Fenshou: When Mary Met Yao

(photo by Steven Lee via Flickr.com)

“Mary” met Yao while at university. And while a series of misunderstandings eventually got in the way of their relationship, she wrote: “I don’t regret getting to know him and being a small part of his life. I feel that my experience dating him has made me grow as a person.” Thanks for sharing your story, Mary!


I was an undergraduate at an American university, with a large population of Chinese and Indian nationals studying at the university. So, when I met Yao, we were working together on a community service project at the university. Out group consisted of students in our department of the university, most of whom, I already knew from my classes and other activities. But, there wasn’t a single person in the group that knew Yao, or had ever seen him before. I remember thinking that he was really silly because he was really vague about who he was, or where he was hiding. The department within my university churns out about 15-30 undergraduate degrees and about 15 masters/PhD degrees, so you basically know everyone. Yao joked about being an undergraduate student in his 7th year, and other stories that I didn’t believe. I thought that he was funny, and I started to talk to him more. As we were working, he would constantly come and help me, and he asked about my background, where I grew up, etc. When he let me ask questions, he only said that he was from China, and that he moved to the U.S. to earn a PhD.

A few days later, he found me on Facebook, and we started talking. At first, he came on a little strong, basically saying that I was an ideal candidate for his attention and affection, and that we should go on a date. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t used to men asking me out. I freaked out a bit, and because he asked me to go to a restaurant that only serves meat, I declined respectfully (I’m a vegetarian). However, I was curious about this Chinese man that had showed interest in me and I wanted to know more about him. So, I invited him over for dinner with a bunch of my friends. He insisted on bringing something, and I insisted that he didn’t need to bring anything, because everything was taken care of. Little did I know that I was being a little rude. Anyway, he came over and brought some fermented eggs from the local Asian market, which didn’t go with Italian food, but was an excellent conversation starter, as strange as they were to me at the time. When I was cooking, he wouldn’t sit down, and when there was nothing that he could do to help, he read my friend’s calculus book and he made notes on printer paper to help him with his research, which is apparently the behavior of a dedicated graduate student. Anyway, I thought that his over-willingness to help and work quirky, albeit interesting.

After I moved out of my dorm room and into an apartment, we started to hang out more, and I would always make sure to have at least one other friend around. He was ten years older than me — which felt like a lot for me at the time — and I wasn’t sure how I felt about him yet. One weekend, both of my friends were out of town, and I invited him over to cook dinner, thinking that we were friends, and that he wouldn’t try to make an advance on me. Little did I know that he was planning to do just that. I was completely surprised, and I rejected him out of surprise. He soon left, with a sadness in his eyes that I hadn’t seen before. Of course, I felt awful, but I still didn’t want to lead him on if I wasn’t sure. Anyway, he still wanted to hang out with me as a friend, and we stayed like that, hanging out a couple of times per week for a couple of months. Then, I left the area for about a week to visit my parents. I missed him so much that it was physically painful, so the night that I got back, I let him know, and gave him an invitation, so to speak. The following day, he invited me to a dinner with him and at least 20 of his guy friends (some of them don’t speak English at all). I cannot explain how frightened I was to go to an event with so many people that I didn’t know (to say it lightly, I’m socially anxious and awkward). The thought of meeting that many people at once scared the living shit out of me, so I declined, and said that it would be better if I could meet a few friends at a time. Yao said that such an event would never happen because his circle of friends was so large, and that was the end of it.

After that, I was planning to move out of the country for seven months, and he was moving to another city in the U.S. We didn’t know when we could see each other again, and I suggested that we break it off because I couldn’t handle the pain of not seeing him for seven months, and I thought that it would be better if there wasn’t a commitment between us. When I was abroad, I tried to stay in touch with him, but he wouldn’t answer my emails or messages, until he said that he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. This was devastating to me, to know that I had lost him as a friend completely.

We have since talked, but we are keeping at a distance, because of the hurt that we inflicted upon each other. Now that I have been reading some of your more recent blogs on how a Chinese mane goes about dating a girl and other social norms, I understand his actions and expectations more. I realize now that we could have communicated more so that we understood the expectations of the other. To this day, I don’t regret getting to know him and being a small part of his life. I feel that my experience dating him has made me grow as a person. I hope to give another man a chance when the opportunity arises, whether he is from China, from my hometown, or anywhere in between.


We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love — or out of love — to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.

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29 Replies to “Fenshou: When Mary Met Yao”

  1. There are certainly different expectations from the relationship. But I feel Mary seems to be more mature in handling the whole thing. I don’t think the guy’s behavior is common either. Hope it is good news. I think a lot of guys don’t keep in touch with their ex because their partners have issues with it. This guy certainly did not understand you were not ready to settle down. Too bad he can’t accept it and give the relationship or friendship more time.

    Why are there so many people talking about themselves having social anxiety?

  2. Chinese men take rejection differently from western men. Depending on my mood, I didn’t take rejection that great either. Giving me another chance wouldn’t heal the rejection no matter how beautiful that woman was so we moved on .

  3. Bruce:

    For many Asians it is not the pain…but loss of face. Whites are put on a pedestal…and people talk tha he went for a white woman and got figuratively punched on the nose.

  4. It sounds like Yao may have been much more serious about the relationship than Mary realized. From what she describes, it seems like he arranged the dinner for her to meet his friends as his official (serious) girlfriend, but then she declined, making him lose face.

    Also, I know so many friends, students, and coworkers here in Beijing who have been in long-distance relationships for years, with the intentions of eventually marrying when “the time is right.” I’m guessing Yao thought they were moving on this track (since they had been spending a lot of time together for a long time) and felt extremely hurt that Mary wanted to end things because of the distance.

  5. I don’t see when they started being in a relationship. The author keeps talking about them hanging out as friends a couple times of a month, and even rejecting him when he advanced on her.

    And to echo the previous commentator, interesting how it’s been two stories in a row here now of socially anxious people.

  6. Wow, that is a heartbreaking story. I hope Mary can find someone soon, and overcome the social anxiety. Social anxiety ruins a lot of great opportunities to meet wonderful people. She missed out on meeting all of his friends!!! 🙁 … Life is too short for regrets. Stand confidently and move forward.

  7. At least, he has 20 + friends. I don’t even have 20 friends. There are two types of rejections. Type #1 won’t hurt your heart that much like when you walk toward a woman and ask her out then she rejects you. Type #2 is the example of above story. You get to know a person gradually and you know her inside out then she rejects you. You can go into depression with this situation. I think this guy had good intention for a relationship. I also think that both man and woman should learn something from this.

  8. In a well to do East Asian country three years ago, a young woman from Tennessee was set up with a local Asian guy, a heir to a million dollar fortune. They did not tell her that he is Asian. At a ritzy revolving restaurant atop a tall building housing a hotel, she created a scence and fled when she saw that the guy was not a white expat as she had expected but a local Chinese. She basically got off and fled like she was being chased by a ghost….she was as pale as a ghost with that anxious terrified look on her face. The guy lost face in front of a lot of people. People started saying that he was thinking his wealth would buy him a white female. Needless to say, the woman lost her job the next day because the government wanted to send her home…and they sent her home back to Tennessee. She lost a job but probably gained a lot back home among the bigots in eastern Tennessee. But, he lost something big..his face and he has not dated since..or despite his wealth cannot get a reasonable date even among the Asian women. Now that is loosing face!

  9. @Mary – It sounds so familiar … bad timing, subtle dialog, mixed signals, and burning pains. I guess we all have to learn through life experience. The hope is not to repeat the same mistake.

    @David – Did not know losing face has such a profound impact.

  10. @David

    I’m assuming the guy is Chinese? Unfortunately people with racist attitudes seek to embarass or humiliate their victim. So having the cultural concept of “face/losing face” makes one extremely vulnerable.

    Its very liberating for me not to be burdened by that concept, since people like “Ms. Tennesee” (not necessarily dating situations) are quite plentiful where I’m based.

  11. @ David and @ Allen: what you describe deeply disturbs me. As a western female I cannot begin to comprehend the mindset of such a woman, whether dating or otherwise. Sorry you have to be so thick skinned Allen! :/

  12. ^Not necessarily female. Please don’t feel bad. 🙂

    My worst experiences were as a youth. Nowadays, most of the time, I simply just have a good laugh about it.

    I do think Chinese who move to the West, or at least here in the U.S., probably need to ditch the fear of “losing face”, and when necessary, be confrontational. “Harmony” is overrated if you’re the one being mistreated.

    At least that’s how I see it.

    Regarding this post entry,

  13. ^I was about to say, seems cultural differences made it a much bigger situation than it needed to be. If I was “rejected” that way, I would have remained friends with the girl, no problems.

  14. I suggest read the latest post by Jocelyn. Plenty of people like that in this country even those who profess liberalism and voted for Obama. Have any of you ever been to the South side of Boston. They were complaining about Rep Kennedy marrying someone of Ulster descent. So, I asked them whether they are going to vote for Romney…they were ready to kill me….they may all be bigoted, but they voted for Obama..Southies went for Obama 95%!

  15. @Blossom…plenty of expats with that racist (if you want to call that, some people will call it preference) mindset. Actually, an international organization is measuring the level of bigotry in each country. Many South Asians used to think that the Indian Brahmins were most bigoted..however, when you adjust for per capita income, white South African women used to be the most bigoted…you can guess now who is the most bigoted.

  16. I am in my mid 50s now. Used to happen all the time when I was at a famous midwestern university back in the 1980s. I think racism there peaked in 1984-85..after that the Japanese began to invest heavily in the area and became the number 2 employer after the University and the rest is history! I dont find the same kind of racism I found when visit these days.

  17. @ Allen: ““Harmony” is overrated if you’re the one being mistreated.”…. How true!!!!
    @ David: Do you happen to know the name of the organisation attempting to measure levels of bigotry?

  18. @Allen..dont know whether rejection can be construed as mistreatment. However, if it is done solely due to race, it is racism.

  19. Thanks for sharing your story. It takes a lot of courage to talk about relationships that dont go down as you hoped.

    Regarding the loss of face, I still struggle with this concept. Maybe because I come from a country that has a similar concept and people care more about appearances. But it seems to me that “loss of face” is overrated and over debated. Yes its scary loosing face and awesome gaining face. But most independent thinkers (no matter what culture) will understand that people judge no matter what, and you just have to be yourself. Also, while face itself isnt present in the US, my experience there is that most individuals indulge in ridiculous amounts of impression management.

    So really, you just change some rules but at the end of the day its individuals faking all sorts of stuff to get some sort of social capital/ benefit. Then there isnt a big reason to judge an american who engages in this sort of impression management and a chinese who engages in “face saving” tactics any differently.

    If he was more worried about loosing face than his other half’s comfort then I wonder about the future of the relationship.

  20. About the face thing, I want to point out it serves self interests. You save your own face or someone else’ to return for your own face. As a cultural phenomenon, it is tiring and counter productive.
    If you travel to some Nordic countries (Germany or Netherlands), you’ll learn how a culture operating on the opposite. Then you have this problem of being too honest.
    It is about tolerance. If you or your partner has trouble to compromise, the relationship is in trouble.

  21. I am visiting South East Asia now. The young man three years after his encounter with Ms. Tennessee has not recovered yet. People still talk…they say that he went for a white woman and fell flat on his face and broke his nose.

  22. ^Do you know the guy personally?

    As far as I’m concerned the people gossiping/talking behind his back have more to be ashamed about than the poor sap himself.

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