Dateless in the ‘Jing

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-10 18:38:01

Single, lonely expats share their stories

Expats say being single is extra hard when one is living abroad. Photo: IC

New Year's Day was not kind to Lane Ellen Luft. She likes a 39-year-old British guy very much, but he took another girl, a Chinese girl, to a New Year's Eve party, while she was patiently waiting forhim to ask her.

Luft, a 34-year-old Canadian, who teaches English in China, hasn't had a date in over a year. While most of the time she enjoys being single, there are moments when she feels quite the opposite.

"It's the hardest on New Year's Eve or when I am sick and wish I had a man to bring me soup and rub my back," she said.

Luft said it's extra hard being single when one is abroad. "Without my best friends around, I feel more lonely," she said.

The Chinese society is seeing more young singletons. There are almost 200 million Chinese who are single, the China Newsweek reported in December.

While a rising number of Chinese are struggling with singleness, so do lots of expats in China. They share many similar struggles with their Chinese counterparts, but also face different challenges brought on by cultural differences and the transient nature of the community.

Pros & cons of the Beijing scene

Luft thinks that compared with the local Chinese, it's harder for expats to have a long-lasting relationship. "Even if you do start dating someone you really like, there is usually an expiration date; whether he or she is here on a work contract or for school, the relationship ends when the contract does," she said.

Luft dated an Irish guy in Beijing in 2015. She said he was "cute, funny and sweet" but the relationship ended after a few months when he returned to Ireland.

Cultural barriers and different dating habits are also a problem.

"I'm used to Canadian men who are much more forward and direct when they want something. A Canadian guy would just straight up ask you out right away, or kiss you," Luft said.

However, she thinks one of the advantages for expats, dating-wise, is that they are usually surrounded by more interesting, like-minded people.

"Here, there is a much larger pond of men to choose from, more interesting men who I usually have more in common with," she said.

"Whether they are here traveling or working or in school, we already have more in common - we are both adventurous," Luft said, adding that many guys where she is from have no intention of ever leaving their hometown.

Iva (pseudonym), a 36-year-old Briton who has been living in Beijing for more than a year, finds it's actually easier for expats to date in Beijing. He has a girlfriend at home but is open to dating in China.

"The expat community tends to visit the same places, bars, clubs, and restaurants, so it's easier to meet like-minded people. [But] for the locals, there's a city with 20 million people."

Multiple factors can lead to expats being single, such as cultural differences in dating and a lack of permanence. Photo: IC

Foreigners vs locals

Luft is not sure whether the guy she likes prefers her over his Chinese date, and it is tearing her apart. "I have no chance if there is a Chinese girl in the picture."

She said it often happens that when she meets nice foreign guys, "they are either married to an Asian woman or want to date the locals, especially if he is good looking."

"Most of the time, I think that's why they moved here in the first place. [Chinese girls] are so sweet and feminine," she said. "Chinese girls love foreign men, and the men love them back."

She said a gender difference exists when it comes to locals dating expats. It seems foreign guys are blessed to receive much attention from Chinese women though they have a reputation for being frivolous. Foreign women are not that lucky. Instead, they seem to have been stereotyped as "too experienced" by locals.

"There is a stereotype of foreign women being loose and more promiscuous," Luft said.

Although she is open to dating Chinese men, she often finds them intimidated by the idea of dating a foreign woman like herself. "They typically don't want a 6-foot-tall, blond woman," she said in jest. 

Luft has met some cute Chinese men who she would be interested in dating. "But let's face it - Chinese men tend to get married early, so there are none of my age left."

Recently, a few Chinese men asked her out, but she said they were either too young or she was not interested. "In my case, I am a tall, independent woman. I think this scares most men. They prefer the soft, feminine, tiny-handed girls that need them."

Unlucky in love

Johnson (pseudonym), an Australian in his 30s, has been living in China for almost a decade. A "free bird," Johnson had his heart broken.

The last serious relationship he had was with a Chinese woman for almost a year until he found out that she had a lover in another city. Despite his efforts to forgive her and her promising to end all other relationships, she cheated again.

"I was too nice," Johnson said. "I guess I should have known that looking back."

He said being single can have many different connotations. "They could be without boy/girlfriends, could be MBA ( married but available), divorced, just broken up and finding someone or avoiding everyone."

Johnson has not given up on love but said it can be challenging.

He thinks foreign guys often get a lot of attention from Chinese women, but he finds them too overwhelming at times. "They wanna marry me. One of them offered sex plus lunch. One even wants a baby without marriage."

He said he prefers things to take a natural course and that many of the Chinese women he meets are more forward than he would expect, especially those he meets online.

A limited number of ways to meet good people is also a trouble for Johnson. "Pretty girls are already hijacked by lucky Chinese guys."

Like Luft, he cited cultural differences as a possible barrier to finding a lasting relationship but said, for him, "it's about some basic principles and values that often don't match up."

Johnson said locals are "more fond of relationships" compared with expats, possibly due to "peer or family pressure."

"[However,] for many expats, a relationship is an experiment to find the right person," he said.

Multiple factors for singleness 

Christine Forte, a mental health counselor in Shanghai who has mostly expat clients, said there might be a mix of reasons why it's a little more common for expats to be single, compared with the local Chinese. "[One] is that many of us come from countries where the average age of marriage is a little higher than China," she said.

She also said that for a lot of expats, especially in the beginning after moving abroad, finding a relationship is not a priority. "For expats who choose to live abroad, there's a stronger personality characteristic craving variety, adventure, and sometimes those personality characteristics don't let them get into a committed relationship."

Especially for expats experiencing their first time abroad or on their first assignment in China, it can be very exciting, she said.

"During that time, a lot of people feel they don't want to be tied down by a relationship. They want to explore and fully become themselves."

Forte said another major factor is that they are here only for a short period, and it's not practical to be in a relationship knowing they are eventually going to leave. And for those dating expats, especially the Chinese, knowing that they will leave makes it harder to fully enjoy the moment and be close to the person, she said.

Differences in dating cultures have also added to the difficulty, both in expat-Chinese and expat-expat dating scenarios. For instance, while a dinner date would be a great way to start for Americans, many Europeans might get to know each other first in a group setting, leaving dinner dates for when they are sure they are interested in someone. "Not to generalize, but some might have expectations of what dating is like or what happens at what point, and sometimes that makes it hard for people to connect."

Forte acknowledged the gender difference between female and male expats and the dating pool available to them, but cautioned women not to become resentful or rule out choices open to them.

"She would think that Western men are not interested in her because they only want to date Chinese women. But it's not necessarily the case," she said. "Sometimes it can be a mental block, and they (the women) turn down the choices."

Forte said, single or not, everyone has their struggles. "It's a general struggle with intimacy whether we have it or not. It's part of being human," she said. "Particularly when we are over here, far from family and friends who have known us for a long time, emotional needs might not be met very well."

Still lamenting her plight, Luft has opted to see the bright side. "I didn't come here to date but to teach and experience the culture. I never expected to meet the man of my dreams, so if that happens, it's just a bonus," she said. "We just have to put on our boxing gloves, and put up a fight if we want true love."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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