London Girl asks:
I’ve been in China for 2 months. I’m based in Beijing and work for Chinese company who like to employ a few foreigners.
On my first day I was introduced to a very pleasant Chinese guy. As soon as I met him he told me he has relatives in the UK, studied in US and has travelled in Europe. Since these past 8 weeks we talk nearly every day at work about our interests and whats in the news, etc. He also follows European sport and knows my team.
One day at work he spoke to me in German! Then he said somebody told him I also speak German. So now we converse in German. This makes me feel that he’s been talking about me?
From reading some of your advice it would appear that Chinese men are friendly although would not go out of their way to befriend someone if they weren’t interested.
He’s a little younger than me. I’m in my early thirties and he’s mid twenties. Although everyone thinks I look early twenties…so I know age might not be an issue…
However I’m a little scared about misinterpreting my feelings for him. And I’m not sure if he will actually suggest something outside of work. Im concerned about ruining my work values if I befriend this guy even more…
The potential for romance in the workplace is like flowers in the Spring — they can either be beautiful, or make you horribly sick.
I’ve seen both sides of it, the life-crushing breakup and the love of my life, both with Chinese men, both in China.
At the worst, I fell in love with a Chinese man who sat next to me in the office — yes, his desk was exactly beside my own. Ah, it was glorious for about a week. That is, until I hit the great wall of office regulations: no dating between employees. After that, it went downhill from there, for many reasons. But, even today, I still wince when I think of the aftermath of our breakup — how he became this robot of his former self, never even hinting that, at one time, we had actually been lovers. The devastation forced me to take long walks outside during lunch, and fabricate any excuse I could to leave the room I worked in. (Of course, because I started leaving the office more often, I came into contact with John, another one of my coworkers, and fell in love with him…so there was a happy ending).
The truth is, many Chinese meet their potential spouses at work, so it’s not out of the ordinary to fall in love over that annual report, or weekly review. You wouldn’t really be “ruining work values” — provided, of course, that the company doesn’t explicitly ban it. And many companies don’t. In fact, my employer in Shanghai specifically welcomed spouses to work together, so it’s usually not a problem in that sense. The real problem, as my story above suggests, is the potential social devastation, should things fail, and you still have to see him at work. Which is probably the best reason of all to proceed carefully.
But I’m guessing you’ve thought some of this through, weighed the risks, and would welcome jumping into the “friends and beyond” zone? Okay then.
So then this comes to your question, of interpreting his feelings for you. Obviously, he has been talking about you, otherwise he wouldn’t know about your German. He’s certainly interested in having some kind of friendly relationship with you, given that you talk nearly every day about topics of common interest/sports. But, from what you tell me, even I’m not sure if he just wants to be only a friend, or wants more.
The only way you could really know is to get him to come out with you, outside of work. Fortunately, there’s an easy, face-saving way to do this — by inviting him out with a group of your friends. This is exactly what the Chinese do when they’re trying to check someone out as a potential date, but don’t want to commit social suicide by facing rejection with them. After all, it doesn’t hurt if a guy turns you down for something that you’re already going to do with a group of other people, right?
If you want to do this, corral together a handful of your friends for anything from dinner out to karaoke to something else fun of your choice — about four or so other people (not including you and this guy) is probably fine. Make sure at least one of them is a Chinese girl you know and trust, so you can pick her brain afterwards (as in, do you think this guy is interested in me?).
If he declines to come, it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t interested. But if it becomes a regular thing — as in, every time you try to include him in a group activity, he says “no” — you’ll know the wall of his feelings stops before friendship, and never goes beyond the workplace. You’ll also know it without the pain of rejection that comes from asking him to go somewhere only with you, a situation that can feel dangerously close to “date.”
And, even better, you’ve got a social night out — with friends — to look forward to. Because, even if he’s not your Mr. Chinese Right, your Chinese friends might just know a perfect one they’re waiting to introduce you to.
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.