Guy uses Chinese whispers to ask for a date. Remedies for dating in inauspicious circumstances. Women tell true stories of their dating experiences in China.
Back in high school they tell us, “you cannot date anyone, because you have to focus on school.” The moment you get admitted to undergrad they’re like, “clock’s ticking! You have to get married or at least start dating as soon as possible before you become too old.”
During my sophomore year, my parents started to introduce all these random guys to me, saying, “my friend has a son who also studies in Nanjing”, or “my co-worker’s cousin’s nephew is from Nanjing and he’s studying to be a doctor, do you want to meet him?” I kept saying “no thanks,” and “not interested.”
But in the end, I think it was junior year, my parents set me up with a guy who was like 29 years old, and I was only 22. This guy was doing a PhD in Australia and he was also from my town. The thing is, he was 29 but he had never dated anyone. For me, that was a huge signal. But my parents liked that about him. My mom said, “Oh my god, he’s never dated any girl before, that’s really good!” I thought there must be something wrong with him but my mom loved it. He’d been living in Australia for a couple of years, so it just didn’t make any sense to me. I thought maybe he was gay and couldn’t tell anyone.
In high school, and in university, I was always a top student. And typically, Chinese guys like girls who are top students, so a lot of guys would hit on me. But the way they did it! They would just tell others they like me, and tell people to ask me out. Only after graduation would they actually talk to me, telling me how much they liked me. I told them to shut up. This guy was exactly like that.
I went out with him on one blind date and I didn’t dislike him, so we went on two or three more dates and my mom loved him. I teased my mom saying, “why don’t you go marry him?” His whole family liked me too. But the thing is, he was such a mommy’s boy. He would tell every single detail of our date to his mom, even what I said, every single sentence, he would tell his mom.
On my end, whenever my mom asked how the date went, I would only say, “it was fine.” “What did you guys do?” mom asked, “talk” I replied. “What did you talk about?” “I don’t remember,” I told her. But on his end, he told his mom every single thing.
There was another problem. Whenever this guy wanted to ask me out, he could have wechatted me, messaged me, or called me. But he didn’t. He would first tell his mom, who told her sister, who told her cousin, who knows my cousin, who told my aunt, who told my mom, who would tell me. The families are distantly connected, and that’s how he asked me out on a date. This happened twice or three times. I hated it. I hate guys who can’t take the initiative. I stopped seeing him.
After that my aunt kept trying to set me up. I only ever said no. Whenever I said no, she would say, “you’re so picky, and you’re already 25 years old. If you keep saying ‘no’ like that, you will be single forever.” Actually it was not just my aunt; it was my mother, and my grandparents on both sides, and my cousins, my parents’ cousins, even my parents’ friends, and their coworkers, people I barely know. Every time, they would say, “When are you going to start dating? You don’t want to be leftover forever!”
I really hate that phrase, ‘leftover woman’. But I’d rather be single and stay happy.
– People’s Republic of China, 25
When I was studying in Beijing, I planned to spend a few days at Harbin ice festival with a guy I was dating. We weren’t even officially dating, but we didn’t know how to say, ‘we’re just sleeping together’ in Chinese. We went just before Chinese New Year, we were in our early twenties and having fun discovering China one day at a time.
When I told my boss my holiday plans, she told me there were rules: I must not let moonlight touch my skin. I had to wear red underwear on the night of the spring festival. “Do you have red underwear?” she asked. “Do you know where to buy some? Do you need my help?”
Once we’d made it to the northern city of Harbin for the ice festival, wrapped up in thick clothing and prepared for temperatures of -11 °F, we spent time chatting to locals. One day we met a group of local men, who praised our Chinese ability and asked a lot of questions about us. They asked the guy I was dating whether I was his girlfriend. He said “yes”, telling a little white lie in an attempt to avoid further clarification. This led to a bunch more questions: “why aren’t you married? How old are you? When are you getting married? You should get married this year.”
When we finally got a word in edgeways, we said “we’re both 24.” This demanded intervention: “when exactly did we turn 24?” We were both currently 23 and would turn 24 in the coming year. This was our zodiac year, the year of the Yang.
This launched a tirade of angry warnings: “you cannot get married this year!” Suddenly, we found ourselves in dangerous territory: your zodiac year is supposed to be unlucky, and you have to do as much as you can to counter your fate and appease the ancestors. Hence wearing red underwear on the night of spring festival. One man shouted at us: “curse on both your families!” Apparently, if we got married and had a child that year, our family would be cursed.
My date turned to me, taking my mittened hand gently in his own. “If I can make one promise to you this year, it’s that I will ask you to marry me.” Under the circumstances, it was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to me.
– United States of America, 27
Learning that an ex is married. Walking away from a Tinder date. Getting set up by your boyfriend. [part 1]
Humiliation by comedy in a Beijing bar. Parents say, “break up with him” because boyfriend is not Chinese. [part 2]
A Chinese first boyfriend who ruined dating for years. Suffering through sleep apnea on a first date. Offered money for sex with a stranger. [part 3]
Date says more attractive with clothes on. Does an open relationship translate to open dates? Getting an I.O.U. for accepting a drink. [part 5]
These stories are shared by the women who experienced them in their own words. All stories took place in Beijing, China, unless otherwise stated. Identities are kept secret out of respect for the individuals in the stories.