Finding yourself

WSJ column: Do 40-something men only want 20-something women?

I’m delighted to announce that this week, I’ve started a twice-monthly column for the Wall Street Journal China on success, happiness and love.

I’m smiling as I write this, because producing this column will be so much fun!

I don’t believe all 40-something men only want 20-something women

In my first column, I answered the question that’s burning in all our minds:  “Do 40-something men only want 20-something women?”  The column already has sparked a lot of wonderful discussion on Weibo, and I’ve enjoyed following the comment stream.

One thing I do want to clarify, though, is my answer to the question in the column title.  In my column, it was not me, but the 40-something man, who declared that all 40-something Chinese men only want 20-something women.  The column is mostly about my reaction to his declaration.

In fact, I personally do not believe that all 40-something Chinese men only want 20-something women.  To the contrary, my conversations with men on this subject make me feel optimistic about relations between men and women in China today.

I wrote my book, Do Not Marry Before Age 30 expressly for women, and so the publishing team at CITIC and I all were startled at the large numbers of men who bought my book. When I asked some readers why they were reading my book, their response was uniformly, “Because I need to understand women!” and then “To figure out how to catch an outstanding  woman.”

In fact, our book team had an inside joke:

Q:  Where are all the good men?
A:  At Joy’s speeches!

While I met only a small fraction of all the men in China, I found that the men I met were extraordinarily thoughtful and interesting, and searching for the same things we women are searching for, namely, a good life and a wonderful partner with whom to share that life. And for some of us, perhaps children as well, children who are happy and healthy and well-prepared for life.

A column for thoughtful women and men

And these are the subjects that I plan to explore in my column in the coming weeks and months. How can we all be more successful and happy?  How can we get the love that we all yearn for?  How can we best ensure that our children have the very best of everything that the world has to offer?

I feel privileged to have such a wonderful media platform as the Wall Street Journal to spark conversations about these, the most important issues of our lives.  This is a discussion which is best shared and savored with friends. With this and future columns, I hope to give you some good conversation starters with the people you cherish.

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Below is the full text of this column, republished with permission of the Wall Street Journal.

Do 40-something men just want 20-something women?

We authors work such long hours for such little pay that being invited onto a TV book-interview show is the sort of warm and happy experience we eagerly anticipate.

Being on those shows is usually like being a proud mama at a gathering of ladies all cooing at your new baby.

Usually.

Unless, that is, you were me, recently walking unsuspectingly onto the beautiful set of BTV’s书香北京 , into an ambush masterminded by executive producer Stella Xu. Stella apparently prefers book-interview shows to more resemble reality-TV-style fisticuffs.

BTV likes drama, even in its book-interview shows

I arrived at BTV and was ushered into the dressing room for make-up. Soon thereafter, Stella walked in with a very self-assured, 高富帅-type and introduced him as one of the evening’s hosts. He may not like his name tied online to what I’m about to say next, so I’ll just call him高富帅.

I invited him to sit with me to talk through the format of the show.

‘There’s no need,’ he barked, then wheeled around, and left the room.

That should have been my tipoff that something was up.

Next time he addressed me was after the cameras started rolling. 高富帅went on the attack. He ripped into my book, Do Not Marry Before Age 30, explaining that it’s unsuitable for Chinese audiences, because successful Chinese men like him – in his 40s and never married – prefer women in their 20s who worship them. This situation, he explained, makes them feel great about themselves.

Of PYTs and Mr. Bigs

As he spoke, I looked at him, so silver-tongued, so glamorous, so arrogant, and recalled my former 20-something self. I realized that, back then, I would have met this 高富帅and I would have thought: ‘Heaven!’ In my 20s, he was just the type of guy I went for.

Indeed, this sort of arrangement – young woman and powerful older man – feels very — Chinese, doesn’t it? Isn’t that how it’s always been in our culture, for thousands of years?

And we still reinforce this kind arrangement. A man picks up a pretty young thing 20 years his junior, and his friends crowd around to congratulate him. A woman bags a Mr. Big, and her girlfriends turn green with envy. A 40-something man walks onto TV and declares that all Chinese men want young women who worship them.

Submission is not love

But hierarchy is antithetical to love. Where there is hierarchy between two adults, there can be worship, there can be gratitude, there can be piety, but there can not be love. Throughout history, Chinese society replaced love with submission.

Given this frame of reference, we can understand the revolutionary nature of true love between a man and a woman. Love could only exist on the edges of our old social order. When true love did spring up, it was forcefully destroyed. The Butterfly Lovers died because they had to die.

Yet the legend lives, as captivating today as it ever was. Because it speaks to the yearning in us all – men as well as women – to be truly known and loved by another human being, to experience joy and delight in all that makes us human.

What is love?

In his 1923 book I and Thou, theologian Martin Buber divides all human relationships into two categories. The first is ‘I-It,’ viewing the other person as an object, and considering her solely in terms of what she can do for you. The second is ‘I-Thou,’viewing her as a subject, and thus considering her needs as well as your own.

When you see someone as I-It, that’s not loving her. That’s just a circular way of loving yourself. An older man wants a younger woman to give him validation. A younger woman wants an older man to give her security, Sometimes in our society, it can seem like everyone uses everyone else, and no one recognizes the specialness of any other person.

But that*s not the way it has to be, and it’s not the way it should be. We all need validation, and we all need security, but ultimately these are things that we need to give ourselves, as a certain Wall Street guy once rather impolitely explained to a New York 拜金女.

It is human to love

As we become more independent, we naturally begin to look for more in our relationships. The great reward for letting go our old notions of relationships based on duty is that finally we can achieve the ‘I-Thou’ relationships that we yearn for in our souls.

A man who’s happy and secure in himself will want a true partner, and will cherish her as she does him. As the 43-year-old me now can attest, there is nothing better than opening your eyes each morning to find the love of your life right there beside you. It can be enough to start your heart singing for the whole new day.

What we all really need is love

I thought my BTV interview was going to be another baby-adoration session for my book but it turned out to be something much richer. A strenuous clash of ideas – traditional versus modern, male versus female. A fascinating discussion about the nature of love, interspersed with pointed scenes from current TV shows and movies about the modern questions we all ask ourselves.

The show was skillfully moderated by the fabulous host Li Wenwen.Also joining us was the movie star Liang Jing,who turned out to be as thoughtful as she is beautiful. Even the 高富帅 seemed, grudgingly, to have fun. Was he being serious, or pretend-serious, in the chauvinist things he said? Honestly, I*m not sure. By the end of the show, though, he acknowledged that, yes, what we all really need is love. With that attitude, he – or the 高富帅 he portrayed – someday will make someone a fine husband.

And by the way, if you’re the sort of man who likes a woman with opinions, the comments section below might be a good place to find her!

*This column was originally written by the author in English. Hear her reading it aloud by clicking here.