I’m fantasizing about a man.
In one dream I’m sitting on a park bench and he calls my name. I rush to my feet to greet him and he runs toward me, wrapping his strong arms around my waist, tiptoeing to plant a kiss on my flushed cheek.
In another fantasy we’re out walking and eating, stuffing ourselves at a street market. Filled with joy and satay, I pull him to me; he tilts his head up and smiles, and I bend down and quickly peck those greasy lips that taste like peanut sauce.
You may have noticed two “strange” things about my fantasies:
1) They’re lame.
2) The man in my dreams is shorter than me. It’s not a minute difference of a centimeter or two, but more than a few inches that make the tiptoeing and tilting and bending necessary for us to achieve the perfect kiss in an upright position.
I never thought I would be interested in a shorter man. Growing up feeling awkwardly tall, I always assumed my future partner would save me from my self-consciousness by dwarfing me; with this man, I would finally feel like a petite and feminine Asian girl. It was only natural, I thought, to have a taller figure by my side, the strong, masculine partner who stands protectively, or reassuringly, over me.
Hugh Morris, author of The Art of Kissing (published 1936) would approve of this affinity for the taller man. To him, the idea of a shorter man as a romantic partner is simply ludicrous, at least when it comes to arguably the most important manifestation of affection – kissing. He writes:
It is […] necessary that the man be taller than the woman. […] The physical reason, with which we are more concerned, is that if he is taller than his woman, he is better able to kiss her. He must be able to sweep her into his strong arms, and tower over her, and look down into her eyes, and cup her chin in his fingers and then, bend over her face and plant his eager, virile lips on her moist, slightly parted, inviting ones. All of this he must do with the vigor of an assertive male. And, all of these are impossible when the woman is the taller of the two. For when the situation is reversed, the kiss becomes only a ludicrous banality. The physical mastery is gone, the male prerogative is gone, everything is gone but the fact that two lips are touching two other lips. Nothing can be more disappointing.
Morris might be writing from 1936, but this idea that a taller man equals strength, vigor, assertiveness and overall manliness remains prevalent today. I don’t have facts and figures, but just look around you, at your friends and family – even though we come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, the overwhelming majority of heterosexual couples, old, young and interracial included, are of the taller man/shorter woman variety. Whether women are conscious of it or not, height is a valuable asset in a partner, a quality we take note of in the initial assessment of a future mate – having height scores the man bonus points, while lacking it means he has to work even harder if he has any hope of winning our hearts.
I’m constantly reminded of how important height is in China, with every person who tells me that my height is an asset I must not waste – it’s too late for me to model or play basketball or swim professionally, they say, but I should find a tall husband to reproduce with and ensure our tall genes live on.
Wandering around the marriage market at People’s Park, I realize how an individual’s height is an important criteria in matchmaking and marriage, clearly written on posters along with their age and salary. “Too short le,” I heard two young women saying as they perused the poster of an otherwise promising man born in 1980, earning RMB 15,000 per month, standing at only 165 centimeters tall.
Most Chinese women I talk to, including my college friends, teachers, personal groomers and a middle-age cashier at All Days, indeed shudder at the thought of dating a shorter man. “He’d feel like a little brother,” said a teacher who is 170 centimeters tall. “Also, it’s very awkward to the eye.”
Leslie T. Chang also touches on why Chinese prioritize height in her book Factory Girls:
Physical stature was a marker for quality—a promise that a man was healthy, stable, blessed. Although many women insisted on a man who was at least five feet seven inches, a handful would go as low as five feet five. No one wanted to date a man who was only five feet three inches tall.
My Chinese friends may think I’m nuts to date shorter, but they’re glad it means more tall men for them.
The man of my fantasies, who is my boyfriend in real life, has no issues with his height. His confidence and easy acceptance of our height difference makes our relationship work. After all, who wants to be with a shorter man if he is awkward and self-conscious around you? If he complains that you make him feel less of a man, and orders you not to wear heels? And on the flip side, who wants to be with a shorter man if he does worship your height, parading you around like you’re a trophy that validates him?
If you meet a short man with a bad case of Napoleon’s Complex, run away. Otherwise, you may be pleasantly surprised, like my friend and fellow intercultural relationship blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg, who was once as set on height as the rest of us. As she writes on her blog, “I’d never given my dream man a race or ethnicity, but somehow I’d always promised myself he’d be as tall, if not taller, than me.” And then she met a shorter man.
“I was shocked by just how much taller I was than John — I had no idea until I asked him for lunch,” Jocelyn recently told me via email. “It did make me feel a little uncomfortable at first. And even though I was a little attracted to him initially, part of me didn’t know if I could deal with the height difference.” But she kept spending time with him, listening to his stories, and realizing how much he loved her despite her own imperfections. “I stopped noticing the height of his stature, and instead embraced the height of his character,” she says in her own blog post about Loving a Shorter Chinese Man. In 2004, she married him.
I recently met Jocelyn’s John, a handsome man who cares little about the three inches of separation between them; he smiled good-naturedly when she ribbed him about wearing heels. This sense of humor is crucial to avoid drowning in antagonism. “Taller women/shorter men are one of those few areas where it’s still socially acceptable to ridicule us in the media,” says Jocelyn, who points to, among other examples, an episode of Sex and the City where a shorter man is described as a “horny smurf.” “It’s too bad, because if that wasn’t the case, maybe more of us would be more open-minded about it.”
So let’s say you’ve overcome all hesitations and are now with a wonderful guy who’s shorter than you. Let’s turn back to The Art of Kissing and discuss a practical question: just how do you engage in a satisfying lip-to-lip experience with a shorter man?
An easy answer is to kiss in a horizontal position. I like the push-and-pounce maneuver, which is exactly what it sounds like: you are gently pushed onto a soft surface, and pinned by the weight of your man while he presses his lips to yours; it is thrilling to know he is stronger and heavier than appearances suggest. Using the push-and-pounce method, the shorter man is every bit the “assertive male” The Art of Kissing says he must be.
Jocelyn would probably shake her head at me. Her first response to that paragraph in The Art of Kissing is: “This is as out of date as ‘close your eyes and think of England.’ Why should the man’s height/physical superiority somehow make a difference in how good the kiss is? …[I]t’s as if kissing is sort of a ‘man’s job,’ like we’re supposed to be some ‘Stepford Wife,’ having to wait around for him to kiss us. Seriously?”
Instead, Jocelyn advocates the standing kiss. Her advice: “If you’re woman enough to be comfortable in yourself and be inches taller than your man, embrace that difference by kissing in the way everyone would NEVER expect you to love kissing — standing face to face. Sometimes I have to angle my head down a bit, but I think it’s actually super-sexy. That’s because my man always holds me tightly around my waist — and, well, sometimes loves to let his hands go a little ‘South of the border’ (which might even be easier for a guy who is shorter than you to do).”
In this day and age when women can make their own money, fend for themselves, and have children with the help of sperm banks and turkey basters, is it necessary to limit your dating pool with a measurement requirement? Also, what other tips could you contribute to a revised, less outdated version of The Art of Kissing?
When she’s not kissing her shorter man, the author of this post blogs at Shanghai Shiok!