Two Sense: Getting Caught in the Middle of A Cultural Divide


I'm a second-generation Taiwanese-American woman who was born and raised here. My boyfriend emigrated from Japan to the US about 10 years ago, and we’ve been in a serious relationship for a year. I invited him to several of my family functions this past year and he attended, but he later told me they were almost unbearably stressful for him, because in Japanese culture, it’s considered extremely disrespectful to attend a family event unless the couple is married or at least engaged. His family back in Japan was shocked to learn he visited my family with me. I don’t want to disrespect his culture or force him to do anything, but my parents, who are assimilated, now think he’s being too rigid and that he’s not truly serious about me. We’re caught in the middle of a cultural divide and I’m afraid our families are going to undermine our relationship. Help.

He Said: If your boyfriend's family wants the two of you to get engaged before you visit them, that's their cultural prerogative, no matter how backward it may seem. But it is not fair—in fact it is downright intolerant—for them to dictate his relationship to your family, and your boyfriend needs to be adult enough reject their influence when it comes to your generous and healthy desire to include him in your family functions. Just as it would be disrespectful to visit his family in Japan without an engagement, the reverse is certainly true here. They can't have it both ways. Above all else, don't allow familiar peer pressure to force you into a marriage for which you are not ready. That's a recipe for misery and, ultimately, divorce.

She Said: You seem very level-headed, committed to your boyfriend, and respectful of his needs and culture. By all means, don’t force him to visit your family again until he’s ready, and tell your family that you love him and you want their support in compromising with him on this important issue. But meanwhile, ask yourself, and him: Back in Japan, how long does a couple usually date before they become engaged? I’m thinking it’s not extremely long. Ask yourself: When do you foresee this relationship moving toward marriage with an official engagement? He sounds extremely traditional, so I doubt he’ll want to date you much longer without a marriage proposal. And then not only can he can come to your family events in peace, but your parents will also see proof that his commitment to you matches yours to him. He needs to choose: He is either hyper-traditional and doesn’t plan to date for years on end like a Westerner, or he assimilates and visits his girlfriend’s family the way Westerners do.

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