In the eight or so months my girlfriend and I have been together, we've had plenty of arguments. Most were silly stuff, others were due to genuine misunderstandings due to cultural differences. However, tonight we were talking on QQ and something really weird happened that, even with her history of flying off the bat, surprised me. I'm not so much looking for some kind of "answer" here. I just...thought I'd vent a little. This, to me, was really strange.
I am currently four days away from returning to Wuhan. The reason I was planning on returning was purely for her. That's it. I would normally never have returned, at least not to Wuhan, and not unless I had some substantially good job lined up. I originally went to China with the goal of improving my Mandarin, which I had previously studied one year in college. And I did that. In fact, in no small part thanks to my girlfriend and her minimal English ability, my Chinese improved tenfold this year. I can now carry complete conversations on complicated life topics as long as the other person speaks clear and standard Mandarin.
Like I said, as far as my goals were concerned, I had accomplished what I went to China to do. The sensible thing for this stage in my life right now would be to go look for a "good job" and start putting a career together. Get some experience, save some money, start setting my sights on graduate school in the not too distant future, stuff like that. So, in my situation, I felt like returning to China for another year would be counterproductive. But, as I said, love can be a fickle thing and here I am, four days away from an expected and long awaited for return (I came to New York early July).
Tonight I was chatting with her on QQ. As the time draws nearer, and now that I've been away for a good couple of weeks, and given my thoughts as described above, I got a little thoughtful. Nothing major, just...random thoughts which are probably normal to have. While chatting on QQ, she asks me what these are. Everything is perfectly normal at this point. So, I begin.
I preface my forthcoming moping with this: "Well, I think the things I'm worrying about are probably just silly, unimportant things, to tell you the truth." But she insists, so I tell her. Among other things, I tell her something that increasingly sets her off until she's fuming. I'd have never thought. Here is what I said, in so many words.
"Well, babe. Obviously I'm glad I'm coming back to see you. But I'm also thinking of a few other things. You know, while I'm there this year, I also want to try to have a well-rounded life. Of course I'll be happy being with you, but I'm also a person and I need a few other things as well."
What kind of things, she asks.
"Well," I say. "For example, I'd just like to find a way to keep myself busy, something to help me feel satisfied in general. I'm just worried it might be even harder for me to adjust going back to that place right now." And then I casually say, "I just wish I could be able to find some friends there."
I should explain this.
As I already tried to make her understand once in the past--unsuccessfully I might add--while in Wuhan I often experienced a feeling of social isolation. I know, it's a normal part of culture shock. The reason I felt this way is because whenever I tried to get close to a Chinese person--and I have found every Chinese I met to be invariably friendly and chatty--I inevitably stumble into a wall. It's the mindset. The worldview. The attitudes. It's what I perceive as a lack of overall life experience, a single-sided thought process about everything. Example: whenever I got a new class, I'd ask them, "What are your hobbies?" Every single time I got: basketball, movies, eating, computer games, going to the library. Every time. When I talked with young dudes and I tried to have "guy talk" with them, it went nowhere. You can't discuss "chicks" with them, at least not the ones I met. They just don't get it. I basically felt I couldn't have any kind of meaningful discussion with any of them. It's difficult to connect with a 22-year-old sophomore virgin who has never even held a girl's hand, much less dated.
Fair enough. Whether it's a "cultural difference" or whatever is really not relevant. It is what it is. And that's fine. My point is that ALL I WAS TRYING TO DO was casually express this feeling to my girlfriend. I told her that, since sometimes I experience this feeling of "loneliness," I didn't want to let it influence my overall attitude when I go back, and so I'm just thinking of a few things--a few interests, pursuits, goals or what have you--to keep myself feeling busy, like I'm doing something significant during my time there. Because, if I don't, I will end up going to work and coming home to her. Sure, she's awesome and I love her blah blah blah, but that is not a WELL-ROUNDED life, and I do not want that to influence my mood, which I would then project on her.
This is what I was innocently trying to explain to her when things started rolling downhill...
"I don't understand, why do you care about other people?!"
"I don't," I said. "Of course I don't. My point is not that I care about other people, all I'm saying is it would be nice if I could find a few friends while I'm there, so that I have a more well-rounded life. Y'know, babe?"
That didn't seem to go through. She kept repeating this question in different forms and getting angrier. Weird. Then she goes, "You shouldn't care about other people, you should only care about how you can give me a good life!" Now, I believe she said this in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. She meant that, you know, "I'm your girlfriend, I'll make you happy, you just worry about me, babe. Forget about them," etc. I get that. I again tried to explain my point in vain. Then she started getting really weird.
"You're really making me feel like you're unreasonable. Now you're making me feel like we really have a LOT of differences between us."
Uh... what? I play guitar and I was in a band before--just a small example of the kind of personal non-money-related interest that seems to be absent in the majority of people I met there, and of course she knew that. Her next comment was:
"I don't want my husband to tell me when he's forty years old that his favorite thing is music and that he wants to go play rock and roll!"
What the f.... No earthly idea where this came from. Really, none. I have never expressed the wish to be a professional musician. The future plans I have discussed with her have all had the same theme, one with which, I thought, we both agreed: when we return to the States I'll get a good job, save money, buy a house, a car if we need one (I live in New York, sometimes having a car here is tantamount to shooting yourself in the food), have children one day, etc. I don't know where the hell she came up with that all of a sudden. Then the strangest of all:
"I want a real man! I don't want some guy who's going to go worrying about how to make his 'own life' well-rounded!"
What the fuck? What in the friggin' world she was talking about is completely and utterly beyond me. I don't understand how me casually talking about how I want the next year or so to go smoothly while I'm there with her somehow translated into a personal insult for her, much less how it implied I was a man with no responsibility. I even prefaced my remarks with what I said above: "Yeah, actually I think this is not that important, I'm probably just nervous about going back. I'll probably be fine after a few days once I get back into the hang of it." What a bizarre reaction. Then she started saying things like, "If you don't to come back, don't come back!" and other things of that sort which she usually does when she's pissed off, which in turn starts to push my goddamn buttons and I just got off QQ instead of arguing with her like a lunatic.
Here is my theory. First, a quick story of two, at the time, seemingly insignificant incidents.
A hard drive I had died while I was there. I had a lot of music on that hard drive. Not just stuff I downloaded, that's not important. I'm talking about music I had painstakingly composed in minute detail during the past few years. Sure, it's not "my life." But it is my effort. It was my hobby. It was my creativity. I think most people will understand that. So, when the hard drive died on me, I was a bit upset. She seemed unsympathetic and unresponsive to this. When I quizzed her, she says, "Why are you upset? Music is not your life."
Okay... Second incident:
One day we're home just relaxing. She's watching some show and I'm casually browsing some music discussion board. It's just what I like to do when I have some free time at home, just like any other casual interest a person might have. One day she asks me in a reserved by palpably stubborn tone. "Why are you always looking at that music stuff? That's not your job."
Hm... Alright. So now my theory about why my saying, "I want to have a satisfying life" pissed her off.
Could it be that she is truly so one-sided, so devoid of any kind of personal passion or interest besides money, house, and car, that, to her, any expression of such kind signifies one has no responsibility?
I don't mean to badmouth my own girlfriend. I am being factual: she was raised in the villages, literally sleeping on the floor in huts, until her parents took her to the "city" when she was twelve. Then her parents worked very hard to make some money, and then she went to Wuhan to study. Though she is not destitute, she grew up in a state of poverty. So now, all she ever thinks or talks about is money. Money, house, car, name brands, skin care products (and their name brands), money, money, money. Couple that with the fact that, quite similar to nearly all my students, she seems utterly devoid of any kind of personal interest, or even the DESIRE for a personal interest of any sort, and it starts to become eerily apparent that, YES! to her, doing ANYTHING outside what involves your "work" and your "money" is frivolous and vapid.
Therefore, me so much as casually mentioning, "Hey, babe. I'm just thinking that while I'm there I'd like to maybe meet some people I can hang out with as well, so I don't feel trapped between work and home" really DID mean, "I care about something that is not money and not you, therefore I am an irresponsible and unreliable man."
I could use a few adjectives to describe this belief and attitude. Superficial and ignorant would be at the top of the list. But my assessment of her values (or narrow scope thereof) is beside the point. It is what it is. What matters is this:
I truly felt, tonight, that the cultural difference (or her lack of culture, but now I'm assessing again and that's irrelevant) just cannot possibly lead to any good place. A major part of the reason why I insisted we go do a visa interview this spring was that I was hoping her spending two months in New York would instantly change her worldview, make her mature more, let her mind expand by seeing a bigger world. But now I am beginning to think this would've been pointless.
Mind you, this is only one side of the story. And there have been many times before where, as flabbergasted as I was, I found out later I had grossly misunderstood her. However, this time I really feel whether I misunderstood her or not, or she misunderstood me, is entirely besides the point. No relationship should be this weirdly complicated. This wasn't the first time we argued over money and priorities this way, but it was the first time I truly felt our differences are ultimately insurmountable.
I really don't know if I'm returning four days from now. Better to stay in New York and look for a "real job" the way a "real man" would.