I am an American female and began an international graduate program this January here in the US. Most of my classmates are foreign and I’ve gotten the attention from a Chinese male. There is a good chance our relationship is going to blossom, so I have a few questions for you.
At first, it didn’t dawn on me that he was interested, so he stepped it up a notch. He started waiting for me after class, sitting near me in class and initiating conversations. We have spent some time together outside of class. Our most recent encounter was a trip to the movies, where he picked me up and got a chance to meet my grandfather (he was very excited to meet Grandpa). He is currently on a trip for spring break and has phoned me a few times.
Here is the kicker and where my questions come in. He is very indirect. While I’m 99% sure he is courting me, he has never expressed in words his desire to date me (although it is still early). Should I wait for him to initiate that conversation? Additionally, he asks questions in a very indirect manner. For example, instead of asking if he can walk walk with me to the library, he asks where I am going next… I think it is a combination of his culture combined with being male haha. His English is also very choppy, so we have a communication barrier. I do not speak or read Chinese at all.
His indirectness combined with limited knowledge of the English language is difficult for me to understand his intentions at times (especially when he is hinting that he’d like to get together). I am an outgoing and honest person, so it’s difficult for me to know how to react to him. He is also very introverted and independent, kind of a homebody.
I guess I’m writing you for some advice. I don’t want to be too forward by asking him direct questions or disclose too much information that may turn him off. My instincts are telling me to find the balance between expressing interest and letting things happen naturally. I don’t know him well enough yet to know how I feel about him, but so far he’s caught my attention. Any advice/suggestions would be helpful.
Thanks so much for the question!
Your experiences remind me so much of courtships in the past with Chinese men. In general, Chinese men are pretty indirect about their feelings, and dating.
My first Chinese boyfriend kept me guessing for a while. We spent over a month together in this “dating limbo”. We took late evening walks, our shoulders dangerously close, and he would say things like “I love the color of your eyes” or “I think foreign women are beautiful.” He would also inquire about what I was doing at certain times, or, if we were together, what I would be doing next — and then casually suggest we do something. But it wasn’t until we were crossing the street one day (to escape a beggar running after me) that we finally locked hands together — hands that didn’t part after crossing. Then he kissed me at my apartment, and I knew we were together.
With my second Chinese boyfriend, there was also a “dating limbo” before we became a couple. He offered hints to me (he told me “China welcomes such a traditional girl like you” and that he hoped I would remain in China, so he could take care of me). He spent generous amounts of time with me, including one day where one activity naturally lead to another and another, until it was very late. But it was really this one moment, when we were in a taxi, that I knew we were serious — because I naturally leaned on him, and our hands came together.
With John, who is now my husband, it was hard to know his true feelings, because he — and my matchmaking Chinese friend — joked about love all the time, like high school kids. But then John began dropping more hints. First, he did it through indirect text messages. He acted like a gentleman towards me at work, always the first to offer me a chair (next to him, of course). Then he accompanied me all evening after work for an entire week — leading up to my birthday. And, finally, he planned my birthday evening for me, and gave me some gifts — that was the evening we finally kissed, and I finally knew we were dating.
But, in all three cases, we didn’t really discuss love and dating directly. The transition from just friends to boyfriend/girlfriend happened so seamlessly — with a kiss or holding hands. Only later on did these men choose to verbalize our relationship, whether by referring to me as their girlfriend or even, affectionately, as their “wife”.
Why the indirectness about love? Most Chinese men grow up in a family where love is expressed through indirect actions. For example, my inlaws show they love my husband and I by making lavish meals every time we come (including a large helping of vegetarian dishes for me, because I don’t eat meat); or by even building entirely new additions to their home, just for us! I’ve never seen my inlaws kiss, hug or say anything suggesting “I love you.” It’s just not done publicly in many Chinese homes — and when it is done, in private, it means so much more.
So it’s no wonder that courtship in China can be so baffling to a Westerner. We often verbalize our intentions or feelings before making a move (or expect our partners to, lest they intend to “take advantage” of us for the moment). But in China, those intentions or feelings may not be spoken, because of the culture. We also are more likely to see a hug or kiss as something more casual, compared to the Chinese — so when they happen with a Chinese, they usually mean more.
I think it’s good to give a Chinese man the space to feel comfortable, so that things can happen more at his pace (which may be slower than what you know). In my experience, it usually took at least a month or more of spending time with a Chinese man before we progressed into dating. Moving things too fast could have negative consequences — because he might decide you’re “too easy” or “too loose” (the unfortunate stereotypes about Western women), and therefore not girlfriend, or wife, material. So, if you can, let him initiate that conversation about dating — realizing that sometimes holding hands or even kissing might actually come first before any words describing your relationship.
It helps to remember — especially when you doubt his affections — that Chinese men usually aren’t casual about showing interest in women. From your description — waiting for you after class, accompanying you around campus — I sense this man does want to date you.
Good luck, and let me know how things turn out.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.