Love Actually: Dating in Beijing

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PHOTOS BY THE BRILLIANT CLAY LIPSKY

The other day, I asked my Chinese teachers to bless me with the privilege of a Chinese name. After a bit of debate, they came up with “Hua Xin,” which translates into “flower heart.” Seemed innocent enough. I asked them what was the inspiration behind the name choice and they said, “Because you’ve had so many boyfriends.”

What?

The week before, my teachers and I had gotten into a heated debate about dating in China versus the United States. In China, many of my teachers married the first boy they every dated and/or kiss… if that was the case for me, Anthony Bell from Coolidge Elementary (Kindergarten Class of 1996) would be my current beaux, going strong on 17 years. They asked me how many people I’ve ever dated and I gave them an honest answer: I don’t know.

But before we start the slut shaming, you need to take into account all of the first-dates-gone-wrong and brief relationships that I’ve endured in the past 4 years. I didn’t really have a serious boyfriend till Freshman year of college and I haven’t since. Most guys I date don’t make it past the 3 month mark because that’s when the “honey moon” phase is over and the real shit comes out. More often than not, the reason my relationships end is because I pick up and move 3,000 miles away-and not a mile less. Many of those relationships were healthy, functional, and I cherish those memories fondly with no regrets.

China is different; even in the expat community.
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The Chinese expat community plays for keeps.

Due to our diminishing numbers, everyone is either leaving with their significant other to another place, desperately trying to salvage something long distance, or waiting… waiting for that “big fish.” Or the “one.” Depends on your perception and/or bitterness towards relationships.

Even as a serial dater, I have met multiple people that I could really see myself settling down with in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, or where ever else the wind blows me. It’s kind of terrifying. People here are looking for Love, Actually.

That’s because most expats in China are Type-A personalities… or weird and couldn’t hack it in their home country. The Type-A’s are all well traveled, speak multiple languages, and have a plan for their future… and now they’re looking for someone to share all of their experiences and success with. While my life feels like a perpetual mess, I can feel myself gravitating towards the same mentality.

But here’s the crux: Type A’s want to find their “equal.”

Whatever “equal” is defined as is up to the preference of the individual. But because the expat community is so small, anyone that you hook up with or date will ALWAYS be in your life until you leave the continent.

Hong Kong is just too close for comfort.

So when dating in Beijing, it’s important to invest wisely. Because two things are inevitably going to happen:

1. You’ll marry that person
2. You’ll break up with that person and ruin their reputation and yours AND THEN, you both will see each other all the time.

Seems a bit extreme, but in Beijing, we play for keeps. Everyone here has wandered the world looking for someone who just “gets it.” Obviously, if we’re single, we haven’t found that someone back home or during our past travels. Fortunately, nowhere else in the world has a better concentration of more interesting, talented, and decent human beings than Beijing. Which is why everyone holds onto their significant other fiercely if they’re so lucky to find that special someone. Wanderers have seen it all. They have sampled, failed, shattered, and rebuilt relationships in the past so, theoretically, they know what they really want.

However, I say theoretically with great emphasis. There are always exceptions to the rule. Drug addicts. And drifters… who should not be confused with wanderers. Wanderers are social and cunning butterflies, engaged in a perpetual search for nothing in particular. Drifters are just weird.

So now I’m officially COMPLETELY single. I’m not talking to someone on the side, I don’t have a “cuddle buddy” (when has it ever just been a cuddle sesh?), and I’m not casually dating anyone. I am single, not looking to mingle, and I want to get my shit together before I really pursue anything.

Because you can’t take care of someone if you can’t take care of yourself first.

I decided not to remain with the Chinese name of “Hua Xin” because I don’t have to settle. With anything. Or anyone.

Swag.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ladies… if you’re feeling lonely, move to Beijing. It’s nearly a 3:1 ratio of men to women that it’s not even fair. I’ve gone out with a “wedding band” more than once just to be left alone. This is not a humble brag, it’s a sheer numbers game and it’s in our favor for once.
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14 thoughts on “Love Actually: Dating in Beijing

  1. Oh my god.
    I got to Beijing pretty much when you did but I study abroad here, which initially put distance between me and the actual expat community. And then the dam broke and there were boys. And then I found out that, like you point out, everyone knows everyone.
    And now I’m seeing a boy who knows everyone.
    And we go out together, and while we’re out, strange men STILL hit on me.
    Thank goodness my short hair and combat boots tricks most people into thinking I’m a lesbian so I can occasionally get some peace and quiet.

  2. Hello!! Youre very inspiring. How did you ever begin your life in China? I wanna be a wanderer too but i dont know how to start!!

  3. Do the expat men even want to date expat women? My experience in Taiwan was that it was impossible for expat women to get a date b/c expat men wouldn’t look twice at us and the local fellows ran scared away from us. By the way, this was well written and enjoyable to read. You’re doing some great work already and you are still very young. Good work lady:-)

  4. I don’t how I got here(wordpress put your site on the first page), I was looking to see if wordpress was still blocked by China Great Fire Wall,

    FYI : Mandarin is NOT a dialect of Chinese. It is THE standard Chinese. Mandarin=Pu Tong Hua.

    PS: A professional wanderer? Never heard of such profession, but sounds really cool.
    Good luck in China.

  5. A lot of Western women find it hard to date in China, but it doesn’t sound like you or your group has that issue. Usually it’s the men who are enjoying the dating scene. : )

  6. I disagree with you a lot. Dating in Beijing is tough. While there are a lot of great and interesting people, it seems like no one wants to settle down at all as far as expats are concerned. A three week relationship is like a lifetime relationship in Beijing.

    • I agree, although I’m not dating expats at all…just seeing what happens around puts a big alert sign on all expat men and the only ones I was trying to just be friends with turned out to be married with family abroad looking for an adventure or who knows what, Chinese guys usually either WANT to marry you asap and date with that purpose (only type of man I’d recommend in Beijing) or they just see us laowai meinv as “easy” or as they put it “open minded”…sure, ’cause european, american, african, arab, west-asians, australians are DEFENITELY all the same…those are real toxic bachelors to avoid like the flu

  7. My experience was more like… Good luck finding a white guy interested in a white girl, or a Chinese guy who is a)single and b)not clueless.

  8. I totally agree with the above comments. As foreign girls living here sure we may get a lot of attention from dudes, but does it really differ that much from the attention received in our home countries? I definitely agree with the girls above that most foreign guys here are here to find their Chinese wives. Period. Also, don’t you find that 89.9% of foreign guys here are just..how do I put this nicely, the biggest try-hards ever? I’m not saying I haven’t met decent people, I’m just saying that I’ve found China to be the most difficult Country to meet like-minded expats, “type-A’s” as you call them, in any other Country I’ve traveled. Quality over quantity!

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences through this blog. I haven’t really started dating anyone since moving to China. You will meet a lot of people, both Chinese and foreigners alike. But, in my humble opinion, if you want to find a date in a huge city like Beijing, it feels like you REALLY have to put yourself out there, as in way out. You may run into some familiar faces in some events, but developing a connection needs time, and in a fast-paced city like Beijing, it kind of appears inter-personal connections should happen quick as well.

  10. So I’m leaving Spain to work on China next month and I’m checking out every possible angle; food, locals, where to go/where NOT to go… and well, also the dating scene.
    This was a very interesting article, I shall see for myself how true it is in my experience.

    ps: That 3:1 ratio was a bit disheartening, tho :c

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