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Dating: a tricky game for Chinese university women
( 2003-08-27 11:42) (Women of China)

"Women the world over can attest to the difficulties of dating, but for Chinese university women, landing the right guy can involve a particularly tricky game."...

Most Chinese university women can agree on one thing: Dating is difficult. From finding a date to stealing time away from classmates, dating takes work. In the university-dating world, women must navigate between their high expectations of personal success and independence and traditional Chinese relationships. They must steer between romantic dreams of "Prince Charming" and the practicalities of money and compatibility.

Unlike most of their Western counterparts, who start honing their dating skills as early as middle school, Chinese youngsters receive little practice in puppy love. In general, Chinese parents disapprove of dating in senior school, preferring their children spend their free time buried in their books-not immersed in turbulent adolescent relationships.

"We wanted to start relationships in senior school, but our parents said no," said 19-year-old Zhang Yao. Young students nervy enough to begin dating in senior school are often pressured by their parents and teachers to end their relationships. As a result, most Chinese women enter the university dating game as rookies.

For Chinese university women, the first dating difficulty is finding men who meet their standards. Many university women believe even highly educated men fear independent and accomplished women. Historically, Chinese women have been the more dependent and compliant halves of romantic relationships. "Boys like girls to be dependent on them, so they can be heroes. In most cases, men want women to be lower than them. But that doesn't mean they don't love their women. This is based on historical reasons," said 26-year-old Qu Hongyan.

Hardly dependent or compliant, women successful in academia and/or business are likely to scare away more traditional Chinese men. It has been said there are three kinds of people in the world: Men, women, and women with PhDs-meaning highly educated women exist outside mainstream society.

Typically, the only men interested in them are even more educated and successful. Twenty-two-year-old Li Yingying explained: "If you are smarter or have a higher status, men can't pursue you, even if they are in love with you. For example, girls with master's degrees can only date men with master's degrees."

Some women resign themselves to the fact they must downplay their successes in order to attract men. Others are indignant, saying they will never date a man who looks down on them, or become dependent on a boyfriend. But determining how a potential beau feels about a female's success can be tricky. Twenty-one-year-old Zhao Ping, who lives with her boyfriend on the weekends, noted: "At first, my boyfriend said he loved me because I was independent and confident. But now that I am his girlfriend, he wants me to be more dependent on him."

Some Chinese women suspect even men who advocate sexual equality prefer the traditional ideal of acquiescent and reliant women. "Men really want women to surrender to them, but they can't express this thought out loud. Boyfriends and husbands are totally different. As a girlfriend, you don't belong to him yet, and he will be very careful to keep you," said 24-year-old Luan Xuefei, a young woman who plans to be especially savvy when sizing up possible suitors.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of courtship for Chinese women is the lack of opportunities for casual dating. Conventionally, Chinese women are discouraged from playing the field. In fact, a Chinese woman who even superficially dates more than a few men may soon be branded as untraditional, brash, or even promiscuous. "If a girl dates two boys, she steps on two boats. People think girls who date around are unreliable and untrustworthy," noted 18-year-old Chen Yi'an. Thus, it's not surprising most Chinese women eschew casual dating and opt for only a few serious dating relationships before getting married.

Not all university women confine themselves to this version of monogamy when dating. Once in college, a rebellious few change boyfriends frequently and disregard any ensuing gossip. Li Yingying wants to date many boys before settling into a serious relationship. "I don't care if people talk badly about me. I think it's just my private business," she confided.

In the West, university women commonly see many men casually, using dating to refine their version of the perfect man. Traditionally, Chinese women don't have the option of using this trial-and-error dating method. As a result, one of the most difficult parts of dating may be deciding on whom to date, as Qu Hongyan believes. Once a girl begins dating a particular man, the relationship may fast become serious or even binding. It is often difficult for women to change their minds and begin dating other men.

Compounding this dilemma is the fact apprehensiveness and traditions tend to deter Chinese women from asking men for dates. Instead, they rely on flirting and dropping hints. Luan Xuefei explained: "I am a proud girl. I won't ask a man on a first date because I am afraid he will refuse." Qu Hongyan demonstrated her fear of rejection by pulling her body into a tight ball. Reluctant to brazenly pursue their love interests, to some extent, university women rely on chance to steer their romantic courses. For these women, dating is clearly an imperfect system.

Even after the onerous task of pairing up with the right man, dating in universities can be problematic. If they have money, they may find a degree of privacy at restaurants or entertainment at discos. But such activities generally prove to be too expensive and couples are forced to look elsewhere for refuge from the university crowds. Dorm rooms are usually not an option as eight students are commonly squeezed into a single closet-sized room. During summer, university couples can be seen holding hands and strolling around the school's racetrack or nuzzling on the library steps. But in the cold winter months, couples must find some privacy indoors. Zhang Yao remarked: "American couples drink and dance together. But in China, we study together."

In search of a degree of privacy, couples may head to university classes. It's rare to find an empty classroom on these crowded campuses, but couples can often be spotted whispering in the dark corners. Twenty-year-old Cao Lei admitted: "Only a few couples actually go to classrooms to study. Many bring books, but never open them. They just talk and stare at each other." Needless to say, university students drool in envy at the lucky couple who get to spend some semi-private hours on a train en route to a family's home.

The difficulties of university dating drive some Chinese women to disillusionment. Already cynical at age 18, Chen Yi'An doubts she will ever find a man who makes her happy. Li Yingying has given up her dream of falling in love at first sight, and now chooses her boyfriends for practical reasons. Some university women have even settled for money over romance, taking advantage of the fact their boyfriends often treat them to meals, clothes and other gifts. Behind their backs, some women refer to their boyfriends as fan ka, which are the cards students use to buy meals on campus. Others, like Luan Xuefei, vow to stick to their standards, despite the unfortunate consequences. "I'm a perfectionist in love. That's probably why I don't date much."

For busy Chinese university women, earning their master's degrees is their main goal. But everyone also wants to be part of a love story, and dating remains the topic of conversation in many dorms. Women the world over can attest to the difficulties of dating, but for Chinese university women, landing the right guy can involve a particularly tricky game.

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