Matchmaking Trauma

September 20, 2005

"Please don't set me up."

"It can't hurt. You never know!"

When I ask for more details (you know, what he likes to do, what his politics are), she has no information. All she knows is that he is a doctor and he works out a lot.

"Sounds pretty boring to me," I say.

"Boring is OK," she insists.

"I'd rather be alone than bored to death."

"Well, you never know. Now, can I give him your email?"

Sometimes the best way to deal with a parent is to take the path of least resistance. After triple checking the spelling of my email address, she adds "If you talk to him, don't be weird."

"So, you're telling me to not be myself."

"Oh, and he lives in Sacramento."

Sacramento? When there's an available Chinese American doctor, it doesn't matter if he lives hours away, or what his politics (if any) may be, or whether he has the personality of a box of rocks. These things are overlooked with one magic word. Apparently being a doctor is all one has to accomplish in life. Mothers everywhere will throw their single children at doctors.

When I shared this story with friends, some had similar stories to tell. One friend, after being pestered for months by her mother, was subjected to dull emails (and terribly unflattering photos) from a doctor who could not carry on a conversation. Another had to fend off efforts by her mother to set her up with guys who lived on the other side of the country.

Many of these friends are Asian American. Now, I doubt we are the only people beset upon by desperate mothers who are having old maid panic attacks on our behalf. This happens in any small community. Matchmaking is a time-honored tradition. Still, it seems like a very second generation immigrant experience to have your parents go through their small networks to find their children dates, sometimes over our objections.

Personally, I could not imagine my parents choosing someone who is right for me. But others are pretty comfortable with it. So here's a question for you: Would you be OK with your parents playing matchmaker? And does this happen to men too? It still seems less accepted in our society for women to remain single.

Oh, and the doctor in Sacramento? He emailed me two days later and turned out to be just as uninteresting as I had feared.


Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. A native Texan, she lives in California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.



I am Korean-American, my two sisters are doctors, my parents constantly try to set them up with other doctors, don't know why it has to stay all in the medical family. I am a lawyer, I don't date asian men or doctors, and I ignore my parents. :)
mary, why don't you date a non-korean asian male nurse and really mess with their heads?
So Mary, why DON'T you date Asian Men? (or doctors). Seems like a kind of broad screen doesn't it?'No Asian Men'What's up with that?
Yeah Mary,Why don't you date Asian Men? Why, why? I'll stop being a pain...Honestly, Mary, I just think that you're not into dating dorks, that's all.I truly believe that if an educated Asian guy that can challenge you and make you feel unique and excited, yet who can also make you want, on a sunny weekday morning, to melt into a blissful calmness in a warm bed after a night of romantic fun, then you, Mary, will definitely want to date that Asian guy who can make you feel these things.I'm sure a large majority of Asian women, in this site, will want to, as well.
so Mr. Happy Asian Guy, do we take this to mean that you think 'Asian guy' and 'dork' are synonymous? If so, then it would follow that 'dorkdom' must be a happy state.Wouldn't most straight women want a guy, any type of guy, that can meet your criteria Mr. H.A.G.?Unless of course he's a doctor!
There are larger forces at hand here, Melissa. Your scenario is actually just a part of a large, vicious cycle. In old asian traditions, of course, men are prioritized over women. The men are favored to be "successful" in life with their careers. Boys are strictly disciplined and pressured to put their education as a priority in life. Rarely would you ever see Asian parents educate their boys with SOCIAL skills. Things like "drinking" and "partying" are taboo and are considered "bad". To add to the damage, Asian boys of an Asian family are raised and disciplined to be stoic in nature, to never question authority, and to always "respect" their elders. So you can forget about answering back, when you don't agree. A lot of these traditions still carry over, in these days and ages, as you have noticed for yourself. So what happens when the Asian boy grows up into an Asian man, and actually achieves "his" (aka his parents') goals, and becomes successful (i.e. becoming a doctor)? His very own Asian parents place even MORE pressure by saying: "Isn't it about time you found yourself a Chinese (or insert Asian Nationality here) girl to marry?" The poor Asian man is now totally cornered because he wasn't educated in social matters in the first place, having prioritized his "future" first, and now he is supposed to magically find a mate! Which is probably THE reason why older Asian traditions use "matchmaking" in the first place. Because social education never came up, first hand. Now, I'm an Asian Man myself, and at times, I consider myself to be an exception to the rule, but I can't help but look around and see these things happen around me, especially those Asian men who aren't actually whitewashed. Also, it's understandable that I'm beginning to sound like the "Bitter Asian Man" (as a matter of fact, I am very good friends with the creator of the website,, which you've probably already heard of, or seen), but what I want to show is the flip side of the coin. Maybe the "boring Doctor" that your Mom was trying to set you up with... isn't really such a bad guy after all. Maybe it wasn't his fault to have a boring personality in the first place (but don't hold your breath, it's probably because of other reasons too). This is a cycle that is probably going to stay for a very long time, but there are gradual, SLOW changes. The "Bitter Asian Man" maybe really isn't "bitter" in every sense of the word... either that, or he has every right to be bitter. The only hope now, of course, is "gradual change" in society... in which Asian families are actually starting to become more open to "newer traditions". But for now? This is actually what happens, in the "Boring Doctor"'s point of view.
I know several people that are now married due to the introductions made by their mom/dad. This posting is interesting because I recently saw an airing of a web site called I guess this site is for moms to find a date for their single son or daughter. I've never been set up by my mom --probably because I've had a long term boyfriend but my mom has set up my sister 2x. It hasn't worked out yet but my sister dated one of them for almost a year. If you meet a great guy who cares who made the introduction but I do understand other view points too.
Men get that pressure too, as far as I can see. And when I married Rook, his dad explained to me why he wanted me to go to medical school -- it is because when he was a teenage refugee in the korean war he saw that when society breaks down, doctors are always needed and respected. I'm not saying there's not a snob factor in there, because there totally is, about being part of a country's elite! But when he put it that way about how you can't tell if there will be a war or a disaster in your lifetime, and so it's best to have at least one doctor in the family, then it made complete sense and I felt more understanding towards him.
I never met such requirements of the parents.
Hmm, maybe you should set him up with my sister.
My parents haven't tried, but I haven't exactly given them a chance. I definitely don't think they would have a clue as to what I would like in a guy, since they too seem to think the nectar of the heavens comes from the lips of Chinese American male doctors.
Happens to us guys too. My parents think my ideal mate is a virgin. And my parents *will* ask a girl to make sure their pre-screening is effective. They haven't approved of anyone I ever brought home. And it's not the subtle kind of disapproval -- they still try to set me up when they know I'm seriously seeing someone.
ditto for Vietnamese doctors and Vietnamese moms. my mom pestered me so bad about meeting the doctor son of her friend's sister (whom she herself had never met), i figured she'd already slaughtered the cow and 3 pigs they gave her and was just going to have to hand me over.
i wonder what happens if you are already a chinese american doctor. are you then only allowed to marry/date other doctors, for fear of diluting the so-called gene pool?my parents once accused me of only wanting to date "weird guys [i] can talk to." it wasn't meant to be a compliment, but it was actually one of the more perceptive things they've ever said about me.
As long as she is willing to support me and my arts lifestyle, I think a doctor would just just fine, thank you, though I would might prefer a lawyer, unless she was an ER doctor with lots of good (ie gory, improbable or embarassing) stories.
to answer lisa's question: my three oldest cousins are docs (sorry ladies and gents! they're all taken! and canadian!) and the oldest married a chinese med school dropout, the second married a korean doctor and the third married a white doctor. so i think the doctor part (or the "has attended medical school" part) is more important than the ethnicity. at least in my family.