The other day, you told me how people constantly ask you, “Why would you date Chinese men?” You recalled that girl who grimaced at you just because you dared to date men in China. You said you felt like you were spending so much energy and time trying to defend your choices. You sounded tired of it all.
Believe me, I understand. Your comments brought me back to my first year in China, when I was sitting around the lunch table with my foreign female colleagues. One woman said, “When I arrive at the airport in America, the first thing I notice is the men, how handsome and how tall they are. I’ll just stare at them for hours, as if I were Chinese and had never seen a foreign man before in my life.” I knew what she was getting at, though another foreign female colleague put it more bluntly. “Chinese men don’t really seem that attractive.”
Even though I understood their every word, I couldn’t understand how they could brand an entire population of men as undateable. China is, after all, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people – and more people means more diversity and, ultimately, more great men.
But what do you do when the people around you just don’t get it? When they keep annoying you with the same worn-out questions about why you’d dare to date Chinese men?
Then again, who says you have to justify anything?
There’s nothing wrong with your decision to date Chinese men. Love is love. In a world rocked by so much hatred, fear and uncertainty, shouldn’t we all be delighted when someone gives their heart to someone else? Doesn’t that tiny act of goodness make the earth just a little bit brighter for everyone? Why should it matter that person happens to be a Chinese man?
It’s sad when people are so caught up in their own stereotypes about an entire group of people that they’re blinded to the possibility of happiness for someone like you.
But what’s worse is when they try to verbally walk you into a corner, putting you on the defensive for something nobody needs to defend in the first place.
So next time someone asks you “Why would you date Chinese men?” it’s time to put their proposed conversation in perspective. You might start with, “Why don’t you have something better to say?”
What if the love you always hoped for never came to be, despite how hard you tried to make it happen? That’s what happened to an anonymous woman who desperately loved a young Chinese man who went to her university. She shares their story in this emotional post.
Do you have a powerful story you want to see published here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your words featured here.
Five and a half years ago, I met you for the first time when I went out to eat at a small Chinese restaurant with my grandmother. It was a magical moment to me even still today.
I was much younger then, fresh out of high school and going to a little community college. You had just moved to America to start at the university soon. I was in the same boat; about to transfer into the same university, but also in a poor and unhappy relationship.
The moment I saw you, you looked at me and smiled, even though it was an obligatory smile to the customer, I felt that smile all the way to my toes, and I remember blushing so hard I thought my head might pop.
You wore glasses just like me, I still remember they were circle frames, and you looked so handsome. You kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, because that was still pretty big then, right? But you were also Chinese, and you didn’t speak much.
Oh, but I tried so hard to talk to you. I tried really, really hard.
I had already learned some Chinese beforehand, but you renewed it. I started bringing a dictionary every time my grandmother and I ate there. When I turned 20, I wrote it out, in Chinese, telling you it was my birthday. I remember you smiling a little but you still never talked to me.
Then one day you did talk to me. As we talked a little bit, you made me love a culture I knew so little about a little bit more, because you were a part of it. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know you.
I fell in love.
My relationship ended. I looked for you. I tried. I couldn’t have done more than if I waved a flag in your face that said, “Please, ask me out!”
I knew you liked me. I saw it on your face. The way you acted. How you talked when you said hello. How you smiled at me differently than the other customers when I would come in. How you would ask the other servers to trade with you so you could have me at your table and you could sit and talk. How close you would get to me even though it was in front of my grandmother. You even started testing my Chinese, seeing what new I might have learned on my own.
But, you never asked me out.
Then someone else did, someone else took the chance and asked me out. I remember thinking about you. I thought about how no matter how much I tried, or poked, or talked, or bugged, or wrote sweet things in my poor attempts at Chinese, you didn’t want to ask me out. So I said yes.
Then you actually asked me out, after I had already said yes! You asked me to go shopping with you, because you needed a new jacket for winter and didn’t know where to go. You waited too long and I said yes.
But I went shopping with you anyways. I explained that since I was just helping you find a good store, it would be ok. I remember how fun we had had. How well we had gotten along. All the misunderstandings when we tried talking but you would reassure me that it was ok. It was so perfect and fun.
But I had already said yes to someone else, and it ended that day.
When I told you that I intended to go out with the guy, because I had said yes, you never talked to me again. Never.
Then I had gone to the college with the one I said yes to one day. I was helping him reregister for school because he wanted to go back. You were there in the office, and you looked up, surprised to see me there with him. I remember seeing you, and remembering how hard I had fallen for you. I made myself swallow it all down, because I cared about the man I was sitting next to as well. I had already made my choice and commitment. But you smiled at me, and came over to us, and talked to us. You mostly talked to him, I remember that. But it made me so happy to talk to you again. And then you let me exchange phone numbers with you again. Our friendship felt like it was at least renewed. I tried to approach it as just friends.
But for three years, we never really talked again. Not much. We ran into each other often, chatted a little, and would catch up.
Then last year, you surprised me. You did something out of the ordinary. You called me on the phone, and told me that you had a gift for me. It was so surprising. You wanted me to go out to lunch with you and catch up.
My god, I said yes! I didn’t care, I missed you so much.
We talked for hours, all night. We went out again, and again, at least 5 more times. We talked about the past, about everything we had done. We talked about the one time that we had gone out and how awkward it had been.
Then I told you how badly I had wanted you to ask me out. Then you confessed that you had thought I was so cute and it was sweet that I would eat every Sunday with my grandmother. You told me that all your coworkers had teased you and questioned you why you had never asked me out. Who cares if I had had a boyfriend at first, they told you. I clearly liked you more and I was unhappy. You even told me, you remember seeing us together and that I never stopped looking at you the whole time. You said how mean he had been towards me from the moment I had come inside. You remembered all of that.
You told me you had never realized how much I had liked you. You always assumed I wouldn’t want to go out with you. You laughed as we talked, because you couldn’t believe how foolish you were to not have noticed.
But now it was too late.
Every date we went on, you were more attentive then the last. You went back to teaching me about your culture. You told me things that I should know before I went to China. You even scolded me for using my chopsticks improperly but were impressed that I could use them so well. You called me a Chinese girl in disguise when I explained some of my beliefs and dreams and hopes. I told you how my number one dream was to be a mother and good wife. You liked that. You didn’t think many American girls wanted that anymore. You liked that I wanted to be a teacher, and I liked you just sharing things with me about your childhood and your past and what your home was like.
Then you came to me one night online, after seeing me so often now. I wanted to go out again soon. I wanted to show you a great place to go hiking and have picnics. It was my favorite place in the world. I told you, you could bring friends here. We could bring friends too.
But you stopped me.
You told me you had gone to talk to one of your professors. “I asked my professor if it was wrong for me to want to try and take a girl from her boyfriend,” you said. “I never hung out with you in the past as much as I have these last few weeks. I never realized what a great a girl you are. You are a lot like Chinese girls. I really like you. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
You said that to me, and I didn’t know what to say at first.
Then you continued, and told me, “But I respect your boyfriend. I like him. He is a good man and you seem happy with him, I’m not going to talk to you anymore after today. We shouldn’t be friends. I had fun together though.”
I cried for hours. Every time I thought about you, my eyes watered and I had to swallow the pain I felt deep in my chest. I cared for and loved my boyfriend. But my feelings for you had never changed. They had never died. I know and feel I can only blame myself. But I’ve chosen my path and I can’t stray from it. Some things have to be set in stone.
But here I am writing this right now. That’s because tonight, tonight I re-lived that moment I first met you 5 and a half years ago.
You walked into the store I work at now. You turned and looked at me, with shock in your eyes, and a smile creeping onto your lips. A smile spread across mine, and I felt the tingle in my toes again. For a brief moment, I felt that giddy feeling again of seeing you.
And you talked to me.
I told you it was my last semester of college, and it was yours too. But I had customers I had to take care of. You wanted to linger. You skirted around, trying to talk to me. But I was busy. So I smiled, and I said, “You can message me online.”
But then your smile was gone.
You looked away, just briefly and told me “I can’t, not anymore.” The pain came back again. My hurt came back, but I just smiled it off. “Are you seeing someone now?” I asked you. You said yes. “That’s great,” I said. You still lingered though, you wanted to talk to me more. I could see it. When the line formed again you apologized and left, with a short good bye. You didn’t even buy the thing you had come in to buy.
So I swallowed my pain.
The customer looked at me and asked, “Is he your boyfriend? You two really seem to have a connection.” I didn’t know what else to say but, “No, we just used to be good friends.
Tonight, I am here crying over you again.
I don’t know what else to do but to cry and accept the fact that all that remains between us is gone. Not even a friendship remains. In a year I will leave for japan. I don’t know where you will be after your graduation. You were still trying to stay in America, but you know you may return to China for good as well.
I can only hope and pray you are happy, and that I made the right choices. That, eventually, whatever it is that I still feel for you will go away one day. That it will become just another fond distant, sometimes painful, memory.
How many of you have ever had tradition or cultural differences get between you and your intercultural relationship? I’ll never forget the handsome guy from Nanjing who couldn’t even date me because his family expected him to marry a Chinese girl. Or the Northern guy who was my boyfriend for less than a month, until he discovered his parents could never accept a foreign girl.
Well, Lena (who blogs and vlogs at Lena Around) had all but given up on finding a mainland Chinese fellow because of all the trouble involved. But then she falls for a fellow she meets in Beijing…and soon discovers that tradition could potentially turn them into two star-crossed lovers.
I’m not new to this. I’ve been ‘in a relationship’ with China for five years. We have been through good and bad times. We have loved and hated each other but I always come back. I learned something every time. During those years with China I have dated both Mainland Chinese guys, kissed a Taiwanese one, saw an Australian Chinese, made out with a British Chinese and fell hard for a Danish Vietnamese. I’ve been around indeed. Every time I bumped into a guy, I would learn something. I learned that even though they have a handsome Asian face, they don’t act like an Asian guy if they grew up abroad. I wanted Asian culture to be a part of our relationship but it wasn’t. But on the other hand, I also very fast learned that if they had grown up in China, they would be thousands of kilometers away from me when it came to culture and the way we act and think.
After years in China, I’d given up on finding a mainland Chinese guy. There were still cuties around but I knew that the cultural aspect was mafan (trouble) and I was quite sure that our personalities also just wouldn’t suit each other. I’m outgoing, curious and independent and I always saw the Chinese girls as being the opposite so I had settled with the thought of only ‘dating’ China but not the people.
But when I had just settled with that then it happened. He came. I literally bumped into him. I was at this silly speed-dating event because my friend had a crush on the host. I just wanted to make a video and thought, hell yeah, why not? So we went. I sat down at one of the tables and each table had a staff member who told us how to introduce ourselves and play the games. Then he came. The staff member at my table talked to him for a second and then she got up and he sat down besides me. I turned around and played the ‘I’m-just-a-stupid-foreigner-who-doesn’t-understand-anything-card’ and asked about the rules of the game that the other girl had just explained to us a moment earlier. He was patient and told me again. Then I asked about his name because I couldn’t read his characters (that was for real) and I got his Wechat from the girl after he had left the table (yes, sneaky me).
We met up one week later and talked all evening. The same happened the day afterwards and the day after again. I walked around with a big smile on my face all day because of this.
But then the problem came.
After we had said goodnight one evening, he send me a text on Wechat. He said he had something serious to talk to me about. I asked him if he was married. He thought I was joking. I wasn’t because it wasn’t the first time that had happened to me.
He told me then that he was from a very traditional family and he was the only child. His father is very strict and he knew that he had to go home for Chinese New Year to ask his father to accept that he was seeing a foreign girl. I wasn’t sure what to say and it was all just one big mess in my head. He apologized and told me that he was scared too but he also knew that he had to do this.
Because I’m not new to China, I had heard about this situation before so even though my foreign friends laughed at the whole situation (I did a bit too in between the down-moments), I wasn’t really that surprised, just sad because I had a feeling that the father wouldn’t accept this and now I’d finally found somebody who I connected with. Somebody who was fun, chatty, good-looking and smart. He also had a big interest in Chinese history and culture just like me and we could talk for hours about different society issues and historical matter. I didn’t want to let go of this now. It was only the beginning of a beautiful thing, I thought.
Now one month later, I’m still telling myself to not think about it but of course I do because I am an over-thinker and that is what we do. Nobody around me here has tried this before so I can only talk to my guy about it. I call him my boyfriend for now but I know that it might not be for long. He is going back in January so please wish me all the best of luck. I think I need it very much.
Editor’s note: Unfortunately, things did not work out for Lena — his family could not accept her.
Lena is a 20-something Danish girl who is currently working on a master’s degree in Beijing and writing about her travels, China (her favorite place) and love. You can follow her at lenaaround.com.
I was shocked to learn your steady Asian boyfriend of several years had left you.
Even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like you’re an old friend. Maybe that’s because we’ve both been in interracial relationships with Asian men. Or because I came to know you through what you shared with me over the years. Or even because you’ve supported me when I needed it most.
So I don’t think it’s enough to just say, “I’m sorry.” Sorry is such a small word, and small comfort. Honestly, I would rather give you hugs, just holding you the way friends have for me when I’ve weathered breakups.
Although I wasn’t the one on the receiving end of this experience, I could feel your heartbreak in the messages you sent to me. I know what it’s like. I’ve had Asian boyfriends break up with me out of the blue. I’ve spent days, even weeks, mourning the loss of a relationship.
One Chinese guy left me after studying abroad in Europe; he just couldn’t manage the distance. Another said goodbye to me because his parents could never accept a foreign girl. There was also that young man studying in Nanjing who I was smitten with for months; things never got off the ground because his parents insisted he marry a Chinese girl. That felt almost as bad as a breakup.
All of these were relationships I desperately wanted to continue. They did not.
With every breakup or rejection, my heart shattered. Somehow, it felt even harder to carry this sadness with me in China. When these Chinese men said goodbye to me, sometimes I wondered if the country was doing the same. Especially when family got in the way. Why did his family have to stand in the way of love?
Going abroad can change you a lot — sometimes, enough to realize you were never meant to date your own countrymen.
That’s the conclusion Lena, the blogger behind Lena Around, has come to, who believes the cultural differences between her and the local Danes are too great for her to go out with them. Read on for her story!
Do you have a surprising story to share or other guest post you’d like to see featured on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to have your words published here.
I’ve been at home for a few months now. 2015 was a crazy year. I started out with a broken heart and a lost soul. But there wasn’t much time to think about it because I was going to Australia and then moving onto China. My heart was growing back together during the month in the beautiful nature of Australia, and when I came to China I was getting stronger again. I started to believe a little bit in love or I thought so.
I met a great guy in Beijing and I was determined to move on from past experiences and be happy with this person. He was a great match for me and he loved me just like I am. I should have been happy and I tried. I fought for him for a long time while I kept wishing my heart would open up, but I was afraid. I wasn’t ready to open up yet so I had to move on again.
I travelled through China, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Laos, Hong Kong and Taiwan, I met loads of amazing new friends and hot fellas I could fall for, but I didn’t. I was just having fun. I told myself it was okay to still be nervous about the pain another person could cause you, so I let it go and travelled on my own discovering, exploring, thinking, learning and growing.
Coming back to Denmark, I was tired. I was just exhausted after 10 months on the road. I’d seen so many things and now it was time to sit down, relax and reflect. But it didn’t take long before my wanderlust came back with even bigger power than before. I felt the need to do something, so I quit my little vacation at my parents’ house and moved back to my university town. I thought to myself that now everything would be nice and I could be happy with friends around.
The problem is just that when you come back from such a long trip, not many people are around anymore. Or if they are, they are doing tons of other things. So I sat there in my new apartment thinking, Why not try Tinder? I’d tried before and it was a fun way to meet nice boys. I’ve got to be honest and say that I was pretty bored, which was probably the reason why I turned to Tinder.
After a few days, I had a match. You see the problem here is that I just do like the Asian look. I’m not saying that I only date Asian guys but I am just quite fond of them. So if I see an Asian-looking guy, I’m just more curious than a blue-eyed, blond-haired tall Dane. But anyway, the match was with a Vietnamese-Chinese guy born and raised in Denmark. I know from experience that this doesn’t mean they have any interest in Asia but I always hope a little bit anyway.
We started talking and the conversation quickly turned to the topic of Asia. I said that I’d been around. I didn’t want to mention all the places because I wouldn’t want to sound like a show-off, but he insisted on me telling. I told him about my last trip and he asked me if I spoke Mandarin. I said yes. He himself had only been to Beijing and Hong Kong for a week like most other tourists and I felt a little disappointed deep inside.
I knew I was comparing him to my first and only great love. He had the same background as this guy. But instead of not giving a s… about China, he was totally in love with China, just like me.
In the end, this guy left me hanging. Twenty minutes before meeting up, he told me he was going to play football instead. I was furious. I told him what an ass he was and deleted his number. Even though he chose to screw things up, I think it was for the best anyway. I should not date around here. My China stories can be pretty overwhelming. I don’t know why this guy didn’t want to meet. Was it because of my greater knowledge of Asia or did he really just want to play football? Who knows?
Now I know that I shouldn’t try to find a guy in this town. With a big population of pale people and no Asian studies at the university, I don’t think there’s much for me here. Also, I’m planning on moving back to Beijing immediately after graduation so why start a relationship here, right? I think it would be better to just deal with the boredom myself, become stronger, and not think too much about boys right now. I’ll just have to wait for my prince charming, who’s probably sitting on a subway in Beijing hoping for my arrival.
Lena is a 20-something Danish girl who is currently working on a master’s degree in Beijing and writing about her travels, China (her favorite place) and love. You can follow her at lenaaround.com.
Cross-cultural misunderstandings are a huge pitfall in dating abroad, including here in China.
Just imagine what it must have felt like for Ava Ming, the English blogger behind My Oriental Life, when she heard these words from her date for the evening, a Chinese guy she met in Shenzhen: “I really want to kiss you, Ava, but I’m scared that I might get AIDS because all Africans have AIDS.”
Read on to learn the whole story of how things fell apart between her and Larry.
Do you have a shocking tale of cross-cultural misunderstandings or other guest post you’d like to see featured here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about becoming a guest poster for this blog.
I’ve often considered telling the story of my first Chinese date. But usually I’ve declined, thinking it was too personal, perhaps too upsetting and might also give the impression that I dislike Chinese men, which is really not the case at all.
But the event occurred a while ago now back in 2013. After reading about others who’ve braved their souls on Jocelyn Eikenburg’s fabulous blog, I’ve decided to share. Besides, who knows, maybe someone else could have or has had a similar experience?
I met Larry at the terminal subway station. There were very few commuters around. I was curious as to why he came so close, sitting right next to me on an empty train, leaving a small space between us.
I noticed his glances in my direction, wondering if he was trying to work up the courage to ask if he could practice his English with me. Pretty soon he introduced himself and asked me where I was from, which led to a conversation.
He told me that he was a professional who’d travelled to various European cities but never England. He was 37, unmarried and feeling the pressure from his parents to change his single status. I enjoyed our talk during the long ride but initially didn’t read anything into it. Around that time I seemed to be making a lot of new Chinese friends while on various subway rides. I guess I must have exuded an approachable air!
As we approached his stop he told me that he thought I was pretty. He couldn’t believe no other Chinese guy had made me his girlfriend. Then he asked for my number and if we could go to dinner.
Have to admit I was pretty surprised. Until then I’d been under the impression that Chinese guys would never be so forward due to a natural or cultural shyness. I said I wasn’t sure about a date but we could talk from time to time.
Over the next fortnight he sent regular messages via text and email usually beginning with ‘hello, my angel.’ Yes, Larry was a charmer but the messages did make me smile.
Eventually we set up a date and met on a hot and sticky Friday evening. By now I knew that I wasn’t romantically attracted to him, but I did like his personality and I was interested in meeting more people and expanding my circle of Chinese friends. I also assumed that he didn’t have intentions of getting serious with me either. His parents probably weren’t expecting him to marry a foreign girl.
The date was nothing special. The best word to describe it would probably be ‘nice,’ well up to a point anyway. We ate rice in a Japanese restaurant and then went for a walk in the park. He kept guiding me towards secluded places, which I thought was a bit strange. But then he’d comment on the sculpture, or lotus flower pond, or round leafy bush we’d stumbled upon.
I still wasn’t feeling any chemistry towards him. But he had a gentle humour and I thought perhaps we could be friends in the future.
Approaching 10pm I wanted to leave, having made plans to go dancing, but Larry wasn’t ready. He insisted on ‘just ten more minutes’ and took me to a bench by the side of the river, again another secluded place. When we sat down he made a confession.
“I really want to kiss you, Ava, but I’m scared that I might get AIDS because all Africans have AIDS.”
I was literally struck dumb at his ignorance. Then I became so angry I actually felt tears welling up. Angry tears have a whole different feeling to ones of sadness or joy.
We’d already discussed my family history, him being impressed that my parents were from Jamaica and that I was born in England. But regardless of place of birth, how could he be so naive? In addition, was there no filter in his brain to tell him exactly when to shut-up?
I told him that AIDS didn’t originate from Africa, but was initially a disease among gay white men in New York. I pointed out that he should really think before he speaks and that he shouldn’t believe so strongly in stereotypes. On top of this, why on earth had he asked me out if he’d thought I was ‘unclean?’
Seeing my distress he insisted that I’d misunderstood when we both knew that I hadn’t. To make matters worse, he then pulled me close and tried to kiss me! Saying; “look, see, I know you don’t really have AIDS!”
I wanted to storm off in a huff, but it’s kind of difficult when you don’t know where you are, so we caught the bus back together. He begged me not to tell anyone because he didn’t want to lose face. I made no such promise. If he’d just ended the date at 10pm before his confession maybe we would have become friends, although then I would never have known what he was really thinking.
For a long time I dismissed the idea of dating another Chinese guy. If this was the common school of thought then what would be the point?
A short while later I discussed his theory with my Chinese friends, many of whom also believed that AIDS originated in Africa, but none of whom believed that all Africans have it.
As for Larry, he called and emailed several times to apologise for upsetting me. I accepted his apology but declined his offers to go for a drink. Making someone cry on a first date, even if they were tears of frustration, is really not an auspicious beginning!
As I mentioned this was a while ago and I have since relaxed my guard, becoming more open to Chinese men who just want to talk. But as for dating? Not sure. For that I think I’ll need a little more time.
I’m Ava Ming, born in England to Jamaican parents and currently living in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China where I write and teach English.
One of my favorite stories from when John and I started dating is the day when he moved into my apartment without any “should we move in together” conversation.
In America, we all know about the conversation, even if we’ve never had it before. We’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, that pivotal moment when someone says, “Let’s move in together” – a simple question that’s never all that simple. People agonize over this, to the point of proliferating totally conflicting advice (from “You’ve got to move in with him to test things out!” to “If he moves in with you, he’ll never propose!).
Well, we never had that conversation. Instead, I came home one day after work and, lo and behold, there was a duffel bag lying in the guest room of my apartment, filled with a soccer ball, a pair of soccer shoes, and some rather familiar T-shirts. When John returned back later that evening, the conversation went like this:
Me: “Is that your bag?”
John: “Uh, yeah.”
Me: “Oh, okay.”
You might wonder, why did I just answer “okay” and not grill him about furtively depositing his things in my apartment? Well, for starters, I did give him a key to my place and told him to come over whenever he wanted. I figured he just interpreted that more liberally – that “whenever he wanted” could mean all the time. (And, besides, I was under the deep, romantic spell of love, which has a way of clouding your judgment, especially whenever you think of that hot weekend the two of you just enjoyed at your place.)
Years later, when I asked John about this “moving in without a discussion” thing, he had a very simple explanation for it. “Our relationship was already settled. We didn’t need to discuss things like that.”
I discovered that the fact he kissed me beside the West Lake – and later spent the night at my place – qualified as evidence of our relationship as the real deal. We didn’t have to hash out our relationship status over coffee, debating whether we should just “keep it casual” or “make it serious.” In John’s eyes, we were a serious couple.
This was like a revelation to me – that people could actually enter into a relationship, secure in what it was without ever having some big, nervewracking conversation about it.
Why do Americans have these big relationship talks?
Well, there are so many types of relationships in the U.S.: dating, casual dating, relationship, open relationship (this one does not make any sense to me), serious relationship, etc. It’s easy to see how people could be confused about which stage they are and which stage their partners are….
In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship. You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends, so there is no chance to be confused. In other words, when it comes to V-Day [Valentine’s Day], people either have it for sure, or don’t even think of it. No discussion needed.
It’s fascinating that a relationship could either be really simple and obvious, or incredibly complicated and worthy of long discussions, depending on who you are and the cultural background you grew up with.
Love doesn’t always happen when or how we’d like it to be — including when it comes to Tiger and Lea, whose 11-year flirtation has tugged them back and forth between divorces, difficult marriages and less-than-perfect timing.
Flirtatious friendship. Tiger and I met at our mutual place of work shortly after I returned from giving birth to my only child. It didn’t make sense to me then, but I realize now that his interest in me was quite evident by his frequent visits to my work area each day to chat. I thought nothing of it since we were both married, hence, the easy breeze to our friendly conversations.
I’ll never forget the early instance when he sat on my desk and I thought to myself, “Who does this guy think he is – acting so casually as to actually sit on my desk. The nerve of him!” In that same instance, I remember looking into his eyes and thinking “But there’s something about this guy and I don’t know what it is.” Eventually, I found myself having reasons to visit his work area from time to time and on many occasions, I found him waiting for me at my car after work. Despite my confusion concerning his actions, I still took walks during lunch with him. They were welcomed afternoon breaks during the days of beautiful weather. We carried on that way for almost three years.
Courting. Tiger and I learned much about each other during our work-day friendship. He shared some very traumatic experiences he’d endured and I shared much about my unhappy marriage. We also found common interests and laughed a lot. During one of my visits to his workplace, I matter-of-factly mentioned that I had separated from my husband. At that time, he revealed that he had separated from his wife two weeks prior. I think that was the moment the door of possibilities opened.
For a few months, nothing really changed until I sent an instant message to him revealing a dream I had with him in it. From that time, we chatted throughout the day via instant message on the computer. We were becoming closer friends helping each other manage the heartache and disappointment of failed relationships. Neither of us was yet divorced, but in his mind, his marriage was already over (and unbeknownst to me, he was in pursuit of me).
However, I was still thinking reconciliation was possible for mine.
He started calling me in the morning on his way to work and in the evening on his way home from work – almost every day! I was happy to have someone to talk to. He became my emotional crutch, letting me vent and complain on any occasion. Eventually, we started seeing each other on the weekends for meals, movies, and just hanging out. During that time, I never questioned his intentions. He was just a good friend that I enjoyed sharing time and space with.
That was, until my feelings started to run more deeply for him.
Guilt began to set in since I was still married, so I initiated a hiatus in our regular communications with the noble statement, “I really want to explore a deeper relationship with you, but I can’t until I’m divorced. After that, I’ll be ready and willing to go to the next level with you.”
I could tell he was hurt, but he showed no emotion and simply agreed to cease and desist contact with one another. I was a bit hurt by his seemingly uncaring reaction.
For approximately the next 2.5 years, we were in a limbo status between no contact, sporadic texting, brief phone calls, occasional email, and spontaneous weekend romps. It seemed we could never go more than about a month and a half before one of us would make contact – even after he changed jobs and we were no longer working in the same building.
Finally, I filed for divorce and two weeks after it was official, I told him I was ready to take our relationship to the next level. That’s when he revealed that he was not ready yet and was getting back together with his wife for one last chance to see if it could work. I was devastated; so much so that I sought sanctuary in writing a poem to him about letting him go. To this day, I don’t know if he still has it nor can I believe I actually cried about it. Anyway, I valued our friendship so I agreed to stay in contact while he worked on his marriage.
Loosely dating. That was roughly four years ago when my declaration to end our so-called hiatus failed in its attempt to usher in bliss with my Tiger. Since then, we’ve been on separate, but parallel roller coasters catching glimpses of each other at the peaks and valleys through the grey mist called friends with benefits/lovers. He’s been adamant about not admitting how he truly feels about me stating, “We’re not on that level yet, so what’s the point of saying it?” For that reason, I’ve learned to keep my emotions in check (although he does appease my heart from time to time when he knows it’s hurting). I’ve also had a very serious internal conflict regarding whether he’s stringing me along or seriously and patiently planning and waiting for the opportune time to end things with his wife so we can finally start our journey on the same coaster.
My internal conflict led me to reading more about Chinese culture and men. It was easy since I’ve always had a keen interest in Eastern Asian culture. Tiger’s interest in me took me completely by surprise since I’ve never been attracted to Asian men, nor did I think they were attracted to me. However, I’ve since learned that they are very discreet, which explains why I never noticed if any were attracted to me. Now, I can easily tell and, to my delight, I’ve discovered that I indeed turn some Asian heads – but I digress.
Two years ago, Tiger fathered another child with his wife. He insisted he was drunk and she took advantage of his altered state. He also continues to declare abstinence from sex since that fateful night of conception. I have reason to believe what he says may be true. Even so, I still can’t seem to let him go. I know he thought for sure he’d hear me say, “Oh, you have a kid now? Okay, have a nice a life”, but I didn’t. Again, I valued our friendship more than my desire to have him for myself. By American culture standards, he’d be deemed a liar and a cheat because he’s still “there” and, to add insult to injury, he had a child too. But, I believe him to be honorable and loyal.
He continues to show his feelings with subtlety. For instance, he planned and paid for a weekend getaway for us on my birthday this year. Of course, he was nonchalant about it so as not to seemingly make a big deal of my birthday, but he made it a point to let me know beforehand that our status had upgraded to “loosely dating”. According to him, it was for my benefit of course, since I’ve always said he’s not mine yet. I was overwhelmed and I wanted to believe it was his way of letting me know how much he cared.
Three months later, I’m still adjusting to our new status because in my heart, nothing’s really changed. I can’t help but wonder if his declaration of this new status is a milestone more for him than for me. He’s a man of few words when it comes to matters of the heart; and as a Westerner who enjoys free expression at will, and considering the circumstances around our relationship over the years, it’s been a challenge for me.
What now? Well, our daily calls/texts/weekend romps continue. In fact, just this past weekend Tiger warmed my heart once again by accompanying me to an outdoor festival despite his obvious fatigue. He also acknowledged and validated my efforts to refrain from pressuring him and to provide sanctuary for him. Again, to the typical American, I probably sound like a fool for accepting such circumstances. But in my Tiger’s case, I hope I’m not wrong so I continue to pray that I’m not wasting time. After all, it’s been eleven years already. My daughter will be on her own in a mere seven years, and we’re not getting any younger. I’m not sure how much longer I can go on this way wondering if he is saving his heart for me. Only time will tell – if I allow it, I suppose.
To be continued…hopefully with a happy ending.
Lea is a biracial American woman who is still waiting for her Tiger to love her fully.
Have you ever compromised your own core values in a relationship? That’s what happened to Jocelyn Wong (who blogs at Jocelyn Writes and Is That Top 30?) when she dated a fellow from China. She writes, “I grew up in Hong Kong but many of the things I was brought up with included splitting a meal, not having sex on the first date and waiting until the engagement to meet each other’s parents. These ideals were a smorgasbord of Western and Eastern values that were all torn down early on in the relationship.”
Read on for the full story.
Do you have a tough breakup, love story or other guest post you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Learn how to become a guest poster by checking out the submit a post page.
Kyle and I met through Tinder of all places after one too many messy breakups. Back then I was living in a small town in Canada. I went into the app with the notion that maybe people in my own social circle just weren’t “good” enough and that my circle of friends might be too small. So I took to online dating to correct that.
I grew up in Hong Kong but many of the things I was brought up with included splitting a meal, not having sex on the first date and waiting until the engagement to meet each other’s parents. These ideals were a smorgasbord of Western and Eastern values that were all torn down early on in the relationship.
Early on our relationship I found it difficult to communicate with Kyle even though I had a very international background. Firstly there was the pseudo language barrier. Don’t get me wrong, I am a native English speaker but there are times when I find it difficult to find certain words in English that communicate my feelings. This proved to be an obstacle on our first date when I was signaling furiously at him to try get him to understand what the concept of 無奈 or 孝順 was in half broken English and Chinese. At the very least, it broke the ice.
There were other things about him that really confounded me on a cultural perspective. I was raised with the theory that “sex comes after marriage” and that you should “only have sex with your husband”. Even barring that, sex always came after “monogamy,” as I was taught by Patti Stanger who hosted Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo. He was a lot more promiscuous than I was (though I didn’t know it at the time). It was cute though when he asked “Do you kiss on the second date?” Immediately I knew that he was going to be mine sooner or later. I would pursue him romantically because that level of awkwardness and consideration was just what I was looking for in a partner.
I digress though. That night, there was something about him, something strange that just made me throw away all the principles I was brought up with. So I slept with him on that second date.
The sex was unfulfilling, but I should’ve known better.
I’d been spoiled previously – falling in love and having meaningful sex with my previous partners that I forgot what meaningless, hedonistic sex felt like. I regretted my decision almost immediately and wished I’d stuck with my traditional principles. Still, things worked out and we became a couple very soon. The sex didn’t improve though, we were still a premature couple and that level of connection needed to be built up.
The second time our values clashed was when I met his parents the day we decided to become a couple – five days after we had met – and it was too overwhelming. He expected me to be okay with meeting his family the morning after I had slept over at his place. This meant: no makeup, grubby outfit, no carefully pre-arranged gift and certainly no mental preparation. What kind of daughter-in-law was I going to be?! I was mortified. I was raised in an environment where it was absolutely necessary to give your significant other’s parent a gift on your first encounter and to look your best. That day, I failed all of those criteria and retreated into myself, I was disgusted with myself. I didn’t see him for a couple of days because I was so angry with myself and him for making me go through that experience.
More cultural differences: I met his parents again soon after that first awkward encounter. This time I was prepared. I was dressed to the nines and brought them their favourite choice of alcohol (the right brand even) and some gifts I had purchased in Toronto when I spent a weekend there. They were “taken aback by my generosity” but I honestly knew no other way to act. This was how I was brought up and it seemed to have made a good impression on my other Canadian boyfriends so I followed suit this time. I later learned that they found me to be a little over the top.
Throughout our relationship, we would have troubles communicating with each other because of our cultural differences but this was the most glaring when we broke up. I was raised on local TV shows and my mother’s advice to make breakups short and snappy, like “ripping off a bandage” and to “never speak to him again” afterwards. Clean and Clear. Just like those pore strips. And that’s how my breakups had been orchestrated each time: I returned my ex-lovers things and we never spoke to each other again. You can imagine my utter shock and horror when he suggested that we not only gradually return each other’s things but to remain “friends” or “friends-with-benefits” afterwards. I could not comprehend that level of promiscuity at all and his utter lack of consideration for my feelings.
This is not my first trip around the rodeo but one that embodied the biggest cultural differences. I didn’t realise I could compromise my core values for a man. But what can I say? I was stupidly in love. Let’s hope that next time around, I learn from my mistakes and stick to what I believe in and hopefully, it’ll work out.
As I was reading her article, I suddenly realized that I too had a pre-China backstory worth sharing – one of relationships that never came to be, and what ifs that point to my own prejudices. So here goes:
“You don’t have to worry about the students falling in love with you.”
Before I embarked on my first trip to China, where I would teach English at a college, I met up with one of the former teachers several times for dinner or drinks. And when the subject of student crushes came up – something he had been forced to navigate very delicately – he negated the possibility of anything similar happening to me.
Of course I didn’t question his words. Hadn’t I already envisioned my year-long assignment much like a vow of chastity? I spoke to friends of my interest in studying Tai Chi over there and visiting some local temples, as if I were about to spend my months as a nun instead of an English teacher. It was an opportunity to travel to a new country, a way to postpone my post-graduate dilemma regarding career decisions, and nothing more than that.
Or so I thought.
Then I moved to Zhengzhou, China – and found myself with a crush on one of the first guys I met there, a former student from the program I would teach for. Over a month later, he introduced me to his friend, a guy who was also a former student – and would become so much more to me in the weeks that followed:
Yao came into my life, in all of his sleek, sexy and sullen James Dean perfection, dressed in a black leather jacket as dark as his mysterious melancholy. When my heart raced after our first dinner together, I thought it was just another adolescent crush. Embarrassed, I wanted to just box my feelings away like all of the Barbie Dolls and little girl hairclips of my past.
Then he took me to that teahouse one Sunday afternoon. Over two Taiwanese bubble teas, the truth bubbled through to the surface of my own heart — I loved him with an uncontrollable depth that plunged far beyond the bottom of my tea cup. And, I began to realize, so did he, because he overflowed with confessionals that he had never before poured over with anyone else.
Not long after, our our passions percolated over into romance — a real boyfriend/girlfriend love that translated into steamy weekends at his apartment, hand-in-hand walks around the gardens of Zhengzhou University, and the occasional afternoon out at the Taiwanese teahouse, his favorite in the city. Bubble tea never tasted so sweet.
In his arms, it was so easy for me to forget that I had once secretly declared this year a lonely one without a single chance for dating. And it was also very easy for me to turn a disdainful eye to my female coworkers at the school, all Americans who had no interest in the local men.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why did I assume that I would be single in China? Why did I think I would never date Chinese men? Was it merely that I grew up in an incredibly white middle-class suburb (I could count on one hand the Asian men I knew from kindergarten to high school graduation)? Was it the overwhelming absence of positive images of Asian men in the whitewashed world of American popular culture?
I think back to my college years, a time when I met many foreign Asian men – including Japanese and Cambodian. I called many of them close friends, yet why did I never let them get any closer to me? Why did I always immediately relegate them to the “friend zone” and nothing more? Why did my white girlfriends and I only giggle over white celebrity heartthrobs in high school, like Tom Cruise?
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