This past Christmas, I took a solo trip home to the Bay for a week to spend some quality time with my family (nonstop days with my extremely cute nephew was a bonus).
All my plans were super chill and involved seeing old friends, catching up over lunches or wine, and our big holiday dinner. You know those movies where the main character in the film decides to book a trip somewhere tropical instead of going home to visit their family? Well, I often wondered who would actually do that. Until this past season.
Sometimes when I go home, I feel like I’m living a dual life. I come home to the same house my parents have lived in for 40+ years and everything is exactly the same. The neighborhood mirrors what I remember from my childhood, we don’t have any new coffee shops other than the Starbucks around the corner that I used to work in when I was a teen, I’m still sleeping in the same twin sized bed I had when I was 16, and we still have these weird framed pictures of tigers up in our living room (you know what I’m talking about). It almost feels like I’m stuck in some sort of time warp and the only thing that’s changed is…well, me. Every year, I’m another year older and a little bit different, but my family dynamic as the middle child remains the same.
So here’s what cured my emotional meltdown this holiday. We finished having a nice dinner at home together, we were sipping on the usual soju and adult grape juice, my parents and I were catching up on everything that’s happened in 2018…and then my mom drops the WHEN-ARE-YOU-GETTING-MARRIED bomb. She brings up that I promised her I would get married this coming June, to which I responded that, “I only said that so you would stop bothering Cam (my boyfriend) and me.”
She retaliated back, “What are you guys waiting for? Why is it taking you so long? Does he even love you? If it’s already been six years, maybe he’s never going to ask you to marry him. I got married in my 20’s!”
Then came my waterworks for… I kid you not – an hour minimum. Why was everything that I accomplished this past year… hell, this past decade, reduced to only being validated if I was a wife? As if that was the only thing on the entire planet that would make me worthy as a human being?
For those of you that don’t know me on a personal level, I am not a quiet person. I am not submissive. I’ve always been curious about why things are the way they are and I haven’t followed expectation norms. I’ve always put my career and happiness at the forefront of my mind. I wanted to get married someday but was never stressed about meeting a certain timeline or finding “the one.” Though I will admit that when I was in my early 20’s, I naively thought by the ripe age of 25 I would: a). have it all figured out, b). work a normal but only mildly stressful job, c). be married and d). no longer be renting. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
As I was crying with tears and snot shooting out of my face in a dark room, so many things came to mind, but I soon realized why I was so deeply hurt by my mother’s words. My parents will likely never really understand nor relate to my modern day stresses and struggles. I am first generation American, a child of immigrant parents and care so deeply about so many other things than walking down the aisle. To them, being married is a rite of passage that guarantees lifelong stability whereas my ultimate goal in life is to be well-rounded, successful and happy. In other words, I see stability in a very different way.
I am a creative; they don’t really understand what that field of work means. I view marriage as a mutual partnership; they look at it as a fundamental life marker in your 20’s. I’m career oriented; they’re losing sleep that I’m childless and in my 30’s. How could we be so different?
I’ve been financially independent and largely self-sufficient since I was 20 years old, and if anything, they should feel at peace that I’m able to consistently pay my own bills, right? No, I’m still their 30-something daughter who’s unmarried. I’ve worked extremely hard my whole life and truly feel at peace with my spirituality, career and my relationship so why did my mom’s incessant questioning about my marital status make me pop off and break TF down?
Come the end of my trip, my mom came into my room, we put on face masks and we had our very first true heart to heart. I was really thankful she saw my tears and anguish in the moment because perhaps this was the first time she understood how much her words hurt my feelings. She told me the reason she wants me to be married is so that she and my dad can be at peace knowing that I’m OK once they are gone because who knows how much time we have left on Earth (Koreans are really dramatic by the way. Have you ever watched a single Korean drama on TV)?
I let her know I understood where she was coming from and was thankful for her expressing her concerns. I told her that yes, marriage is in my future, but that’s not the only thing I want in life and it will be on my own time and terms. I let her know that I don’t believe that a union will be the sole thing that makes me complete, stable or happy.
Moral of my story? Sometimes we don’t get to have super understanding parents, but they’re our parents, they love us and they usually have our best intentions in mind. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I stopped trying to change my parents’ perspective on things and I truly accepted who they are. I even embraced it. I realized that they are who they are so why try to change them? As I started to apply this philosophy, my relationship with them got so much better. I stopped arguing with them as much, I let go of my past resentments, and I accepted them for who they are. I tried to put myself in their shoes – imagining what their previous lives in Korea were like and all of the struggles they had before they emigrated here from the war, what it might have felt like trying to assimilate and achieve the American dream without knowing how to speak English – and that really put things into perspective for me. I was able to communicate more clearly with them because I finally understood some of the reasoning for their views and I accepted that. It almost bridged this generational gap for me once I understood that they were sort of stuck in this limbo of not feeling fully immersed here as Americans and feeling like the Korea they knew when the lived there has changed so much since they’ve returned. Perhaps they feel a type of duality as well.
So, if you’re 30-something like I am (33 to be exact) and still single or not even considering marriage, it’s ok. If all of your friends and family around you are married and on their second or third kid, don’t feel rushed to do the same if it’s not the right person or timing. You are your own person on your own path and hell, maybe you won’t ever fit the cookie-cutter version of a relationship (whatever that means), but don’t feel pressured to do something if it’s not your time.
Here’s the thing about being kids of immigrant parents that’s not talked about enough – we are nothing like our parents but everything like them at the same time. We try to do everything in our power to make them happy because they sacrificed everything to be here for us but that doesn’t mean they fully understand who we are. And you know what? They may never be able to understand why we are the way we are because of that huge generational and cultural gap, but that’s the reason we continue to listen and learn from our parents’ ideals while still making our own individual choices. It’s ok to have that duality.
Sometimes you get started later on in life – the timing for marriage or a career change or a life goal isn’t quite right. That’s OK. Life is an adventure and we’re all doing our best to find our happiness. Focus on things that matter to you and do them in your own time. Do you, boo!
Photography by Emi Rose Website | Instagram
Location: The NoMad Hotel
Top: Solace London | Sleep Mask: Lunya | Undies: Entireworld