“I feel like there is a monster chasing me. Each year I get older, each year I approach thirty; the monster gets closer and closer. If I am still not married by that time, it is like my life is over.”
Only after many late night conversations with female friends have I slowly begun to grasp the heavy and consuming burden that young women must face in metropolitan cities throughout China. What begins as idle chit chat inevitably grows into a serious discussion about marriage and partner compatibility. More striking than the content of these conversations is the regularity and cohesiveness of the message.
The concept of a shengnü or “leftover woman” is a fairly recent phenomenon in Chinese society. The term refers to single women, over thirty, who live in large cities and are often highly educated and well salaried. Some claim that these women have higher expectations of themselves and their partners or have chosen to put their career ahead of marriage. But this definition misses a key point in understanding such a loaded term, and that is the role of family.
“You’ve hurt me. Do you know I’ve already folded three, four hundred stars for you? My friend tried to introduce me to some guy but I refused. I didn’t realize it before but I like you. I like only you. Will you be my boyfriend? I cannot just be a normal friend to you anymore. Either accept me or I will leave.”
This was the first time to my knowledge I had ever hurt a girl, and it was an experience I was not quite ready to take responsibility for. The Chinese place great emphasis on grand gestures and confessions. To many girls, you are not officially in a relationship until you make the ultimate confession and ask her formally, “I like you. Will you be my girlfriend?” It doesn’t matter if you’ve already had sex, or if you’ve never said a word to each other. The act of confessing, the grand, sweeping scale of expressing your feelings which have been so deeply bottled up, is the only way to consolidate a relationship.