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A billion people shouldn’t have this much trouble settling in love

By July 6, 2015December 20th, 2015No Comments

Read The Atlantic Article about “Budget Wives” in China just after reading  Anne Lamott’s review of a year on if you want to get a sense for what “settling” for a relationship means in the modern world.

To set your sights too high is not to dream big but to dream stupidly, according to what The Atlantic says is a growing movement in China:

The word “budget husband” originates from the word “budget housing” (jingji shiyong fang), government subsidized public housing for low-income households. As the name implies, budget husbands’ economic power trails that of “diamond husbands” — intelligent, educated, rich, and well-mannered men from respectable families. Nonetheless, a budget husband is, according to Baidu, the new ideal among Chinese female white-collar workers.

One of the main characteristics of a budget husband is that he be “normal.” Not ugly but not too handsome; neither poor nor rich. In short: mediocre.

But this mediocrity promises stability. Budget husbands are reliable, both financially and emotionally. They will loyally stay at home and take care of the house; they will not go out to bars or have extramarital affairs.

It seems like landing a mediocre spouse who you can tolerate should be an achievable goal.  But instead it’s become the gold standard.

Lamott’s not looking for “mediocre” – but she’s not exactly shooting for the stars, either.

What I missed was checking in all day with my person, daydreaming about him, and watching TV together at night. There, I’ve said it: I wanted someone to text all day, and watch TV with.

It seems like it should take less than a year on the world’s largest internet dating site to find that – but no.

Lamott seems to be fighting against is very notion that the Chinese seeking a “realistic” match are embracing:  that you’ve got to do the math to see what model you can get, and then grab one with as little wear as possible.  But neither are talking about sex, or passion, or even inspiration:  instead there’s a sense running through both pieces that people need people and that this is surprisingly hard to pull off in East or the West.

How can this be so difficult?

Perhaps the misanthropes are right:  maybe people are a lot less inclined to like each other than we give them credit for.  If “Hell is other people” is a decent rule of thumb, then the road to coupling is surely paved with good intentions.

Or maybe we’ve just made this harder than it ought to be.  A friend of mine who once danced in a club said she hated strip clubs because “they’re pretty much designed to prevent everyone from getting what they really want in as frustrating a manner as possible.”

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that the same condition applies to dating in the post-industrial world.

I have no better idea what to do about it than you do.  I would never hold my relationship history up as a model to anyone.  But I would suggest that there are two things that we do very wrong in both China and the U.S.:

  1. We confuse what we want as a status symbol with what we actually want in a person;  and
  2. We stigmatize loneliness.

For what little it’s worth, I’d suggest that anyone wondering “Why is this so hard?” start with that.