Seven things I learnt from my Chinese boyfriend

My other half, the fish (小鱼)

When it comes to matters of the heart, I'm absolutely clueless. I've no other option but to wing it. Nevertheless, I must have done something right to make my other half fall in love with me. If only I knew what I did... Would it be appropriate to ask him that question? Maybe I'll find out when he recites his wedding vows...

You see, me and love never quite had the chance to get properly acquainted. I had a few crushes back in school but crushes were all they were. I never wanted to date any of those guys (nor did they want to date me, I'm quite sure of that). I was 17 when I went on my first date (unless you call hanging out with the members of an American boy band dating) and quite frankly that date sucked. I don't even remember why I agreed to snog the guy at the end of the night. Sadly I can't blame it on being drunk - I really wish I could. He was a rotten kisser and I almost choked on his tongue. The memory of that date still gives me the creeps...swiftly moving on.

I vaguely recall that I had another crappy date when I first came to Ireland and that guy only had sex on his brain. He got fairly upset when I started to ignore his calls. Best thing I ever did.

Any other romantic endeavours of mine are simply not worth mentioning. Admittedly, I never really gave love a chance. I'm not the type of girl you'll find in a bar or nightclub on a Friday night, looking to meet a guy. I'm not the type of girl who will make the first move when I like someone, I'm terribly shy and inapt at such things. Besides, I kind of like the idea of a guy making the first move. Yes, I am that old-fashioned.

I also never really bothered to fret about finding or not finding Mr Right. Instead I concentrated on work (probably too much) and did my own thing. These last few years I've successfully managed to convince myself that 1) if it's meant to be then love will find me and 2) I'll never find The One. I always put on a brave face when facing my friends and never told them how much I was earning to meet my special someone. I even lied to my two best friends about it, although I'm sure they knew. They never said anything to me though and I'm grateful for that.

I only ever went to pieces about being single when I was alone.

It's sufficient to say that I wasn't even looking for love when I met my fish. But it was like from the get go. The memory still makes me smile. I never knew I had the ability to be this ecstatic about receiving a text message from a friend. I was this crazy about him that I would drop everything (including the dishes) every time my phone lid up, revealing a new message from the very man I now affectionately call 老公 (hubby).

The first time I saw my  老公  I instantly knew that whatever feelings I had from him definitely went far beyond friendship. I may be a novice when it comes to love but even I can tell you when I've got it bad. That first kiss...let's just say there's a reason why I call my fish my 幸福 (happiness).

Anyway. I'll stop praising my  老公, I don't want to make you nauseous, although I probably already did.

My lack of experience with love hasn't exactly helped me to adjust to suddenly being in a relationship. Or has it? Since I can't really compare my current relationship to previous experiences, it's been really easy to keep an open mind and adjust accordingly. In saying that, I never thought I'd end up falling in love with a Chinese guy...

If you'd told me two years ago that I would meet the man of my dreams, fall in love and consider marriage I'd have grabbed the yellow pages to find you a good psychiatrist. This just goes to show that life works in mysterious ways. I didn't start learning Mandarin because I wanted to find a boyfriend but these days I certainly appreciate that I chose to learn the language. I have met the most amazing people on my journey and my fish is most definitely at the top of that list.

Still, this relationship, I've been praising so highly, hasn't exactly been a ride in the park. At present there are about 9300km between me and my fish and let me tell you the first thing I discovered about being in love: long distance relationships SUCK. I don't even remember how I willingly boarded my flight from Beijing back to Dublin. I certainly didn't want to.

Nevertheless, over the last few months I have learned a great deal. Not only about being in a relationship but also about being in a relationship with a Chinese guy and accepting and respecting his cultural background. The way he handles his affairs couldn't be more different to the way I look at things. At times I find myself amazed by how we manage to be in a relationship without wanting to scream in frustration. For one, I have to applaud my fish. He's been enduring my bad Chinese from the get go, but he never once complains. No. On the contrary, he supports me, encourages me, answers my questions, helps me along and even teaches me at times. Now if that isn't a sign that he loves me, then I don't know.

Today I'd like to take the opportunity to shine a light on a few things my fish has taught me:

#1 Patience

I'm not renown for my patience. As they say patience is a virtue, one I lack. I have some but not enough. When I want something done, I want it done now and not when you want to do it. I've managed to teach myself how to be a little more patient but the experience wasn't exactly fun. Let me tell you, when you're in a long distance relationship you need a barrel full of patience and I'm not even taking the fact that my boyfriend is Chinese into the equation. I'm also mostly disregarding the vast cultural differences between the two of us.

We're separated by almost 10,000 kilometres and seven time zones. Patience is about the only thing that keeps me sane at times and at other times having to exercise patience is what almost drives me over the edge. The hardest thing is finding time for each other. When I sleep, he works. When I have time off, he sleeps. When I work, he has free time. When I'm on my lunch break, he's having dinner with his colleagues. There are a lot of stolen moments and compromises. Finding some time for these stolen moments requires a lot of patience. Compromising also requires patience.

The worst part of it all is waiting until we can finally see each other again. That really requires every last ounce of patience I have and lately I've reached the end of my tether. Whatever I try, I simply can't get used to not having my boyfriend around. I repeatedly tell myself that I just have to be patient but at this stage I'm really sick of listening to my own advice. Sometimes I think my boyfriend handles this whole long distance thing a lot better than I do or maybe he just manages to hide it better. Maybe he only goes to pieces when he knows that I'm fast asleep and chances of me sending him a message or video-calling him range between slim and non-existent. I on the other hand am not that good at controlling when I go to pieces. I don't even know how to stop myself from going to pieces because I miss my boyfriend just that little bit too much.

#2 Don't jump in head first

My boyfriend and I have the kind of relationship where I know I can tell him anything, anything at all. No matter how silly I think it is, he will listen. He listens to my complaints and he listens when I need to let off some steam. Before jumping to conclusions (like I usually do) he tries to get the whole picture and only then proceeds to giving me some advice to the best of his abilities. He's told me to take it easy (慢慢来) so often that I've stopped counting. In fact, at first I used to despise that response. It would just make me more angry and I'd feel even more frustrated. I've a tendency to see a black wall whenever I run into a problem. My boyfriend on the other hand takes a moment to consider all aspects before he tries to find a resolution. I'm slowly trying to adapt. His way of going about things is quite sensible. Being on the other side of the world doesn't stop him from trying cheer me up.

#3 it's okay to cry about silly things when you have a shoulder to lean on

I'm a bit of a romantic at heart. I cry watching romantic movies no matter how often I've seen them. The press conference in "Notting Hill" makes me weep like a baby, the fire escape seen in "Pretty Woman" moves me just as much. I've shed way too many tears listening to cheesy Chinese pop ballads and idol drama soundtracks. I get emotional over the silliest things and regularly burst into tears when my fish sends me sweet messages. I don't usually lose it in public but I've discovered that it's apparently perfectly okay to cry in front of your boyfriend.

The first time that happened I really hadn't planned to let him see that side of me but in life things rarely go as planned. I'd intended to wait with showing him what I look like when I go to pieces until after signing the wedding papers. I had just finished watching a romantic marriage proposal on a Chinese Dating Show when my fish video-called and even though I really tried, I failed miserably at pretending that I was okay. Turns I'm not that great an actress after all, but at least I discovered that my boyfriend isn't the type of person who will tell me to get a grip. On the contrary, he patiently waited until I'd calmed down a little and to offered some genuine words of comfort. There were no macho words, no smug grin, no frown and he most definitely didn't roll his eyes at me or if he did he had the decency to wait until after our call.

#4 Keep smiling

This whole long distance thing is terribly discouraging. August wasn't exactly I rosy month for me and planning our reunion isn't going to be a piece of cake either. Life seems to throw a bunch of stones my way these days and all of them are too heavy to catch. With everything that's been coming my way lately, I've felt like throwing the towel more than once but I refuse to throw the towel on my relationship and if that's the last thing I do. I've never felt so frustrated and helpless in my life before. I wish I could go back to being two years old, a time when stomping your foot in frustration isn't considered to be completely inappropriate. I've reached the stage where if I hear the phrase 从新开始 (start over) one more time, I will scream.

Through it all my fish has been there. Even from miles away, he manages to make my heart beat just that little bit faster. A silly message, a photo, a grinning smiley, a cheeky comment and even going as far as attempting to speak English (he isn't so bad, you know, he just needs his confidence boosted). Sugar does taste better than lemons and for every lemon I've had to eat my fish has tried his best to give me a pound of sugar to sweeten the deal. Sometimes he does it without even trying. Still, it's the little things that remind me why I fell in love with him in the first place and continue to fall in love with him over and over again. He's got a good, warm heart. You can't really ask for much more than this in a partner. He really tries to understand my way of life and my way of thinking / doing things. While I sometimes just want to curl up and cry and lament the fact that he's on the other side of the world, his advice to keep smiling (be positive) is probably the wisest thing anyone has ever taught me.

#5 Pick your quarrels

Actually, my fish doesn't even know he's taught me this one and I don't think he really needs to know that he did. In a bit to make this relationship work, I've had consciously reminded myself over and over again to pick my quarrels. So far we've not had a lover's tiff yet and I'm not particularly looking forward to arguing with my other half but even I'm not deluded enough to believe that we'll live happily ever after without ever having a disagreement. This is life, not a Disney fairytale.

Dating a Chinese guy has proven to be a steep learning curve for me. Not only language wise but also in terms of adjusting to his way of thinking and his way of doing things. I'm not the type of person who likes to restrict somebody so by all means if he wants to go out with his friends and have fun, he can go. I'm not keeping him and he doesn't need to ask me for least not until after he's signed the wedding papers that is... I joke. Still his cultural background and my cultural background don't exactly have a lot in common. Then again, they do say opposites attract and boy do they attract.

Nevertheless, there's no point to give him a hard time just because I'm not used to the way he handles things. Instead, I've adopted what I believe is a fairly sensible approach. No matter how disgruntled I feel about his response or his way of thinking, I will take a moment to sit back and think first before I move on to the next step. I think if I hadn't done that up until now we could've easily had some 300 fights, all mindlessly started by me. I don't see the point in wasting energy on fighting about something when it isn't even necessary to do so in the first place. So until I find something about my fish that I really well and truly disagree with, I'm going to continue to be sensible and think first before giving my other half the third degree. I want to understand why he does things the way he does them before I disagree with them.

#6 housewife?

Is revelation hasn't shocked me nearly as much as I thought it would. I mean, I've always been more of a homebody than the girl who loves to go out and party. My idea of a perfect Saturday morning is to lie in bed until noon, drink coffee and read a good book or watch a movie. My idea of a perfect Sunday morning is repeating what I did on Sunday morning. I do love being out and about and being busy but I the idea of coming home to a cosy little place full of warmth and love excites me. It's that simple. My childhood was fairly simple, there was nothing grand about it, and I think that's just what I like. A simple, steady life. I'm not really sure if that kind of thing is still possible in today's day and age, but a girl can dream.

I actually, and I never thought I'd say this out loud, like the idea of keeping the house in order and cooking, etc. I must be mad. Or at least be on the verge of losing it. I have no idea if I could do this full time but for now I like dreaming about the idea until we, that is my fish and I settle on a future that suits as both.

Still, coming home to a home full of love and life is just the thing that makes my fish happy. The simplicity of it is what's making it so alluring, I think. For now this sort of adventure is just a silly girl's dream but it definitely appeals. Maybe it's just the fact that being in a long distance relationship makes me crave a relationship that is the exact opposite of what I have now but nevertheless, I like it. Do feel free to leave a comment to tell me that I've lost it.

#7 I'm in love
Must I really elaborate on that one? Wouldn't it be just much simpler to enjoy it while it lasts?