My husband and I were having dinner the other night at a vegetarian restaurant in Hangzhou. It just so happens that you were dining only a few feet across from us with your girlfriend.
When we first sat down, I saw the both of you enjoying a bowl of the sour and spicy vegetarian “fish” soup with pickled vegetables. I remembered how delicious that dish was, and how I hadn’t ordered it in a long time. I thought to myself, those girls have good taste.
But that was before my husband and I overheard your conversation.
You told your friend about how dissatisfied you were with your boyfriend. You said his salary of “only” 8,000 RMB a month — which is more than the average salary — wasn’t good enough. You flicked your expensively dyed long hair aside with great disdain as you said, “He can’t possibly support me.”
Your girlfriend, wearing black faux-leather leggings and stiletto-heeled boots just like you, nodded in agreement.
The two of you went on to belittle this young man, who you fell in love with in college, for another reason. His hometown was somewhere outside of Hangzhou. It was yet another black mark against him. Yet more proof he would never be “rich enough” for you.
I’ve heard this sort of thing before.
Years ago I learned that, for many people in China, marriage is all about having a home, car and money. I understand that women often evaluate men based on these marriage must-haves. I’m aware that there was even a girl on TV who once famously said she’d rather be crying in the back of a BMW than smiling on the back of a bicycle.
There’s a woman in China who once told me, “The purpose of life and marriage is to make money.” On the surface, she has it all. She and her husband own at least five apartments, drive a brand new BMW, have a son, and earn lots of money through the family business.
But privately, she is the saddest woman I have ever met.
She is bitter and constantly complains. Despite her huge bank accounts, she is stingy to the core. Her husband has cheated on her; she fights with him all the time. Her son is on the way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. For a time, things were so bad that she actually threatened to commit suicide.
I would not be surprised if she had cried in the backseat of her shiny new BMW.
Never would I wish to change places with this woman, even though she has so much money. I’ve realized I’m actually happier than she ever will be. There are far more important things in life her money can never buy. A peaceful, happy marriage. Love. Friendship. Kindness. Generosity. The ability to see hope in the darkest hours.
You can’t measure these things in dollars or yuan. I don’t care what that woman once told me – money isn’t everything. It never was.
So if you decide to break up with this guy just because he makes ￥8,000 a month and isn’t from Hangzhou, there’s nothing I can do to stop you.
If you end up marrying a wealthier man, maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll be a nice guy who just happens to be rich.
But if he isn’t so nice after all, then maybe you’ll discover what it’s really like to have tears in your eyes in the back of your luxury car.
And if that happens, believe me when I say this: I won’t be crying for you.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on Speaking of China.