“So you already have a boyfriend?” my mom asked me a few nights ago during our weekly call. I looked at my six-year-old partner, who was sitting next to me, before giggling at the question. 25 year old girl who never went out I wondered if my mom really believed in it.
I had not told my parents about Corado for several reasons. For one thing, he’s not Korean, and I think they’d be okay if he didn’t have a piercing or had an undergraduate degree. Despite being an intelligent and kind person who made his way through life, my parents couldn’t get past his exterior and his unconventional lifestyle.
My parents have very specific dreams about all aspects of my life, including my love life. Corado’s appearance, upbringing, and way of life do not reflect what they see as a material partner.
My parents have lived in Korea most of their life and they are very traditional. They had me in my 40s, and unlike them, I grew up everywhere, with memories of going to school in Korea, China, and Canada. They loved telling me how I was their “miracle baby” because they thought they might be too old to have another child. Following this story, they told me how I was born prematurely, weighing less than 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds), with paper thin skin and suffering from sepsis. But somehow I survived, and since then they’ve always seen me as the fragile, sensitive little girl who needed her parents.
Another of their favorite stories to tell me was how, the first day they brought me home, they told my then 4 year old sister that if they died suddenly, she should become my new mother. Family is very important and family members should always take care of each other.
So it’s no surprise that when I decided to move abroad to continue my education after high school, my parents wanted me to move to Canada, where my sister was already living. They wanted me to go live in the same province and the same city, and even attend the same university. The family must remain united and their fragile premature baby, now an adult, still needed to be taken care of.
They love me, and that was never a question. But their love for me is so protective and overbearing that growing up I often felt like I was suffocating.
Moving wasn’t just physically moving away from my parents; it was also to show them that I could exist without them.
When I started elementary school in Korea, my parents were worried that their shy, smiling little girl wouldn’t be able to make friends. At a parent-teacher conference, my worried mother asked a teacher if I got along well with my peers. She explained to me that I was very shy and reserved – fragile. My teacher looked at her and said, “You couldn’t get to know your daughter any less. “
Times like this are what built my desire to be away from my parents. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming independent and living in a new country or city where I could start from scratch, a place where I could make my own way and be myself without worrying about the disapproval of my parents. For most kids, I think it just meant leaving their parents’ home and becoming financially independent, but for me it really meant that I had to move as far as possible. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would leave Korea.
So when it was time to consider colleges, I chose the West and moved halfway across the world. Moving wasn’t just physically moving away from my parents; it was also to show them that I could exist without them. But moving halfway around the world meant I had to live with my sister, and although I wanted to be independent, I didn’t know what I could do when I had two worried parents who were convinced I was still. also poor, sepsis -baby they brought home from the hospital.
Limits, as far as my parents are concerned, are not a thing when it comes to life decisions, whether you are an adult or a child. How do I create boundaries if my parents are convinced that I can’t help myself and that I will always make the wrong decision if I don’t follow their advice?
I lead a secret life 6,552 miles from them so they can’t know what I’m doing or tell me what to do. I share with them what I have accomplished to show that I am independent, but I do not tell them what I am about to do. I only tell them things after I have done them. I never want to disappoint my well-meaning parents. I love them and I know they love me, so while I realize that our relationship isn’t exactly ideal, it’s my family, and that’s the way things work.
I only tell my parents things after I have done them. I never want to disappoint my well-meaning parents.
Growing up, I spent most of my childhood in China (where I attended an international school). I was always surrounded by a lot of non-Asian friends, and it seemed that their conversations with their parents were so much easier for them. Even now, when I compare my experiences with those of my peers, I feel like it’s probably hard for a lot of people to understand. I have always been jealous of how easy it is for them to be open and accepted by their families.
In our family, we rarely talk about our feelings or our dreams. My parents had a difficult life and their biggest concern was making sure my sister and I survived and succeeded. That meant they didn’t believe in taking risks, and part of minimizing risk is consulting with people who would only want the best for you. In other words, anything that was not approved by Umma or Appa was dangerous.
When I chose to study liberal arts, they wondered why I wanted to study something that they felt would not lead to a stable job. While they worried about me, I felt guilty that I hadn’t chosen something that they approved of. I also realized that even though I had walked away from them, I wanted to appease them, and their disapproval made me miserable. This prompted me to study economics as a second major during my undergraduate studies. But my grades dropped and I ended up being re-admitted to the program, so I realized I couldn’t let my parents influence me so much.
After that, I vowed to myself that I would do whatever it takes to preserve my happiness too. Soon after, the secret began to take over most parts of my life. I wanted piercings and tattoos, but my parents didn’t approve of them. So I got piercings and tattoos that I could hide. I wanted dogs, and they thought it was a waste of money. Now I have two dogs and even participate in dog sports with them (which takes most weekends). I wanted to be a writer, and my parents always thought it should be just a “hobby,” so they don’t know about my secret freelance career.
When my parents visited me for my undergraduate graduation ceremony, my partner moved and found his own place, and I moved my dog (I only had one at the time ) with him, as well as any other proof of my secret life. I stopped wearing all my usual clothes, and even wore color – a big change from my usual all-black outfits. I took out my piercings and made sure my hair was dyed an acceptable color (red, because blue is just too crazy).
When my parents visited me for my undergraduate graduation ceremony, my partner moved out and found his own place, taking my dog with him.
With all of these aspects of my life that my parents wouldn’t approve of, I realized that they didn’t understand a lot of the things that made me happy. After my previous experience with their disappointment and disapproval, I just didn’t want to go through it again. For them, I will always be a child and I will never be seen as an adult who understands the world as well as they do. I haven’t figured out how to tell my ultra-conservative parents about my life, including the secret boyfriend, secret pets, and all the other secrets that make me who I am. I haven’t told them that all of these things are good decisions for me, even though they are so far from what they believe is part of an “ideal path” for their daughter.
I know that eventually I will have to share more of my life with them. It’s something I’m working on, and I know that being honest and being able to have this conversation with them will be a relief when that happens. It was never intended to be dishonest, but my life goals are so different from what they equate to success, and I haven’t had the courage to speak the truth yet.
I wish I could tell them, “Umma, Appa, don’t worry. I’m doing great and really happy with who I am. But until I get there, I’m a 25-year-old woman living a secret life with two dogs and a partner that my parents don’t know anything about.
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