This week, our anonymous author describes the toll her parents’ tumultuous relationship took on her as a child. In the aftermath of her parents’ toxic dynamic, she refuses to fall into the footsteps of her mother and remain in an unhappy relationship for ‘tradition’.
In East Asian cultures, people who fall in love are thought to be bound together by the red string of fate. The string, soft yet strong like fiber, connects two strangers through a common thread of love. As a child, I came to a hazy understanding of this concept and truly believed my parents were linked together, and only to each other, through their own unique string. My father constantly went on business trips, one after another, each one longer than the last. I kept asking my mother when my loving father would come back, and whether he would remember to gift me with Belgian chocolate, Russian dolls, or trinkets from the places he visited. One day, my innocent little mind grew anxious. “Mom, does Dad still love us?” My mother reassured me that they had an unbreakable thread of fate. “Of course. Dad would never betray us.”
One night, while I was fast asleep on the bed where my parents usually slept, I heard my mother shrieking on the phone, “He’s not a cheater! He’s not a cheater!” Pretending to sleep, I followed the conversation closely, hearing an unfamiliar woman’s name between my mother’s gasps for air. My mother inquired, “Is she beautiful?” At that moment, something in me collapsed.
That intangible string of fate was suddenly severed by the force of my disbelief and my indignation. With tears in my eyes, I uttered my first curse loudly and forcefully, directing my anger at a nearby chair. I swear I saw my father sitting on the chair right then and there. I blinked, then kicked some more, for I could not tell whether the person on the chair, with a smirk that did not seem to wane as my anger grew, was my dad or a figment of my imagination, carefully switched on by my limbic system to mask my disappointment and help me cope. I can still recall the horrified and defeated look in my mother’s eyes.
As I got older, I always asked my partner clearly from the beginning to rather break up with me than cheating on me because I would never be able to forget the pain in my mother’s eyes, and I would surely not want to feel it myself. However, one of my ex-boyfriends did cheat on me. That was probably the most excruciating heartbreak I’ve ever experienced. When I called my mom sobbing, the first thing she said was, “Did you do anything to make him cheat on you?” She wanted me to look within myself and examine if I was not acting attentive, caring, or affectionate enough in the relationship to make him find fulfilment somewhere else. She wanted me to mend the relationship and still stay with him. I was furious when I first heard her response, thinking she was crazy for such a statement, but I soon remembered how quickly my parents were able to mend their relationship after he cheated on her.
She continued to be a dutiful wife who would wait for her husband every day after work to come back home to her home-cooked meal, the immaculate house she cleaned herself, and the beautiful children that she helped her husband raise. She continued to act modest and be submissive to my dad and devoted her entire life to be a good wife to her husband. So logically, she wanted me to follow her path. But I refused to do so. This is precisely because I can sometimes see my mother cry because of my dad, but still stay with him so that she could put up a happy façade around her friends and relatives.
I do not ever want to end up being another housewife whose fate is to stay in an unhappy marriage because of tradition. I had always listened to my mother’s advice, but this time, I decided not to listen to her and listen to my own intuition. I ended the relationship. This was when I felt the freest and most confident to embark on future romantic endeavours, knowing I cannot be trapped in an unhappy relationship like my mother was.