by Cho Na, March 22, 2021
173

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT! 

(As I will explore the relationship of the main couple.)
If you are interested in watching the drama, I advise you to watch it first.
Otherwise, please read at your own risk!

INTRODUCTION

Initially, I was not interested in this drama for the following reasons: Firstly, high school/college romance is not my preferred genre unless the main actor/actress is my favorite. Secondly, I'm not familiar with the main actor/actress. And lastly, since it's a Chinese drama: "Ugh, not another drama with 'love' or 'romance' in the title". However, after watching a video review from one of my go-to people for Chinese drama sources, AvenueX, and reading a bunch of reviews/comments on the MDL drama page, I decided to give it a try. And here I am now in front of my laptop writing an editorial article about a healthy relationship on Forever Love!

If you're interested in watching this drama, please read its reviews/comments, as this article does not intend to recap/review the story but to talk about the healthy relationship between the main couple. It is designed to be contemplative by asking you reflective questions to think about, and share your thoughts if you feel comfortable.

Forever Love is a Chinese modern drama released in 2020, based on the 2017 novel 百岁之好,一言为定 (A Hundred Years Worth a Promise) by 素光同 (Su Guang Tong).

The story follows two people's brave pursuit of love from their campus days to their humble beginnings as they enter the workplace to chase after their dreams together. From their youth to adulthood, from school to the workplace, from a school uniform to a wedding dress, they have each other as a lifelong companion (Source: MyDramaList).

Genres: Friendship,  Romance,  School,  Youth, Drama
Aired: Dec 14, 2020 - Dec 28, 2020
Episodes: 28. Duration: 45 min.
Where to watch: WeTV, Viki, Tencent
MDL Rating: 8.5


What does it take for a relationship to be considered healthy? In this clip, Zheng Han and his team just won a school competition. As a school celebrity, fangirls wanted to be his girlfriend. At that time, Zheng Han and Lin Xi were already in a relationship but this was kept secret due to some circumstances. They made eye contact and he asked her what to answer. She just gestured it was up to him. Instead of answering the audience, he simply put his medal on her. His answer was only for her to hear. For the audience, action spoke louder than words.

Just from this scene, I identified several signs of a healthy relationship: he valued her opinion by asking what to answer (respect). She let him answer wisely (trust). The answer was naturally yes, but it was not the right time to make their relationship public (comfortable pace). He's putting the medal on her and what he told her indicated that both have shared their present and future triumphs (equality).


HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

Before exploring further into the drama, you may or may not have an idea of what it takes for a relationship (romantic or non-romantic) to be healthy. It should have characteristics for the growth and improvement of the parties involved as a group as well as individuals. There are many online sources that list different numbers of characteristics of healthy relationships. You can check out the source I am using here that concisely lists and explains ten signs of a healthy relationship and ten signs of an unhealthy relationship. For comparison, I included both signs below. Throughout the drama, I looked for the presence of healthy signs and the absence of unhealthy signs in their relationship. I identified the signs of a healthy relationship with underlined words.

SIGNS OF HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
Comfortable pace
Trust
Honesty
Independence
Respect
Equality
Kindness
Taking responsibilities
Healthy conflict
Fun
SIGNS OF UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
Intensity
Possessiveness
Manipulation
Isolation
Sabotage
Belittling
Guilting
Volatility
Deflecting responsibility
Betrayal
If a healthy relationship sounds so amazing,
why do people enter and stay in an unhealthy relationships?
What do you think about dramas with
unhealthy relationships (intentionally or unintentionally)?

THE MEETING

Let me introduce who Zheng Han and Lin Xi are and how we meet them at the beginning of the story:

Jiang Zheng Han (Wang An Yu) is a 12th-grade transfer student. Despite being a math genius, he is not interested in attending class, studying, and being a good student. He works 2 - 3 jobs and appears to be only interested in earning money.Xia Lin Xi (Xiang Han Zhi) is a model student, top of her class, and a class monitor. She comes from a well-to-do family, and her parents have high hopes that she will be admitted to the prestigious Jing Hua University.

Since Lin Xi is a class monitor, the teacher assigned her to finding Zheng Han who ditches class and collecting his money to buy a school uniform. Suspicious of his claim of having no money to buy a school uniform despite working 2 - 3 jobs, she follows him everywhere. That's how she discovers who he actually is and that he works to help out several people he knows.


Earlier, Lin Xi has followed Zheng Han after school and fell off her bike. He charged her for fixing her bike and the wet tissue to clean herself. Yeah, he charges for anything! By the end of the day, when he saw a cut on her hand and offered a band-aid, undoubtedly she refused. That's why he held her with one hand and peeled the band-aid with the other hand. Then he apologized for being rude to her (taking responsibility) and thanked her for her help (respect). The friendship stage has started. The band-aid was free, by the way...

THE FRIENDSHIP

To make more money, Zheng Han posed as a math major student from Jing Hua University who was then hired by Lin Xi's mom to tutor her already-smart daughter so she can pass the university math entrance test. Zheng Han and Lin Xi ended up helping each other with subjects they are weak in, showing kindness and equality.

Through befriending the class monitor, school life didn't automatically go smoothly for Zheng Han. When he was accused by classmates on some issues and berated by the teachers, he called it quits and went back ditching classes and being careless in studying. It took a true friend like Lin Xi, who went the extra mile to get him back on track, to be responsible to himself and to the people who have hopes in him (kindness and honesty).


In an attempt to (again) find Zheng Han, who ditched class due to the accusations, Lin Xi found him in his secret place where he stays. This scene symbolizes a relationship that goes to the next level: from classmates to true friends. At first, he was hesitant to invite her in, but in the end, he slowly opened the glass door, opened his life, and later his heart, to Lin Xi to come in (comfortable pace and trust). At this place not only they took off their façade and shared stories of their lives and families (honesty and trust), they also studied together and made a promise to go to Jing Hua University (equality and fun).

Some issues in Zheng Han's life caused him to leave the school abruptly. He did not reveal the issues to Lin Xi, neither contacted her. His disappearance affected her negatively. Later, he was accepted at the university by exception when he won a programming contest. At the freshman welcoming event, he made a speech honoring Lin Xi's role in changing him for the better (respect). But Lin Xi was not impressed. She questioned their relationship: (merely) classmates, or (truly) friends? Since the latter was his answer, then why he didn't tell her what happened nor contacted her? She questioned his trust and honesty in their friendship, which is important to maintain a healthy relationship.

Do you think his disappearance without telling her anything put him at fault? Why or why not?


In the dialogue, Zheng Han asked "May I chase you?" My first thought was that it was mistranslated and it was supposed to be: "Can we date?" or "Can I become your boyfriend?", but it is the right translation that also differentiates between dating and courtship in China, as I will explain to you below. Notice that Zheng Han also politely asked Lin Xi if he can chase her. Of all the romantic dramas I have watched, this is the first time a guy asks a girl permission to chase her. This is a sign of a healthy relationship (respect). Usually, one party chases the other party (male chases female first or female chases male first) without any consent.

THE COURTSHIP

So now we have come into the next level of Zheng Han and Lin Xi's relationship that is atypical to the usual college romance: the courtship or courting period. Wow, for some readers that sounds like coming from an ancient time, right? I did some cultural research about dating in China, and I found out that courtship is actually a very important process even in modern romance over there. In the courtship period, there is a chasing process. The Chinese character for "to chase" is 追 (zhuí) which describes the action of pursuing someone (source). In the dialogue, Zheng Han used the same "chase" (追).

What do you think about the customary courtship/chasing in China? 
Do you think it can promote unhealthy relationships?


Notice in the dialogue above that Lin Xi asked Zheng Han to stop making romantic approaches that she regarded as jokes. Not that she was playing hard to get, but she was simply not ready (comfortable pace) for many reasons. Firstly, she was in the euphoria of being a freshman and she goes to the university to get a degree, not a boyfriend. Secondly, the last time she and Zheng Han's relationship was a friendship, then after his mysterious disappearance, he appeared again with a crush on her??? And lastly, his cringey attempts to approach her caught some public attention and gossip and made her feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. She was also disappointed when she found out that she became a "trophy of two guys' battle of affection" between Zheng Han and another guy (an unhealthy sign of possessiveness).


Comfortable Pace versus Intensity

What Zheng Han had done so far was considered a contradiction from comfortable pace called intensity, which is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. In intensity, Zheng Han expresses his feelings with over-the-top behavior that overwhelmed her. Lucky for Zheng Han, Lin Xi didn't end up hating or avoiding him as some people do with their suitors. She was still willing to meet Zheng Han to clarify things he did (honesty, healthy conflict, and taking responsibility), and still cared about his well-being as a friend (kindness).

Once Zheng Han understood that Lin Xi likes freedom and does things she loves (which excluded getting a boyfriend), he gave her time and space to make her choice (comfortable pace, respect, trust, and independence). When she hesitated to join the school varsity club since he was also a member, he told her not to give up what she liked because of him. As the club was preparing teams for a school competition, Lin Xi was afraid that she would drag down any team she joined. She shared her worries with Zheng Han (honesty), and he believed that she would work hard for anything she loved to do (trust). Realizing that Zheng Han was genuinely supportive, she joined his team. 



Although I do not often mention this indicator in the article, there are plenty of fun times that signify Zheng Han and Lin Xi's healthy relationship, prior to becoming friends with a couple. This scene also showed the great chemistry between Wang An Yu, the actor, and Xiang Han Zhi, the actress. Their actions were so natural that the audience cannot tell if they were only acting or really dating. Especially, since Wang An Yu was 22 and Xiang Han Zhi was only 18 when this drama was filmed. Also, they are still quite newcomers in their acting careers.

THE ROMANCE

Their romance started after the school competition was over. Unfortunately, they couldn't make it public yet (comfortable pace) since Lin Xi's parents might find out from her cousin who is also a Jing Hua student. Her parents, especially her mom, dislike Zheng Han due to the math tutor impostor case. Unlike other romantic dramas that pull jealousy and misunderstanding between couples, this drama does not implement those overly used tropes. On contrary, it seems the couple's twists and turns of romance are purposely created against those tropes:
 

Healthy Relationship Avoids Jealousy/Misunderstanding

There was an incident when Lin Xi and a senior girl fell into the sea. Zheng Han saved the senior girl first as she was next to him and was drowning. He then explained to Lin Xi to avoid any misunderstanding that may happen (respect). She understood his decision to save the girl first (trust). When praised that his girlfriend is reasonable, she replied as long as he knows it. I believe she was asking for the same level of trust from him. She trusts him that anything he does won't ruin their relationship, and vice versa (trust, equality, and respect).

Several occurrences could cause one party to be jealous. Both Zheng Han and Lin Xi had people who liked them. When his former neighbor confessed to him, Zheng Han firmly told her that Lin Xi is his girlfriend (respect). However, Lin Xi was hesitant to reject a guy who knew her parents. Although Zheng Han did not tell her what to do (trust and independence), he clearly showed her that he was disappointed with her indecisiveness (healthy conflict and honesty). Careful of his feelings (respect), she then revealed to that guy that she was dating Zheng Han and only regarded him as her 'brother'. By telling the 'brother', Lin Xi was at a huge risk that he would tell her parents. But she valued Zheng Han's feelings and didn't want her indecisiveness to put a strain on their relationship (respect, and taking responsibility).

Individuality and Freedom in Healthy Relationship

Two important points I noticed in their romance that are highly encouraged are individuality and freedom. In an unhealthy relationship, one party can be a total control freak that speaks and acts for the other party without consent (manipulation). The other party loses his/her individuality and characteristics. Or one party wants the other only for him/herself rather than letting the person be with friends and family (isolation). In this drama, when either Zheng Han or Lin Xi faced personal issues, they still managed to keep their own personalities and gave some space to the other party to tend to their own business (trust, independence, and respect), and asked each other for help when needed.

In a relationship, how far someone should give the other party freedom? Is there any limit?


This scene symbolizes the difference between healthy versus unhealthy relationships. Before this happens, Lin Xi was waiting for Zheng Han in the rain, and her 'brother' came and wanted to give her a ride in his car. Since she is already in a relationship with Zheng Han, automatically she refused his offer to avoid Zheng Han getting jealous or misunderstanding (respect). Her 'brother' tried to persuade and pull her into his car (signs of manipulation and volatility). He also said things to her (and later to Zheng Han) that were considered guilting and belittling. The guys were ready to fight, but Lin Xi broke their argument by telling her 'brother' to respect her decision and pulled Zheng Han away. His death glare is epic!!!

THE COMMITMENT

In this commitment stage, the couple no longer dealt with school projects and jealous people but with bigger issues: family, finance, sex, and work/business. We will see how their healthy relationship can deal with all these problems! 

Family Issues

Once Zheng Han and Lin Xi were committed, eventually they had to face the main obstacle that had been looming over their relationship: the family disapproval issue. It mainly came from Lin Xi's mom who hated Zheng Han due to his post impostor issue and being poor, and Mom preferred 'the brother' instead. During winter break, Lin Xi confronted this issue by declaring in front of the families that she preferred independence and that her relationship with the 'brother' was only as friends and no more. 

Lin Xi's mom is considered a tiger/controlling mom. Do you think Lin Xi and Mom's relationship is healthy?

This clip is not about Lin Xi's weight loss. As explained earlier, her mom disagreed with her relationship with Zheng Han. So Mom's next battle strategy was cutting off the supply chain by blocking Lin Xi's credit card. Instead of running to Zheng Han whining and crying, Lin Xi went looking for a job (independence).  She didn't tell Zheng Han about her problem since he had his own problem (respect). Her part-time job and school final project kept her very busy and Zheng Han was very sad when he learned from someone else about Lin Xi's problem and he was helpless. But he didn't want to force her to tell him if she didn't want to (healthy conflict, respect, and trust)


Financial Issues

This drama defies the old rich man/poor woman trope. Lin Xi helped Zheng Han with some financial issues, even though he never asked for help. She paid for his uniform when she learned he gave his money to people in need. She bought him a new laptop with her scholarship money when she knew from his professor that his old laptop couldn't keep up with fast coding jobs. In the final year, she rented him an apartment close to his internship job. Since he couldn't refuse her money, he gave her a romantically written IOU agreement (respect, equality, and taking responsibility). When Lin Xi's mom blocked her credit card, Zheng Han gave her his pay card to be used when she needed it (trust, equality, and kindness). 

Although sexual intimacy is not really an issue in this drama, I put this clip in the commitment section as an example of a healthy relationship. In this scene, Zheng Han was so grateful Lin Xi rented him an apartment and even got the place ready for him. An IOU agreement is not enough, he was about to give himself to her and desired her to do the same. Although she didn't refuse, she was not ready. He could tell from her anxious facial expression, so he didn't continue (comfortable pace, respect, and equality). It cracked me up that the drama gives the 'take a cold shower' expression literal meaning (though it was translated as 'cold bath', lol).


Work/Business Issues

By the final year, Zheng Han got an internship job and Lin Xi was his motivation to work hard. There was a major issue during his internship in which he was accused of hacking the company's secret. Though Lin Xi, his friends, professors, and boss stood by him, the issue dragged out and got everyone worried. However, Lin Xi stood by him and had faith that he was not guilty and eventually his name would be cleared, which it was. The problem strengthened their bond, they shared each other's burdens (trust, and equality).

After graduation, Zheng Han started a software company and their friends were on board supporting and helping him, including Lin Xi (kindness). They faced fund problems along with sabotage attempts from a business rival. The sabotage attempt was resolved but as expected, more investment money was needed. Lin Xi then agreed with her Mom to lend her money to help Zheng Han, and Mom asked her to go abroad for postgraduate study. Their two-year separation and long-distance relationship were their last test. Their healthy relationship that was built and maintained since the beginning helped them through it, especially trust, honesty, respect, and independence. Below is the fruit of their labor of healthy love:


While the friends were busy talking to each other (hence I didn't use the subbed clip), Zheng Han and Lin Xi were flirting with each other. There were some funny questions thrown by their friends. Some of Zheng Han and Lin Xi's answers were cryptic. Only the couple knew the meaning of the answers.

CONCLUSION

Through watching Forever Love and exploring the healthy relationship theme in it, with the ending of this article I concluded three things:

  • Any healthy relationship (romantic or non-romantic) is long-lasting. We can see it with the couple's seven years of relationship. Also, their healthy friendship with high school and college friends gained them long-term bonds. Practically all their friends work and invest in the company Zheng Han created.
  • To go against unhealthy relationships, you have to stand up against it (for example Lin Xi with her mom and her 'brother',  other couples' and friends' unhealthy relationships).
  • By surrounding yourself with people with healthy relationships, you can face every obstacle in life, either big or small, as a group or as an individual.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to the editors who edited this article.

Credits: I do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Stills are from official posters. Gif animations are self-made shots from the official Tencent Youtube channel.

THANK YOU FOR READING!


Editors: BrightestStar (1st editor)

wang an yu forever love xiang han zhi healthy relationship

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