Chinese and Western relationship norms?
December 15, 2009 10:37 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you knew about Mainland Chinese dating and relationships that would have made your relationship easier? What are some common sources of misunderstanding between Westerners and people from China?

I've been seeing a conservative woman from Guangzhou for a couple of months, and we get along great. I'm Asian, too, but I moved here when I was young, my family aren't Chinese, and I could really do with some education regarding Chinese culture.

I've noticed that the unwritten rules of dating are quite different for us both; it's quite possible for both of us to accidentally do things that the other person could potentially misinterpret. Fortunately, there's a lot of goodwill between us.

The drama of the Ask Metafilter guy who was going to move out on his Chinese roommate illustrated how different cultural meanings of various things can be.

I've asked a previous question about dating this woman:

We're both in our 20s.

Have you been in a relationship with someone from China? What do you wish you had known? What realisations for you or for your partner made things easier for you?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For my money it's largely being aware of the social consequences of certain things that will be different for your partner than yourself - if they're from a conservative family, for example, the idea of you cohabiting prior to marriage may carry implications it doesn't for you. So definitely get a perspective that doesn't take you own assumptions for granted as to what this or that behaviour or decision means or entails, and listen to your partner when they tell you what it will involve for them. They and other Chinese people will be your best guide, assuming the relationship's not flawed to the extent you wouldn't trust your partner to be honest with you (and I suppose also that they're not just some dizzy type who hasn't thought it through; in that case maybe ask their/your sensible friends).
Other than that, I don't think there is a romantic magic key to Chinese people. Individuals are after all different, social groups within China aren't all the same in this regard, relationships are different (some more serious, some not so much) and each has its own particular dynamic. But as you've found, they do happen against a framework of social norms. By the sounds of it you're communicating well with good will and that should let you navigate the tricky waters as long as you can have the bigger picture in mind when you're deciding on the right course for both of you.
posted by Abiezer at 11:37 PM on December 15, 2009

In a nation of half a billion women, I found and married the most wonderful Filipino. So even though my own experiences is limited, but I've done a lot of watching from the sidelines. My own take is that I've actually seen very, very few successful Western-Chinese relationships where the Chinese person wasn't extremely Westernized. Most of my mid-20's male friends have the problem of finding women they like and think are "cool" and up to the task of casual dating. The women seem to agree with this basic idea... and then within a few months (or weeks) are trying to get him to visit the parents. Or just dump him because he won't last.

It really just seems that it's a binary thing: the Western guys are there to sleep with a few times (I think we're seen as something approximating the jerk/biker/bad boy in America, just a foil to let you do things you don't want to want to do) or you marry them. There doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground.

My own sense is that most Chinese simply don't "date" like we do. I've had Chinese friends for 3 years that have never seem to have had an unambiguous girlfriend, though occasionally I'll see a girl out a couple times before she disappears. I don't think so much as a kiss happened between them. One of best friends was engaged within two months or so of meeting a girl via QQ. These are all Cantonese boys (Chaozhou and Hakka), for what it's worth.

In the college I teach at, maybe 10-15% of the students openly have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Most think it's a fun waste of time diverting time from studies. Their parents usually don't like it and explicitly forbid it until they get out of college.

A final note is that the guys don't really expect romance in a wife. That's what the ernai if for when they become more successful. I don't really know what this does to the Chines girls psyche...
posted by trinarian at 9:39 AM on December 16, 2009

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