When I first started working in China, many of my trainees suggested I date a Chinese man. According to them, he would help with the language barrier, introduce me to amazing Chinese food, and help me find my way around China much quicker. They were all quick to suggest or knew an eligible candidate. Although this was meant with the most caring intention, I found myself trying to find a way to politely decline, even making up a fake boyfriend sometimes. Making up fake stories is not something I normally do but it’s very hard to decline anything in China. People take their role of host and trying to make you feel comfortable in their country very seriously, which is something I value greatly.
One of my trainees, a manager with a very senior position in the company, asked me flat out: Why don’t Western women date Chinese men? I found myself having to pause for a moment to find a politically correct response. I was struggling because I didn’t want to offend his culture and gender by any means, and the fact that he was a very important member of our company didn’t make it any easier. What I came up with sounded something like: “The cultural differences are too big. Living in China, a foreign woman would mostly likely be expected to adapt to Chinese culture, which would be very difficult for a woman with independent views.”
What I wanted to say is, most independent Western women don’t care to participate in the expected gender roles, where overly-protective Chinese men treat their women like needy princesses. A dating culture where families interfere with relationships and where dating must almost certainly end in marriage is something far from what we are used to. Chinese men are expected to care for their aging parents, so staying in China would most likely be the only option. Chinese men also tend to be shy, they don’t flirt or ‘check out’ women openly so it’s hard to tell whether they like you or not. Western women are used to the more proactive and direct approach when it comes to being asked out on a date. However, Chinese men might start by asking if you like Chinese guys in general, send you the occasional text or offer to carry your purse (which is something Chinese women expect and men do willingly), but it takes a long time for them to express their actual liking for you, let alone ask you out on a date. Let me also say that in my experience, Chinese men are absolute gentlemen and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. They are very selfless and giving, which can be flattering in itself. I have met Western women who are happily married to Chinese men, but these women remain a rarity.
Experiences from girls I know include: “If I’ve ever even gotten close enough to talk ‘dating’ with a Chinese man, I feel like I’m being babied,” or “When dating a Chinese guy, he is always around. He wants to pick you up from the subway station, accompany you everywhere you go, he’s waiting for you after work, I feel suffocated.”
The contrast in culture is one of the biggest challenges. Not only are you unable to share the same jokes and understand each other’s upbringing, but you also don’t have remotely the same political or social views. These are of course not China specific, but I can tell you from personal experience that these differences apply to any inter-cultural relationship. Although I myself never dated a Chinese man (because I met a very nice expat from an entirely different culture), I have dated men from several different cultures. The most important thing to remember to make any inter-cultural relationship work is to make sure to figure out what both of you want out of the relationship. This way, you can manage the differences in expectations. You also have to remember that ‘normal’ for you is not ‘normal’ for the other person.
Making inter-cultural relationships work in any country can be challenging. But, like travelling, it can be an enriching experience. In my coaching, I approach these and many other existential life issues related to moving, living and working abroad. My advice: don’t let anything hold you back from trying something new. You’ve moved to China after all, and should get a taste of all aspects of the culture. And if it’s not your cup of tea, then there are plenty of expat men to date in China.
Gaby Kamp is a full-time Global Nomad, Life Coach and founder of Global Nomad Coaching. Originally from the Netherlands, Gaby spent most of her childhood living in a variety of countries, including Nigeria, China and Argentina and she now lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. You can contact Gaby via email or visit her website.