Well, well, well – hello Dear Reader. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you. Life is busy but finally… coming under control isn’t quite right…maybe becoming less insane. Yeah, let’s go with becoming less insane. I’ve got some beers and/or coffees to get with a few you. I’ll be in touch soon. For the rest of you, the content train is pulling into the station….
So You Want to Date a Local….
Out of the fire of life and into the cultural frying pan. I’ll try not to step on too many landmines in a discussion of realities on the ground of dating someone in mainland China. These are overly sensitive times after all. For many of us expats, life as a single person in the Chinese dating scene can be, let’s say, an interesting experience. All of those cultural differences are magnified to the extreme when coupling is involved. I’m not in the dating scene myself but living in China and having expat friends and coworkers provides endless entertainment and hilarious war stories from the singles scene. If you’re looking to jump into the cultural deep end and get yourself a mainland Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, be warned. This probably won’t be a picnic and you will be in for a few shocks. Of course you’ll find many exceptions to the rules (they are out there!) but hopefully this guide for dating for the Middle Kingdom will illuminate the mine field to keep you safe. Let’s start with those of you looking for that special lady in your life and make some broad generalizations about, well, broads. Enough Clerks references, let’s call them ladies from here on out. These are basic guidelines – exceptions always exist but these are good baselines to use as a starting point with while in the field.
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
I’ll assume that you’re actually looking for a nice Chinese lady to settle down with for the purposes of the post. If you’re just look for a good time girl, then you should probably consider these no-nos as a sort of guideline for finding a good time – just break all of these rules (and prepare for chaos in your life). Anyway, here are some things to keep in mind:
Don’t pick up chicks in the bar - No, no, no. Good Chinese girls rarely go to a bar that foreigners frequent. And even if they do, they won’t be there in search of a boyfriend. This is not the West, where plenty of good girls can be found at your local watering hole, and you need to be careful. This is one night stand territory and you’d best keep that in mind. What was it that Luda’ was rappin’ about in my youth? Oh yeah – “You can’t turn a ho into a housewife. Hos don’t act right…” Sound advice, Luda’, sound advice indeed.
Smokers are out - A major cultural taboo. Chinese girls that you can take home to mom don’t smoke. Don’t date mainland Chinese girls that smoke – even social smokers. No, no, no. Those are troubled waters, my friend, troubled waters. Best steer clear ’cause monsters lurk in those depths.
Tattoos are a mark of trouble - You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. You could date Kansas girls with tattoos. Many of them are nice, lovely girls you could start a family with back in the states. Times, they are a-changin’ in the US. Here…..no sir. Be careful of those with inked skin.
Clowns with short shorts - Raccoon eyes and showgirl shorts, while catching to the eye, are usually a no go. This is a red flag, my friends, a big, fat, Chinese red flag. Make up, lots of leg showing….be careful until proven wrong. You’re walking down a road that will likely be filled with betrayal. You could be looking at a gold digger, a serial cheater, a psycho in desperate need of attention or a working girl who will play you like the mark you are if you’re not careful.
Girls who touch you - A playful arm slap early in a conversation is a very positive sign of attraction in the west. Here, it’s weird. It just is. Chinese people can get touchy with their friends (boy to boy and girl to girl contact is extremely common) but good girls won’t ever touch you during a conversation unless you know each other VERY well. Even then, it would still be weird.
Girls who pick you up - ummmmm. This is a more be careful of anyone, regardless of sex, who engage you with more than curiosity. A normal ‘oh you look different’ conversation is very different. I’ve talked about it before and it is almost always a major red flag. Chinese people don’t actively talk to strangers unless it’s small talk. Don’t fall into the trap like a fresh off the boat guy I know got tangled up in. He was a nice, wet behind the ears rube from rural Canada and was in way over his head from the start. He “hit it off” with a lady who picked him up in a foreign friendly bar. Like a gentlemen, he arrange for a proper date later in the week. He took her out for a fancy dinner, proceeded to a romantic stroll around the lake and walked her back to her place to see her home safely and hopefully get a good night kiss. Instead, he got her to her door only to be asked how much he’d pay to sleep with her. Sigh. 400 rmb wasted on impressing a whore. I knew where the story was going as soon as he said she approached him in the bar. The best lessons in life come with a price tag. Nice guys really do finish last – or at least with less money than they should have.
Some Cultural Oddities
Now that I’ve kept you away from scarlet women, let’s chat about some of the strange expectations you will probably face in dating a Chinese woman. On the whole, dating in China can be easy but these things are strange indeed for us laowai.
“A real man owns a house” – Oh man, this one is tricky. A friend of mine was recently told that because he didn’t own a house, he was not a real man. It was the inspiration for this post. Brutal, cutting and expected. When a couple gets married in China, it’s almost a requirement that the man’s family gives the new bride a house. It is expected. To not have a house means that you and your family are a failure/bad marriage material. If you don’t own a house, expect insults to fly. Your parents will most likely be criticized for poor financial planning and neglect. Explaining cultural differences and expectations will yield almost no understanding. If you don’t own a house, have the capital to buy a house or at least have a very solid and visible plan to buy a house, this will be a major sticking point. You’re going to hear about it. Your girlfriend may suddenly dump you without notice and marry some other man with a house before you can even begin to figure out what you did wrong (has happened to people I know).
Personally, I think the current housing prices in China is going to break down this expectation over time but that day is far in the future. It’s bleak out there boys and it’s likely to get ugly at some point in the courtship. Be ready.
Why won’t you carry my purse?! – Try explaining that you will absolutely not carry a purse to a Chinese woman. It is not easy. I used the green hat analogy to try to explain the cultural equivalent of inappropriateness for us North American men. For those new to Chinese culture – never, ever, ever wear a green hat. It means that your wife is sleeping with another man. It comes from some old Chinese story about an unfaithful wife who gave her husband a bright green hat so she could see him walking home in a crowd to allow her lover to escape – or something like that. I worked at a university and one of our primary colors was green. The president of our university came to China with a sleeve of green hats, not knowing the taboo, and tried to give them out. Hilarity ensued with mass refusal to wear said hats while he put one on to show it was OK. Needless to say, the organizers of the trip were in the doghouse for quite a while for not knowing enough about Chinese culture to avoid the humiliation of the president.
I don’t know if purse carrying is a taboo in Europe or not (you people have man purses that we Americans mock to no end) but if I see you carrying a purse as a foreigner, I’m going to laugh my ass off at you for so thoroughly being whipped into submission.
Let’s talk marriage! – “So, hey, I really like you after going on three dates” he says. “When are we going to get married?” she responds.
That’s right, talk of marriage can come before you even know how the girl likes her coffee. I’ve seen many a man confused and shocked when that bomb gets dropped. What’s that horrible Japanese joke that also applies to China. Oh yeah, I remember now:
Q: What do a Christmas cake and a woman have in common?
A: You can’t sell them after the 25th.
Brutal, sexist and somehow fairly suggestive of marriage pressures and attitudes here on the mainland. Chinese parents start freaking out when daughters turn 25 or so. Turning 30 without a husband means you’re crossing into old maid territory. 35 and single and you might as well get yourself 20 cats and do the crazy cat lady thing right. Don’t be surprise if your girlfriend dumps you for dragging your feet and marries some other guy with a house a month later. I have a Chinese co-worker/friend who went on her first date, reported the Chinese guy was nice and, a month later, she was hitched. And they still don’t live together yet, six months into the marriage. It’s a strange reality but who can blame them with all that social pressure. God knows I would like to have a dowry that includes a house just for being my cute, friendly self.
Meeting the parents: This is just a cultural warning. Meeting the parents is serious business. You really should avoid this if you’re not serious about the girl (or boy) that you are dating. This is not the west. Meeting the parents is a serious relationship milestone and should be treated as such. Be careful.
The best fishing holes for keeper.
Serendipity – That’s always a good standby. But if you’re going to let the Gods guide you to love, it best to help them along by going to places where quality women hang out. Universities, coffee shops, grocery stores, movie theaters – you know, not the club, not the bar, not the mahjong parlor.
An introduction – Do it Chinese style! Let people in your guanxi network set up with pre-approved lady. This also means that you need to be an upstanding young man, with resources and good friendships with nice people.
Go to an English Corner – They speak English, they are open to learning about a new culture. Do I really need to spell this out for you?
Volunteer in the community – Why not help others with a side of maybe helping yourself too.
Hunting for Boys:
I’m much less of an expert here but let’s get into it. This one is going to be a little bit harder for me to give solid advice on because I have an issue with younger Chinese men – I don’t particularly like them. Married Chinese guys – I like them. They’re totally normal dudes, funny, have a good attitude toward life and very kind and friendly on the whole. Single, never been married Chinese guys under about 30 are….well…they’re usually pretty fucking annoying. Exceptions exist but they almost all have girlfriends.
The problem exists due to the cultural preference for boys. Boys are special, boys are spoiled and boys get everything they want growing up. This tends to create annoying people who think they are special. This problem is solved by getting married and dealing with the pressures of needing to support a family. Nothing can straighten out delusions of grandeur like a Chinese wife and a bunch of responsibility. They usually get the special snowflakes straightened out within a year or two and then they are people I really enjoy being around. But if you’re a single lady looking for some local fare, you will most likely not be dealing with the house broken version of Chinese men. Good luck and happy hunting. A few gems exist but I don’t envy your search.
Here’s what you’re facing down ladies. Avoid these not so nice Chinese males:
Boys who flash money they didn’t make: Ugh. My least favorite Chinese people. If he pulls up in a Ferrari with a stupid pair of sunglasses, tell him to keep on driving. You don’t want any part of this mess.
Boys who love video games too much: I’m not a big fan of video games. I prefer the insanity of real life but to each his own. Normal gamers are not really an issue – we all need our distractions. Dudes who spend ton of time in internet bars playing league of whatever….ummm…no. These poor guys have an addiction. And like any addiction, you don’t want any part of that mess.
“Cool” dudes: Keep walking ladies. These are the ultimate posers. I’m not talking artists or the intelligentsia, I’m talking guys who wear labels and make serious efforts at being western. These men are douche bags 99% of the time. Basic bitches, through and through.
Men who buy you matching outfits: If you get a matching outfit on the third date, RUN! Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with someone who buys matching outfits for anything but a mocking Halloween costume? Really?
Again, here I’m limited. I’ve never dated a Chinese man and neither have most of my friends. All I have to go on is my male Chinese friends and stories from female Chinese friends.
Grand “Romantic” Gestures: Dating in China often reminds me of my own middle school dating experience. Horrific, funny, immature and embarrassing. Let’s be realistic here. Chinese people have not been dating for very long. Only 50 or 60 years ago, a vast majority of marriages were arranged. This has been changing quickly over time but you’re looking at only about 30 years of real, actual dating experiences. Expect growing pains. This includes actions that 14 year old Zhou might have thought would work but that make older Zhou shake his head and laugh. Be prepared for your Chinese boyfriend to do something crazy, creepy and pathetically “romantic” – like show up outside of your work with a thousand flowers while you’re in the middle of an important meeting. Or spell your name in candles on the street and sing you a love song. Or make a t-shirt with your face on it and wear it when you are hanging out with your expat friends. Something like this could happen after your third date.
Stalker Behavior: One of the greatest things about dating a Westerner is that there are magic words that can make a man or woman disappear from your life. Say the magic words, have a huge fight, relationship over and that person is gone from your life forever. Not so much in China. This is a different culture and couples fight in different ways. Chinese girls fight dirty, say terrible things to test their men and go over the top in disputes to “prove” their love. I live in a university district and I see young couples fighting – in public – all the time. You will tell someone to fuck off, leave you alone and walk away - only to have them follow you down the street continuing to engage you. You need to establish that you mean what you say. Good luck.
They will carry your purse – take advantage!
Whip them into shape – If your man has limited dating experience, it will be up to you to show them the ropes and get them in line. Like I said before, unmarried Chinese men have an unnaturally high opinion of themselves. You’ll need to set rules, boundaries and let them know what is what. Men are the worst. Come to think about it, my first few girlfriends tried to do the same thing to me. Maybe things aren’t so different after all.
Good fishing holes for men:
University classes, cultural events, charity fundraisers, the grocery store. Men are easy to pick up. You need only go to places where good men hang out and chat up any good looking Chinese boys you see there. Just remember how intimidating foreign women are in their eyes and cut them some slack by making the first move.
Final thoughts: Dating a local mainland Chinese person can be done. Love does indeed conquer all. Just know that it won’t be easy at times and you are going to need open and honest lines of communication about cultural differences and expectations. The rewards are great.