I have been dating a Taiwanese woman for a couple years. Things are heading toward marriage, but…
One surprise since starting TheSaltyEgg is I’ve become something of a Dear Abby for the lovelorn journeying down the Taiwanese marriage rabbit hole. I receive semi-regular mail seeking relationship advice once they’ve crashed on the rocky shoals of the Taiwanese family, more from international readers than expats who can just bounce advice and beer around on a night out. [See: Hot-Crazy-Taiwanese Matrix]. These emails come from men, women, Asians, non-Asians, and foreign born Chinese. [I know. I’m surprised too]. Marrying Taiwanese, still receives multiple daily hits five-ish years after posting. Since marriage articles seem appreciated, enjoy.
This is based on mine and acquaintences’ personal experiences. Don’t get your boxer briefs in a wad if your experience is different. I’m working from a small sample. Still, I know tens of expat-Taiwanese couples and there are some consistencies.
The article is from a foreign male/Taiwanese female perspective. Taiwanese men have their own cultural and family expectations to live up to, particularly eldest sons. There’s a strong expectation they’ll marry a Taiwanese girl and start cranking out Taiwanese boys to keep the 陳 name alive. Daughters have an inherently greater ability to break these familial/social norms, since traditionally once married they’re out of the family anyway, partially explaining the relative rarity of foreign woman/Taiwanese man marriages. It’s like seeing a pube on a millennial—sure it happens, but it gives you pause, and makes you think. If you’re not a foreign male/Taiwanese female couple, glean what you can, but your mileage may vary. Apologies for my manocentric viewpoint, the world needs a female me [sassy and sexy] to record the womancentric expat experience.
Of the interracial couples I know in Taiwan, I can only think of a couple where the Taiwanese woman comes from a healthy happy family. Traditional Taiwanese prejudices against intermarriage and the intrinsic engagement hurdles prevent most Taiwanese, that have an opportunity, from trying. It’s a difficult path. Women who wed foreigners seem to come in four models: crazy; eccentric; in an an unhealthy daddy-daughter relationship; or from a dysfunctional family.
Bonkers is bonkers, nothing much to say. Crazy is less bound by social norms. Does a soup sandwich care what other sammies think of it? I think not. So, intermarriage is OK; and as a bonus, unsuspecting foreigners are less likely to sniff out the problems. This is a small minority of intercultural marriages.
Some people are just eccentric and don’t much notice normative behavior. It’s relatively simple for them to love and marry a foreigner. Why not?
The last two models are the most common and difficult to navigate. There are lots of daddy issues floating around Taiwan. I blame Confucius. [More on that in subsequent articles]. The issue seems a bit age-specific, with younger dads being less patriarchal and more relatable for daughters. For many Taiwanese women past their mid-thirty there are issues. The patriarchy hasn’t been kind.
Logically, some of these women seek a man different from Dear Ol’ Dad—what’s more different from a Confucius-loving, honor and tradition addicted, pater than a foreigner? This category has been good to many foreign men, creating opportunities to marry above themselves. Despite the effort, many of these women marry a different skin-toned version of their father anyway: different culture, same personality.
Next are women from dysfunctional families. I’m talking about “normal” dysfunction you might expect anywhere—I still blame Confucius—but that’s my bias. If the family is unstable, the familial bonds of kinship and duty might be looser, and the woman more able to withstand family pressure.
One feature of getting engaged in Taiwan is that it’s a family affair, with both families sniffing each other‘s arses. A well-known Chinese saying is you marry the family, not the person. The exact opposite of what we say. Both side’s families check each other out, looking for red flags, checking their compatibility, and as a side-thought, maybe the children’s compatibility. 門當戶對 (homogamy) is desired. [See: Don’t Marry a Foreigner]. Many foreigners hope that like telemarketers or genital warts, if they pretend the family isn’t there long enough they’ll just disappear. Good luck. Foreigners enter marriage negotiations as free agents lacking familial baggage, but also that sober second thought. What a Taiwanese family would run screaming from, foreigners blithely stumble into. Not necessarily bad, if her family is fucked up enough a blonde might be her only reasonable option. It’s pure symbiosis, both sides have a chance to marry up. Win-win.
If the intercultural marriage is going to happen, the Taiwanese partner needs to fight family, tradition, expectations, and biases. It’s asking a lot. Rebellion against the family is not the normal resting state for Taiwanese daughters. Women need to be able to stand up for the relationship or marriage won’t happen. It seems to require some level of, or combination of, craziness, eccentricity, dysfunction, or desire to flip Dad—or what he represents—the bird. [Also see: Getting Engaged in Taiwan].