Attitude, relationship patterns, and availability of partners are all factors of mixed relationships. Why do some British Chinese only date British men? Three women open to Na Ao…

The romantic relationship between Cho Chang and Harry Potter in the movie.

Uee Cai, 26, has been living in the UK and though single now, finds that British partners build her self-esteem.

In the years I have been in the UK, I haven’t looked in the mirror and asked myself: “Where’s your thigh gap? Have you put on more weight? Salad or fruits tonight?” Yet in China, and more pertinently, when dating Chinese men, I have asked myself these questions endlessly. 

I once went on an insane an-apple-a-day diet, which left me feeling dizzy and fatigued. I did this to slim down my legs when in reality they are already skinny enough. I just wanted to be more attractive to my high school boyfriend, and I lost myself trying too hard to tick all the boxes within Chinese beauty standards

In China, criticising or commenting on women’s appearances is sometimes considered well-intentioned normality, even from your partner. My high school ex once pinched my face and asked me how many snacks I‘ve had and if I was getting chubbier again.

The combination of wide eyes, double eyelids, small face, fair skin, ‘chopstick legs’, and slim figure makes the perfect Chinese girl. The more attractive a girl is perceived to be, the more likeable other people find her. These superficial and toxic beauty standards come in the way of romantic relationships. 

I often criticised my features and got wrapped up in the idea that my attractiveness directly reflects my value as a partner. My low self-esteem eventually led to a double-eyelid surgery to make my eyes seem larger and brighter, the look many Chinese aspire to. 

I wondered, why wasn’t someone coming to my defence and telling me that I’m beautiful just the way I am?

Then I met Lewis, my first English boyfriend. He was good-looking and fit, but those weren’t the only qualities that drew me in. It was the way he accepted my flaws and appreciated them. He would always give me flattering compliments on my outfits or makeup, telling me that he was proud of having the prettiest girl in the world.

He encouraged me to take up exercising and eat intuitively to build a healthier relationship with food. He made me comfortable in my skin, saying that I’m plump but not chubby and that I look good with no makeup on.

Even though Lewis and I broke up after 2 years, he made me feel freer. I distanced myself from Chinese beauty standards. My confidence slowly built up and I started to embrace and love the way I am. 

Since then, I have only dated British men because they stopped me from self-sabotaging and that’s forever transformed my self-esteem.

Michelle He, 22, though British born, finds dating British men has helped her integrate better into the English way of life.

In the years that I grew up in Manchester, the classic Chinese parents’ No.1 golden rule – “Don’t date until you finish your education! Relationships affect your grades” has always been my parent’s mantra. In Chinese culture, romantic relationships during school years are seen as a negative distraction from studies. 

Knowing that I grew up in the western world, my parents’ reaction was rather calm and friendly when I first brought my English boyfriend, Alex, home at 18. Due to cultural and language differences, they prefer me to date Chinese boys. However, having only six Chinese in my college who had also been separated into different classrooms did not give me many options to choose from. 

Although I can speak Mandarin, it’s not at the level where I can express myself freely and have deep, intellectual conversations with Chinese peers. I communicate and resonate better with British peers, and I could talk about absolutely anything with Alex for ages. 

The conversations we had over the years gave me a much deeper understanding of British culture that I did not possess growing up. My first English Christmas with Alex was a brand-new experience. Being brought up in a Chinese upbringing, I have simply missed out on the joy and excitement of rushing under a Christmas tree and tearing open the wrappings of the long-waited presents.

Christmas for us is more about getting people together and having a chatty feast. Chinese hotpot and grill which are festive favourites are replaced by pigs in blankets, turkey paired with cranberry sauce, crackers, and Christmas Pudding. 

The welcoming invites to celebrate British holidays with Alex gave me a chance to learn about the finer details of English cuisine, core values, and conversation between British families. With more interests and topics in common, I blended in well at university and got along with my British housemates. 

Being in relationships with English partners helps me to fully get involved in British society while giving me a new perspective to view British culture through a new lens.

Vivian Chen, 34, has been married to an English partner for 11 years and finds the relationship helps her break the language and cultural barrier. 

My story with my now-husband, Luis, began at a party back in 2009. I was 21, thrilled about starting a new chapter of my life in England, and desperately wanting to understand the culture better by making some English friends. 

It wasn’t love at first sight, but we got along well at the party, and had a few laughs, although mostly I just nodded and chuckled along, indicating that I got the humour but in fact was baffled by the jokes he made. 

Communicating in English was the challenging bit. We often had to use multiple synonyms to get the meaning of our sentence across as my vocabulary was limited. Thanks to Google Translator as well as Luis’s unsolicited corrections and occasional grammar & pronunciation lessons, my English gradually advanced and our conversation flowed smoothly as time flew by.

Now living in Leeds, Luis’s Yorkshire accent has definitely had an impact on my English journey- giving me a double accent. Although my fellow colleagues would always pull my leg about it: “how can you sound Chinese and Yorkshire at the same time?” I do feel more confident speaking with a local accent. 

As a woman born and raised in China for 21 years, Chinese social etiquette can sometimes be blunt, rude and inconsiderate in comparison with English ones. Through spending time with Luis, I gradually adapted to the polite and gentlemanlike English social customs, which changed from saying “I want this” to “Can I please have this?

From minding my own business and dashing away quietly despite having just bumped into a stranger abruptly on the street, to apologising three times and asking the stranger if he is OK before profusely apologising again and awkwardly going on my way. 

I wasn’t a tea drinker back in China, but now love to throw that question a few times a day: “Luis, shall we put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea?” Being with him has opened my eyes to an entirely new culture filled with diverse but fascinating cultural differences.