It’s been over a year since I ended a 3 year relationship with a Taiwanese woman, but as I was riding my bike today I had a thought about something she would do that I really didn’t like.
When something in our immediate social situation was tense or complicated, and not likely to be easily resolved by something immediate that I could do or say, my way of dealing with it was generally to shrug it off. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t there, but I’d acknowledge it with a lighthearted comment and then change the subject to something more pleasant and unifying. In doing so I’d try to imply that it’s not the end of the world, isn’t something I need be overly concerned about (or get involved with at all, if it doesn’t directly involve me), and certainly isn’t something that’s going to keep me from having a good time here and now.
This approach rubbed my Taiwanese girlfriend very much the wrong way. It struck her as very callous. So she would then try to shame me, usually after the fact when we were in private, for not being sensitive enough to situations and others’ feelings.
I would typically see through her attempts to make me feel ashamed, no matter what the reason. I see more effective ways to express displeasure with people than piling on shame. But this only made matters worse. Because in my girlfriend’s mind, an inability on my part to feel shame or know when it’s my cue to bow my head means that I am selfish, almost to the point of being sociopathic, and deserving of the harshest nastiness she could muster, and certainly no respect.
Somebody here please play Sigmund Freud and deconstruct what was going on in these exchanges. Is this a common relational problem between Westerners and Chinese I experienced, or most likely something peculiar to she and I? I see my ability to become detached at a moment’s notice a gift that has saved my much stress and many needless conflicts, and have never been called “shameless” “selfish” or “insensitive” by my American friends for it.