China's long economic boom and near-total lack of social and legal protections for divorced women has created growth industries in weird services that help women keep their marriages intact after their jerky husbands start treating them like shit and/or start having affairs.
These service-providers offer anxious wives secret "marriage counseling" — advice on how to grovel for their husbands, flattering them and attending to their "needs" while demanding nothing in return.
Beyond counseling, there are the "mistress dispelling" services, through which husbands' mistresses can be tricked, enticed, intimidated or coerced into ending the relationships. Mistress dispellers seduce mistresses, obtain blackmailable kompromat, pay them off, and even beat or kill mistresses to get rid of them.
By social convention, "second hand" wives are considered very undesirable (they are said to depreciate, like used cars), while "second hand husbands" are prized (like refurbished apartments, they appreciate in value). Divorce courts do not extend spousal support to ex-wives, and this prompts women in bad and even abusive relationships to cling to them.
While we spoke, Chinese love songs emanated from her pockets, ringtones from five cell phones that she carries at all times. She joked that, although she has been married for twenty years and has a teen-age daughter, her primary relationship is with her work. Weiqing's hotline is open twenty-four hours a day, and inquiries also come in through every social-media platform in the country. Junior staff conduct an hour-long consultation, explaining the company's services and fees. A basic course of counselling starts at a hundred thousand yuan, around fifteen thousand dollars. The price rises to three times that if there is a mistress to be dispelled and five times that if, as is often the case, the mistress has a child by the errant husband. During the initial consultation, staffers try to get a sense of what they're up against—a sexless marriage, say, or a wordless one—and they ask the women questions about their behavior: "Do you nag him?"; "Do you make him feel good?"
These questions typify the company's approach. There is little sense that a couple should work together to address the underlying dynamics of their relationship. Instead, the clients seek training in how to win back their husbands through unilateral effort, mostly while keeping the consultations secret. One of them told me, "If he finds out I went to a therapist, he'll think this is a ploy and that I am actually entrapping him with my newly learned techniques."
Ming's lessons consist of strategy tips that amount to a kind of Art of War for marriage. A wife who has run out of things to say to her husband might be advised to buy him presents or to plant an unexpected romantic note in his suit pocket. From a Western perspective, Ming's method offers an odd vision of empowerment, achieved through pragmatic acceptance of a retrograde model of marriage. Husbands are to be flattered, seductive clothes worn ("a relationship necessity"), and all the work of the relationship done by the wife, without the husband ever being aware of it. "Marriage is like the process of learning to swim," Ming said. "It doesn't matter how big or fancy your pool is, just like it doesn't always matter how good your husband is. If you don't know how to swim, you will drown in any case, and someone else who knows how to swim will get to enjoy the pool."
[Jiayang Fan/New Yorker]
(via Beyond the Beyond)
(Image: To the Dearest Intruder)