During my second semester of nursing school, I was enrolled in a gerontology course in which I had the opportunity to spend time with senior citizens afflicted with dementia. During one of my assignments, I visited the sprawling grounds of a nearby Catholic school to attend a monthly social event for such individuals so that they could have a fresh face to converse with. I truly enjoyed it – after all, I consider myself a fairly sociable person and have a tendency to get along with my patients at work better than others. For this reason, I had a wonderful time listening to the seniors tell me about their lives and managed to catch the attention of one individual in particular named Bill.
I’m not certain why Bill took such a liking to me – perhaps it was because I humored him as he rambled about various vintage car models that I could only pretend to recognize. Or, as I sat down at his table, perhaps it was due to my genuine amusement when he introduced himself to me as “The Egg Man.” Whatever the reason may have been, I managed to build a rapport with him to the point that he was discussing his personal life with me… along with his deepest regrets.
Over the course of his seventy-odd years of life, Bill’s number one regret was the fact that he never made time to pursue a relationship.
He worked since he was nine years old, he explained. He never married, never had any children, and never even owned any pets. Work was always more important, and you could bet that he took great pride in it. Yet, when he was sixty-five, he managed to enter into his first relationship. Five years after, the couple went their separate ways. And when it was all said and done, he went back to doing what he had done since he was nine years old – working at a small-town grocery store, specifically keeping the egg section stocked.
It’s who he was. The Egg Man.
He had nothing left. No real friends or family. He told me that their monthly social gathering was one of the few things he had left to look forward to and that, when he’s present, the outside world doesn’t matter. His words were heavy, but his eyes showed no sadness – only acceptance.
Even so, Bill’s story stuck with me because it seemed so… sad. I can still remember how he awkwardly stood next to the door to wait for me as I was leaving so that he could tell me how much he enjoyed our conversation. However, as I grew busier with my coursework during nursing school, I soon forgot all about it.
So why is it that, at the age of twenty-six, I cannot help but reflect on this man’s life?
Well, as is probably typical for parents whose child is in their mid-twenties and has finally attained stable employment, I get asked frequently about marriage (or rather, told most of the time). I get told about when I should be married. I get told about what races and skin colors I should get married to (yes, really). I even get told about where I should live once married. It’s maddening. It causes me bouts of anxiety unlike I have ever experienced. But, what scares me the most… is the fact that nobody even asked if I wanted to get married.
They just assumed. Sure, it’s not a completely unreasonable assumption to make, but I would still appreciate the courtesy of being asked. To my foreign-cultured parents however, such tact is often disregarded as frivolity… or perhaps they were afraid of what my answer would be.
See, I think I would be fine if never get married. I don’t think I would lament the loss of having my own kids. Even if I did, there exist opportunities for adoption and I already do not subscribe to the archaic notion of blood defining family. I want to explore the world, further my career, and, at the end of the day, sit quietly in my room without anybody fussing me. That is my happiness.
But then, I think about Bill.
If I were to live like that, would I eventually come to regret my actions? Indeed, I would be forgoing stages of life that many traverse without a second thought. I cannot help but feel that it would be very… sad if I were to end up like Bill, no matter what sort of personal achievements I attain. What accomplishment could possibly be enough for me to feel fulfilled in one day leaving behind this life?
So then, perhaps… perhaps I would feel better fulfilled in a marriage. But would I feel happier? I do not know. I guess that really depends on my partner… which brings me back to my parents.
My parents seem to have their own ideas about the type of person I should pursue a relationship with and marry – my father more so than my mother. In fact, my father prides himself in being very vocal about expressing his opinions, often in a passive aggressive (if not outright aggressive) way while still insisting that the choice is mine. I cannot speak freely with him. Even if I were to bring up a quality that I am looking for in a partner in conversation, if he does not deem it important, the entire conversation blows up in my face as me being “picky” and “inflexible.” Add all of this on top of him expecting a narrow list of ethnicities that would meet his approval.
I am someone who was raised in the United States. I consider myself significantly Americanized and almost find a bit of pleasure in the fact that I cannot speak my ancestral tongue. I grew up around numerous races and numerous cultures. Therefore, the idea of confining myself to certain skin colors and races just feels… well, racist to me. Even as the thought was being presented to me, the mindset felt so appallingly antiquated that I found myself stunned and made the mistake of insisting that such factors did not bother me (which too earned me the ire of my father). Heck, for no particular rhyme or reason other than some sort of subconscious preference (I suppose), I’ve only ever crushed on people who’ve happened to be East Asian. I’d never considered closing myself off to other ethnicities either.
This disparity between our mindsets… it scares me. I am terrified of a situation in which my feelings are cast aside in favor of someone who is designated a good “fit” for me. It hasn’t even happened yet and divorce, in my mind, is already on the table; after all, my time in medical school taught me that I’m not afraid to sink the ship I’m serving on just to escape it. With my inability to communicate freely with my parents, I feel so… chained down. Stuck as if my only option to pursue a truly free relationship would be in helming my fate alone. I have thought about running away from home many times, sometimes forming meticulously detailed plans to ensure that nobody would trace me. I’ve even thought about throwing in the towel altogether. If I feel like I do not have freedom, I just end up feeling extremely depressed.
But then, as someone who once knew me very, very well would probably insist, I should probably stop here and take a deep breath. I’m letting my thoughts run wild again.
I mean – after all, nothing has happened yet.
In all honesty, I don’t know if marriage will be for me. I don’t know how much I would be able to bring myself to get involved in the lives of my partner and kids – I already have such a laissez-faire mindset that it’s no wonder that I have such an affinity for cats.
I want to try, though.
If I am faced with no other option than to marry someone for my own good – someone selected as a good “match” while hand-waving over the qualities important to me – I would rather spend the rest of my life unmarried. I would abandon ship and never look back. However, if… if I can find someone who fulfills the qualities I look for rather than simply those selected in my stead, I would like to give it a shot. I would like to get married and lead a fulfilling life.
I just pray that my family and I can be on the same page.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many first-generation citizens wrestle with the same problems that I am facing. I happen to know that a good friend from TCOM struggles in her relationships because she has a proclivity towards artistic pursuits while her parents possess the oft-seen foreign mindset of considering any pursuit originating from the right-brain as a petty waste of efforts (a mindset that my parents share). She describes herself as “using self-portraiture and art collaborations to cope with Real Life.”
I too ended up spending most of the night typing this post. This morning, I finally got out of bed around 11 am, opened my door to see that my mother had placed my mail in front of it, collected its contents, and closed my door as I once again retreated to my bed. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I finally started my day, knowing that I had the day off tomorrow as well. And I hoped for the best for the day to come.