The Request for Approval on the Chinese New Year

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When one mentions Chinese New Year (CNY), it is hard for one to not think of the joy from the numerous Ang Baos received from relatives during house-visiting sessions. Yet, such happiness comes together with the incessant questions, especially about marriage, from our aunts and uncles that we see once a year. The many small talks about marriage stem from the societal expectations that one should get married while young, as opposed to the perceived higher median age of first-time grooms and brides at 30.0 years and 28.4 years respectively, in 2017 (Channel NewsAsia, 2018). Such expectations could result in an accumulation of much stress, anxiety and frustration in many people. Firstly, there is an undeniable pressure on those who are in a relationship to progress to the next level. During CNY, there are always cousins who bring their fiancé/fiancée over to introduce them to everyone. Such moments always result in awkwardness when the aunts then turn to the cousin next-in-line and ask: “Eh boy, when you bringing your girlfriend over?”

My 28-year-old cousin was the new-found target of such questions this CNY, when my 25-year-old cousin brought his fiancée over for introductions. His entire body tensed up with his hands locked by his sides, while he struggled to come up with an acceptable reason to respond to my aunts, without coming across as rude. The stress perhaps was not just from the questions itself, but also of the huge financials costs that he was once reminded of through the questions, and the very fact that his younger counterpart was getting married before he did.

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Similarly, those who are single and at the “societal-approved” age of marriage find themselves trapped in the same situation. When the spotlight is on them, the endless questions cause the same tension and stress as the previous situation. “Aiyo girl, faster find boyfriend get married ah if not later no one want you how.” Such words were intended for my 27-year-old cousin who was still recovering from her recent relationship break-up. The bitter smile on her face was such an unpleasant sight, especially because of her gender causing the latter clause of “if not later no one want you how”. Many people, especially those from the older generation, still have the mindset that females should get married early, and measures a female’s worth in terms of how “successful” her marriage is – her partner’s status, their housing, combined income, etc. The simple statement urging my cousin to get married simply implied that her worth was in marriage, and not by her achievements or her personality, and only helped to lower her self-esteem. Someone else on the receiving end of such words could also possibly feel sad that she was “unwanted” by someone else, and go down the self-reproach alley to become her worst critic. The resulting dejectedness and bitterness only served to contrast starkly against the cheerful and bubbly CNY atmosphere.

It might be surprising to find out that the pessimistic feelings could also apply to those single but not at the “societal-approved” age for marriage yet. As a 20-year-old, I was afraid for myself a few years later, when my aunts determine that I am of age to get married. The questions, although not for me, had me start fretting about finding my significant other soon, before I caught myself thinking the way society has conditioned all of us to think – that is, everyone must get married in order to happy – and stopped tormenting myself over such thoughts. I believe that the possible apprehensiveness that all my younger cousins have towards marriage, or anything pertaining to relationships, have been magnified during CNY as they see their older counterparts being distressed over the issue.

Of course, it is important to clarify that marriage itself is a joyous event worth celebration, and many of the comments from our relatives are well-intentioned. In fact, the marriage talk during CNY can also bring about many blessings and words of encouragement for newly married couples/engaged couples. My 25-year-old cousin and his fiancé were all smiles as they received much advice and congratulatory words from all the relatives about their engagement, while my newly-married cousin with her husband was cheerful and ecstatic about the new status update this CNY.

Perhaps, the topic of marriage causes our “marksmen” relatives more stress than we think as well. As parents themselves, they would also want to see their children happily married with someone that would walk through thick and thin with them. Prioritising their child’s happiness over any other factors, their words might sound unpleasant on the receiving end but they only mean well.

In conclusion, the “societal-approved” age of marriage can lead to much distress (more than delight) during the CNY celebrations when people gather and make small talk about the topic. There is a need for oneself to be able to focus on appreciating the well-intentioned words from our relatives, instead of dwelling on the stress that such words deliver, in order to stop the negative emotions from spiralling out of control.

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The Request for Approval on the Chinese New Year. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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