So we’ve gotten a few questions lately about dating in China. It’s an interesting topic that hits on a lot of key cultural touchpoints, so I want to take a few minutes to talk about this.
You’ll often hear people say that cultural differences are overstated or not as much of a factor as they used to be, and while there is some validity to that, cultural differences are nothing to scoff at – they do most definitely exist.
One of the primary issues here is that for Chinese women, there is a much stronger emphasis on getting married early.
This goes back to less stable times, when marriage meant much-needed security, but of course this is by no means a purely Chinese phenomenon: In 2010, 44% of American women had married by age 25, but way way back in 1995, more than 59% had been hitched by 25.
China is relatively new to the whole modern-stable-globalized-internet (still working on that last one, really) country thing, and when your culture is over 4,000 years in the making, old habits die hard.
Consider, too, the generational issue at play here: The lovely lady you’ve been crushing on’s parents and grandparents are the ones exerting that pressure to get married, even though she herself may not feel that she’s ready or interested.
That's because her grandparents' and possibly (depending on where in China she is from) her parents still value marital stability above all else in their time, given the instability and volatility of their eras.
In fact, I once dated a girl who would only meet up at places that her parents AND grandmother had pre-approved; as you can imagine none of these places were very fun.
The Imitation Game
Your lady’s generation may well be the first to have that freedom of romantic choice, and that's something you need to keep in mind while making your decisions for your relationship – there simply isn't a ton of cultural precedent for her to fall back on.
Think about it: when you consider what to do in terms of relationships, don’t you use your parents’ marriage and/or relationships as a reference point?
If your parents and other family members married out of convenience rather than romance, there isn’t a lot to help guide you when trying to find a romantic partner you really click with.
The same girl I mentioned before – her parents’ marriage was arranged by her father's commanding officer in the military, and I’d occasionally ask her, do you really think you should take dating advice from people who’ve never dated?
What this often leads to is heavy parental involvement in relationships and dating. You may have read about the slightly-creepy marriage markets in China, in which parents set up tables advertising their adult sons and daughters to potential mates.
While this isn’t really the way most Chinese meet their future spouses anymore, marriage markets are still a fairly common sight, even in more Westernized cities like Shanghai.
Even the nuts-and-bolts process of dating can be wildly different in China.
While in the West we might try to play it cool and not be in constant contact with someone, in China it’s common to text or call multiple times a day, even if the relationship isn’t even remotely serious yet.
This particular cultural difference, is, in my experience, a big reason so many intercultural relationships fail; I know one girl I met texted me five times before lunch the next day – a serious no-no for me but standard procedure for her.
The man is generally supposed to handle all the decision making in Chinese dating, and some girls take this very seriously.
Once I asked a girl what she wanted to do for the date and she just never responded! It’s also commonplace to bring a friend along, but not for a double date – it’s more like a chaperon, buffer or safety net.
Read more about why Chinese women love Western men.
Not So Casual
Anyway, all of this means that in China itself, if you're dating someone seriously, marriage is at least on the table.
Even if it’s not such a big deal to her personally, it's still something that's on her mind and that her parents will be bringing up just about every time they see her.
As a result, being intimate before marriage is a lot less common in China than in the West, though this is not so much the case anymore among younger, more urbanized Chinese.
The fact remains, though, that if you’re intimate while dating, there is a strong assumption that marriage is on the horizon. While these rules are sometimes relaxed for Chinese dating foreigners, that’s not always the case.
For men, things overall are not as strict: there isn’t the fervent marriage-expiration-date-countdown (aka the much-documented 剩女 (shèng nǚ) - “leftover women” phenomenon), and familial pressure tends to be a bit lighter than it is for their female counterparts.
That said, additional stresses do exist. We’ve talked before about some of the fiscal requirements men often must fulfill to qualify for a good mate: a house, car and steady job are de facto requirements for dating in many circles, and with a gender imbalance of some 34 million extra men, women can often afford to be choosy.
I have a female friend who, when on a date with a Chinese guy, mentioned that she wasn’t especially concerned about whether he owned a car or not. Her date literally couldn’t believe his luck and immediately tried to set up a time for another date.
Altogether, the cultural emphasis on marrying early, particularly for women, means that dating is imbued with a lot more meaning and isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Understanding this, more than anything else, is the key to a successful Chinese dating experience.
Read about dating from the female perspective in What to Expect When Dating a Chinese Guy.
We’d love to hear some of your thoughts and responses – share them in the comments below!
Now that you know a little about dating culture in China, take a look at what Chinese people have to say about their ideal romantic partners.
These lessons from Yoyo Chinese's Intermediate Course features interviews with people on the streets of China. Following these brief interviews, Yangyang breaks down the important language points found in their answers.