“Can The Relationship Between You and Your Thai Love Really Work? Or Are You Just Fooling Yourself?”
"In this 7-part series Nathamon reveals the secrets of why some Western - Thai couples enjoy loving, life-affirming relationships -- while others crash and burn in bitterness. Understanding these secrets will give you the keys to unlock true passion and intimacy – and rejuvenate your love life!”
Part 6: It’s about “Time” – What your Thai partner will NEVER tell you
In the last issue, I shared the fifth key to understanding what makes your Thai lady “tick:” I showed you the cultural differences that color the way you communicate as people. In addition to the whole “can of worms” that you being a guy and her being a girl opens up when it comes to communicating, the differences between your Western culture and her Thai culture can make just talking and listening a challenge! If that wasn’t enough, I’m going to further “complicate your life” by pointing out that you and your Thai partner may have completely opposite relationships to time!
In this article I’ll help you understand that while you may be a stickler for being on time – to meetings, to work, to parties, to dinner – that doesn’t make you more “right” or more “responsible” in her eyes. And at the same time, I’ll help you see that understanding and appreciating her more circular approach to time can help you avoid arguments and misunderstandings and maybe even help you relieve some stress. And if you can relieve some of the stress in your relationship to time, you can become closer – maybe even laugh together a little more – and pay attention to the more important aspects of your relationship.
The Sixth Key: – What’s so important about “time?”
Evan is a creature of habit. He wakes up at 6:30 every morning, eats breakfast precisely a 7:00, and leaves for work at 7:20 promptly. Lunch? 12:30 on the dot. After a full day of work, he’s home by 6:00 pm, turns on the news, and when it’s over at 7:00, he expects dinner on the table. No matter what, he’s in bed by 10:30. Every day. Why? Because that’s what responsible people do.
He’s been working at his company’s Bangkok office for a year, and he’s becoming frustrated, irritated, and annoyed at the casual way his Thai business contacts regard their agreements about time. It all came to a head last night. Over dinner, he told Kan, his Thai wife, what happened.
“I had a 2:00 appointment scheduled with the Thai Director of one of our suppliers to discuss a multi-million dollar purchase. I had a full schedule, with more meetings scheduled later in the afternoon. Not only was he late – he didn’t even call to say he’d be late so I could shuffle my schedule and keep my other commitments.” Expecting some sympathy from his Thai wife, he was mystified by her nonchalant response: “He must have had something more important to do – maybe his boss needed him for something.”
Here’s some information that might help you understand the mystery.
You, as a Westerner, think of time as a line with a beginning, middle, and end, onto which you put people and activity. You think that time is “stuff” that can be spent, organized, saved, lost or wasted. You are always looking toward the future – and at your watch – to measure your progress along the “line” of time. You concentrate on “one thing at a time” and structure the spaces around you (like your office) to support the privacy and concentration you need to make things happen “in the right order.” Time is almost sacred to you.
We Thais perceive time as a fluid sphere that holds many things at once – and we pay attention to people first within that sphere. We think time is flexible, and it flows according to the relationships we have and how important they are in our lives. We are rooted in the past (remember our respect for our elders?), and we recognize that the cycle of life is always bringing us events in the present that can best be handled traditionally. We are also focused on the present, wanting to experience each moment – we don’t participate just because it might help us in the future, we participate because there’s some immediate pleasure to be found. Our important relationships are almost sacred to us.
Let me show you how “opposite” your Western view of time and your Thai partner’s view of time really are:
The Western View of Time
The Thai View of Time
You do one thing at a time
We do many things at once
Deadlines, schedules, and commitments are serious and “sacred”
Deadlines, schedules, and commitments depend on what else is occurring at the moment
You make a plan and stick to it
We make a plan and change our minds easily and often
You are committed to the job at hand
We are committed to the people and relationships at hand
Promptness demonstrates commitment
Promptness depends on who the commitment is made to
You value and respect privacy and personal space
We value openness and willingness to share with those closest to us
What Evan doesn’t understand is that his vendor, a Thai director, is more committed to preserving his relationship with his boss in the present than he is to the possibility of millions of dollars in the future. The Director is not being disrespectful to Evan – he’s just being respectful to his boss.
In talking it over with his Thai wife, expecting her to agree with him or even understand his frustration, Evan doesn’t understand that what looks like nonchalance or complacency from her is actually a demonstration of her Thai relationship to time.
So what does this mean to you?
If you are in a relationship with a Thai lady, you will have to negotiate matters of time – and space!
She is fun-loving, committed to the present, yet very traditional in her reactions. She will value her relationships to her family and friends above all else – even if you have made concrete plans to be somewhere at a specific time. She will change her mind easily and often. She will willingly share her time, her space, her possessions (and maybe even yours!) with people that are close to her. She may have a hard time understanding your need to control events and put them in their “proper order.” And she may show little regard for your personal space, your privacy, or your previous commitments. All of this you might eventually find frustrating.
What will frustrate her about you is your rigidity – planning your life around your watch or the calendar. She will not understand your need to keep areas of your home, your office, your life private. Your insistence on “planning for the future” might fall on deaf ears. She might think of you as selfish, stubborn, or hard – even though what you are doing makes perfect sense to you in the long term. She may be hurt by your unwillingness to be interrupted when you are concentrating on a task, assuming that you don’t value the relationship the same way she does.
But like all things in life, the “right way” might be somewhere in the middle. If you are open to talking about this difference in the way you each approach time, you might find yourself more open to flexibility. She might find some comfort in making plans for the future. Together you can create an approach to time that works for both of you, and adds to your appreciation of the uncertainty of life.
The next article in this series about cultural differences between the West and Thailand will be our last in this particular series. I’ll share with you a profound difference in focus: “doing” versus “being” and how it can color the way you see the world and relate to each other.
I’ll share with you the profound behavioral differences between your culture, and its orientation toward “doing something” and the Thai culture, which emphasizes “being something.” I’ll show you how increasing your understanding of the difference can deepen your relationship, alleviate stress, and help you achieve greater intimacy and connectedness with your Thai partner than you ever thought possible.