“Is Bingbing related to you?” I ask my roommate, Bree, about the guy that sort of lives in our house but then sometimes just isn’t there. He’s been living in our apartment ever since I got here, but I’ve never seen Bree touch him or smile at him; so I just assumed maybe they were cousins or something.
“Bingbing is my pursuer,” she says while looking at her computer, pretending like that’s not weird at all.
“I’m sorry, what?”
She turns around. “Yes, you see, he is in love with me.”
“And you’re not in love with him?”
“I don’t follow; he lives here.”
“Bingbing has some issues to work out first.”
“And then you will love him?”
“Then he can officially pursue me.”
Bingbing was married before, has a kid and some problems to work out with his ex-wife. Meanwhile he lives in our apartment trying to get Bree to love him back. I asked if it was related to her age perhaps; Bree’s 35 and unmarried, and traditional views on love and marriage are still standing strong, even with current changes in society. Believe it or not, the versatile city of Beijing, with its QR codes, online shopping and payment through apps is still pretty “old-fashioned.” “No, I am just very individual” she says. She comes from a family where, at the dinner table, she had to sit up straight, talking was not allowed and she had to wait until her grandparents picked up their chopsticks before she was able to start eating. “My family had big expectations, but I’m lucky with my mother, she understands that the world is not the same anymore. I think 90 percent of Chinese families don’t think this way. You know, after the door opened to the outside world, the younger generation started to think about breaking free from traditional societal structures. The problem is that the door opened in the midst of tradition. No matter how much you want to escape, your first and foremost priority is the obligation you have to your parents.” She went on explaining that if your partner of choice is not to your parents’ liking, you’re most likely to break up even though you may really love someone. “But Bingbing is a really good guy. He is not like most Chinese men. Chinese men love to control women. We haven’t reached that stage of equality like in the west, we still adhere to the patriarch. Not many women have the opportunity to live a completely free life like I do. But then most women also just don’t know any better.”
Later I see Bree ordering Bingbing to do this, do that, get this, get that and literally disagreeing with all of his opinions. “You go girl,” I think to myself. #relationshipgoals
We have dinner together later that day, together with Bree’s sister and another mutual friend. The topic of beauty standards comes up. I name a few Chinese actors I think are handsome. “Ewwww no, they’re so ugly” both women yell at the same time. Turns out small eyes are not to their liking. The ideal man has big eyes and a longer nose, for starters. “What’s your ideal woman, Bingbing?” I ask him. He thinks for a while, says it’s different for everyone, but then still gives a very detailed answer: white skin, big eyes, long nose, tall, big boobs, skinny waist. “So basically what all of you want is a Chinese person that looks very western,” I say. It turns quiet for a few seconds. “Yes, I guess so, but almost nobody looks like that here” Bree says. “That’s a bit fucked up isn’t it?” I state. Everybody nods. I find out Anne Hathaway is the perfect woman. “She looks a bit Asian, bit “western”, tall, great body..” I also fall into the right category, the men state. I’m just not white enough. I move on to a different topic.
Later that week, 6 pm; I’m doing my make-up.
“You’re going out?” Bree asks.
“I’m going on a date” I reply.
Bree starts giggling. “Dearest… do you know what that word means in Chinese? It means you’re going out with someone on like a romantic level.”
“I know, I am doing that, sort of”
“Woowwwww, honey! You’ve found love!! I’m so happy for you! Congratulations!!”
“No no no, it’s not like that. I don’t know this person. We’re just going to have a drink and talk.”
This time it’s Bree who doesn’t understand what’s going on.
“Do you know how dating works where I’m from usually?” I ask.
She doesn’t know.
“Basically, you meet someone somewhere; maybe on the internet, maybe at a party or a café or something; then someone asks the other person to “go on a date” and you meet up to see if you like that person enough to go on a second date. If you do, you meet again; if you don’t, you just stop talking to each other altogether. You can have 5 dates and still decide to stop seeing each other, you can also decide to be in a relationship after 2 dates; it depends on the person.”
“Ohhhh. I had no idea it works like that.”
“What? How do you guys date then?”
“We don’t. We sort of meet and decide to be in a relationship the same day. Most people get to know each other through work or school, it’s easier to get familiar with a person faster.”
“But you guys have Tantan (Chinese Tinder) right? How does that work?”
“The same way. You meet and then you’re boyfriend and girlfriend”
“How do you know if you like each other?”
“If you don’t like each other you just break up. When you’re young that is. It becomes more difficult after thirty.”
“Isn’t my way of dating more convenient? Breaking up is always difficult and you may hurt the other person”
“You don’t think it’s a hassle to have to meet a new person over and over again until you find the right one?”
“Yes. I guess it is.”
“Different approach, same outcome” she concludes.
I go on my date. Turns out my date is some sort of an in denial anti-feminist, pro-gun American and Trump supporter, or at least supportive of some of his ideas.
Somehow I’m relieved I don’t follow the Chinese approach to dating.