More expats in China are using dating apps to diversify their social circles and romantic options. Photo: IC
It was 11 pm on a Saturday night, and Jeff, a European expat who has been living in Beijing for five years, was just back from a party where he met a lot of new people, both foreigners and Chinese. Still, though, he felt just a little bit empty, a little bit restless, and so he logged onto Tantan, a Chinese dating app similar to Tinder, that he has been using for the past year.
He started swiping through prospective partners' pictures and limited profiles, which include information like age, zodiac sign and occupation. Swiping left means you do not like the person, right means you do. Left, left, and then, "Oh, this girl is pretty. She's got a nice smile," he said to himself, and swiped right. It was a match, which meant the girl also liked him. "Hi, how are you?" he typed.
According to Jeff's profile on Tantan, 5,166 girls have liked him over the past year, which translates to 5,166 chances to meet new girls online. In that time, he's achieved 1,196 matches, which meant that he and 1,196 girls liked each other.
Chinese dating apps have been seeing growing popularity among expats living in China, in part because many foreigners' social circles are largely limited to other expats, and these apps give them the chance to meet and date locals. Among the most popular apps, both for Chinese and foreign singles, are Tantan, Momo and Skouts.
Sun Yang, a public relations director from Momo, told Metropolitan that they have seen more expats using their dating app over the past few years, though they didn't have any statistics detailing their number of foreign users.
Another dating app, Tantan, didn't reply to Metropolitan's calls as of press date, but according to Metropolitan's count, it contains around one expat user for every 10 Chinese users in expat-heavy neighborhoods like Guomao and Sanlitun.
Milo Gonzales, a Beijing-based relationship counselor from the US, said that dating apps are a quicker and easier way to meet new people for expats.
"It gives people the opportunity to talk and communicate to see if they have the same interests, and if their general viewpoints click before they meet in person to see if they are right for each other," he said.
Women from the West and from China generally take different approaches to dating when using dating apps in China. Photo: IC
Some believe that relationships that start through dating apps tend to be more shallow since users are more focused on appearances. Photo: IC
The good and bad of cross-cultural dating
What Jeff likes about dating apps is how easy it is to find and meet pretty local girls. In real life, many expats work so much that they have only limited time to socialize, and when they do, according to Jeff, they mostly hang out with other expats.
"Dating apps help break that invisible boundary between expats and locals," he said.
That has indeed been the case for the two male expats who talked to Metropolitan, both of whom have noticed they are more popular on Chinese dating apps than they are on apps in their home countries.
A case in point is Bruce from the UK, who has only been using Tantan for one month but has already received 236 matches.
"In the UK, when I use Tinder, I usually get 20 to 30 matches tops, because there are fewer girls who swipe right for me than in China."
Another difference, according to Bruce, is that in the UK, it is usually guys who start the conversation and do the work to try and impress and win over the girls.
"In China, I feel the girls are more keen to meet with me and impress me. Chinese girls don't have arrogance is the best way to explain it, I guess."
In his experience, Chinese girls on Tantan usually start conversations by asking where he comes from and what he does in Beijing, before asking for his WeChat, and then if he wants to meet up.
"But I think it's too quick," Bruce said. So far, he has met two girls through Tantan.
Andrew, a Brit in Beijing who's been using Chinese dating apps for five months, says he quickly discovered that while women in the West generally start out chatting about shared interests, Chinese women are more likely to ask about his job and future plans.
He recalls one Chinese girl who, after a single date, began planning their wedding and future together in China.
"I understand that in China, some girls are facing pressure to get married before a certain age, which drives them to want to get serious faster in relationships," said Andrew.
Another source of culture shock for expats is unrealistic expectations.
Shim Bo-kyung (pseudonym), a 24-year-old student from South Korea, said he often gets the impression that his Chinese dates like to imagine him as being just as rich and handsome as the characters from South Korean TV series.
"Some of my online dates would call me Oppa (Korean for "older brother," a term of endearment sometimes used for boyfriends) in a coquettish way just like in South Korean TV series, even though they are older than me, which just freaks me out," he said.
"Some of them also assume that I am rich, even though I am just a student who works part time," he said.
Shim added that some Chinese girls have even asked if he comes from a wealthy family like in the famous South Korean TV series The Heirs.
Flings vs serious relationships
Although dating apps have made it easier to meet more people, the relationships formed are often short-lived and shallow, because they were based in the first place on little more than appearances.
"With dating apps, people check out one another's pictures very quickly, and if they think you're attractive, that's it," Jeff said. "Most don't even look at the information you've written down."
Gonzales said that, according to his observations, most guys who use dating apps are more interested in casual relationships, because so many apps are geared at hooking up.
Other expats have different intentions, and use dating apps more to meet locals, learn the language and deepen their understanding of China.
Bruce, for example, wanted to make new friends and maybe find someone who wanted to learn English and could teach him Chinese at the same time. As a result, he met a 19-year-old student who wants to study in the UK, and they've been meeting up to do a language and culture exchange.
Erika, a 22-year-old student from South Korea, has similar intentions to Bruce.
"I'm not looking for the love of my life on dating apps. I use them more for the sake of having different experiences and expanding my world view. By meeting more people from different backgrounds and careers, I've learned a lot about interacting with different kinds of people. I've learned how to start and carry a conversation, to alleviate awkward tension and to listen to others' stories," Erika said.
She said the best experiences are when you hit it off with someone, and end up talking endlessly.
She recalls one guy she met, who works at an IT company, with whom she had a great conversation about philosophy and life. He also expressed interest in making Korean friends, since his work and social environment is exclusively Chinese.
"I've been surprised to see how eager most people are to interact with foreigners; it's just that they usually have few chances to do so," Erika said. "I think Chinese guys are more willing to start conversations with expat girls on apps than they are in real life."