Expat women in a relationship with Chinese men say Chinese men are romantic, just in a different, less showy way. Photo: IC
Hungarian Viktoria Varadi has been married to her Chinese husband for four years. This Valentine's Day, the couple is having a second wedding in Las Vegas.
"It was his idea," said Varadi, 30. "He had traveled to the US and said it was so much fun that we should go as a couple, which I think is really romantic."
Having lived in China for the past seven years, Varadi, who is currently traveling across the US with her husband, has heard talk that Chinese men are comparatively less romantic than Westerners. But for her, it could not be farther from the truth.
"Before I met my husband, my friends used to tell me about this," she said. "But my husband is not the shy type."
According to Varadi, Chinese men can be romantic, just in a very practical, down-to-earth way that conforms with Chinese culture. Her experience is mirrored in other cross-cultural relationships where a foreign woman is dating or is married to a Chinese man.
This Valentine's Day, Metropolitan invited some Western women who date or are married to Chinese men to talk about the view of Chinese men in the romance department and how their partners keep the spark alive.
For Varadi, her husband makes her feel that he is constantly thinking about her. He is always attentive to her needs, even when she is not aware of it, and this is quite romantic.
She cited an instance where she was lying on the couch video-chatting with her parents and he brought a pillow and put it under her neck for proper support. He also cooks her favorite dishes, reminds her to drink water and takes excellent care of her when she is ill.
"I think he is a quite practical person. Sometimes we go out to dine at a nice restaurant, or he would buy me flowers, but I can feel that it's not exactly his style," Varadi said.
"He does a lot of things that I consider very important and meaningful. Anyone could buy you flowers, but he is the only one who always thinks about what he can do for you. I can feel that he loves and values me."
For Doris Nilsson (pseudonym), 26, who comes from Switzerland, it's also her Chinese man's "practical romance" that charms her. She has been with her Chinese boyfriend for two years.
Conceding that her boyfriend is not very romantic on commercial festive days like Valentine's Day, Christmas or New Year's Day, Nilsson said he is nonetheless quite good at making her feel cherished.
"He can be romantic just out of nothing on any other day by just inviting me to a special restaurant, cooking breakfast for me, or by simply saying I love you," she said.
Nilsson and her boyfriend initially had very different ideas about romance, but over the past two years, her mind has been changing.
"I always connected being romantic with getting red roses, being invited for a candlelit dinner in a secluded area and getting a flower bouquet with a card delivered to work - the typical 'Hollywood romance,'" she said.
"[But now] the small things and surprises, such as spontaneous weekend trips and cooking for your partner are worth much more to me."
Open-mindedness, excellent communication, and an understanding of your partner's culture background are key to having a rewarding relationship with your Chinese boyfriend or husband, according to women interviewed by Metropolitan. Photos: IC
It's not about the glitter
For Charlotte Edwards, 33, an American who lives with her Chinese husband in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, romance does not have to be showy or expensive.
The couple prefers to spend time together more than anything else, and Edwards' husband buys her flowers and writes a love note every Valentine's Day.
She recalled how early on in their relationship her husband did not know about the holiday, and funds were tight, so she planned a scavenger hunt that ended with a nice dinner and chocolates at home.
"The notes mean a lot to me since I can keep them much longer than flowers," Edwards said.
"What we do for the holiday pales in comparison to what others do, but it's what makes us happy. I value being together more than gifts and dinners, so I'm OK with our quiet nights together."
While the romance was always there, Edwards said her husband has improved as he became more exposed to other ways of expressing affection. "Over the years, he's read news about how spend-crazy Americans go for Valentine's Day," Edwards said.
Showing affection isn't common in Chinese culture, she explained, citing how he initially found it odd that she would tell their baby "I love you" every day.
"When we're out, he'll hold my hand or put an arm around me. That's something I don't see much of where we live," she said.
"He watches a lot of American TV shows and films. I think younger guys may have a different perception of romance [because] they've grown up with access to Western media."
'Typical' Chinese men
On top of being not romantic enough, it seems there are also some other stereotypes of Asian men in the West.
For example, they might be considered shy, introverted, geeky, and good at video games and math, but not sexy or attractive enough, according to Western standards. Nilsson said although such descriptions match some of the Chinese men she has come across, it does not represent all of them.
"It is just an outdated statement on the Web," she said.
"There are also very attractive Chinese men on the streets. In my opinion, you can find the good video players, the shy and introverted young men, and the math geniuses in the Western world as well."
Varadi has heard about the stereotypes, too. She conceded that one could say that generally many Chinese men are shy about expressing their affection, but said everybody is different.
One good thing she noticed after dating and marrying a Chinese man is that it seems the couple is better connected in the Chinese context.
For example, she and her husband now share food from each other's plate, which makes her feel a sense of oneness with him.
"I am not sure if this is very Chinese. But it makes me feel that when we are together, we really are a team. There's no me or him. It's us, our things, our plans, our problems and our accomplishments," she said.
"In the West, even if you are a couple, you are independent in a lot of things, and they would value personal space more."
A Western girl's guide
For cross-cultural couples to have a relationship that is fulfilling for both parties, Nilsson said being honest with oneself while trying to be open-minded, especially in the beginning, is very important.
"For me, it was super weird that my boyfriend always switched sides with me when walking next to me on the street. So, one day, I asked him why he did it and the answer was, 'in case a car comes I can protect you. It will hit me first before you,'" she said. "I first thought he was crazy. But then it is just sweet."
She added that good communication is the foundation of any good, rewarding relationship.
After their first five months together, Nilsson and her boyfriend were separated in different countries and time zones due to work. She said they made it work with a lot of WeChat video calls.
"Due to the daily calls we had, which were obviously only based on our communication, we got to know each other even more," she said.
Edwards stressed the importance of understanding your partner's cultural background and where he comes from as well as compromise, especially on things that aren't crucial.
For example, her mother-in-law was insistent that her children not wear diapers, and although Edwards had her opinion on it, it wasn't important, so she compromised.
Nilsson's advice is that couples should "respect each other's cultural background and be open-minded to learn something new."
"[Being open-minded and willing to learn new things] for me, is definitely learning how to make homemade dumplings and learning the language to be able to communicate with his parents, which is currently the biggest challenge," she said.