An insane number of Chinese women I know have had philandering husbands/boyfriends. Not all, but the majority. It’s part of the cultural fabric of China these days. Over the years I’ve heard many such sob stories ranging from the frightening to the pathetic. In fact I didn’t hear a single positive story of male infidelity, until I met Ann (not her real name).
I met Ann online. She’s from Guangzhou but has lived in Beijing for 20 years. We met up one afternoon at a coffee shop. I knew from chatting with her online that she had a kid whom she dotes on. After we got the small talk out of the way I asked for about the kid’s father. Of course it turns out she’s divorced. The man had an affair.
“Oh that’s bad, that’s tragic,” I said.
She smiled. “It’s not that bad. We are still friends. I want my boy to know his father.”
I plied further, “Yes, but you know it must have been really shocking. How did you find out?”
“He told me he was in love with someone else and wanted to leave.”
“You must have been devastated.”
“No not really. Anyway, I got to keep the apartment. I have my son. And now I can see any man I want to.” She laughed.
We talked on in the desultory way that complete strangers do. I found out she occasionally works in the art business as an independent curator. But she wasn’t familiar with any of the artists I know. And she didn’t seem very much interested to know them. As time went on she faded as some people do whom you are simply not interested in. She faded into the wallpaper and I got bored and it was time to head home. She offered to give me a lift. I waited for her as she pulled the car to the front door. She drove up in a Mercedes Benz. Domestic one, but still.
And then it hit me: here was a success story of modern China. Indirect, sure, and not the way you drew it up in your room when you were 12 years old and believed in princesses, but success nonetheless: the car, the house, the kid, and you can go out with any man you want. Moreover–and more importantly–she had peace of mind.
It reminded me of that famous incident on one of those Chinese reality dating shows where a contestant said she’d rather cry in the back of a Mercedes than laugh on the back of a bike. Fuck that, I thought to myself, here’s a woman who rejected the false dichotomy and asked: why not drive the Merc yourself?
The key of course is pump out the kid as soon as you can after the wedding, when you’re still vaguely attracted to each other. Invariably, one of you will lose interest in sex after that. Usually, but not always, it’s the man. When you catch him cheating, as he no doubt will, divorce him and clean up with a nice settlement. Social stigma? Doesn’t mean much when you’ve got everything else.
Life strategies for Chinese women in an age when nothing means more than money.