“Ma, how did you meet Ba again?” I asked my mother in my clunky Khmer.
My mother has often said that as she got into her thirties, she realized she needed to settle down, which was why she agreed to marry my father, whom she met through a mutual friend. I thought there might have been more to it than that, but nope.
“I got old. I was going crazy. So I married your dad,” she told me very plainly.
“Who set you two up again?”
“It was…oh, you’ve met her. In San Diego, when we went down for her daughter’s wedding. I don’t remember her name. She was looking for a wife for your dad, who was working as a carpenter in Washington at that time. I decided to accept.”
“Wait…” I said slowly. “So the first time you met Ba was when you were getting married to him?” For some reason it hadn’t fully hit me until just then that my parents had been complete strangers to each other when they tied the knot.
“Yes, that was the first time we met,” my mother confirmed.
It really was an arranged marriage. Oh god. This changed everything. Okay, not everything, but the lens through which I looked at my parents’ relationship. “Did you fall in love with him?” I asked.
She shrugged. “He seemed like a good man.”
I felt sad. Not because of some illusion of my parents’ unconditional love for each other being shattered–their union was never one I had ever thought to put on a pedestal, if I was being honest. I was sad because it seemed like my mother had simply resigned herself to marriage as a survival strategy. But if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.
“You need to get married soon,” she told me, destroying any scrap of sympathy I felt for her in that moment.
“Why?” I challenged.
“When you get old and stay unmarried, you go crazy,” she said. “I was 32 and went crazy. So I got married. That’s what happened to this friend of mine, she went crazy because she didn’t have a husband.”
I was speechless for a second, because that was probably the most sexist bullshit I had ever heard come out my mother’s mouth. “You don’t go crazy because you’re unmarried,” I snapped. “I’m not getting married and I’m going to be fine.”
“You say that now,” she warned me. “But watch. 28 is longest you can put it off. Then it’s time to get married.”
“Whatever.” The discussion ended there, but my thoughts didn’t. I wondered why my mother was being so pushy about marriage. She had gotten married late, and she never married again after my father. I guess maybe she thought she wouldn’t have as many troubles if she had gotten married younger, and didn’t want me to repeat her supposed mistake. I saw it differently, though. I thought maybe she would have been happier if she hadn’t gotten married at all. I told my mother several times over the past couple of years that I would never be married. She never seemed to believe me.
I wonder why it’s so hard for her to understand that marriage has never been the end goal for me. I wonder what she means by going crazy. I wonder if what she really means is becoming too tired to fend off patriarchy alone. I wonder what she will say 4, 5, 6, 10 years from now when I am still unmarried and childless and the same kind of crazy I grew up with and not an ounce more. What would she say then?
I wonder, because that’s all I can do.