The Leftover Man (剩男)

leftover-men-bnw

Photo Credit: W-Two World

“Her dad’s got a great reputation in the community!”  My mom shouts across the dining table. “She’s the one,”  she says nonchalantly.

In fact, she wasn’t the one. She was one of the many Fujianese girls that my family (and friends) have tried to set me up with over the span of two years.

“Don’t have unusually high standards or you’ll become a leftover man!” She shouts again.

Leftover indeed.  To provide some context, by my mid twenties, just about all of my cousins and Fujianese friends were married; some with kids.  Almost overnight, my whole extended family unanimously agreed it was time for me take the plunge as well.

The psychology of Fujianese courtship has always fascinated me.  Men are taught to be overly generous and to shower their partner with affection (which typically comes in some form of a designer handbag).  Women are expected to produce five course michelin-star meals and to maintain a spotless home.  Above all, the parental input into the relationship was of excruciating importance.  

While the Fujianese diaspora has permeated throughout the world, the community remains tight-knit.  This means that stories of unscrupulous investments and failed marriages will travel far and wide, and those same stories can stigmatize a whole family and their social stance in the community.  This incredible community tie is a tremendous source of strength but is also foundational in analyzing why Asian men (and women) have such anxiety dating in America.

Hypergamy – [ The act of marrying “up” the socioeconomic ladder]

In an age where we think it is rather barbaric to let material wealth define our love, hypergamy is very much present in our conversation about marriage.  In fact, the first piece of information promoted by matchmakers will typically concern the family’s wealth:

“He is a great guy…his dad’s got three houses and a successful business!”  

As if a man with a successful father will automatically make a great life partner?  Perhaps, but no millennials like to think that they married you for your family wealth.  In fact, do you really want to be with someone that was attracted to you based solely upon your financial prowess?

To be fair, Fujianese parents who make family wealth a centerpiece of the marriage conversation are often those who have suffered through famines and extreme poverty, and they wish nothing more than to have their kids grow up in a financially stable home.  Therefore this eagerness generally stems from love rather than materialism.

Reverse Hypergamy

The problem with hypergamy is that unrealistic material expectations are set for Asian men.  I recall a famous Chinese dating show where a female contestant claimed that she would rather cry in a BMW than share a romantic ride on a bicycle.

In an age where the average American woman has made more financial gains over the past 15 years than her male counterpart, this unidirectional form of hypergamy has pushed educated women to seek out even more educated men, concentrating the match making to only a narrow pool of eligible bachelors.  This leaves an increasingly large void for our less well-to-do lads at the bottom, creating massive amount of social anxiety.  Check out this story about a man holding a woman hostage for two hours, trying to convince her to marry him right before Chinese New Year!

There is a solution to all this madness: make hypergamy bidirectional.  Instead of competing with other better educated women, women can open up the opportunities to men who may not be as educated or financially successful.  Conversely, if men can discard this social construct of always being the provider, they too can appreciate a hard working, more successful wife.  If Bill Clinton can learn to be the man behind an alpha female, you can too!

Sometimes Leftovers Tastes Better

Not all single Asian men are “leftovers” by measures of their material successes.  In fact, some of the most successful men I know are single into their late 30s.  Some aren’t ready to start a family while others have yet to discover how to reconcile their family values with a western upbringing.  These are all valid reasons to chill out no matter how annoying Thanksgiving dinners might be… again.  Finding the right partner hinges on too many factors to be forced upon you.  We discovered that folks who lead lives driven by intention will, in their unique ways attract the right people.  So let yourself marinate away in life because leftovers do taste better sometimes.

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