I was recently in San Francisco and got a chance to catch up with my old buddy, Fu Quan (a pseudonym), a PhD student at a university in California. As we walked out of the Starbucks in the Ralphs supermarket, I noticed that his name was predictably misspelled on his frappe cup. The conversation shifted to his dating life, and I had a unique opportunity to ask him about his dating experiences as a Asian-American man.
This post is an edited summary of our conversation, with his permission, heavily reworded in the style of this blog.
Disclaimer & Trigger Warning: This represents the opinions of Fu Quan only and do not necessarily represent the views of this blog. Fu Quan makes generalizations about people and culture to allow for simpler explanations, in the context of a casual conversation. Like any generalization, they do not apply in all cases.
The Dating Introvert: Fu Quan, you moved to the United States from China when you were 7, so you basically grew up here. So I’m surprised to hear you talk about dating challenges that seem unique to your background as a Chinese immigrant.
Fu Quan: Yeah, dating here is complicated. It is a culture clash. Although I grew up in America, I internalized many values from the culture of my parents.
I had always thought of cultural differences as surface-level things like a different-looking hat or different-tasting food. However, it recently hit me that culture is a way of thinking. What seems normal in one culture seems rude in another. What is attractive in one culture is unattractive in another.
That Dating Introvert: Can you give examples of these differences?
Fu Quan: Yes but first some background is in order: China is influenced very much by Confucian values, and there is a big gap between the rich & the poor. They do not have the upward social mobility that America has. If your grades are bad, you will not get one of the scarce university places, and you will be doomed to a life of poverty. So there is a huge emphasis on academic achievement. Whereas in America, if you drop out of university, you might become the next Steve Jobs.
In my home culture, the “cool kids”:
- achieve high grades: because these are the guys who will end up making the money
- are quiet: because this is a sign of strength and intelligence. In school, they are given leadership positions, like your Prom Queen & King.
- wear fashion that would be construed as a bit feminine in America
- avoid conflict: because avoiding it is a virtue
- wait until marriage before having sex: because it is an ultra-conservative culture. This is a sign of restraint.
But in America, these things would fit the definition of being a Nice Guy and be highly unattractive.
In China, a brawny football jock who sleeps around would be seen as unsophisticated, and end up doing manual labor. In America, you give them scholarships to the best universities.
The Dating Introvert: Wow, those are big differences! But growing up in the United States, didn’t you notice the difference in attitudes?
Fu Quan: Well, you get conflicting messages. My extended family thought I was a hero for starting my PhD and not sleeping around. You grow up and you trust your parents more than peers (again, a feature of Confucian culture) to have an accurate read of reality. But my parents were born in the 1950s in China, so their idea of reality is different.
The Dating Introvert: But there are plenty of Chinese girls in California. Wouldn’t dating them avoid the cultural conflict?
Fu Quan: Let’s say that, broadly, there are two kinds of Chinese in America. There are those who grew up in America, who are more westernized. And there are those who just arrived in America, the more recent immigrants.
Some recent immigrants look down on me because I have “lost” part of my culture by not being able to speak Mandarin fluently. Some westernized Chinese women avoid me because they mistakenly associate me with the ultra-conservatism of China. They want to be seen as equals with men, they want to be sex-positive, and they want to be liberated from outdated ideas.
I should add that there are very few positive Chinese or Asian male role models in American mass media. Asian men tend to be portrayed as weak or comical. As a result, this stereotype means that even some non-Asian women will not date me because of my race.
The Dating Introvert: You sound like a serious racist 😛
Fu Quan: Our society has become so “PC” (Politically Correct) that I can’t – even as a member of a racial minority – talk about a racial problem that I’m facing, without being branded a racist or a whiner. Yes, it is up to me to be successful at dating, but you cannot ignore the broader societal influences.
There’s a 2014 Huffington Post article about this: Black People And Asian Men Have A Much Harder Time Dating On OKCupid.
The Dating Introvert: Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview. Until next time my friends, keep dating!