Mr. & Mrs. Rabbit
As a girl, I always daydreamed about who my future husband might be and what married life would be like. I had closely witnessed the married life of my parents, whose stable and loving 40-year relationship is still going strong today. Would my life resemble the old Chinese idiom about devotion my mother quoted aloud to me as she winked at my father? “Marry a chicken, follow the way of the chicken. Marry a dog, follow the way of the dog.” The saying means you ought to choose your mate wisely. And as a woman, once you have decided whom you are going to be with, your fate becomes irrevocable. Unless I made a perfect choice, failure also seemed inevitable.
But what if I didn’t want to marry a chicken or a dog? Like many other American girls growing up in the 1980s, I wanted to marry Han Solo or Maverick from Top Gun. Too bad these were just fantasy characters and not real people. And doubly too bad they weren’t Chinese.
The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, and Pig. Each year is assigned an animal according to the lunar calendar, and every animal has unique characteristics and traits. Every twelve years, the cycle repeats itself. In 2012, we are in the year of the Dragon, which is considered to be a particularly auspicious year.
I am a Rabbit because I was born in the year of the Rabbit. Using the Chinese zodiac, you can back out exactly how old I am—plus or minus 12 years. In my many years as a Single Miss Rabbit, I would fantasize about what life would be like as a married Mrs. Rabbit. Would I have a nice comfortable burrow somewhere out in the country, or would I try to pass myself off as an urbane city Rabbit? Who would Mr. Rabbit be, and what would he be like? Would he have kind eyes and be willing to kill large spiders for me?
But there’s no guarantee that I would be with another Rabbit. My imagined husband wouldn’t necessarily be the same age. According to the Chinese Zodiac, I could potentially be paired with a Tiger or an Ox, or maybe even a Rat! How would that work? If I were with a Mr. Tiger, I’d really hate to be seen as Braised Rabbit Crostini! Maybe it would be better to stick to friendlier Zodiac animals, or to be rid of the Chinese Zodiac analogies altogether.
Perhaps married life might look like that of the tuxedoed aquatic birds, the penguins. Life could be both romantic and exciting as Mr. and Mrs. Penguin! Penguins are social animals—and serially monogamous—teaming up to raising their young in the harsh Antarctic climate. While awkward on land, we’d glide gracefully through the water taking turns catching our dinner of fish and krill while our mate stayed back, watching the little egg. I can just make out the profile of a majestic Mr. Penguin awkwardly waddling up the icy hill on his way to me as I’m warming our little hatchling. It’s an egalitarian relationship as we take turns warming and feeding Junior, sitting with his fluffy downy-white plumage on my feet, protected from the Antarctic cold.
Or maybe life would be like that of the hardworking engineer rodents, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. We would be putting the finishing touches on our large (but luxurious) beaver dam just in time for the winter season. Working round the clock, we’d enlist the help of our kids who lived just down the river to help out. After we finished, everyone would be invited back into the inner chambers for a celebratory dinner. The well-stocked pantry would be full of delicious birch, alder, and maple branches collected over the course of the summer and fall, and we’d have a merry time celebrating with everyone.
For many single, professional women, the pressure to find a perfect match is often overwhelming and discouraging, and is only surpassed by the expectation to please everyone in the family. When I was 25, I moved from the US to Hong Kong to start my career in investment banking. I thought I was in search of love and adventure. But after seven years there, I was still single. I never met a Mr. Penguin or a Mr. Beaver in Hong Kong. I didn’t even meet a Mr. Chicken or a Mr. Dog. I figured I’d end up single for life.
But fate intervened, and I finally did meet a Mr. Rabbit who also happened to be deft in killing spiders.