Change Causes Anxiety

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One day many years ago, I was reading a romantic story about two lovers–one saves the other from an impending danger and a certain death. I thought to myself what my parents would do in such a situation. My conclusion was that they would certainly save each other, only for the satisfaction that they would have the opportunity to torture each other to death psychologically and emotionally later on. One’s death by any other methods sounds too much like a successful escape from their perpetual acrimony to be satisfactory to the other. Death under their own torture is infinitely more preferable, at least for one reason: it would give credit where credit is due–the sharpened sarcasm and the improved revengeful skills, which finally bring about the complete annihilation of the opponent.

I cannot talk about my parents’ tragicomic relationship without talking about the social changes happening in most parts of Asia in the second half of the 20th century. These changes, happening in a very short span of time, brought a lot of pain of adjustment to people intertwined in it.

The first big change was the end of the traditional way of living, for which members of an extended family live together in close quarters. These little family compounds could be as small as ten people with grandparents, parents, kids, uncles and aunts. It could also be as big as two hundred people living in inter-connected family courts with generations of cousins. Both of my parents lived in such a little family compound of about twenty to thirty people.

In such a place, hierarchy was strictly enforced to reduce human frictions and everybody played a pre-determined role. Human relationships in such a setting are very different from those in a nuclear family setting. For one thing, a husband and his wife spent almost all their waking hours with other people, and they only spent the bedtime alone in their sleeping quarter. Even if the couple belonged to the two types of people who could never get along, their chances of quarreling were minimized by the family environment.

For another, children were brought up by the whole extended family and not really by their parents. I read a novel about an extended family which was written in 1700s–every day the teenage son only saw his parents briefly when he paid them customary morning visits. He spent all his time with his grandmother and his cousins and his servants and his friends in school. In this setting, bad parents didn’t really matter and toxic relationship of parents had minimum influence on a child’s growth.

Both of my parents grew up in such an environment, but the society started to change during their teenager years. By the time they were getting married, they had already moved away from the rural areas they grew up to a more urban setting where nuclear families were the norm. They each loved somebody else, but each suffered disappointment. Probably the mutual sympathy as jilted lovers finally pushed them to make the decision of getting married. Most likely they didn’t imagine that they would run into difficulties in their marriage–their own parents were all in successful arranged marriages and the phrase “marriage difficulty” didn’t exist in their vocabulary.

I imagine that they were a little shocked with the nuclear family structure, in which the husband and the wife have so much more alone time, which needs to be handled with open negotiation. They were probably even more shocked when they realized that they had to bring up children all by themselves. The concept of “marriage” and “family” had shifted and they didn’t realize it until it’s too late.

(To Be Continued)

23 thoughts on “Change Causes Anxiety

    1. Yes, that’s true. The last 40 chapters are not as good as the previous chapters. Can you believe that an author only wrote one book and couldn’t finish? Sorry, I am not being positive. LOL.

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  1. This is so true. The very same concepts existed in India as well. Ditto. And yes, now times have changed and divorce rates are rising. Who wants to stay tied to someone you can’t stand. Arranged marriages are still very prevalent here where two families actually marry instead of two individuals. I’d say just live and let live. Let these choices be more personal without external pressure. I’m glad you shared this, Haoyan. It really is very important. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. It is so true. Nowadays, people don’t want to live with somebody they can’t stand anymore. Thank goodness. That’s a big progress. Probably for certain kind of people, arranged marriage is bearable. However for those independent people, such things can be a terribly encroachment on their self governance. I am so glad that the world is really making progress on this issue…

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    1. Actually, yes, an extended family is a good support. Right now, there are a lot of “community living” experiments going on in New York City, which is actually trying to create a community environment for people. I am not sure of all the details, but I think it is harking back to the old days …

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  2. I think this change from traditional families to a nuclear family effected a lot of people. I remember my grandparents having similar issues and my dad talking about this with me. It forced people to spend a lot of time together and often these people didn’t have much in common. Raising kids on your own is also overwhelming so that also causes so much tension.

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    1. It is so true. I watched many couples of my parents generation making the painful transition. Often the burden of the transition falls more heavily on women’s shoulder. There used to be delegation of housework in an extended family among several women, but now one woman has to do all types of work; there used to be daily chatting and laughing among women when working on chores, but now one woman has to do it alone. The dynamic between the woman and her husband is the more serious change. The hierarchy of the extended family is gone to a certain extent, and the interaction between the wife and the husband increases a lot. When a couple who’s not good at adapting to the change, the friction is so obvious. Goodness, I think I should explore this more. It in someway is similar to how immigrants adapt to their changing environment. It is easier said than done.

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