Editor’s Note: What are some differences between Chinese dating and American dating? What it is like to be single or date? A former student told us stories from a third-person perspective to show us the struggles of Chinese students in this area.
“How come everyone is a relationship but me?”, “Why do I have four weddings to go this year?” “I am worried my boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore.”
Have you heard the students you are working with say similar things? Perhaps they are unwilling to say those thoughts out loud, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking it. Let’s meet two typical Chinese students and hear more about their struggles in dating.
Maybe it all started from a romance movie, a Korean drama, a random conversation with a friend or a secret crush she had in school. But by the age of sixteen, Xiao Mei had built up an image of the ideal boyfriend in her mind.
“I want to find someone who is kind and patient, who is good at what he does, who has great manners and will always be there for me when I need him,” Mei thought.
Five years later it was her junior year of college and everyone else, it seemed, was in a relationship. Mei still hadn’t even been on one date.
Whenever she talked to family and friends back home they always brought up her love life:
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Have you started dating yet?”
“Honey, it is time to start looking for a boyfriend now”
Mei begins to think maybe they are right, she should find someone ASAP! She can just compromise on the “insignificant things”. He doesn’t need to like what she likes, as long as he is interested in her, it will be fine. He doesn’t need to understand her dreams and passions, they can figure that out later. He also doesn’t have to put too much effort into pursuing her. She thinks, “Let’s be honest, there is no man out there will fit my standard anyway. Even if there are, why would they like me? I cannot be too picky. Let me give a shot with the next person who shows interest in me, I will figure out other things later, I just don’t want to wait anymore.”
If you know a student like Xiao Mei, what would you say to her at this point? Singleness is hard, it is even harder when that person doesn’t have God in their life yet. Loneliness, self-doubt, and fear of not being loved often lead students into wrong decisions. Many Chinese students don’t talk about singleness much, it is a very personal topic to bring up. So you might have to be the one that initiates and offer words of encouragement without prompting.
Open up the conversation with your own experience, let the students realize they are not the only one experiencing this and it is not awkward to talk about it.
Wang Xin and Zhang Shao
Being in a relationship does not mean that both people are truly loved and truly accepted by one another. It doesn’t mean they feel understood or that they are being honest with their convictions.
Wang Xin and Zhang Shao are two international students from China. They met in college through some mutual Chinese friends. Xin is a new Christian and has been involved with Bridges and church for a while now. But Shao doesn’t show much interest in anything related to Christianity. Xin goes to Bridges meetings on and off, she will go when Shao is busy with his video games. They have been together for almost a year now, Xin has gotten used to having Shao in her life. During spring break, Shao asked her to go on a trip to Cancun together. While they are booking the hotel, Shao only booked one room for both of them. Xin was uncomfortable with this, but stayed silent.
She nervously thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t say anything. I don’t know, I mean, among our friends it is pretty common for people to sleep together. But why am I hesitating? What would my church friends think of me? I know Christians shouldn’t do that, but if I say no, he might think I am weird. He will probably gonna break up with me. Maybe I should just go with it… I just can’t lose him.”
If you work with Chinese students, you might think Chinese culture is conservative. However, just like American college students, sex is an unavoidable issue in their life. People might not talk about it a lot, but this problem among Chinese students is just as prevalent as in other cultures. Also, because it is such a private topic most parents do not talk about it and the sex education students get can vary a lot from none to barely efficient. It often results in a situation that students do not have people to talk to or ask help from when they need it. So what would you say to Wang Xin at this point?
Culture insights to help you better understand how Chinese view relationships:
American relationships flow chart:
Friends or Strangers >> Go on dates (dating) >> Exclusive dating >> Confirm boyfriend-girlfriend relationship >> Engage>>Marriage
Chinese relationship flow chart:
Friends >> boyfriend-girlfriend relationship >> Family meeting >> Engage >> Marriage
As you can see, in Chinese culture, the concept of dating is very vague. People might start to grow feelings towards each other while they are friends and hang out in bigger group settings. They might start to text each other more. Soon, “Will you be my girlfriend/boyfriend?” is asked, and the relationship is confirmed.
Family backgrounds play a heavy part in couples’ relationship. It is vital when marriage is brought up. There are so many couples that break up because their families do not agree with their relationship. It might be hard for many Americans to understand from an individualistic background, however, it is very common for students from a Chinese background.
“We were friends, we liked each other and so naturally we are together”
Sometimes, the friends to romantic relationship transition can be very subtle. Holding hands for the first time is official enough to mark the start of the relationship. Compared to American relationships, Chinese relationships are always more exclusive, because there is no space left to see other people.
The blind date is a special approach for Chinese to meet new people. Parents usually set up blind dates for their kids with people whose family background is similar to theirs. Chinese marriage is always linked to what two families’ value. Love can be simple, but marriage is never simple.
What can we do?
- Show them an honest example of a godly marriage. Many students came from a divorced family, or not divorced but broken family. Some students have lost faith in marriage, some students don’t even have a good marriage standard to compare with. You can teach them what the Bible teaches about marriage, but showing them a real example is so helpful for them to visualize and experience.
- Teach them who they are in Christ. Chinese families usually don’t give enough encouragement to their kids growing up, which often leads to comparison with other people. Students are competitive about school, career, body figure and even relationships. “I am not enough unless I achieve…” mindset is very common. Encourage them! You might be the only person to verbally tell them they are enough.
- Set them up! If you know a Chinese believer student who is open to relationships, set them up with other believers who are truly pursuing God. Sometimes people are shy about the desire to be in a relationship.
- Teach the Bible firmly with mercy and love. As secular values evolve and change every day, you might be the only person who is able to tell them the godly value. Don’t expect Chinese students to know what you believe about marriage, they will never know until you tell them. Also, embrace them with mercy and love regardless of their past relationships.