I’ve recently befriended a Chinese student here in the US. I lived in China for 2 years and speak Chinese more or less fluently, but my grasp of Chinese friendship/dating culture is still pretty basic. He and I have talked about exploring the possibility of being more than friends, but both of us agreed to take more time to get to know each other just as friends for now and not to rush anything. I think there’s an obvious undercurrent of attraction between us, and I’m worried that if we decided we were unsuitable romantically that he would back off friendship-wise as well. In China, I didn’t see many opposite-sex friendships (besides with high school aged kids), and I worry if we don’t end up dating that I would lose him as a friend too. I like and respect this guy a lot, so I hope you can reassure me that our friendship can continue even if one of us finds someone else.
Many of my closest friends in China happen to be men — including Peter, a guy I even call my “older brother.” But none of them are ex-Chinese boyfriends. And given fellow yangxifu Jessica‘s response in this article about dating and marrying Chinese men, I’m not alone:
it is rare for ‘exes’ in China to remain friends.
So what’s up with the ex-factor? Many Chinese get suspicious when their partner or spouse continues a friendship with an ex — that, sooner or later, they’ll become more than friends. After all, if they dated before, why couldn’t they do it again? Bad breakups — a friendship killer the world over — also can get in the way, as can the pain of losing someone you truly loved, but who didn’t love you back in the end. If you date a Chinese, just realize that, sooner or later, your breakup means your friendship will eventually end.
But friendships can and do happen between people of the opposite sex. Many of my friends happen to be Chinese men, and many of my husband’s friends happen to be Chinese women. These friendships thrive even as we date, marry and have children — because none of us had a dating history to begin with.
In your case, you risk more by dating him than not dating. Not dating, though, could also screw your friendship if he has hidden feelings for you (think “I feel pain every time I see her or communicate with her”). Even if you choose “not dating” I can’t guarantee your friendship.
I’m reminded of a quote from Sex and the City: “Maybe we should go out on a date before we break up.” Before you decide this relationship won’t work, just take it day by day. You might be surprised.
What do you think? What advice do you have?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.