Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dating Debacle

Some interesting thoughts on Bamboo Butterfly on Dating in Taiwan (Part I and Part II).

I wrote a piece on dating advice in Taiwan awhile back (edited not long ago), but of course, my thoughts in that area are to be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as I've never actually dated a Taiwanese guy. I was in a relationship with the man who is now my husband within months of first moving here.

I don't entirely agree with Bamboo Butterfly, but it's interesting and true enough that it is definitely worth a read.

Basically, my findings are this:

It's true that your average Taiwanese guy is generally more likely to prefer what you'd say is generally an average Taiwanese girl (note the very heavy use of "generally" and "average" here - I don't wish to stereotype): quieter than your average foreign woman (although not nearly always: I know plenty of very outgoing Taiwanese women and just as many very quiet American women), slender...I'd say "more modest" and "not as showy" but really, c'mon, with all the fake eyelashes and butt-shorts I see in this country I don't really buy that old cliche. It's true that your average Taiwanese guy is probably going to be just as judgmental about qualities he doesn't like in women in both personality and physical characteristics than your average American guy or wherever-guy.

But...you know what? I'm, err, curvy. And by curvy I mean overweight. I'm flamboyant. I'm loud. I have bright red highlights and my favorite color is eye-assaulting aqua or cobalt. I'm talkative. I'm aggressive. I'm tall - taller than many, but not nearly all, guys here. I am everything a "typical" Taiwanese guy is supposed to not like. And yet, I've had plenty of interest shown in me - I've been chatted up (in a totally not creepy way) on the MRT, had students who clearly had crushes on me, was once told it was too bad I had a boyfriend and had compliments on my looks (which aren't much of anything, really) and had guys who initially seemed interested later on show an interest in friendship (which I tend to brush off, it's a bit weird when you're married), indicating that it wasn't just an interest in a fling.


Bonus! Here's me looking like a drowned rat in Fugly Pants and hair plastered to my head while river tracing in Yilan.
So, as you see, I am not slender, I am not girly, and I am not afraid to wear Fugly Pants.
If Taiwanese guys could like me, they can like you. Your pants are probably not as fugly anyway.

All this just proves that for all those guys who like what you'd expect, there are so many who like something else. I do think a lot of Taiwanese guys who like a foreign woman (or foreign women generally) are the ones who don't want what they see as "normal" in Taiwanese women (I have no doubt that plenty of these guys will go on to meet awesome, cool, outgoing, flamboyant Taiwanese women, in addition to foreign women, though). They're the ones who don't mind a little curviness, who don't want the quiet, sweet, highly manicured "presence" that Taiwanese women are encouraged to cultivate - please note, I don't think all Taiwanese women actually are those things, just that the culture here encourages them to be that way more than, say, American culture encourages women to do so. Who think a little bit of loud&crazy is not only fun, not only acceptable, but desireable. If those guys didn't exist, I wouldn't have any Taiwanese male friends, but I do.

I don't agree that men in Taiwan generally aren't into foreign women the way that women in Taiwan are into foreign guys: I've had more than one guy tell me that they'd actually love a foreign girlfriend, but don't know how to go about making it happen, or are too shy and know it. I think this perception that Taiwanese men don't like foreign women is a false assumption based on the fact that they don't show it as much when they do like someone, and they often won't show it at all when they like someone they know they can't have (or are too shy to go after). Not always - I had one student who had a pretty obvious crush on me and, while he said absolutely nothing inappropriate, it was just really obvious. You know what I mean - a lifetime of being outgoing but really a big dork at heart means I'm not the best at figuring these things out and even I could tell. He probably could have hidden it better - so no cultural observation is universally true.

I do think a lot of foreign women don't realize it when a Taiwanese guy does like them, because it is true (and I completely agree with Bamboo Butterfly on this) that he's not likely to be as forthcoming, not as likely to act on it, and not as likely to make the first move, or any move. It's been pretty well documented by my local social network here that what we see as "friendly" stuff that a guy friend might do with a girl-bro is seen as what we'd call "casual dating" in the West. By the time a local girl and guy go out on an actual date in Taiwan, they're far more "official" than we'd consider ourselves to be in Western culture. A few of my foreign female friends have noted this: dating just happens differently, and a Taiwanese guy could be thinking he is making a move by going out for coffee, hiking or whatever one-on-one where a Western girl might think he's just being friendly. He might not be aware that his intentions are not nearly as clear as they would be with a Taiwanese girl, and she may not be aware at all that he likes her.

I've seen it happen more than once! This is an extreme example, but it happened to a friend of mine who went hiking, jogging etc. with a local guy several times and thought of him as a friend. Then one day he started talking about how they'd have to compromise their cultural differences as a couple and she was all "wait, WHAT!?" Not the norm, I think, but it makes a point.

Final thoughts: laydeez, look for the cool, quirky Taiwanese guy who wants what you have to offer. Don't get discouraged thinking that they as a whole are not interested. Chances are, they are. Don't think you have to morph into some stereotype of a quiet sweetling (which doesn't even hold much water in Taiwan: it's a cliche for a reason) - there's probably a guy in Taiwan who likes you for who you are now. Be more alert: what you might think of as basic friend stuff might be, to that guy, more. So don't write him off because he isn't approaching the whole thing the way a Western guy might. Be on the lookout for cultural differences and attitudes: you don't want to end up with a guy who seemed great while you were dating but then ended up having some pretty sexist ideas about what sort of girlfriend (or wife) you should be. Guys who are happy to buck those notions do exist - find one of them instead.

And don't lose hope. There's probably a Taiwanese guy out there with a crush on you right now - you just don't know it because he's not showing it in the way you'd expect.

7 comments:

Eileen said...

I agree 100% with what you said. I was at my heaviest when I first met my husband and he asked me on a date. :) I was in New England and we are not known for having a "clean" mouth. I've gotten better. Kind of.

"It's been pretty well documented by my local social network here that what we see as "friendly" stuff that a guy friend might do with a girl-bro is seen as what we'd call "casual dating" in the West. By the time a local girl and guy go out on an actual date in Taiwan, they're far more "official" than we'd consider ourselves to be in Western culture."

Exactly. That is what exactly happened with my then-boyfriend-now-husband.

I actually think those pants are snazzy on you. Just saying.

I am moving to Taiwan offically roughly around September. Taiwan is an amazing country (I don't think it's a part of China, either).

If I was single, I would really use your advice.

Rhonda said...

I feel like I offended you in some way but that was not my intent. I also am not some mute fragile creature sitting in the corner with my hands folded in my lap and I never changed who I was while living in Taiwan. I am pretty quiet by nature but I also have plenty of wild, spontaneous moments some would label as crazy.

My blog post was about my personal experiences and what I learned through talking with locals, other foreigners, and my students. I'm glad you have had different experiences and at no point was I ever saying all Taiwanese men are or think a certain way.

I think you are completely correct when you say many Taiwanese men probably harbor crushes on foreign women and don't come forward. There is indeed hope for foreign women who want to date in Taiwan, and that's why I said, go for it, but be prepared for a challenge.

But I still stand by my perceptions because of what I experienced. Doesn't mean they're without error, but they are my own individual perceptions.

Jenna Cody said...

Rhonda, no, you didn't offend me, I'm just opinionated is all! Very, very opinionated. I used to think that was a bad thing. Now, while I try to keep it from getting out of hand, I've decided to embrace my opinionated self and just temper it with genuine attempts to understand other perspectives.

Besides, I'm married, who cares what Taiwanese men think of me anyway, haha!

There was just one line in your post that bothered me: "Actually, I don’t blame them for not wanting anything serious with obnoxious loud and spoiled foreign women – these women actually give people like me a bad name."

Here, you are conflating loud/flamboyant women with "obnoxious" and "spoiled" women, and the two absolutely DO NOT go hand-in-hand.

I was also thinking about "Many Taiwanese guys are generally very family oriented and believe family obligations come first, which is a good thing."

I agree - it is generally a good thing. Over on Forumosa some idiots were positing that foreign women don't like Taiwanese men (NOT TRUE! We mostly totally do) because they are too "attached to the apron strings". Nope...most women like that.

It can be a problem, though: when you're 5th date in a row is cancelled because of yet another family dinner, family issue or family whatever, or the needs of Mom come before your needs (if you are serious enough that you're headed towards life partnership), I can see how some Western women would not be OK with that. It's not always a good thing.

Rhonda said...

I think my words came out wrong, not as I intended, so I did go back and say what I really meant to say.

I do agree too the family thing can be a problem at times but I was speaking about the fact that it seems Taiwanese in general highly respect/and or care about their families.

It's good to be who you are, you should never change! :) Keep enjoying Taiwan, I miss it very much.

Rhonda said...

I do agree too the family thing can be a problem at times but I was speaking about the fact that it seems Taiwanese in general highly respect/and or care about their families.

It's good to be who you are, you should never change! :) Keep enjoyin

Jenna Cody said...

If I could "like" that on Blogger, I would, but I can't! :)

I do like the family responsibility thing - I have a good friend (Taiwanese, male) who can be kind of an a-hole (but is also a trusted friend, really) but despite his difficult family circumstances and upbringing, is taking care of his father who is ill, probably terminally so, and that has really raised my estimation of and respect for him as a person & friend (also, he and another friend were there for me right when I needed friends the most, which has catapulted both of them from "friend" to "good and trusted friend for whom I'd go to great lengths if they needed me").

Jocelyn said...

Great post Jenna! I applaud you for the photo in your fugly pants (that takes courage to post), letting yourself stand as a reminder that many guys out there can appreciate all kinds of women. I know that's true w/ my husband, who loves the fact that I have a little "meat" on me.