in this “combination,” so I was a little nervous. I was sitting in the middle. I wanted to talk to my dad just about some family stuff as an aside and I just wanted to speak in Chinese with him, but since my boyfriend was there I spoke in English. It just felt weird.

It kind of brought forward uneasy thoughts about being an interracial and bi-lingual couple. Am I losing my culture? I hate to change the way my family speaks because my boyfriend is there.

I never ruled anyone out based on race when I was dating. Obviously, I knew there were things to discuss about race when we first started dating. It’s just now though, a year and a half in, and as we continue to date, that I am really realizing the implications. I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but do you have any advice on dealing with language? — Language Barrier

I’m not sure I understand what the problem is? You’ve asked your boyfriend if he minds when you speak Chinese with your family and he says he doesn’t (as long as you aren’t speaking about him). You don’t mention him complaining or asking you to stop. Your worry seems 100% projection on your part, which isn’t to say there isn’t reason to be concerned or that your fears are totally unfounded, but nothing you’ve said indicates that your fears are the result of your boyfriend’s behavior or attitude towards you, your relationship, how you interact with your family, or your cultural differences. Instead, it seems to me that your fears stem from your own attitude.

You say that a year and a half into dating you and your boyfriend are starting to realize the implications of dating someone of a different race/culture, but the only example you give of such implications is feeling weird speaking Chinese in front of your boyfriend. You need to think about WHY you feel weird about this — maybe you think it’s rude. (well, it kind of is. And, more pointedly, if you’re out with two people, why discuss topics with one that you know don’t interest and will exclude another? Honestly, the language barrier isn’t secondary to this.) Do you feel like your boyfriend doesn’t show enough interest in your culture or family? Would you like him to learn some Chinese as a way of showing his commitment to you and your relationship? These are all things to think about, modify in your own behavior, and discuss with your boyfriend moving forward.

This could very well simply be a case that your relationship has reached a point where it’s either going to get more serious or… it’s going to run its course. Maybe you are looking for signs about which direction it’s heading, or where you think your boyfriend wants it to head. Instead of reading signs where there aren’t any or misinterpreting messages, you should communicate with your boyfriend. Does he see a future with you? If so, what are your mutual concerns about combining your cultures? Obviously, the language barrier seems like one for you. So, express that to your boyfriend, and frame it around what YOUR needs are rather than projecting those needs onto him and then feeling resentment or concern that you’re “losing your culture.” Don’t lose your culture. Embrace it and celebrate it! And let your boyfriend know what he can do to also embrace and celebrate your culture, because in doing so, he will be expressing love for you. And, hopefully, that is exactly what he wants to do.

My husband is very over-protective with his phone, and he sometimes spends up to an hour in the bathroom with it. I know it’s totally normal for men to watch porn, no issues there so far. However, I looked through his history of Google searches, and it turns out he searches weird titles like “father having sex with daughter” and “mother daughter during lesbian moment.” They’re pretty much all family-related topics. I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old niece living with us, and when he found out my daughter began dating a few months ago and he knew she was having sex, he got upset and no longer speaks to her. I’m trying to put pieces of the puzzle together and I’m beginning to think he was jealous of my daughter growing up. He has never made insinuations to either one, but his behavior is so odd towards my daughter and unexplainable since his biological daughter got pregnant at 19 and has two kids.

I’m open and accept his watching p0rn, but the the titles and topics he searches concern me. Please help me understand his sick mind. — Concerned About His Google Searches

 
It’s important to remember that the kind of porn someone might watch doesn’t necessarily reflect their real-life sexual interests. Just because your husband is Googling certain topics doesn’t mean he has even the slightest desire to engage in such fetishes in reality. That said, he might. And since it’s clear you don’t trust him and he’s been bizarre towards your teenage daughter, and you have another teenage girl who lives with you, you need to protect them. The fact that he has stopped talking to your daughter because she’s having sex with her boyfriend is a red flag, for sure. It’s time to take this to marriage counseling to address the way he’s treating your daughter and the concerns you have about his sexual interests and whether they cross a line that endangers the safety and security of others, including the teenage girls in your care. If he cannot earn your confidence and trust, you should consider leaving him.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

30 comments… add one
  • avatar

    brise June 25, 2019, 10:08 am

    LW1: two comments. 1. Don’t have aparte with your father in presence of your BF. Aparte are impolite in general.
    2. Your BF, if he is serious, could start learning Chinese, at least to converse with your family. This is the bare minimum in an bi-language relationship. It is certainly a tough language to learn for an English native speaker, but he could and should definitely give a try.

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    anonymousse June 25, 2019, 11:26 am

    LW1: I don’t really see how this particular example is you losing your culture. You shouldn’t be talking about personal family stuff with your bf there if that’s not okay, just meet your dad another time. Your bf said he doesn’t mind when you speak Chinese with your family.

    LW2: It is fucking bizarre that he’s ignoring your daughter because she’s having sex. I would be very careful and check in with her without implicating him. Maybe the porn means nothing, but added to his other behavior, and the fact that you have two young women in your home, you need to talk to him and go to counseling. If you can easily see his search history, it’s not a stretch that they could stumble upon it. It comes off creepy given the circumstances. I would bring it up ASAP, when you are alone. Don’t bring this up when you’re at home with the young women, or be out of the house somewhere semi private.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse June 25, 2019, 11:27 am

      What was the conversation like when he stopped talking to her?

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  • avatar

    MP June 25, 2019, 11:26 am

    LW #1: Hi I’m East Asian and married to a white guy so I sort of feel like an expert on this topic! I agree with WWS! Your boyfriend isn’t asking you to stop speaking Chinese around him – he even encouraged y’all to keep speaking Chinese (so long as y’all aren’t talking about him). If you want to feel more validated/celebrated in your identity you should encourage him to learn the language and include him in cultural celebrations. My husband took my family’s language in college before even meeting me so I’m currently helping him learn more since my family overseas speak no English.

    LW#2: Why on earth is your husband ignoring your daughter for being sexually active? Is he just… not saying hi or being dead silent with her in the same room. That’s so bizarre – what does that even look like? Couples counseling needs to happen asap.

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    LW1 June 25, 2019, 11:40 am

    Thanks Wendy and the comments above. I definitely agree that this is coming from me. I put “accepting” in quotation marks because it’s not really the right word. He totally embraces it. I bring him to our Chinese festival family events and he seems to like it and likes to learn about it. He likes the food and trying new foods which, I know is trivial, is important to me. I don’t think I can ask him to learn the language (my family speaks Cantonese and it’s hard enough for me to learn Mandarin!) but I will start teaching him some new words/key words. My mom and I already have especially since my mom and dad are mainly speaking to my baby niece in Chinese.

    Also just for the side conversation, I added that we were concert to imply we were sitting in a row. I got a text that my grandma in Hong Kong felt dizzy that day so I just leaned over to ask my dad about her— and I wasn’t sure what language to use even though my boyfriend probably couldn’t hear me anyway. That’s what brought all of this up. I guess it’s something my boyfriend could’ve heard—I just didn’t want to share until I knew more—please don’t read anything into this!

    I think it is really coming from more pressure (external and internal, intended or not) in the past about finding a spouse who was also Chinese and also having that shared background. My Chinese is also not great either so I do have fear of how to pass that on to my children (the concept of which my bf and I have talked about).

    We are at that point of moving forward (or, I guess, not) and have been discussing more serious things over the last six months. I can see a future with him. I really couldn’t ask more of him to embrace my culture. I just have to be open to share it.

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    • avatar

      Ashley June 25, 2019, 10:30 pm

      I get where you are coming from, in terms of just having that mutual understanding versus having to “teach” him. If otherwise he is a good partner, go for it.

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  • avatar

    Kate June 25, 2019, 12:10 pm

    Okay, so, I actually DON’T think this is normal:

    “My husband is very over-protective with his phone, and he sometimes spends up to an hour in the bathroom with it. I know it’s totally normal for men to watch porn, no issues there so far. “

    Like, I’d have issues there so far. Watching porn, sure. Being overprotective of his phone and spending an hour in the bathroom with it, no, that’s weird. Never seen a guy do those things, and I’m now working from home all day as is my husband. That behavior should have you on alert, and the way he’s treating your daughter is a huge red flag. The topics of the porn are less concerning on their own, but in combination with his actual behavior, you should be concerned. Definitely make him go to counseling with you. This is not okay.

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    • avatar

      Kate June 25, 2019, 12:20 pm

      To be more specific about why I’d have issues there so far, the protectiveness of the phone and the time spent in the bathroom suggests something more to me than normal, like, “find a video, masturbate, and move on with your day” behavior. That takes what, 10-15 minutes? And frankly shouldn’t really even be happening in a way that’s noticeable to you. This sounds like a compulsion or addiction. And given the topics in his search history, yeah, that should worry you.

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    • avatar

      csp June 25, 2019, 12:33 pm

      So I don’t think the bathroom/phone thing is weird. My husband will “hide” on the toilet with his phone for like an hour. It is also a trope in many movies like This is 40 so I feel like that alone isn’t odd. But I would check in with my daughter. I can not imagine living in a home where two people aren’t speaking for the forseeable future. If you have an issue, talk it out.

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      • avatar

        Kate June 25, 2019, 12:45 pm

        Really, an hour? That would piss me off, especially if I’m home at the time and there’s a kid, like why do you need to hide from us for an entire hour?

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        csp June 25, 2019, 2:48 pm

        I think he starts reading a sports blog or goes down a youtube rabbit hole. But he does it to decompress. It is odd to me but I know enough women talk about it that i think it is a thing.

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  • avatar

    cdobbs June 25, 2019, 12:32 pm

    LW1 I wouldn’t say you are losing your culture because you speak english when your boyfriend is there….i would say if you spoke chinese while he was there it would be rude….just save the chinese for when you are alone with your family and everyone can understand what you are talking about
    LW2 I wouldn’t worry about the porn (what people watch and what they would do in real life (fantasy vs reality) are different and it doesn’t mean he would ever act on those fantasies….i would be more concerned about his cold, judgemental attitude towards your daughter

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  • avatar

    anonymousse June 25, 2019, 12:38 pm

    I’m normally not a person to suggest looking at someone’s phone, but I think you should if you can. I’d also be snooping around your house. What’s in the bathroom that’s occupying him for an hour? He’s being weird. Your concern should be for your daughter and your niece. I’d check for cameras.

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  • Copa

    Copa June 25, 2019, 12:38 pm

    LW1 – This sounds like a language issue, not a loss-of-culture issue. My mom is from another country and a non-native English speaker. My dad learned the language partially out of interest, partially to converse with his in-laws, and he’s pretty good. At a wedding I just went to, my friend’s husband (not Chinese) gave a short speech to her parents in Chinese. He’s not fluent but he tries. I’d actually find it pretty odd if your BF has shown zero interest in learning even some Chinese basics.

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    • avatar

      MissD June 25, 2019, 1:20 pm

      Maybe I’m a jerk but I have absolutely zero interest in learning Tamil lol. I’m interested in my boyfriend’s culture and I respect it and I’m happy to integrate it into our lives however he wishes… but I definitely won’t be learning to speak Tamil for him.

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  • avatar

    csp June 25, 2019, 12:38 pm

    LW1 – I agree that I don’t think your boyfriend is blocking you here. But you are at a point in your relationship where you should start thinking about the rest of your life and the family you may or may not want. So I think culture/religion is one of the biggest issues you will deal with in a marriage. What do you value and what is important to you. Do you want a man who lives and believes the way you grew up? Is this worth breaking up over? My husband had two parents of different religions and hated it. So when we dated, it meant a lot that we felt the same way about things. I don’t know if it was a deal breaker but it sure makes life easier when all your cultural and holiday stuff is the same. I think you need to decide how much that means to you. Look at Wendy’s list of things to talk about before moving in/getting married. I think you need to explore these conversations at this point in your relationship.

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  • avatar

    ron June 25, 2019, 1:31 pm

    LW#1 — It sounds like you and bf are getting more serious and that does raise issues. I don’t see this as you losing your culture. What will become more significant is how much of your culture your children will be immersed in. That can be a serious issue.

    LW#2 — Yes, porn and real life issues can diverge, but they often are the same, with the porn addressing feelings and desires not obtainable in real life. The porn coupled with the odd reaction to daughter should be seen as alarming. Checking for hidden cameras is prudent. Today they can be very tiny. I wouldn’t just assume that he presence of the two young women has nothing to do with his decision to be with you.

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  • avatar

    Part-time Lurker June 25, 2019, 2:48 pm

    Yeah, to me an hour in the bathroom is a little weird and the type of porn he’s watching is definitely………not your average run-of-the-mill variety; but I’m wondering if he stopped speaking to your daughter because he’s disappointed in/angry with his bio daughter for getting pregnant so young and is afraid that your daughter will end up pregnant as well? Honestly, no matter what he is or isn’t doing in the bathroom if this raises creepy red flags for you then you need to listen to your gut. Gavin De Becker 101

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  • avatar

    ele4phant June 25, 2019, 4:51 pm

    So I could be speaking out of turn as I’m a mono-language white lady married to a guy that is biracial but was basically raised in a mono-cultural environment (he only speaks English, he doesn’t have particularly strong connection to his maternal heritage), but I kind of feel LW1’s concerns, based on my own anecdote.

    If they stick together and have kids, it’s hard to pass on language and culture to kids when only one person has a handle on the language and culture.

    My Aunt married a Frenchman, and raised their kids in France. She went all in on learning the language and the culture (you kind of have to if you’re going to be a SHM in another country). They all moved back to the US when my cousins were adults. My adult male cousin married an American woman (that doesn’t speak French) and is raising his family here. Even though he’s fully fluent, even though he’s really more French than American, even though the grandparents are a half mile away, he’s having a hard time getting his kids to speak in French, to think of themselves as French. They outright refuse to respond in French when spoken to in French, although they do seem to understand. They don’t want to be different.

    My brother married a woman of Chinese descent. She was brought up by immigrant parents, she can speak the language, grandma is close by, but again, my brother doesn’t speak the language and with my niece, again, they have a hard time reinforcing that at home they want her to speak Mandarin. Her friends speak English, her Dad speaks to her in English, her parents speak to one another in English, why should she speak in Mandarin to just her Mom?

    Plenty of families make it work when only one parent speaks a second language, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s hard. One parent being supportive and not standing in the way isn’t enough; seems like you really need both parents capable of reinforcing it at home.

    Even if her English-only speaking boyfriend is totally content sitting quietly while she’s with her family speaking her language, even if she can get at ease with the idea of him not understanding what is being said around him, if they have kids it might be a challenge for her to impart her language on her kids if he can’t speak it. Maybe he’ll be willing to learn it before they get to that point. Maybe it’ll work for them if he speaks to the kids in English and she doesn’t, even if other families have struggled with this approach.

    But I think if she’s serious about creating a future with him it’s legitimate to wonder what the risk to her ability to pass on her language and culture will be if she’s partnered up with someone that can’t speak it.

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    • avatar

      ron June 26, 2019, 9:00 am

      Yes, kids of different ethnicity parents (or even two non-English parents) can push for all-English to fit into American or British culture and this can easily work for a family, although the grandparents may not be pleased. BUT… in my experience, the person who expresses worry to friends or writes into an advice column with concerns of losing their cultural identity in a relationship/marriage to a person of a different culture is precisely the person who is going to be extremely bothered by their children not immersing into that culture. I have a hard time believing that a LW this concerned about losing culture isn’t going to insist that her children practice that culture, rather than assuming the dominant culture of their country or her spouse’s culture.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant June 26, 2019, 1:00 pm

        Oh, I suppose. Anecdote is not data, but my personal observation has been that when the parents have different ethnic/cultural backgrounds (my brother, my cousin), it’s difficult to impart the non-dominant culture at home when both parents aren’t capable of enforcing it.

        But, YMMV, and because it’s something the LW is already concerned about it she may be proactive enough that it won’t be an issue for her.

        But, it’s certainly a consideration for her to worry about, and even if she and he are ultimately successful at raising bi-lingual and bi-cultural kids, it’ll be harder with him than with someone who already knows her culture.

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        ele4phant June 26, 2019, 1:09 pm

        And to be clear, both my cousin and SIL are TRYING very hard, and their spouses are supportive, but all the kids are rejecting attempts to get them to speak in-language at home.

        Like, you speak to them in French or Mandarin, they answer in English. So clearly they understand, but it’s not clear if they are capable of formulating their own thoughts and responding in-language, because they just won’t do it.

        All the kids are 5-10, so maybe even if they are refusing to speak back in language, perhaps more is encoded in their brain and as adults they will be capable of easily becoming bilingual should they choose to make the effort.

        But right now? They don’t want to be different from their friends, they hear English at school and they hear it from one parent, they want to speak back in English. It’s just how it’s going in those households right now, despite best efforts otherwise to encourage them to use their second language.

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      • avatar

        MP June 26, 2019, 1:21 pm

        (chiming in as an anecdotal success story of two cultures coming together without one being lost. Feel free to ask questions)

        Background: So my dad is of mixed European ancestry and is American and my mom is from East Asia and is not an American citizen. I strongly identify as Asian American because the dominant culture + language in my household is from my mother’s side and I look the part enough to be read as fully Asian.

        My East Asian heritage was dominant despite growing up in an all-white suburb in the Midwest (a very racist one that made our lives hell for being different at that) and even in my late 20’s I have a strong grip on my culture and native language. I think this is due to my dad being supportive my mother speaking to us in her native language (despite his comprehension of the language being rusty) and enforcing her rules about us studying the language on weekends and making sure we consumed kiddie shows from the motherland and whatnot. My mom would give us positive reinforcement when we’d do our workbooks and I think when done right, children of mixed heritage can absolutely learn the language and culture of their parents. It’s a shame that on my father’s side, his parents were quick to fully assimilate and refused to speak their own European languages in the home. My dad really feels regret that he was denied the opportunity to know his family’s languages.

        But yeah, TLDR LW you should marry someone that’s supportive of your culture and your language or else your kids might sadly be denied of their culture like my poor dad was!

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  • avatar

    dinoceros June 25, 2019, 6:22 pm

    LW1: I do think it’s excessive for you to cease all Chinese speaking simply because your boyfriend is there. Like Wendy said, your boyfriend even said he’s fine if you speak Chinese. I am a white person. If I were dating a person of another culture, I’d totally be fine with them speaking in their native language with their family. Sure, I’d want them to speak English sometimes, and being translated to is good. If I were with this person long-term, I’d choose to learn what I could of their language. I’m not sure not everyone would do this, but I like languages.

    I think that any white person who goes into the home of a family that speaks another language and expects all English would be obnoxious. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. You’re sort of blaming your boyfriend/relationship for losing your culture when you are making the choice to stop speaking Chinese, despite your boyfriend being cool with it. It’s not fair to him to do that. I think it’s also a bad habit to get into where you give up parts of yourself in order to “not rock the boat” in a relationship, and even more so when it wouldn’t even rock the boat…

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    • avatar

      dinoceros June 25, 2019, 6:25 pm

      LW2: I also think the porn is irrelevant. The issue here is that he’s giving your daughter the silent treatment. That’s not OK, and especially when its purpose is to shame her for having sex. To be honest, I’m a little confused as to why you are letting this go on without intervening. I’d tell my husband very clearly that his behavior is unacceptable and insist he stop. Additionally, I think the fact that his bio daughter got pregnant as a teen is very likely WHY he’s upset. Clearly, her having sex resulted in something bad ( I mean, I’m sure she loves her kids and he loves his grandkids, but it’s far from ideal) for her, and he likely doesn’t want it to happen again. But regardless, his behavior is not cool. If he can’t learn to deal with things he doesn’t like without ignoring people, maybe some family counseling is in order.

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  • avatar

    purplestar June 25, 2019, 8:00 pm

    “father having sex with daughter”

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  • avatar

    PurpleStar June 25, 2019, 8:04 pm

    “father having sex with daughter”
    No. No.No.
    This is not a normal search term. Coupled with his behavior towards your daughter now that she is sexually active, it makes me cringe.

    It is time for a major conversation with your husband.

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  • avatar

    Allornone June 26, 2019, 8:13 am

    I wouldn’t worry about speaking Chinese in front of him sometimes, especially if he’s already indicated he’s okay with it. I’m a white chick dating a first-generation Cuban. His mother speaks very little English, so when we are over there, Spanish is the dominant language (though his step-dad tries to engage me in English as much as possible, as does my SO). I don’t bat an eye. It’s who he is and what he comes from. If anything, I’m now trying to expand on the bit of Spanish I do know so I can speak with her better without a translator. One day, I plan to be fluent. But if you’re worried about losing your culture, sit down and talk to him about it. Discuss what you think the future looks like, things like how you’ll raise your kids with respect to yout culture, etc. From what you say, he seems like a very respectful and reasonable fellow. If you are open and honest, I think you’ll be alright.

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  • avatar

    bittersweet411 June 27, 2019, 1:06 pm

    I’ve been with my husband for 10 years. I’m Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), he’s Russian, we were both raised in Canada and communicate in English. (I’m also speak French so he’s used to hearing languages he doesn’t understand in my presence.) We both speak to our parents exclusively in our native tongue because it’s an opportunity to practice the language. I suspect you’re afraid that you might be losing your culture because you’re not a fluent speaker (as per your letter), which is probably why you think you can so easily lose it. Wendy’s right, this is a projection of your own insecurities. Your boyfriend hasn’t shown any sign that he wants to stop you from doing whatever it is that you do around your family, but maybe you also know you’re not really doing enough to preserve your culture on your own (you sound like an ABC). If you made more of an effort, you wouldn’t feel like you’d be vulnerable to losing something that you currently only have a tentative hold on. If you learned the language properly, no one will be able to take it from you.

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  • avatar

    Sarah June 30, 2019, 10:55 pm

    LW#1 – Maybe not yet, but eventually it would be totally reasonable to ask your BF to learn some Chinese. Sure, he’ll probably never be fluent, but if your language is important to you, then I think it’s reasonable to ask him to try to learn a little! A friend of mine and her boyfriend, both immigrants to the US from different countries and both speaking English as their second language, have been learning each other’s native languages!

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