Dear Ms. Wai – Being Left Alone for Work

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Dear Ms. Wai,

I’ve been dating this Chinese man for a while, and we got serious pretty quickly. We both met each other’s families, we go on dates and spend nights together like any other couple would. He’s even joking about moving in and marriage, haha. Pretty much all the stereotypes about dating a Chinese are true in our relationship, and I love it.

The problem is that he works a lot (60 hours a week) and when I tell him I would like to spend more time with him or that he should take some days off to rest, he gets kind of upset with me. I don’t know what I am doing wrong, or why he feels as if I am attacking him, when all I want is some more quality time and for him to be healthy. He just gets… annoyed, or sometimes sad when I suggest he should take some more time off.

I get that work and money is important for Chinese men, but why are they so reluctant to prioritize their relationships over their work? Why isn’t he willing to take one extra day per month off to spend with me instead?

Thank you for your answer in advance!

Unfortunately many Chinese men still have a very traditional sense of “providing for the family” where their job is concerned. In China it is still very common for men to not only not spend time with their wives, but leave their families and not see their children for years, all for the sake of providing the family with a more comfortable life. And often even where a woman is concerned it is expected (and sometimes pressured) that she would leave her family as well for a good job and trust the grandparents to raise her children for her.

While in the West it is considered a real loss if you miss your child’s first word, or step, or even just one birthday, in China it is normal, and often even assumed. It’s why many grandparents look forward to taking care of their grandchildren. They were off making money for their families and didn’t get to fully raise their own children (their parents did it for them), so with their grandchildren they see the chance to finally raise a child and take care of them every day.

So it sounds like your guy is thinking more along those lines. He doesn’t quite understand that the only reason you get mad at him working so much is because you want to spend time with him. To him you are stifling his future and his future families’ happiness. If you have talked about marriage and kids, he might even be working for your sake. He might feel that he needs a certain amount of money before you can live together or get married and he feels like you trying to stop him from working so much is you trying to delay marriage. That you aren’t criticizing his current actions per say, but more like you are criticizing his potential future, or his future dreams.

So you’ll need to sit down and really talk to him about your feelings. Ask him why he wants to work so much — what is his purpose behind it? He might feel he needs a certain level of money, or success, before he “deserves” you or a family. (Or he might feel pressure to provide for his parents and give them part of his salary — if that is the reason then that will be a harder fight as being a good son and taking care of his parents might be a top priority for him.)

Instead, tell him that spending time together is important to you, and money doesn’t matter as much as that. Tell him you’d rather build a future together, as partners, even if it is slower than he might do on his own. He might not believe you or really “hear” you after just one conversation. He probably grew up hearing that a stable and well-off family is the more important than personal happiness. That a “proper adult” should sacrifice their health and happiness now to provide for their family (believing that it will ultimately bring even more happiness later). You’ll have to possibly repeat it few times before he finally begins to understand. But don’t shy away from this conversation! You’ll need him to understand now if you think this might turn into something long-lasting. A slightly absent boyfriend could turn into a constantly absent father, and it sounds like that is definitely something you don’t want. So you’ll need to address this head on and if he isn’t willing to change, you might need to make a tough decision about if it is something you can accept in him for the long term.

Do you have a question for Ms. Wai? Write to her at

Ms Wai

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