The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I never wanted to sacrifice my career for a relationship. Then I realized something had to change.

Marian Liu and her husband on their wedding day. (Cindy Lowe/Orange Turtle Photography) (Cindy Lowe/Orange Turtle Photography)
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Instead of walking down the aisle, I booked a one-way trip to Hong Kong. It all happened when I got a job offer the day before my fiance and I were supposed to sign the contract for our wedding venue.

I come from a long line of women who stayed home to take care of their families. My great-grandmother had her feet bound, and my grandmother attended charm school — all to be good Chinese wives.

My mom was supposed to break tradition, immigrating to the United States to get a doctorate in biochemistry. But once she married my traditional father, she never used her fancy degree, choosing instead to dedicate her life to her children. I always thought she was wrong to sacrifice her dreams for her family. Therefore it was my duty to claim a career for myself.

At age 5, I swore that I would never change my last name and never give up my career for a man. I could not be the next woman in my family to succumb to tradition, so there was no way I was going to turn down this Hong Kong job. I thought I was off to an opportunity of a lifetime.

While I am a career woman, I’m still a sucker for Prince Charming. I love being in love. I love being wooed, getting flowers and going out to fancy dinners. I love rom-coms, Hallmark Christmas movies and Disney cartoons. I’ve always believed in “happily ever after,” so much so that at age 16, I decided I was going to meet my future husband, marry him and punch out a bunch of kids — all by age 28.

I’ve missed that deadline by more than a decade. As a journalist, I’ve always been on the move — to and from several cities in California, Detroit, Seattle, Florida and most recently to Hong Kong — chasing the next story and prioritizing my résumé over my heart.

In my haphazard pursuit for my career, I’ve killed my relationships. While I was open to everything — online dating, speed dating and getting set up by well-meaning friends — I would always pull away before getting too close. I’ve been near engagement multiple times, but the threat of giving up my career would steer me the other way. I believed it was an either-or situation — I could have a partner or a career, but not both — because I was worried my family history would repeat itself.

I always thought I needed a Clark Kent to my Lois Lane, a man as focused on his career as I was on mine, someone I could call my partner in crime. But after a few tries, I realized that dating someone like me is awful. It’s not fun competing with a constantly ringing phone and never-ending emails.

This time was different. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I was also no longer in my 20s, thinking I needed someone charming with a six-pack. We met online, and our first date was so awkward. Not only did he ask if I missed my ex who had moved overseas, he asked me what kind of wedding my dad wanted. In trying to gauge how serious I was about dating, he broke all the usual rules for first dates.

What won him a second date was that he admitted he was reading one of my favorite books, “Fountainhead,” and that he listens to NPR. He balanced out my creative nervous energy with a calm mellowness. There was no waiting game of when to call back. He just called. He didn’t play games. He also didn’t always let me have my way, but pushed back when appropriate. By doing this, he earned my trust and my respect.

And while I was all about working, he was the one cooking, brewing coffee for the morning and prepping our dinners. He would force me to put down my phone during meals, was incredibly goofy and appreciated my brand of dark humor. He was humble, unpretentious and liked my often-overbearing dad and his bad jokes.

After three years together, he proposed in Key West, giggling for a half-hour before he could get the question out. It was the summer before I left, and I planned almost everything for the big day. I tried on fluffy-white dresses. I found an outdoor venue that looked like the setting of the teen flick “Twilight” in the middle of a redwood forest. The bridesmaids and I were going to wear flower crowns. The guests were going to blow bubbles while a couple of my friends sang and played “Over the Rainbow” on ukulele. Then we would all settle down for a traditional 10-course Chinese banquet, before drinking ourselves silly while dancing to old-school hip-hop and ’90s rock. It was going to be wonderfully sappy.

All those plans were scrapped when Hong Kong came along.

I tried to persuade him to follow me but also tried not to pressure him too hard. After my last relationship ended, when I didn’t join my military ex-boyfriend when he was called to South Korea, I knew that I couldn’t demand the same thing. Besides, my fiance preferred the comforts of home rather than living abroad.

So we found a compromise: We’d stay together but wouldn’t do long-distance for more than two years.

I left for Hong Kong alone. While I was exploring a new country, my heart kept breaking. The longest stretch we went without seeing each other was five months. When I commuted to work and ate by myself, I would silently curse happy couples on subways and restaurants.

Although the time difference was extreme — my morning was his night and vice versa — we talked every morning and night. We talked more while I was overseas than we had when we were in the same place. We didn’t have the luxury of fighting, because we would have to wait another 12 hours to resolve that fight.

When my parents came to visit, I asked my mom about her decision to give up her job for her family. I admitted that I was in Hong Kong because I was trying to make up for what she lost. We were shopping, and she stopped, looked at me straight in the eyes and said that those were her choices, not mine. She wanted me to know that I had the right to my own happiness.

After a year and a half apart, for the first time in my life, I prioritized a guy over a job and decided to move back. I couldn’t afford to lose him.

Right after I moved to Florida to be with him, I called our wedding venue. They had dates available right away, so instead of waiting again, we would do it, even though we had only three months to resume planning.

After all this time apart, my fiance asked if I wanted to work at his company, so we wouldn’t have to commute and eat alone anymore. It wasn’t my initial goal, but I still write on the side to keep myself sane. Now we’re that dorky couple that lives, works and eats together.

Almost a year to the day we were supposed to get married, with “Over the Rainbow” playing, friends blowing bubbles and bridesmaids donning flower crowns, we walked down the aisle together. It was wonderfully sappy, and I didn’t even need to change my last name.


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