Family

The Curse Of The Southeast Asian Mother (Monster)-In-Law

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asian man hugging mother

I was naive, super naive.

Who knew dating a younger, Asian man would be the worst decision of my life?

It was 2012. I was a divorced, 40-year-old woman living in a housing complex on the outskirts of Kathmandu, my parent’s hometown.

The gated housing complex was a hot trend in Kathmandu then. People were lining up to buy them.

Ours was in the higher end. It attracted Nepali elites. One such family lived across me and five houses down.

This is how I met them.

Fate

Every morning, around the complex, I’d see this guy walking his white fluffy dog. We’d nod and raise our hands as we passed by. That turned into exchanging our Viber contacts.

Eventually, we started meeting up in the mornings to walk his dog to a nearby cliff with a polluted, but magnificent view of the city. A few weeks later, we exchanged our first kiss — a peck — high school style.

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He was 25 and I was 40. By Nepali standard, that was quite an age difference. He told me he didn’t care.

I had doubts. In Nepali culture, like most of Southeast Asia, the age difference is a big deal.

It was acceptable for men to be older than their wives, but not the other way around.

Meeting the mom

A few weeks after our first meeting, Udgam mentioned that his mom wanted to invite me over for dinner. I obliged.

Their house was three stories with two living rooms, a panoramic kitchen, seven bedrooms, and a big balcony. It overlooked sprawling green hills with specks of square brick houses.

We sat at a round dining table with his whole family — his mom, dad, and grandma. A colorful array of Nepali dishes on silver plates filled the room with a spicy aroma.

The mom started by telling me she had met my late mom at some meditation center years ago. “Strong woman. Absolutely beautiful!’’ she said, wide-eyed with excitement.

His father spoke only a few words throughout the dinner, rarely looking up to make eye contact. Grandma was like what you’d expect from a granny — kind eyes with a smile that reflected Udgam’s.

At the end of dinner, his mom offered milk tea. It had a weird taste to it, but I drank it anyway not wanting to seem impolite.

An hour later, I began to feel queasy. I must’ve vomited a dozen times. I felt bad for their polished sink.

I clenched my stomach and tried to stand upright, but the sharp pain in my stomach was too much.

His mother was naturally concerned. “I wonder if it was the tea,” she said. That took me by surprise because it didn’t occur to me that tea could do such harm.

She insisted I stay at their home that night. “You’re all alone there, you poor thing. Stay with us as long as you like.”

So I stayed. Big mistake.

The next day

I had a throbbing headache the next day. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I thanked the mom and told her I’ll go home. She frowned and said, “You must stay. You’re not well yet. I’ll make you some toast and tea.”

I turned to Udgam and told him how lucky he was to have such a caring mom.

The mom came back with the tea — the very kind that made me sick. I felt nauseous even looking at the steaming cup.

I thanked the mom and said I don’t want any tea. Udgam nudged me on my elbow.

When I didn’t respond, he said “Ma, she’ll take the tea.” He reached out for the tea and laid it gently on the coffee table. The mom smiled and caressed Udgam’s head. “Good boy,” she said.

Good boy? That should have been the first red flag. But I stayed.

I glared at Udgam and asked him why he did that. He confidently said that it was impolite to refuse food in Nepal.

But this was just a cup of tea, I responded. It’s the same for tea or any drinks, he reiterated.

I felt uneasy. I dumped the tea into the toilet bowl. Still, I stayed.

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Going home

I finally felt better after three days — to me, it seemed like an eternity. The mom let me go home this time.

I concluded it was good I stayed with them since I was weak while recovering.

Going home felt like hallelujah. My own bed, my dad’s musky smell, and a faint smell of my mom’s perfume still filled the air.

A few days later, Udgam came over to hang out. Only this time, he looked pale.

“We need to talk,” he said as soon as he stepped inside.

“What happened?” I asked.

“My mom … she asked me what we do when I come here.”

“Okay…what did you tell her?”

“I told her we hold hands and talk.”

I cracked up in laughter. The room echoed.

“It’s not funny…”

“Sorry, it’s just that you’re 25. Whatever you do is none of her business.

“Well, yeah, there’s another thing…” He paused as if he was going to say something dramatic.

“I told her the truth. I told her that you’re 40.”

“And…?”

“She was shocked, but she’s okay with it.”

With that, I officially became his older girlfriend stamp-approved by his mother.

The retreat

I finally came out. It felt good. I didn't have to hide my age any longer. Our relationship felt easier like we had ascended a mountain and survived.

One day, we decided to apply to go to this meditation retreat in Thailand. The director was a good friend of Udgam’s family.

We met in the garden area of the hotel and sat around a white circular table with a big umbrella. The director handed us forms to fill out for the retreat.

I wrote my name and last name…then paused at the age area. I wrote 40. Then, the next step was circling my marital status.

The choice was: married, single, or divorced. I bravely circled divorced.

The explosion

It was the quiet before the storm. Cliché, I know, but how else do I describe what was about to happen next?

Udgam, panting and out of breath, came rushing into my house.

“June…she found…out…you’re…divorced!” He said spitting out the words between breaths.

I leaned my head sideways. “Okay…so?”

“She’s angry ‘cuz you never told her!”

“Why do I need to tell her?”

“She says you lied to her.”

“No, I didn’t. I just never mentioned anything… I mean, it’s between you and me.”

With sweat coming down his forehead, Udgam desperately tried to convey the significance of me omitting this information.

“Why didn’t YOU tell your mom?” I blurted.

“I don’t know…I thought…I don’t know…” He grabbed a chair to sit on and leaned his head down.

He concluded the solution was to march to her house and apologize. I said no way. That ain’t happening. I didn’t do anything wrong.

He begged. I didn’t cave in.

Soon after, the mom texted Udgam and asked about his whereabouts. The next thing, she came barging into the unlocked entrance door.

The hurricane had arrived. She studded up the staircase, clearly upset as she thumped her feet on the stairs.

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“How dare you! You’re never seeing my son again!” She yelled with her face flushed and clutching a broomstick.

I stood there frozen not knowing what to say. Was she going to hit me?

After a few seconds, I finally managed to say, “I’m not sure what I did wrong.”

“You never told me you were divorced,” She said still gripping the broomstick tightly around her hand.

“What’s the problem with that?”

“It’s unacceptable. My son is not marrying a divorced woman.”

I clenched my mouth shut, afraid I’d say something offensive. Plus, she was holding a broomstick for god’s sake.

“After all we have done for you. The least you could do is be honest!” She screamed.

Then she grabbed her son’s ear and dragged him toward the stairs. Udgam squinted his nose and yelled “Ayaaa” (ouch).

As they stepped outside, I went over to the balcony. His mother was still yelling off the top of her mouth, the broomstick flying back and forth in the air.

That was the last time I ever saw or heard from Udgam. I waited for his text or call. Never came. I stopped my morning strolls. I avoided passing by their house.

Later, a cousin told me Ugdam’s mom had told the neighbors about me. Staying in the gated community felt like a box. All around me, glares and gossip accompanied me.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the mom had deliberately tried to make me sick with that tea. Did she try to poison me? I’m probably being paranoid, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I finally decided to leave the country for good. It was obvious that Nepal wasn’t conducive for an older, divorced woman like me.

As I looked out the window of the plane waiting to take off, I thought about his mother. How can one be so ignorant? She was known for defending women and rescuing them from abusive situations.

Yet, she couldn’t fathom her son dating a divorced woman. I lied to her, she says. It didn’t even occur to me I had to tell her.

I thought about Udgam and how we never had closure. I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I guess I was naïve. And I wasn’t good enough for his mother.

As the plane took off, I felt a lump in my throat and held back the tears. I silently bid farewell to him.

Looking back now, I know that I got lucky. I got away from a potential monster-in-law.

Recently, I learned through Facebook that Udgam got married to a Nepali girl. She’s young, pretty, and definitely never been married.

I married a German man 17 years younger than me. We made a son together. He’s three.

And then, we all lived happily ever after.

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June Kirri is a writer on culture, parenting, and mental health. Follow her on Twitter.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.