Does Peer Pressure Ever Discourage Dating Differently?

(“Peer Pressure” by Hannah Nino via

Just last week, a review of the anthology Unsavory Elements appeared in the Global Times, and had this to say about my contribution:

Jocelyn Eikenburg gives insight into the seldom spoken of (or seen) relationships between foreign women and Chinese men in “Red Couplets.” She writes, “From the first time I started to love a Chinese man, hiding became part of my life.” As she watches droves of Western men couple up with Chinese women, she feels alienated by her expat girlfriends, too, who openly express their romantic disdain for all Chinese men.

She’s referring to this portion of my essay:

“Whenever I arrive at the airport in America, the first thing I notice is our men, how handsome and how tall they are,” one of my white female colleagues mentioned over lunch just weeks into my first job in China teaching college English. “I’ll just stare at them for hours, as if I was Chinese and had never seen a foreign man before in my life.”…

At least that woman wasn’t as blunt as another colleague, who used to bicycle with me through the streets of Zhengzhou. As we stopped on the corner of a side street and watched the mostly-male populous pedaling past us through the intersection, she grimaced.

“Chinese men don’t really seem that attractive.”

“How can you say that?” I retorted in a slightly-insulted tone.

“I don’t know…they just aren’t.” She sounded too casual for a woman who just dismissed the entire male population in China.

Here’s what the reviewer thought about it:

In a past age, her girlfriends’ blunt commentaries about their preferences for partners would have been edgy, but in the global, expat realm, they are the close-minded and cruel characters of the story.

Her perspective reminded me of a topic I’ve yet to address on this blog — our peers’ perspectives on who we should or shouldn’t date, and whether or not that influences our dating choices.

My female peers didn’t consider Chinese men handsome, but that never stopped me from dating them and eventually marrying John. But I have to wonder, how many Western women will hear what their peers have to say about Chinese men and then decide not to date them? Are some people so worried about what others might think that they would rather not risk the potential “social suicide” that comes along with dating differently?

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever heard opinions like those I mentioned in my essay? Did you ever experience peer pressure regarding potential dating choices — and did it influence your decision?

P.S.: For those of you who would like to buy a copy of this anthology — and read the entire essay — I will let you know ASAP when it becomes available on Promise!

40 Replies to “Does Peer Pressure Ever Discourage Dating Differently?”

  1. Yeah, some friends I used to have were shocked by my tastes in guys. In high school I crushed on a tall thin guy that was a mixture of Hawaiian, Native American, Irish and something else. All I heard was how could I crush on him, that he wasn’t attractive and stuff. When I started to date my Korean ex, some friends were also wondering how could I like Asian men and didn’t they have small penises and so forth. In all honesty I’m getting sick and tired of small penis crap. I thought the motion was more important than the size…

  2. Maybe it’s because the article only quoted bits and pieces of your essay, but is peer pressure ultimately what’s causing the perception of handsomeness? I’m not sure it is. I think peer pressure’s really about the individual’s immediate circle of friends and perceptions of handsomeness and beauty are ultimately due to the individual’s wider cultural milieu (especially films, art, and books). IME, the cultural norms exist before the peer pressure, and are what ultimately cause the peer pressure to exist.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: there is a point at which they connect. When I tried dating a Chinese guy, a few of my coworkers reacted with disgust: “They pick their nose!” “They’re not manly!” “Why bother? They already have wives!” etc. But the point is that the ideas about handsomeness existed before the peer pressure, and were what caused the peer pressure to occur.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing if I can get my hands on the book!

  3. Thankfully, I only had good peer pressure from those who matter to me. The way I was raised was to accept people for their personality and virtues, not just based on what others think is “normal.” You know, my friends embraced my husband at once when they met him and said he is the coolest guy I have ever been with, which is absolutely true. Thank goodness for support of friends and family. Sometimes I may get a strange look when I am out shopping or some other place and also people assume we are not together and look very surprised when we say we are (kinda bugs me to death at the time!) but I do not let these little pressures get to me. If you ask me, I feel sorry for people who are closed-minded. Their disdain is either jealousy for that which they will not have anytime soon, or they were just raised completely wrong and that is to be pitied as well. As for me, I will continue to adore and love my husband and do what I want, not what others think is right. 🙂

  4. Gargh, I can’t edit!

    I should note that the words of warning from my Chinese girlfriends were what made me a bit more cautious. My Chinese friends told me what you’ve said elsewhere in your blog — that many Chinese men see Western women as the new BMI er nai. When I was in China, that was always a problem, and I never quite knew how to get over it.

    What my Western friends said didn’t really phase me. I knew they were being racist and just wrote it off.

  5. Peer pressure plays a very important role in our lives. Just this weekend my kids made me buy them a pair of overpriced Nike shoes because their friends made fun of them for wearing Skechers.

    Women who have an open mind and not succumb to peer pressure are always sexy to me. No doubt the media has a lot to do with projecting stereotypes on specific ethnicities. We all know who those producers and directors are in Hollywood, don’t we? When Chow Yun Fat appeared in his first Hollywood movie, the Hollywood execs strongly objected to having anybody other than an Asian guy to play the mobster who would end up being struck down by an Asian hero. If Asian men in the entertainment business had the same power, all Caucasian guys in their movies would be old, fat, hairy, and have a big beer belly.

  6. @Deeter – Actually, in Chinese movies foreigners are evil, greedy or simply stupid and can’t speak Mandarin (what makes them even more stupid) while Chinese can obviously speak not only Mandarin but also English, French and they are super-smart in general…

  7. I think when i first came to China, i was always hanging around foreigners and so my tastes had’nt had time to adjust, But one day i just woke up and realised that suddenly i was surrounded by good looking and eligible men. It was really just a ‘one day i woke up and it was different’ situation. I don’t know what happened exactly but something within me changed so dramatically. I still have the occasional friend who labels “all Chinese men are…” and i try to tell them that that is not the case. We can still be friends, but i am finding now that i spend most of my time with couples like me, that is, One Chinese partner and one ‘Western’ partner.

  8. Friends´opinions about men or dating do not have any impact on me.
    Maybe this is because I only use the word “friend” with those who are real friends and are very close to me ( despite time zones and all the miles that separate us).
    The others who are not that least in Spanish I use another word, which does not mean friend and means something like: someone that I know…
    Anyway, my best friend is from Romania but she lived in Spain 13 years, she considers herself Spanish, she is in a relationship with a Swedish man and we both live abroad. Therefore she is open to multirracial couples.
    In fact she said that she knew I would fall in love with someone like Tony, the word she used was “exotic”. Because according to her it fits my personality.

    I did hear from a colleague that she never felt attracted by Chinese men, and she preferred her German counterparts, from my side, I have lived with German colleagues and I have German friends, classmates, workmates…but maybe Germans are far more different from my own culture than Chinese!

  9. peer pressure … can’t ignore it, can’t give in to it. Don’t want to date an individual all my close friends sound alarm against, but don’t listen to opinion against an entire group of people.

  10. @Jocelyn: Bravo! Two posts in a row, two sides of the same coin. The previous post brings out the self-esteem issue in Chinese men, and this post brings out the issue of peer pressure among western women. Both issues are deeply rooted in the perception (from both sides) that the Chinese is socially, economically, and biologically inferior to the Caucasian race.

    Hundreds of years ago, the tabled was turned the other way.

    I find it frivolous to over-analyze these prejudices, or even to fight them. Life is too short, and there are too many more important things to do and think about, than being bound, bothered, or beaten down by these “opinions.”

    @all the western women: do you mind Chinese men bragging about their western wives/GFs as their trophies? I often find myself having to make extra efforts to tolerate such behavior and to refrain myself from calling on them.

  11. Many people like to flatter themselves by saying it doesn’t influence them but in my experience, it has a serious influence on almost everyone.

  12. Things being what they are, what can we do (both men and women) to improve the status of Chinese men in public perception?

  13. A lot of my friends were shocked by my taste in men and some have been more vocal about it than others. Any of them that I have known for years have accepted it and don’t seem to care as long as I am happy (a true friend in my opinion.)

    The ones that have been more vocal tend to only say something when I am single and along the lines of
    ‘I don’t know why you bother chasing after Chinese men you’re obviously not pretty enough for them or interesting enough as your last relationship with one was rubbish.’ (this was a while after a break up when I was getting myself back on track and starting to date again.)
    Needless to say this upset me and threw my confidence for a while. I have since got past her comments and have been in my present relationship with P for nearly a year.

  14. It is called saving face…the western way…or to be more specific…the white female’s way…sort of fits in well with the mindset of many white expats who have no problems living and working in Asia (the attitude is we are here for a short time, so who cares about Asian men) but have big problem Asians living and working in their country (when Asians live and work in say Australia or the US, many will tend to stay permanently, a fear that they would be embarrassed when the Asian men ask them on a date, and most likely wont disappear from their lives).

  15. “What my Western friends said didn’t really phase me. I knew they were being racist and just wrote it off.”

    Extremely valid point!

  16. “Both issues are deeply rooted in the perception (from both sides) that the Chinese is socially, economically, and biologically inferior to the Caucasian race.”

    Biologically? Does that mean intelectually? Strange, I find evidence that Chinese perform better than whites in a wide array of fields, but especially. math, science, medicine and engineering. For those of you who are a bit technically minded read the article by Gaulle and Piacentini in the journal Review of Economics and Statistics, “Chinese Graduate Students and US Scientific Productivity”.

  17. It is about adaptation or brain washing for any one with different magnitude. The change can go different ways depending on survivial advantage in particular enviroment. So taste changes like fasion. One time some thing `cool’ could be `out of fasion’ next time.

    As for peer pressure, it is adolescent thing. More mature you are, less likely you are influenced by peer pressure. One white girl I dated is not considered `sexy’ by many men. But she is the most sexy one in my taste. No men comment can change that. I know better who can turn me on. Also she thought herself very sexy too.

    My private happiness is truely private, not for other to judge. Just like taste of food. Who cares other like it or not.

  18. My experience is with a Korean man, but to be honest, most people I interact with don’t even know the difference between Chinese and Koreans so I’m certain their reactions would be the same.

    People do comment, either with pure suprise that a white woman is dating an Asian man, and more rarely even with disdain. I have no doubt women, especially young women, would be influenced by that, sadly.

    I believe the reason why they didn’t stop me is because I was the odd one out my whole life, so these kinds of comments are nothing new to me.

  19. Yes actually I do find the ‘european’ build more attractive both in men and women. A lot of east asians honestly do so. And caucasians do have very nice features such as bigger eyes, sharper more defined facial features and more pronounced masculine or feminine attributes. So I can understand some the remarks noted Jocelyn’s article but “am I bovvered?” Actually no.
    I guess as a Chinese man we have different things on our plates and attractiveness to a white lady (or any lady) may not be that high on the list. Culturally a man who paid too much attention to his appearances or to women was also considered unbecoming.
    Times are changing however and with greater exposure to other cultures and peoples we will change both our perception and taste. I can definately say this for myself.

  20. I dated an American born Chinese in China a few years ago. I wouldn’t say I had difficulty with ‘expat girlfriends’ but rather with EVERYONE. While dating an ABC from the midwest! Male friends suggested I would never enjoy sex with him, plenty of people told me that I was pretty enough to not have to settle in China (the implication being that I was just dating him because I thought I wasn’t good enough to catch a white expat in China), my father asked if he was a ‘real’ American and if he had an American passport (checking to see if he was using me for a green card), everyone asked about his ‘size’, and I think other Chinese thought I was just an Eastern European prostitute or just looking to try something ‘new’ as if dating a Chinese man was like trying a new type of food or using chopsticks for the first time. He actually ended up dumping me for a Chinese girl. I wouldn’t have dumped somebody I liked because of others, but it does add stress to what is already a stressful living abroad situation. We didn’t even have a language barrier or income problems. People also made a lot of comments against Chinese men generally, like if I was out to dinner with expat men and their local girlfriends, they would ask if I was dating anyone and then say something like ‘shame about the men here’ and then look at me sympathetically.

    I know one of my local male friends really cared about me, but he told me he would be ‘ashamed’ to introduce me to his parents, mainly for the usual reasons…my income and background would be higher than his, plus Western girls might not be good wives.

    I think it would be easier to find a Chinese boyfriend had I been there well before the age of 25. One of my western friends was only 20 when she arrived in China on an internship and she’s now in a long term relationship with a local man who is 25. I found that most men around my age or older were already married or seriously looking for marriage, and the barriers between us even starting to date and ‘seeing how things go’ were just too high. I would have felt terrible if I wasted a man’s best marriage hunting years when I was unsure about living in China forever.

  21. ^Seems like non-Asian expat men give Western women the hardest time out of anybody for dating and Asian man. No suprise there.

  22. @Amanda

    I’m so sorry that you had to put up with those type of people, didn’t know that there were those type of people out there in this day and age.

    If I were you I wouldn’t have hung out with them after they made those comments.

    I’d probably give them 2 strikes at most. The 1st time, ok, maybe just let it slide…whatever. The second time, that’s it, get the hell out of my Life.

  23. It is interesting that the admittedly racist comments coming from expat men towards AM/XF couples directed towards the Asian man in the relationship, is voiced towards the non-Asian woman. As if they deem that to be the “weak point” where they can break the relationship. (Not my personal opinion, but an observation I gather from the comments about peer pressure and AM/XF relationships.)

    While I won’t put the burden on the non-Asian woman to withstand the bigoted “peer pressure”, clearly it shows some serious cowardice on the expat men’s part.

    I don’t know how willing Chinese men are to fight in the face of such blatant bigotry, but perhaps because of my Western upbringing here in the States, a guy who directs racist comments towards me along those lines would be looking to lose several front teeth.

  24. @Allen

    All very good points. I found that the sly insults can come from both sides “you’re too good for an Asian man!” or “so not good enough for a White man then.” I definitely choose to associate with people who don’t make such comments, but if you’re a twenty-something living abroad you do tend to meet all types. The best you can do at a party or dinner is say that the comments aren’t appreciated and walk away.

    I suppose I was just trying to point out that it’s not just ‘my girlfriends don’t think my Chinese bf is hot’ but rather worrying about age, about marriage, about both families, about where we would live and work if it worked out and so on while dodging snide little comments and anxious questions from both Westerners and Chinese can really kill the romance and easy going feeling in those first few weeks of a relationship. If you meet a person from your home country for a coffee date, it’s just coffee. If you meet someone for a coffee date from another country, it feels like a crisis!

    Especially after the age of 25.

  25. @Amanda
    I agree with every point you made. I think it is important to understand those factors that break or discourage relationships. However, you also gain deeper insights into the lives of “others”. It is up to you to decide what to do.

    I actually think it gets easier when older because you are not swayed by simple opinions. It is as important to seperate issues related only to Chinese men. My oberservation also tells me the quality of expat varies. You will choose who to spend time with back home. No different when you are abroad and no need to settle just because someone happens to be at the same place.

  26. Don’t give a damn what others think, even if the whole world is against you. I mean your fake “friends”, your family, if they are against your decision then their involvement in your life should be close to zero. You can always find people who will see your relationship as good and be supportive.

    You’ll be much more happy if you don’t give in your power to other negative comments.

  27. Ex-pat white guys tend to be more beta than average white guys so they will of course have be butt-hurt toward the entire idea of a white woman dating an asian man. I don’ think that’s a big deal, you just have to recognize that those particular ex-pats are considered below average back home and do not represent the average white male.

    And really, Japanese porn stereotypes? How desperate.

  28. Ex-pat white guys living in other countries and talking bad about local men/women .. Hmmmmm WTF is wrong with this picture? Even WMAW couples, the WM don’t understand their wives’ culture anyway. I see alot.

    @Amanda, do you like to listen to others or obey on whatever others say ? I think you just like to take orders from others. From reading your comments, you need to make your own decision and have your own mind. My friends used to tell me how to run my own business but in my head I say ” what the hell do you know about my damn business? ” Never listen to others until you’ve analyzed hint hint.

  29. The urge to ” protect our own women” is really strong in every culture. Islam absolutely forbids women to marry non Muslims on pain of death or brutal punishment; Korean and Chinese men get often very upset at the idea that an (attractive) woman of “their” group is dating out. The men rightly see this as an intrusion into their space. Black women are intensely bitter about black men marrying white women, so much so that this is nearly forbidden on tv : the resistance to showing interracial marriage in the us now largely comes from black culture, almost wholly women.

    It’s useless to complain about this. It’s like complaining about weather. Its one if those battles that just never end, because its based of fundamental aspects of human psychology and group dynamics. We’re just big social apes.

    i predict all those complaining about it will unthinkingly slip into similar judgmental behavior much of the time without realizing it. It’s part of the self-interest and tribalism program so deeply ingrained in humans, such a core and central part if our basic human nature, it takes awesome feats of mental discipline to fight it. And that fight is never over. It’s a personal war within each person. You can’t stop fighting relentlessly for even a moment or the program sneaks up on you.

    The only thing to do if youre breaking social patterns is slog through the social judgment and stop caring what others think. But this, too, takes almost superhuman effort.

    Nobody and no culture is free of this. Liberal and conservative and religious and social and any other enclaves in cities have their own tribal markers the they accuse people of crossing, and pass judgment. They may not be race, but there will be something, some identifying badge. The men judge the women, of course, as a way to keep other women in line. It’s shaming behavior. Women always do the same to men: the amount if negative stuff women say about white men with Asian women is just as profound. It’s only our being accustomed to women shaming men in general that makes this seem less prevalent.

    Don’t try to single out any particular human group. We’re all guilty. What is blocking this meeting of potential lovers is a sad but universal human behavior.

    Even we who complain about it may not do it for, say, race; but we likely over-compensate. And we likely then turn around and do it with other issues. It’s takes unending vigilance to prevent ourselves from falling back into these patterns.its a war that is so relentlessly omnipresent that no sleeping when on guard can be allowed.its why fighting social preconceptions just exhausts many people. It’s genuinely difficult. You have to truly absorb the “I don’t care about any opinion but my own ” attitude. You need to believe that not one other person’s opinion is worth anything at all. And as social mammals, this is almost harder for us to believe.

    This is why when you do things like date outside the group, many people exaggerate your reasons – ” you must have a fetish” or ” you really detest your parents ” or ” you must have issues and you’re just making a point” – because from a group psychology and membership position, you’re basically rebelling and giving the “collective” the proverbial finger. ” you must hate your parents/ have daddy issues” etc. comes from this.

    Far from being unreasonable, for a deeply tribal, clannish social ape, it makes perfect sense given the programmed reality of human nature.

    It’s one thing for untiring, socially secure (or outcast) people to buck trends. But you can’t blame a peasant for not joining the revolution – I mean, revolutions are hard, messy, unforgiving things that take few prisoners and leave a lot of carnage. For obvious reasons, …

    Most people opt in rather than out. Why make social life a battleground? We’re nothing more than social apes.

    And Often, the more we believe we’re free of it, the more powerful we’re subtly judgmental.

    So I commend people for stepping out of bounds ; but blaming others for shaming behavior or saying white men or Asian men or black women or anyone is more or less guilty is wrong.

    We’re just human.

  30. “I’m so sorry that you had to put up with those type of people, didn’t know that there were those type of people out there in this day and age.”

    I am seeing a lot worse these days…if you are Asian American or Asian or any other non-white you dont want to be seen with a white of opposite sex in Kaufman county, TX, not far from Dallas…

    A few years ago, they tried to knock off an Indian couple…the husband was really dark and the wife was really white, becuase they thought it was an interracial marriage…scared out of their wits, they returned to Malaysia for good with their children. So, no, I am not surprised. The white expats in places such as Singapore are among the most racist you will ever find, men as well as women..they are definitely entitled, particularly the ones from UK and Australia. They think they are God’s gift to the world and that they should be given rights to live and work in Asia but Asians should not be allowed to work in their countries.

  31. “Black women are intensely bitter about black men marrying white women, so much so that this is nearly forbidden on tv .”

    If the black women had done what the white men do to Asian women and their familes, and married African/Caribbean men and brought them and their families into this country over the period since 1965, instead of complaining about the shortage of black men, and made white people a minority in places like Georgia and Texas we may not be having this conversation today…the media will be definitely not talking about the tea baggers or the Aryan brotherhood today. Therei will be discrimination and white privilege but a lot less. May be many black American women think that the African people are beneath them…I dont know, but suffice it to say that they are partly responsible for their predicament in the US.

  32. “Women always do the same to men: the amount if negative stuff women say about white men with Asian women is just as profound.”

    White people lead the way in sitting in a country of another race of people and complain about them taking their men or women. Ten years ago we had a white expat woman from Alabama in Singapore who would not let her daughter bring her Chinese-Singaporean friend into her home…in Singapore…and this was no ordinary friend…she was the daughter or niece of one of the top government officials. And she got away with it too! Asians in America will complain about Asian women with white men, but as far as I know the ones I have known well will never forbid their children from bringing a white person into their homes.

  33. ^The bitterness from both genders in that thread topic is hilariously entertaining, expressing biases and claiming victimhood at the same time.

  34. Allen:
    Let me tell you a real life story. In an expat clinic in that country, a single nurse from TN complained about shortage of white men in Singapore because they wanted to date local women which she found disgusting. There were folks in the clinic who wanted to get rid of her and boy did they succeed. They set her up with a rich Chinese Singaporean in a very expensive restaurant. She created a scene, literally held her nose and stormed out. Next day she was fired, stripped of her work permit and was sent home.

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