Three Things I Wish I Had Known About Dating in China

The other day, someone asked me why I started up this blog. I mentioned a number of reasons, including this one — because it’s the kind of blog I wish I had discovered when I first went to China and started dating men over there.

That got me thinking about my first year in China in 1999, when I stumbled into a cross-cultural relationship — and knew little of China’s culture and could barely even speak full sentences in Chinese. I wondered, if I met my 1999 self, what advice would I have given her about dating Chinese men?

Well, here are three things I wish I had known back then:

1. Actions matter more than words

In the weeks leading up to that first relationship, I was caught in the midst of an “is he into me?” guessing game. As I wrote before:

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.

I longed for the reassurance of his words in understanding where we were — and where we were headed — because that’s what people generally do in the US. Of course, once he held my hand and kissed me that evening, I had all the reassurance I needed! Yet when I look back on that time, his actions were saying “I love you” even though he never uttered those words to me.

Later, I had similar experiences in dating — including with my future husband, John. And when I came to know John’s family, I also realized that they show their love, instead of saying it.

2. Keep that past relationship in the past

One of my first arguments with a boyfriend in China happened over something that many Americans think nothing about. I happened to tell him about a relationship with an ex-boyfriend during my senior year in university.

While couples in the US bond over swapping relationship “war stories”, discussing your exes with your Chinese boyfriend could blow up in your face. I’m not saying there aren’t guys in China who might be amenable to such discussions — just realize it’s the usually exception and not the norm. After all, my friend and fellow yangxifu Jessica once told me, “My husband does not want to hear anything about my ex-boyfriends, sexual history, or even ‘regular’ history.”

But on the flip side, it’s kind of liberating to enter a relationship without some unspoken expectation that you should unpack all of your past relationship baggage before your significant other. Some Americans actually judge you over your past relationships, which can obviously sting. Instead, you can leave that past where it belongs and focus on the present happiness.

3. It takes a lot longer to meet the parents

When I was in high school and I started to date guys in the US, they often met my parents on the first or second or even third date. Maybe it was just a handshake and a few quick words of hello, but you could still call it a “meeting”.

Not so in China. With one exception (I met his mom well before we were even considering dating) it took a long time before my boyfriends in China would actually introduce me to their parents. In one case, I never even got to that point — we broke up. Later on, I learned that Chinese usually don’t introduce their boyfriends or girlfriends to the family unless it’s a serious, heading-towards-marriage kind of relationship.

And maybe that’s a good thing. I remember one guy I dated in college and how I came so close to his mom that she even wrote to me while I was studying abroad in Spain. So when he and I finally broke things off, I had a double heartache — losing both him and her.

What about you? What dating advice do you wish you would have had in your first cross-cultural or interracial relationship?

30 Replies to “Three Things I Wish I Had Known About Dating in China”

  1. Things are changing no doubt, even with the more conservative Chinese. But what you have mentioned basically sums up the Chinese attitude to dating. I for one, wouldn’t care about hearing my date’s past relationships. And we would rather not have to constantly remind our significant other that we love her. And when we do love one, we would not want to be thinking of the short term or be casual about it. As for introducing to our parents, we also don’t want to give them the impression that we are just having a good time and have not intention to go further. If the latter is the case, we’d rather not bring the girl to meet our parents. But, like I said, things may be changing. Still, that’s largely the impression I get of the scene here too among the Chinese Malaysians.

  2. I’m very grateful to you for writing your blog for the same reason you wished something like this existed when you first started dating… I fell in love with a Chinese guy and I found your blog because I wanted to know more about chinese dating and culture … I have been reading it since a year now and I always enjoy reading all your stories and that of your guests! I love reading real life stories and you usually always view things trough a positive angle!

  3. The first part is definitely true, and I often wondered why Western women aren’t able to see our actions if we do not spell them out verbally.

  4. Jocelyn,

    You nailed it. East Asian men usually don’t talk a lot, they showed by action whereas Western men usually talked a lot with little action. Again, there are exception to the rule. Not all Asian men or Chinese men in particular are men of actions. There are lazy bum ass, self-righteous, arrogant types of men in all races.

    Men of action sometimes can be attributed as men of no emotion. It can be frustrating to those western women who’re not used to listening to silence communication. Especially, it’s really irritating and waste of energy when you try to fill up the silence with garbage topics, fake interest, pretend surprise. It’s more taxing when you think you need to fill the void.

    Chinese men: “I want you to try our home-made soup and dumplings.” {without further mentioning how he got time to cook, how he managed to do, etc etc}

    White men: “Today I made a sandwich for you! It’s with italian bread, cheese which I bought from the grocery store. I also brought yogurt which comes with strawberry underneath. I know you like strawberry.”

    The difference is making dumplings and soup takes a whole another level of skills but sometimes it got lost in translation when you just brought up the soup and dumplings without mentioning how you made it.

    While white men enjoy talking all the FACTs of the things he bought from the grocery store and just stack two breads together and made it sound like he just built a Disney world for you.

    That’s the bottom line.

  5. I think that the things you mentioned are pretty common for men in East Asia. The first one I learned about it from my Korean ex; he wasn’t verbal with affection, but instead I had to learn by action that he cared for me.

  6. What a great post! I wish it had been around in 1994 when I met my then-husband. In any case, I found all three points to ring true. I also realize that these to apply to my marriage with my non-Chinese husband. I met my Chinese ex-husband’s parents within four months of meeting him (and that entailed a two-hour flight) whereas I met my new husband’s mom almost a year after we started dating (and we all lived in the same city!). Sometimes customs are more similar than we think!

  7. I dunno…I feel like not being able to talk about past relationships would be a dealbreaker for me. First, because I would always feel like I was avoiding being branded a “jezebel” (as per your linked post), and I’m sorry, I just don’t accept that. Because I have a dating and sexual history does NOT mean I’m easy/a slut/a “jezebel” (I’d be quite proud to be called a “jezebel”, frankly, though, and I wouldn’t take kindly to someone assuming it’s an insult). And rather than not talking about my history, I’d feel that if someone thought I could be labeled in a negative light because I have a history, that’s their problem, not mine. And I would not want to date that person. Cultural relativism aside. I just wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to date, let alone marry, someone who judged any women that way I’d feel offended as a woman and as a feminist. I once dated a guy who was judgy like that, and we broke up: he wasn’t judgy of me but the fact that he could be judgy in that way of other women meant he wasn’t right for me. Wasn’t openminded enough for me. Wasn’t feminist enough for me.

    I’d also feel like – hey. It’s not just about war stories or feeling better. My past informs who I am. My experiences have helped make me who I am. My ideas on relationships are in part a result of relationship experience.

    How can you really know *me* if you know nothing about my past? And while I can respect that a topic is highly personal, I do feel there should be nothing too personal to be discussed between people heading towards marriage. If I’m engaged to someone or soon will be, then I trust that that person will be open to knowing me as a whole person. That includes my history. If they can’t handle that, then I’m not sure I’d marry or continue a relationship with them. I would feel that I never really knew the whole him, nor he the whole me, and I’m not sure I could live with that. I’d feel like “you say you love me – how can you really say that if you don’t even know much of the ‘me’ that existed before I met you?”

    I do know that in Taiwan things are more open, which is a good thing.

  8. RDM – haha. My husband (white guy – didn’t plan it that way seeing as I’ve lived most of my adult life in Asia, but it just turned out that way) is also a doer-not-talker. He’ll tell me he loves me, but not constantly, and otherwise he’s just a quiet person. He’ll vacuum the whole place, do all the dishes and laundry, change the cat litter and take out the trash and recycling – all without my having to ask him – and never say a word about it.

  9. @Jenny Cody,

    Of course, speaking ill of all White men would do nothing but harming my self-righteous personality. But when you calculate the percentage, I’m leaning more towards the majority of Asian men having the qualities you described, not that White men doesn’t have. It’s more of percentage-wise speaking. I’m not saying all White women who doesn’t like Asian men are missing out the great opportunities and good husbands. That’s be wrong, and sounds ridiculous ever. All I wanted to point out is how particular type of men takes credit for what they do for their girlfriends and wives.

    But since percentage and individualism doesn’t equate each other, I’d say you’re lucky to have your husband in such quality. 😀


    Although I do appreciate a freedom of speech and choice, but sometimes it needs to be curbed for greater good. I’m not coming here for erotic literature or some d-bags meticulously talking about his 2 inches boner. Asian men are enjoying with 9/10 hot women, this D-bag had to spend $100 for 5 minutes pleasure, I’d salute you.

  10. OMG this is totally true!! SO RELATING! I can agree on all points! Especially the “showing love” instead of “saying it” gave me a hard time at first. But I also kind of “trained” my boyfriend to actually TALK about his feelings more.

  11. One major point missing is the general expectation from the outcome of the relationship. Dating in the west is most often without an agenda for a long time. Chinese expectation can kill the romance- dating is more serious matter moving toward long term commitment before the other person is ready. Girls in the west mostly have relationships early on. I think Chinese men can learn not to get too hung up on the fact dating is in the progress. It is easier to understand why past relationships and meeting the parents become a bigger deal from this angle.
    Overall dating in the west is less stressful.

    It is certainly not only Asian men use actions to show emotions. It comes down to the individual. Asians are more silent overall.

  12. hello …
    I’m really grateful to the people who write this blog , no doubt helped me understand a little better Chinese – Western relations , however I have a question and I would like you to help me .
    Some time ago I met a guy from China online, started chatting and everything has continued well , we talked every day on I always write even when you are at work , when it almost every hour of the day , I always say “you are my best “or ” love tatiana ” but idk if it says for friendship or love , I would like to know how to find out if he feels something for me , plus I said ” I’ll go for you to your country ” , yesterday I dedicate a song ¨ ¨ fairy tale and says he likes long chat with me every day , I ‘m adding this Latin American , I’m not white but not brown , leather canels , listen to them do not look at girls with dark skin is this true? He knows me by my pictures and know that my mother is white and brown potatoes but really could be some kind of distance for this reason ?
    I am very grateful if I count on your help. THANKS.

    1. Querida Tati:

      Si el ya esta chatando contigo todos los dias, eso quiere decir el tambien se siente una atraccion hacia ti. Sin embargo, tal como habia mencionado en el articulo, los chinos son muy pragmaticos y racionales. y sabiendo que las relaciones de larga distancia raramente se resultan en realciones serias, ellos prefieren suprimir sus sentimientos bajo dicha circumstancia, en vez de ilusionar que por algun milagro su camino se conincidira (geograficamente) con el tuyo.
      Pero no todos los chinos son asi, y existe locos romanticos tambien, tal como este galan que se migro para Peru para estar con su esposa.

  13. I just read an article about interracial marriage on, part of it features your experience and testimonial. It’s really shocking to learn that once you married a Chinese man, some of your friends stayed away due to their openly “distaste for Chinese men”(quoting bbc article). I personally experienced some unpleasant racist moments on campus but those were not that harmful. Having several failed attempts to set up a relationship with an American girl, now I have a thought that reality is more complicated than I expected. Indeed, it might be a big issue if an American girl is involved with a Chinese in a relationship; she might suffer from racial prejudices from other people or social stigma prevents her from a potential inter-racial relationship with a Chinese man etc. Interestingly, before I came to US, I thought America is a country full of very open-minded people and pretty free, now I still think it is open and free however not as open and free as I used to think.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Luc. I agree with your sentiments that indeed, the reality is much more complicated than it seems — and there are a lot of American women (unfortunately, I believe especially white) who hold prejudices against Chinese and other Asian men.

      Still, even if we are the exception and not the rule, doesn’t mean you’ll never meet a girl to date. Think of the saying in Chinese, 好事多磨!

  14. @Jocelyn, thank you very much for your encouragement. I cannot control the situation whether an American girl holds prejudices or not; all I can do is getting myself trained and behaving like a decent man. All past failures and lessons only serve as step stones to maturity and nobility. By all my labour and efforts into relationships I believe, like what you said, I can expect something wonderful.

  15. @ Luc.

    I believe that you must be a Chinese man trying to chase an American girl based upon your exchanges above with Jocelyn above. I wish you the best. I do not quite understand why you Asian boys seem to have trouble getting the White girl. I, as a White boy along with so many of my fellow White boys, do not seem to have very much difficulty chasing and catching Asian girls and making them our girlfriend. I have seen so many pairings between WM/AF. I even have an ABC girl as my gf. Perhaps your approach and methodology are not effective because you may be relying on some antiquated and idealistic notion of what a white girl should do or behave. I recommend that you try, try, and try harder.

    Just approach the girl and talk to her just as I tried to do with Asian girls when I was chasing them. I have had numerous failiures also. But finally one of sisters introduced me to her classmate and now we are together. Maybe you can ask some of your friends to link you with an American girl. Good luck.


  16. @Manny, it’s very kind of you that you say so. My approach is not effective, that’s true, but I don’t think the inefficacy is due to the obsolescence of my ideology. I do not believe in anything about stereotype of any kind of people. I believe I am progressive. I did what you did, like you said, approached them and talked to them. But still here are some differences: (a) I don’t know what your situation is, but I have to admit that I don’t have a chiseled face, not good looking, only one inch taller that average American guy(avg. is 1.78m). I think it is a big difference between the cases when you compare AF/WM and WF/AM. I am not saying all American girls are shallow and superfluous, the point is the first impression is important when people first meet. When it comes to a thing which American girls call it ‘chemistry’, in my case, if the girl believes that chemistry does not exist at all in the first place, I am doomed to failure, no matter how well behaved or educated I am. This might be a prejudice based on looking. Personally I don’t care about looking at all because 100 years later everyone of us would become stardust. (b) You said, ‘just approach the girl and talk to her’, I don’t know how you did it. But based on our diametrically opposite results, one possible explanation is that you did it in a ‘developed’ way while I used ‘developing’ way. What’s that? Both of us might not notice how we behave when we are in a conversation, but the characteristics of our personalities shed some light on where we received our education and where we grew up. If you are from the US and I’m from China, except that we have different colours, we behave in different ways too, e.g. in a conversation. When an American girl talks in a ‘developed’ US way with me in a ‘developing’ Oriental way(I tried very hard to delve into English Culture, but there is still room to improve no matter how hard I tried; this might not be decent because it is submission to Orientalism), there will be an issue of compatibility. In your case, even you are talking to an AF, her way of talking and characteristics are ‘compatible’ with yours; both of you are from US in spite of different colours. In my case, I was still learning, I was not quite sure I talked about a proper interesting thing or I led a conversation to an amusement or a faux-pas. I had to be careful, deliberately, not as naturally as if it was part of my body. You may not notice this in your situation because you have the skill cemented in your personality, that’s why you are ‘developed’. This problem is a structural problem, it might not seem reasonable in singled out personal cases but it still makes some sense I suppose. If what I wrote here is ‘nonsense’ or self deprecation in your view, that might be due to my low self-confidence(it’s boosting anyway). That’s another thing I need improve.

  17. Hi Jocelyn,

    These are three very solid points you make! I would agree with some of the other commenters when they include a #4: The Chinese take dating much more seriously! I was floored when my Chinese boyfriend brought up marriage on the third date– not many American guys would do the same.

  18. hahhahahahah it’s sunday lol. Yes, Chinese take dating very serious. I think Chinese men can tell what kind of women become their wives.

  19. East Asian men (and Asian American men) DO care about a woman’s dating history. If that weren’t the case, a divorced woman, single mom, or woman over the age of 27 would have little or no trouble getting into a relationship with a East Asian man. And that’s clearly not the case.

  20. Of all the men you fall in love with , you fall in love with a China man? OMG but I suppose you can’t help that and love work in mysterious ways. BTW, Does he carry your handbag for you?

  21. @Timo

    If you don’t know the answer to your vulgar and provocative question, you might have been a racial illiterate for your entire life. One of the simplest options to solve that problem is to look back at where you got your education, if any; to look at where you grew up and with whom you hang out. Please inculcate your spirit if you can, before you force others exposed to your deranged ego. If you think your language is quite sensible in your daily life, you belong in jail; If you want to have a breathe of fresh air, not to be drowned by racism or submerged in racial profiling, there is a lot of kind people who can stop you sinking. Don’t be shy and, try.

    E. Sontag

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