Dear Ms. Wai,
Being an Asian-American living in China is rewarding and a great opportunity to understand my Chinese heritage. The only thing is it brings a whole host of problems other foreigners don’t have to deal with. I’ll spare you the daily life problems but I want to ask about dating.
I’ve tried dating Chinese guys, even guys that have dated western women, but they see my Asian face and immediately treat me differently. It seems like other westerners, especially white women, have it so easy. I’m expected to instantly know the language, the culture and all the right things to do. When they make a culture faux pas it’s seen as cute or “she’s foreign she doesn’t know better.” When I do it, it’s just seen as rude.
Like, speaking the language. Chinese was spoken in my household growing up but like many first generation kids I ignored it. My listening is pretty good, but my speaking is abysmal (which I’m working on). While other women are encouraged and applauded for saying even a little “thank you,” I’m constantly criticized when I mess up a word, or don’t know how to say something. And when that criticism comes from a guy you’re dating it’s a total turn-off.
And I can’t imagine if I meet Mr. Right. What I will be expected to do? Things like having a baby and following parenting customs. Other western women can get away with not following strict traditions by just saying “foreign bodies are different” but I can’t. Even now when I eat ice cream when I have a cold (one of my favorite things to ease my sore throat) I’ve had aunties come and yell at me to stop, saying I am making myself sicker. Then when I say I like it and other Americans do it all the time they say I don’t know my Asian body well enough and I should listen to them because they have more experience. And that’s just my local friendly aunties! I can’t even imagine how much a mother-in-law might push me around!
Another silly problem is being anonymous. Back in America I was always seen as a bit “exotic” which I hated. But now I have the opposite problem. When I’m out with my expat friends, just walking the streets or at a bar, the other women get all the attention (and stares). It’s like no one sees me! If a guy works up the nerve to talk to one of my friends, it is always the busty blond, never me.
So what should I do? Should I give up on dating local guys?
I’m not an ABC, or BBC or NZBC, but I’ve heard that you guys do have a rough time in China. That in your home country you are seen as a bit of an outsider, then when you come to Asia you are still seen as an outsider. That’s rough.
But there have been many success stories between ABC women and Asian men. It just might take you a little more hunting to find the right one. It seems like all Chinese guys have a bit of a hard time understanding their western wives mindsets from time to time, but you will need to find a guy that understands just because you grew up eating with chopsticks doesn’t mean you know how to say the word in Chinese or understand all the cultural taboos around it. Guys like that do exist though…you’ll just need to do a bit of searching.
Have you tried online apps like tantan? That will help you avoid awkward bar scenes and help you weed out the especially unforgiving guys. For instance, if you say you don’t speak Chinese but they continue to write Chinese you can cut them out pretty quickly. Or guys who want to use you to meet white foreigners should reveal themselves pretty quickly. Also it seems like people are much more upfront on an app, and you can tell a potential dates some of your concerns before meeting.
And you’ll need to be more vocal about your needs and wants while dating. If an otherwise nice date laughs when you stutter out some Chinese, or mess up a tone, don’t just stay silently embarrassed. Tell him it’s not cool. Say something like, “I’m really trying and it doesn’t help if you laugh at me and make me feel stupid.” If he’s right for you then he’ll pick up on your vulnerability and be nicer. If not, then make a quick getaway.
So don’t give up! All relationships are fraught with difficulties and you just have a few more, different, issues to deal with than your other foreign friends might. But it doesn’t mean it’s hopeless and it doesn’t mean you’re wasting time.
Are you an Asian-American, or other Asian born in a western country in a similar situation? Let us know what has worked for you in the comments! And if you have a question for Ms. Wai, write to her at [email protected]