What advice do you have for someone who isn’t interested in dating or marriage in general but faces lots of parental pressure to do so?

A student sent me this question:

What advice do you have for someone who isn’t interested in dating or marriage in general but faces lots of parental pressure to do so? I don’t really have any interest in dating or marriage. I had some crushes while growing up but nothing much. I’m single currently (and I’m very pessimistic about finding a partner in the future because of circumstances) and I’ve tried to talk about this to my parents many times. But I still face a lot of pressure and sometimes I feel really annoyed.

My advice is to hold your ground firmly on your position. Even if you give in to parental pressure, the annoying questions will not go away. Once you start dating, the new annoying question will then be, “When are you getting married?” And once you get married, the annoying question will be, “When are you going to produce a baby?” Once you make one, the new annoying question is, “When are you going to make another?” And when the kids grow older, your parents will have yet more annoying questions to ask you. So in the grand scheme of things, the annoying questioning and pressure won’t ever go away.

So don’t cave in to the pressure.

There are three possible reasons why parents do shit like this. (1) The biggest reason is that they are concerned about your well-being and happiness. Even if you tell them that you are happy being single, they don’t believe it (because they’re married, so they don’t understand what it means to be happy being single, and they may not understand that it could ever be possible). But more importantly, marriage is seen as the rite of passage into becoming a full grown adult. There is some truth here. And in general, you will find that people who are married are more mature in certain things than single people (let me emphasise: in general – this may not be true for some). So parents do want the best for their children, and for them, it means seeing their children grow and mature in a path that they are familiar with (i.e. marriage). If this is their motivation, you can set their minds at ease by showing/demonstrating to them in the little and big ways how you’re more responsible and how you’re more sensible in your thinking. I find that once you start becoming responsible for other people and their future, the maturity sets in a lot faster (because you don’t have the luxury of time to procrastinate on it).

(2) The second possible reason is that as you grow older and spend less time with them, there will come a point in time where your parents struggle to find common conversational topics to sustain a conversation with you. And so the only thing that they know to talk about are the default questions. So what appears to be pressuring to get married is just an attempt at striking a conversation. Remember: a lot of people are very bad at social interaction. Many parents included. If you feel socially awkward, what more your parents? So if this is one of their motivations, then you can easily resolve this by just steering the conversation to other topics. They’ll be happy to just be able to talk to you about anything about your life or whatever.

(3) The third possible motivation is annoying. Just as how students like to compare and are afraid of losing out, some parents also compare. Some don’t actually like to compare, but they are surrounded by boastful parents who brag so much that they make your parents feel inadequate (just like how some students boast on social media about their achievements making some other students feel bad about themselves – seems like people don’t really change as they grow up, yea?). In such a case, the motivation is just insecurity or feelings of inadequacy. They probably won’t tell you that this is the motivation. After all, it’s embarrassing to say something like this. Nonetheless, be aware that this shit does happen behind the scenes with your parents and their peers.

The thing is this: you should never be a pawn for someone else’s insecurity. So if they are motivated for this reason, give them something else to be proud of. Your parents may not win on your dating/marriage front, but you can give them something else to be proud of, whether it is a work achievement or academic achievement. In some ways, this will give your parents some ammunition to fend off their annoying peers, or even make these arrogant people feel bad. So in some ways you’re helping your team to score. Haha!

I have this horrible half-uncle who loves to brag and boast about his achievements and the achievements of his children. He’s the most insecure and wretched human being I’ve ever met. He does it all the time without anyone asking. And I can see how he actively makes my parents feel inadequate by his endless bragging.

Anyway, when I appeared on Channel NewsAsia, my parents finally got some ammunition to make that horrible half-uncle feel less superior about himself. After that, he tried so hard to pressure his son to study Chinese Philosophy in order to compete with me. What a loser. But at the very least, even though I’m not on good terms with my parents, I got the satisfaction for scoring one for the team.

So stand firm to what you want. And try to discern the motivation behind the pressure. It could be one of the three I mentioned above (or a combination), or there could be other reasons that I might have missed. Whatever it is, getting into a relationship and marrying won’t stop your parents from pressuring you to do things. It’s more important to get to the heart of the issue.

How do I deal with my mother who says really horrible things about other people?

A student wrote to me, asking:

Lately, I’ve been feeling rather down because I have to deal with my toxic mother on a daily basis. Sometimes she says really horrible things about other people. And when I try to tell her that it’s not nice to say such things, she gets all defensive and scolds me instead for being rude. I really don’t know how much longer I can take it before I explode. Any advice?

Yes, I can totally feel your frustration!

I think for starters, it’s not helpful to try to fix or correct your mother. It’ll just breed a lot of frustration in you, especially when you approach the situation with the assumption that the problem can be fixed.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the older we get, the more frequent we’ll exercise our bad habits. And sometimes, they get more extreme. And this is especially so if we don’t always pay careful attention to how we behave.

Of course, these bad behaviours stem from somewhere. They don’t just come about with no explanation of their own. It’s probably motivated by some kind of insecurity or need. So rather than trying to make her stop, it would help to understand where she’s coming from when she says such nasty things. Is she putting people down just to make herself feel better because she’s not happy about her own state of existence? If not, what other things might be motivating her to behave this way?

That said, asking, “What’s bothering you?”, won’t normally give you the answer. Parents, especially Asian parents, feel that they shouldn’t burden their children with their problems. So many will just bottle it up without realising that it’s manifesting in other ways. So it takes a lot of time and patience and active listening (i.e. be very engaged in your conversations to try to understand her well) to be able to identify the issue.

Say for example, that the problem you’ve identified is that she doesn’t feel loved or appreciated, and that’s causing her to say such things. Then, if you’re able to fulfil this need of hers, then you might notice her saying less toxic things on a daily basis.

There may be a situation where a person is so toxic it’s beyond saving no matter how much you try. Do know that we can only do the best we can to help others, but at the end of the day, we are not the heroes or saviours of other people, no matter how much we love them. They have to want to save themselves before any real change can happen. They may sometimes feel that they are not in control of their actions (esp. if it’s a habit, it can be hard to control it), so at the very least letting them know that they have someone who loves them even when they don’t love themselves very much is already a huge thing.

(Yes, parents and other older folks still grapple with the same issues of self-esteem and self-love the same way many of us struggle with when young. It doesn’t magically go away when you become a parent or adult.)

I want to share my problems with my mother, but she ends up making it all about her. It’s affecting my relationship with her. What can I do?

A student wrote to me with this problem:

I would say that I share a pretty good relationship with my parents. But I face this problem where when I tell my mother about things that bother me, she’d somehow make it about her. I could say, “I’m very stressed,” she’d say, “I’m also very stressed,” then make the entire conversation about her.

My parents always encourage us to share with them our problems because they know what happens when parents and children drift apart. But when she responds like that, it’s just annoying and it’s affecting my relationship with her. What can I do?

There are two possible reasons I can think of.

(1) The first is that she’s just trying to connect with you by stating something common that you both share. People of different generations will say and do things to express love and concern that seem insane to younger people. You know how some old people always like to state the obvious but in the form of a question?

For example, an old auntie might see you leaving the house and she’ll say, “Going out ah?” It always annoys me because I used to perceive it as the auntie being nosey. But then I took a module about Chinese anthropo-linguistics and learnt that it was a common way for that generation of people to express concern. So I stopped getting upset by those questions.

I do find it very sad that many old people’s expressions of concerns are misunderstood by my generation and yours. There’s been a sharp break in the transmission of culture and it’s so easy to misunderstand people older than us.

So, it could be an expression of care, her way of saying that she can understand and/or relate to your problem. That’s one possible reason.

(2) The second possible reason is that she might feel lonely not being able to share her problems. Either because she’s been the one actively listening to other people but there is no suitable person who will listen to her, or she feels that her role as a mother means she can’t share everything that bothers her to you (not wanting to burden you with it). So sometimes, her saying things like that is a form of venting.

Two very different possibilities. It does help to be more patient. And I guess if you can, you can attempt to form a closer connection by offering to listen to her problems if she has anything that does bother her. Knowing that you care enough to ask how she’s doing will touch her deeply.

How do you survive the tension at home after you’ve had a fight with your parents?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do you survive the tension at home after you’ve had a fight with your parents?

I’ll be honest and say that I’m not the best person to ask about this matter. My parents are incredibly toxic people, and so to preserve my own sanity, I packed up my bags and moved out of the house to live on my own during my undergraduate days.

But I’ll try to give you some advice since you asked. One thing that makes this question difficult to answer is that I don’t know how great the tension you’re dealing with or the issue that you fought over. I’m going to take a guess that it must have been a really bad fight over something very personal, e.g. relationship, or over some thing that you value very dearly. Every one’s hurt and reeling from the harsh exchange of words, probably.

Before you care about making things right with your parents, you should focus first on yourself. Allow yourself to process your emotions and feel it as it comes. It’s a kind of self-care to do this. It’s also important to reflect on what’s going on and what has been said. It’s not useful to think in terms of who’s right or wrong. The fact is words have been said, actions have been made. There’s no turning back. What’s more important is to reflect and consider in what way you felt misunderstood, what triggered you, and whether you (mis)understood your parents’ point of view, or if there could have been another way to think about the issue.

Give yourself and your parents a couple of days to recover. If you are close to your parents, they will miss talking to you. And they will appreciate you taking the brave initiative to engage in small talk. Just do simple chit chat. Don’t go straight into the stuff that you all fought about. When you all are on good talking terms, then you can bring up setting an appointment to talk about it. You want to talk about the matter when both parties are mentally prepared for it, so either side won’t feel so defensive about it.

If it is a very serious issue, and one that both sides feel grossly misunderstood. Find someone outside the home whom your parents respect greatly and regard as a neutral party to be a mediator. The problem with us humans is that we can be very sensitive to some matters, and we can easily lose our minds the moment we feel attacked. So it helps to create a safe environment for both sides to speak their minds and to hear each other knowing that someone can put a pause before words get nasty. The mediator should give everyone equal time to speak, and safeguard the speaker’s right to talk. If the mediator can do more than that, then the mediator can try to rephrase things in ways that either side can understand, or highlight how one party might be misinterpreting the words/action of the other, e.g. “When X says A, he means B. But it seems that you are interpreting X to mean C instead.” These things are helpful in bringing attention to areas where miscommunication is taking place, and it helps to clarify what each one is trying to say to the other.

I hope this helps. I wish you all the best in this matter. Take care.