A friend recently came to me asking for advice on love. Not that she needs any. She’s blond, busty, and speaks just enough Chinese to make locals and expats alike go gaga.
In any case, her problem is that she met a new guy. She met an expat who is handsome, gentlemanly, and interesting to talk to. Orinteresting to half talk, half gesture to, more precisely. Her quandary is that the only common language she shares with her man is Mandarin. She can get around Beijing fine with her Chinese chops, but he’s just starting a four-month language crash course.
Their first few weeks together were fun, full of light-hearted babble and exploratory walks around the city. Shopping together and eating out also don’t require a serious Chinese lexicon.
But now that their relationship has crossed the one-month line, she’s starting to worry where this is all going. Can you build a serious relationship without talking about anything substantive? After all, it’s getting awfully chilly to keep trailing about town.
The charming beginning to her “love in a foreign city” story gave me a chance to daydream. Here she is, living the Italian chapters of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Love, Pray. Or she has walked onto the real life set of Lost in Translation, only with a younger, sexier leading man than Bill Murray.
Then, I got off my cloud nine of imagination and considered her reality. Imagine never debating the merits of Yeats or an apocalyptic action film (say, 2012)? Or living through our times without discussing A/H1N1 vaccination and global equity market rebounds? Maybe having a serious relationship with someone who doesn’t parle your lingo is problematic indeed.
Yet, I also got to thinking that the four-month Mandarin crash course is going to kick in at some point. Until then, perhaps a linguistic barrier is actually conducive to a simpler, purer way of getting to know each other? Suppose I never learned to say, “What’s that supposed to mean?” That would cut out a lot of unnecessary fighting and frustration over my spouse’s wrong choice of diction in his reply.
How about the very fact that neither my friend nor her man have enough mastery over Mandarin to initiate the “Where do you see us going with this” conversation? Delaying the awkward “DTR” chat might just give their budding romance a chance to blossom.
With excessive talking (and nagging, and lying, and misunderstanding) out of the way, what is left is a “less talk, more action” relationship.
They can just do what makes them happy, whether it’s a walk in the park or a kiss under the stars, instead of getting caught up in words and second-guessing them.
In the end, I think love is stronger than language and if two people are really into each other, they can find ways around the communication barrier.