Note: I live in South East Asia, and this post is pretty much influenced by my surrounding society.
Family is an important thing for Asians, and everything that happens in an Asian’s life will be influenced by his/her family members. Asians are quite fond of their family, and they always try to keep their family close to each other. Asians usually have a big family, and each member of that big family wants only the best for you what they think the best for you—thus they will eagerly jump in and generously give personal opinions/suggestions for every decision you have to take in life.
As an Asian, I have to constantly remind myself to live my own life, to know the difference between what I want and what my family wants, and to draw a fine line to mark my ‘personal territory’ in which all the decisions are mine to make. It was hard at first, since I was going against the flow, but long story short, I have finally managed to take the leading role in my life.
There is an unspoken concept which I call ‘the traditional Asian dream’, which consists of several ‘default’ stages in life everyone expects you to fulfill as an Asian; it involves being conceived at the right time, growing up to be a child prodigy, getting into best schools and universities (majoring in popular subjects), graduating with great grades, getting a promising job, marrying the love of your life person whom your entire family approves, and starting your own little family and having kids—only to repeat the cycle over and over again.
Making big decisions in an Asian’s life involves a lot of considerations from several family members. It is not uncommon to see parents deciding the major subject their kids study in university, because there is still a paradigm that ‘older people know the best, since they have more experiences’. I have observed that compared to children that are raised in Western culture (which gives more freedom to choose and independence to their children since earlier ages), Asian kids tend to be late bloomers in decision making and leading their own life independently. For example, it’s rare for young Asian adults to move out of their parents’ house until they’re married, even if they’re already financially independent. Another example, Asian grandparents won’t mind taking care of their grandchildren for a long period of time until the parents are finally able to settle with a better condition.
In Asian culture, marriage seems to be a natural phase in every romantic relationship, instead of a choice. The expected age range for an Asian to get married is from 20s to 30s. People will be busy finding you a future spouse once you reach this age range, or busy asking when you will get married if you already have a steady bf/gf. The ‘hunt’ for a future spouse will involve the entire family, and a process of ‘selection’ will take place.
A typical Asian convo: “You seem like a nice guy/girl. Are you single? Good. I also have a [insert family member here] who is also single. Are you interested? Here’s her/his picture. She/he’s cute, right? You two will look cute together.” *followed by exchanging numbers and contacts* (We even have professional match-makers here—surprise, surprise!) In Asian countries, we don’t need the ‘match made in heaven’—we already have the ‘match made by family members’.
We Asians process everything rather quickly. We are eager to make progress. When you’re single, people will rush you into getting a bf/gf, so you might think that perhaps after you get yourself one, they will be happy shut up. So sorry to say, but you will be disappointed. Once you introduce your bf/gf to them, they will start asking “When will you two get married?” Once you finally get married, the expectation would be, “Oh, I think it’s time for you to start having children.” End of story? Wrong. “You wouldn’t want the baby to be lonely, right? When will he/she get a little sibling?”
Okay. Maybe I was exaggerating. But the point is, everyone will try to suggest something they think good for your life, they forget to ask for your opinion—and it will never end. They suppose you to follow a sequence of pattern that seems perfect and they expect you to be happy for following the blueprint of how life should be lived; without even asking whether you’re truly happy or not. The family bonding in Asian family is very tight, and as good as it sounds, it’s not always a good thing. I personally think that young people should not marry until they are physically, psychologically, and financially ready—and we’re not the one to decide that ‘it is time already’. Marriages and having kids are great, but they are not just phases everyone has to get through; they are privileges, and it takes responsibility and commitment to maintain a healthy marriage and to raise a family.
There is a difference between having sex and marriages—the first only needs puberty, the latter needs puberty and maturity. There is a difference between reproducing/breeding and raising children, and if a lot of couples don’t realize this, we will have a lot of unhappy families. Do not be deceived by the illusion of a perfect sequence of life in ‘the traditional Asian dream’, because personal life events don’t have to be the same for everyone. Find the perfect pattern for you, in which you could make the most of your life. Everyone deserves to be happy, but there are many ways to pursue happiness.
All in all, the traditional Asian way of life has the positive sides of better family bonding and maintaining family tradition, but it is lacking in exploring one’s own passion/desires and individual independence (truth is, we can still pursue our true passion, but usually it is at an older age). I know my opinion is very much biased and lacking perspective, but I hope everyone understand that we are all different, and the traditional Asian dream does not work the same way for everyone. It would be good if we can appreciate any decision a person makes without having to judge him/her for it, just like Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”—we might disapprove of a person’s way of life, but we shall appreciate his/her right to live it.