Dear Ms. Wai,
I live in Beijing and am dating a Chinese guy from Dongbei (he lives in Beijing). Things seem to have gotten pretty serious quite quickly and now we are spending a fair amount of time together. Recently, he’s really been keen on me meeting his friends.
At first I was reluctant, but since I’ve become more willing, he wants to do that every weekend. He explains that he loves me and thinks I’m great and that’s why he wants his friends to meet me. I am thrilled he wants to share his life with me, but whenever I’m with them, it takes a lot of energy to try to keep up with the conversation, especially when they start speaking quickly.
My boyfriend always tells me in those outings to not be “zhu su” and to be open, but to be honest I’m so nervous that my stomach starts going into knots – I think I’m afraid that his friends won’t accept me or that I’ll disappoint my boyfriend by saying the wrong thing (my office Chinese is good, I work in Chinese all day, but colloquial Chinese is definitely coming along slower).
My boyfriend and I only speak in Chinese because he doesn’t speak English, and I feel comfortable with him (even though sometimes it takes a few tries for him to understand me) and not too self-conscious, but in groups of people, with different accents, I honestly spend most of my energy trying to understand the conversation and find that I feel paralyzed about participating. I love my boyfriend and I don’t want the fact that we have such different lives to get in the way of enjoying each other – how can I balance it all – his friends, my friends and our time together?
Even if you both spoke the same native language, meeting a guys friend group is always tough. Groups of friends have their own language, their own slang and years of their own shared experiences that takes time for a new member to understand. And if that new member isn’t a native speaker? Well, that can be nearly impossible. And going to these hangouts with a sense of dread is never a good start to an evening.
You say your Chinese is okay with small groups or one-on-one, so why not attack the friends group that way? Instead of the big hangouts, where you get lost quickly and feel out of place, suggest something smaller. Go out with one friend for dinner instead of all of them, or invite 2 of them to a movie–a sort of “divide and conquer” battle tactic. That way you will be more at ease and they can get to know you when you are more relaxed (and they can report back to the group that you are, indeed, pretty cool).
If your boyfriend still wants you to hang out with the big group, maybe try to suggest doing something active, like playing basketball, taking a hike or going to a concert. Something where the main focus isn’t sitting around talking in a group. You can show your personality more naturally if you have something to do, and during an activity a group of people tends to break up into smaller groups which will be easier to handle.
But if the only thing this groups likes to do is go out for a 5-hour dinner every weekend ad you find your energy drained, then it is okay to skip them sometimes. Of course your boyfriend wants to show you off and have his friends like you, as I’m sure you want for him, but you don’t need to be besties with them. If it’s not fun for you, then just say it. Couples don’t need to do everything together and like the same people.
Although I’m getting a feeling that maybe you and your guy only see each other on the weekends and that’s the same time his friends want to hang out. So maybe make a little plan. There are 4 weekends in a month so that break up nicely into one weekend with his friends, one weekend with yours, one weekend where you split up (and see your own friends) and one weekend just for the two of you. Life is never that neat and tidy, I know, but suggest making a schedule like that and see what he says.
He wants you to like his friends (and I’m sure you want to like them) but shoving them down your throat every weekend isn’t the way to do it, in fact it seems to have the opposite affect. But of course, you can’t ignore them totally, so try to reduce the number of times or the size of the group to make it more comfortable for you in the beginning.
After all, they’re his friends and you like him, so I’m guessing you’ll get along with them eventually as well (and they you). But you need time and space to make those friendships your own and your boyfriends needs to understand that.
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