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Peter lived for nearly a half-decade in China, including two as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is the author of Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the (Chinese) Way. It is the intention of his blog to foster the sort of intercultural understanding necessary for long term relationships.
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Leap of Faith

By Peter V
454 Views | 5 Comments | 4/13/2018 10:10:54 AM

My friend Wayne (not his real name) is a medical doctor at a large university hospital.  Twice divorced but ever the optimist, he is currently in search of the woman to spend his remaining years with.  Recently a female researcher from China visited his university.  He was interested, and not only in a scholarly sense, as I deduced from a couple of emails I received from him querying me on matters of Chinese culture. After not hearing from him for a while, I decided to check on  how things were going, and received the following response:

 

“We had 3 dinner dates, never even kissed, but she sent me a letter basically proposing marriage & family.  She said I was the kind of person she wanted to be with, and she wanted a family and to live in America.  On our 2nd date she had said that her mother was pressuring her to get married and have kids.  Smart woman, here as visiting scholar, masters in math at one university and recently defended PhD in some type of applied math related to computer science, apparently at a top Chinese school (sorry, don't remember the name).  Very nice person, straightforward, good values, attractive. I said that I would need at least a year together before even thinking about marriage.”

 

In the end, she had to make a decision whether to extend her stay at the university, and a promise of “we’ll see how things go” was unsurprisingly not enough to induce her to do the paperwork, nor was she about to rearrange her life for a possibility. She left, and that was that.

 

What we have here is a clash of world views, the type that is bound to occur at some point when you have an intercultural relationship. Your reaction to Wayne’s situation will vary no doubt depending on how long you have been on ChinaLoveMatch.net and the degree to which you have followed the blogs. Long time members/faithful blog readers will be rather blasé about the incident, having encountered some variation on this theme during their encounters and interactions with Chinese women on CLM, while newbies are more likely to share my buddy’s incredulity that someone would propose a life together on such short notice.

 

I’m not going to justify or criticize either party in this matter—each is right from their culture’s as well. But the issue goes beyond this single incident, and properly analyzed can provide some larger insight into culture that might be helpful for those venturing into this territory of cross-cultural dating.

 

Cultural anthropologists distinguish between an “internal” and “external” locus of control. For the internal locus of control perspective, there are few circumstances that have to be accepted as they are, that cannot be changed. Indeed, there are no limits on what I can do or become, so long as I set my mind to it. Life is what I do. By contrast, the external locus of control viewpoint sees some aspects of life as predetermined, built into the nature of things. There are limits beyond which we cannot go and certain givens that cannot be changed and must be accepted. Life is in large part what happens to me. Chinese culture is classified as having an external locus of control, while for Americans the locus of control is perceived to be internal. To get a sense of what’s at stake here, consider the following question: Which of the following two statements do you most agree with?

 

A. What happens to me is my own doing.

B. Sometimes I feel I don’t have control over the direction my life is taking.

 

Eighty-nine percent of Americans agree with statement A, while only thirty-five percent of Chinese do.

 

I encountered a rather amusing example of external locus of control early in my language study in China. The phrase “I lost my wallet” translates in Chinese as “the wallet is lost” (我的钱包丢了). This is not just a linguistic difference. The phrase in English clearly states that the agent is responsible for losing the wallet, while in the Chinese equivalent responsibility for losing the wallet is much more vague.  Indeed, one is almost led to believe that the wallet got itself lost. Or maybe it was fate. In any case, responsibility for losing the wallet is definitely diluted in the Chinese phrase. Indeed, I suspect this is why it seems to me Chinese get much less upset about losing things like cell phones.

 

To apply this terminology to the situation just described, my friend Wayne was obviously operating within an external locus of control, wanting to be the one who actively chooses his life partner. By contrast the visiting Chinese researcher viewed the decision as largely being shaped by external circumstances.  Not only were her parents’ wishes playing a role in her decision process. My guess is that she was relying on fate (yuan fen), which had put this American doctor in her path as well in this situation.

 

This distinction between internal and external locus of control is important in intercultural relationships because most of the men reading this will be coming from an internal locus of control perspective and will have many of the instincts of my friend Wayne. You will want to the master of your relationship fate, playing by the rules that have come to define you conception of relationships: that relationships develop between individuals who have the same interests, likes and desires; that two people need to get to know other and be tested over time, perhaps even live together: and that when you are certain you have a solid, stable relationship, then and only then is it time to tie the knot. The rationality of such an approach cannot be denied. Indeed, it mimics in many ways the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment, verification/refutation. And it is the model that dating sites such as eHarmony rely when they when they match people together and predict compatibility.

 

However, in your intercultural relationship you will to a large degree be operating by external locus of control rules. Not only will the women you are dating be immersed in this perspective. But the choices that are available to you will be shaped by this perspective as well. You will not have the luxury of multiple dates over months or years to make a decision about a life mate. Instead you will communicate by email or chat for a while, have a visit, and then have to make a decision. At least this is one common scenario the CLM members will encounter. This will run counter to your cultural instincts, which will be the same as my friend Wayne.  And this may look odd and even irrational by external locus of control dating protocol. But if you are going to succeed these are the rules you are going to have to play by.

 

Cultural anthropologists often invoke the image of an iceberg to describe culture, making the point that as with an iceberg the majority of the components of culture are beneath what can be obviously encountered. Locus of control is one of these aspects of culture hidden deep below the surface. So while for an above-the-surface issue like using chopsticks as opposed to forks and knives the transition can be made relatively easily, those involving elements below the surface, like shifting the locus of control, usually require a lot more effort. You don’t have to get a PhD in cultural anthropology, but you should understand a little about what makes culture tick as well as know the fundamental components of the  culture (in this case, China) you are attempting to transition yourself into by means of your intercultural relationship.

 

But in the end, more will be required than understanding the culture in order to be successful in your intercultural relationship (although the probability of a successful relationship will definitely be enhanced by your knowledge and understanding of the other culture). Beyond the process of understanding and getting to know a culture, which can all be carried out rationally, the acceptance of external locus of control perspective will require something the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called the “leap of faith”--a move beyond what can be rationally justified, a jump into the great unknown.

 

No one can force you to make this move, and in the end in may not be right for you (it was not for Wayne). All I can say is that it was what I was required to do, and I have not looked back, nor regretted.

 

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2018-04-13 08:40:50 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Peter, as so often, you have really hit the nail on the head here, and I hope members will take the time and make the effort to fully grasp what you are saying. I seriously thought about trying to narrow it down to its simplest possible form, but realized that would only result in readers reading my greatly simplified (and possibly faulty) summary and mistakenly thinking they understood the overall cultural issue you are addressing.

And that would be a huge mistake because this is an issue they must recognize and understand if they truly hope to build a lasting relationship, and this applies equally to both the men and the women.  Both sides need to understand these cultural differences and be prepared to accommodate them. I urge all members to read, understand and learn from this blog.

And, as an aside, I might add that another change is taking place that demands that we start to change the way we address these types of issues here on CLM and ALM. We are starting to notice that the lines are just beginning to blur a little as to who is interested in who on our sites. It has always been assumed, and so expressed on the blogs and forum, that we are here to assist and educate Western men and Chinese/Asian women as to their cultural differences. But now we are starting to see more and more Chinese and Asian men joining in search of Western women, and less frequently, but still growing in numbers, Western women seeking Chinese or Asian men.

We haven't reached the point yet, but I believe within a year or so, we will need to stop talking to Western men and Chinese/Asian women and start talking to Western people and Chinese/Asian people because the number of Western women dating Chinese or Asian men on these sites will have become much more apparent, and within 5 years I suspect they will have become equal to the numbers of Western men dating Chinese or Asian women.

As always, the times they are changing.

#2018-04-13 12:04:28 by melcyan @melcyan

Peter, great blog! Ten years ago my knowledge of Chinese culture was much poorer than it is now. I understand Wayne’s response but I can’t help feeling sorry for him. He may have missed out on a woman who was perfect for him because he lacked an understanding of Chinese culture. He also probably never had the opportunity to analyse and learn about the shortcomings of his own culture.

 

She paid him the ultimate compliment but he had no idea what to do next. He could only answer in the way he had answered in the past.

#2018-04-15 22:07:26 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

Peter,

Good stuff, as usual,

I remember, a few years ago, 'meeting' a Chinese lady on either CLM or CLL. We chatted for a few months then suddenly we went 'quiet', for reasons I don't remember.

I'd 'met' another lady, and we went to Thailand together. Things didn't work-out, but I was foolish enough to document it in my blogs on CLM. The 'other' lady read my blogs and decided to look elsewhere.

When we finally met for dinner, in Nanjing, she had married a guy from the Netherlands.

I was stunned, on many levels......

Firstly, she was the most BEAUTIFUL creature I had ever laid eyes on...

She was sharp, witty, stunningly beautiful, and fun to be with. She had more 'sex-appeal' than a 2018 Mustang Convertible with leather seats......

She was 'everything'.............

Yet, to her, 'marriage' was most important.

It's been 4 years now, and she's not seen her 'husband' since her wedding day.

 

What does THAT tell you ????? Did I miss out on an 'opportunity', or, like your friend, did I have a lucky escape ?

 

#2018-04-16 11:18:21 by sandy339 @sandy339

 A logical, rigorous and rational narration with interesting and convincing examples, lol. GREAT! But there is no any personal touch or love in this story by itself. Maybe they should hold more lightened attitude to this intercultural relationship, a friendly advice to them: keep in touch to see weather there still is chance for themselves. Thanks for sharing this story (although there is nothing new and there is nothing more under the iceberg to me, lol.) :D

#2018-04-17 00:35:28 by anonymous17046 @anonymous17046

Paul, personally I think you dodged a bullet with this woman. Why is she married, has not seen her husband in four years yet is going out for dinner with you? It seems like her marriage is a marriage in name only. It would seem he does not care about being apart for four years either. If she is such an amazing woman why is he not with her?

"Going quiet" means either she lost interest in you or you lost interest in her, I had this happen a few times myself here. In one of the cases she contacted me again after 6 months of silence wanting to start over again with me, I asked her why she went silent with me, her reply was that she had met someone else who she was quite interested in and wanted to focus all of her energies on him. I told her I would be a friend only as I am not anyone's fall back plan(second choice). Havent heard from her since then lol.

@sandy339: there is something new to learn in everything....

@johnabbott, I do not agree with you in the numbers you say about western women/chinese men. From everything I have read or heard most(not all) western women are not attracted to nor interested in Chinese men unless they are extremely rich. I do however believe that Chinese men have gotten themselves into quite the pickle in the last 10-15 years or so, all the past treatment of their women is starting to come back and kick them in the ass, karma is quite the jerk! Chinese women now have the opportunity to meet western men easily and most are very attracted to western men.

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