A Therapist Looks At “Crazy Rich Asians”

Posted on January 25, 2019


Since I neglected my blog so badly last year, I have fallen behind in applying a therapist’s view to the pop culture.  Let’s start the year playing some catch-up.

As I thought about this post, I had several alternate working titles.  Among these were, “Rachel could do better,” “Run Away, Rachel!,” and “Don’t Marry a Wienie Momma’s Boy.”  I know the last one sounds pretty harsh.

For the record, there was a course about multi-culturalism in my grad school course of study, and I did take it.  I realize that Crazy Rich Asians is a tale told against the backdrop of a particular subculture.  I am not wishing to be culturally ego centric (if I can help it) or to disparage another culture, but rather to point out the relationship dynamics that will make marriage difficult.

I both read the book and saw the movie.  If you didn’t read the book, Rachel was treated even worse in the book.  I suppose if they told it the same way in the film, they would have drawn an R rating, and they probably did not want to do that.

The basic storyline is not dissimilar to all of the hallmark movies in which an American woman is unknowingly dating a prince (of a small European country you never heard of, where they speak English with a British accent) who gets called home to a mother (the Queen) who is disapproving of his potential choice in mates.

In this case, an American woman of Chinese descent (Rachel) has been dating for 2 years a man (Nick) who comes from an uber-rich family from Singapore.  Nick returns to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and invites Rachel along.  Nick’s extended family and their circle of friends see Rachel as a gold-digger and set out to destroy Rachel at every turn.

Is anyone at fault for this?  Absolutely.  It’s Nick.  This is his family, his culture, his people.  He knew what to expect.  He allowed Rachel to be a lamb among a pack of wolves.  He did not protect her.  Even at the conclusion of the film, it is left to Rachel to win over Nick’s mom.  Nick never does establish clear boundaries.

He’s handsome, filthy rich, charming, and nice.  But if he can’t be relied upon to have your back, it’s a problem.

Way back in Genesis, scripture spoke about a man leaving his mother and father and being united with his wife.  My colleague, Ben Lim talked about this as “leaving, cleaving, and weaving.”  A man and a woman leave their families of origin, they cleave to each other, and they weave their lives together.  Gentlemen, if your wife and your mother are in conflict, you are on your wife’s team.  Nobody gets to be cruel to your wife, and you don’t put her in a position where she is at risk of that happening.  That’s the gig you signed up for.

There is also a scriptural mandate to honor your mother and father.  This does not preclude boundaries.  You don’t have to be unkind or disrespectful to have good boundaries.  The more unsafe your family of origin is (and the less they respect boundaries), the firmer and clearer your boundaries need to be.

I have often been asked regarding premarital counseling if I ever recommend that the couple not get married.  Nope.  Never have.  That’s not my call to make.  In premarital counseling, my job is to prepare the couple for marriage, not to assess whether or not they should marry.

Could Nick and Rachel have a successful marriage?  They could, but two things would have to happen.  First, they would need to get some healing around the attachment injuries from Nick not protecting Rachel.  Believe me, there would absolutely be attachment injuries.  Attachment injuries are those events that are violations of love and trust that undermine the emotional safety and connection in the relationship.  If they don’t get healed, they will keep coming up for years or even decades.

Second, they would need to discuss boundaries with Nick’s family of origin, and Nick would need to have the backbone to enforce them.  This is not an easy or simple thing to do, but it is mission critical.