Marrying a person from a different nationality comes with many advantages – you get to discover their country as a local, face some unexpected challenges that hopefully make you grow as a person, and taste so much good food.
However, coming from two different cultures can also have an effect of the power dynamic in a relationship, especially if the two are you are not living in a third-culture country. When you and your partner live in a country where neither of you understand the law of the land, it becomes about figuring life out together. However, when you live in your partner’s country, it is very easy to become dependent on them to various extents.
I always liked to think of myself as a very independent person and asking my husband for help too often makes me feel bad. However, I have recently discovered an unpleasant truth about myself: without noticing, I have become incredibly dependent on my Chinese husband when dealing with life in China.
How on earth did this happen? It is of course understandable that a foreign partner who doesn’t speak the local language would need a lot of help in daily life from their local spouse. That being said, for me personally there is no reason whatsoever to be as dependent as I am on him when it comes to things like paying bills, ordering takeout and deliveries, or calling in to make a reservation. The problem is not language; I speak Chinese well enough to be able to do all of these things, so why is it that he takes on a disproportionate amount of the little daily tasks that involve Chinese?
A Question of Local Knowledge or Security?
One part of it, I like to convince myself, is the fact that he is the king of finding deals; so when it comes to ordering food or groceries, he’ll always have snagged some voucher or other from the depths of the internet. Consequently, if I order or buy anything online and end up paying more, he will actually complain about the 5 kuai I just wasted.
Yet, then again there are the many other small tasks that don’t involve saving money that I seem quite eager to delegate to him without much thought. It’s almost like there’s an assumption in the relationship that because an interaction happens in his language, it’s simply easier for him to take care of these responsibilities, even though I could manage fine on my own.
Is it laziness or is it insecurity? I do admit to sometimes worrying about whether I will understand what the person on the phone is on about. Often if someone calls me and I don’t get their meaning right away, I will just chuck my phone at my husband like a hot potato rather than stick it out and try to figure it out on my own. In these circumstances it is simply the fact that there is an easier option – him. When I need to take care of bills or official documentation, there is always an underlying worry that I will tick the wrong box or misunderstand some vital information and therefore mess it all up. So I reckon it’s a laziness born out of insecurity. Why even risk it, when having your local husband take care of it is just so much easier.
I cannot help but wonder what my dependence on him does to our relationship dynamic. I have to admit that he has never complained about the fact that I rely on him in many things, and even if he is away he will eagerly order groceries from his special savings site for me. It sometimes feels like he almost enjoys being needed this way. After all, helpless female is something that is generally considered “cute” and “attractive” in China. But still, I cannot help but imagine that if it were the other way around I might get a bit tired of constantly having to nanny my partner, when they really are capable of doing something on their own.
Finally, my reliance also means that as soon as the husband isn’t around, I once again go through a process of having to get used to doing everything on my own, while at the same time realizing how much I have come to rely on him for the little chores. For someone who enjoys feeling independent, this is not a very pleasant revelation. But rather than being depressed about my battered ego, I tend to think that my husband’s absences are now proving a good exercise. Having to deal with all these small nuisances reminds me that I can actually do many things in China on my own. I might not save those 5 kuai in the end, but I definitely won’t starve either.
Photo: Tina Franklin (Flickr)