IT’S NOT CHEATING if you are using a screen, because “2D sex isn’t 3D sex,” a Hong Kong man told his partner.
That’s just one eyebrow-raising example of the new minefields of modern relationships. We’ll get back to that guy. First, let’s meet Spreadsheet Superwoman.
A ruthless female Asian executive created a secret spreadsheet to grade her lovers on multiple factors – including their salaries and the exact size of each man’s physical endowment.
The woman, a Singaporean Chinese finance specialist working in Hong Kong, created a portfolio with a wide range of details, plus mugshot photos, to help her make key decisions—like the fact that she preferred non-Asian men because they were “easier to control”.
She ended up with a regular boyfriend who didn’t come top of the portfolio but scored adequately across many fields. But he made a tiny mistake when he proposed marriage that caused a huge argument, and the pair ended up in a series of counselling sessions. In these, he became more assertive, which caused Spreadsheet Superwoman to end the relationship. It was clear that she wanted to be boss.
REMARKABLE TRUE STORIES
This extraordinary true story is just one of many remarkable tales in the career of Allison Heiliczer, psychotherapist to many powerful couples in Asia. In her career, she has encountered a large number of remarkable people and gained insights into how relationships work on the east side of the world—many in the finance and business sectors of East Asia.
And that’s why the book she has just written, Rethink the Couch, is so valuable.
Modern culture has supplied, through movies and television shows and books, an endless stream of psychological tales of bickering couples who end up as happy partners (or end up as murderer and murder victim. Shakespeare, for example, only ever had two endings – “they all got married” or “they all died”).
But couples in popular global fiction, even today, tend to be American or British: the worldwide entertainment industry is still dominated by western content.
So we are left with a knowledge gap: What challenges do individuals and couples face in Asia, home of about 60 per cent of the world’s population, and tipped to be the financial heartland of the world in the relatively near future?
Ms Heiliczer’s book genuinely breaks new ground, taking us into the boardrooms and bedrooms of Asia—and letting us have a peek into people’s minds.
This easy-to-read volume shows us that there are numerous barriers to relationships in the region, which she illustrates with fascinating stories.
WHAT PRICE LOVE?
In one case, a woman named Mei-ling fell in love with a handsome British man called Stuart through hours of lovey-dovey messages using modern technology. After their romantic relationship had become solid, he texted her with the news that his lawyer said he had to pay a fine, and he didn’t have the cash at the moment. Would she send him some money? Of course she would.
You can guess the rest. He asked for more and more cash, and it eventually turned out to be one of the heartbreaking romance scams that we read about so much these days.
But there was an unusual twist here. Mei-ling was a high achieving woman who earned a good salary. She hired an investigator to find him—and discovered that he was part of a Nigerian syndicate, using technology to target women from an office in Cambodia.
She didn’t ask for the money back, but at least she now knew the truth. She was surprised to find her anger was much tempered by the fact that the period she had spent in love with “Stuart” remained a joyful episode in her life. You can’t buy that feeling with any amount of money.
In another fascinating case, the stress of working led a Hong Kong Chinese man named Nigel to have bowel problems, and he ended up having therapy to solve that physical issue. “Honestly, I think therapy is a bunch of garbage,” Nigel told her.
But he gave it a go, and Allison Heiliczer ended up listening to him talking about his boss. “He will often write ‘250’ in Chinese in the subject line of emails,” Nigel said. This was a specifically Chinese way of calling someone an idiot, he explained.
Then Nigel’s “significant other” had caught him masturbating in a zoom-type call with a Norwegian woman. His partner was upset, but he tried to explain it away. “I told her that 2D sex is not 3D sex. Sorry, it’s just not the same. And she doesn’t get that us dudes just like this stuff,” Nigel said.
Now there’s a conversation starter for a Friday night at the noodle shop. Is it being unfaithful if you’ve got a relationship with someone who is in a different city or country or hemisphere?
Ms Heiliczer’s cases not only give the reader unique insights into details of Asian culture, but also into the tech-supported ways people use to build relationships today.
COLLISION OF VALUES
Yet the book manages to be much more than just a collection of case studies. The speed of Asia’s development means that traditional stigmas are colliding with modern mores, leaving people confused and lost—and in need of a wise guide.
Ultimately, Rethink the Couch is a valuable book for multiple reasons—there’s fresh thinking here, and much wisdom too. But most valuable is the way Allison Heiliczer gives us an insightful and demystifying journey into ways of thinking and being in the most dynamic region in the world.
It’ll be useful for anyone who needs a deeper understanding of people in Asia for professional reasons—but also for individuals traversing the minefields of cross-cultural relationships.
Just be aware that the attractive person sitting opposite you may be smiling and socializing pleasantly—while gathering data to input into a column topped by your name on a secret spreadsheet on their laptop!
Rethink the Couch, By Allison Heiliczer
Edited by Sylvia Yu Friedman
Penguin Books, 2023
Illustrations by fridayeveryday.