This post is part 2.2 of my series on dating and being a Western woman in Taiwan. The original question was posted here. In this post I will discuss cultural differences in interpersonal relationships. In the introductory post to this series I wrote down the basic narrative of how single white women perceive their status, but there is a problem with this narrative – many of these women haven’t been single the entire time they have been here.
This isn’t true for all of the women I have spoken with on this topic, but it is true for most of them. The fact of the matter is that most of them have at least had a few dates, if not committed relationships with at least 1 Taiwanese man. So clearly, it isn’t impossible to hook up with them. Building a long lasting, solid relationship, on the other hand does appear to be a problem. Unlike the previous topics, this issue (and #3) is one that Western men will also complain about.
It’s simple really – well, simple to explain. Sustaining cross-cultural relationships is hard. There are many factors that go into creating the expectations that one has regarding a romantic partner, and many of these are cultural and start in childhood. People grow up watching their parents, relatives, tv, and friends. As adults they continue to get input from things like romantic comedies, friends, and lovers-current and exes. These create ideas about propriety (public displays of affection), desire (love at first sight), gender roles (who should pay when you go out), and timelines (how long do you wait). These ideas and influences are not the same everywhere and so different people have different expectations. Even within a single culture people have differing ideas about relationships, and love can be hard. Now multiply that by the degree of difference between 2 cultures.
I have heard many specific complaints from people involving issues such as sex, condoms, treating, and affection, but I think the most telling complaint I hear from women is about communication. It is not uncommon for such a large degree of miscommunication to be happening that these women won’t even know what is going on. Sometimes I hear about this because I will ask people about their relationships and all they can say is that they don’t know. They don’t know if he is their boyfriend, if he wants to date, etc. Other times each half of the couple will give very different answers to questions such as: Are you dating?, How long have you been dating?, Are you two exclusive?, etc.
Some specific mistakes I have made myself involve misunderstanding a man’s intentions from the very start. What have I learned?
- Treating someone to dinner, even if it’s just two people at this dinner, doesn’t mean it’s a date(or even that he’s interested).
- Compliments are not necessarily a sign of attraction.
- An invitation to spend the night is often not sexual.
- Inviting someone to go out with friends does not mean it’s not date.
- Not calling a woman back for days or even a couple of weeks does not mean the man is not interested.
All of this confusion and misunderstanding is tiring and frustrating. At the end of the day it is easier to date someone from a similar culture. Different and exotic can be fun and exciting, but love is living day to day – it’s not a whirlwind affair that happens on the beach while on vacation. Love needs to be irl to be real.