Chinese Dating with the Parents is a new TV show sure to have fans of popular dating series If You Are the One hooked, with a plethora of traditional Chinese smackdowns viewers of the latter have come to relish. The format is straightforward, with the opening credits putting its mission bluntly: “to find a date your family will rejoice in”.
Each episode, five contestants (either male or female), along with their parents, assess possible suitors to decide whether or not to go on a date. The catch? The five contestants are put in a side room while their parents take centre stage, conversing with and trying to woo (or not woo) the potential suitor.
While the concept of intense family integration might seem a little strange and unnecessary to Aussie viewers, the idea of family interjection and interference is much more commonplace in China. Based on what I've seen with my own Chinese family, many parents basically see it as "their right" to have a say in who their child dates as that partner will soon become one of their household.
But just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t make it good. Let’s take a look at the arguments for and against letting your parents choose your partner.
FOR: You're just one big, happy family
Chinese families are very integrated. Culturally, it's not uncommon for many young Chinese to stay in their family home until they get married. It’s also not unheard of for you to live with your parents or in-laws after marriage. Therefore, having your parents approve of your partner before you get too far down the line does make things easier. If they like them, there'll be much less headache every time the family gets together, plus you can create one family Netflix account.
AGAINST: Do you really need another mother to disappoint?
The pressure to gain parental approval and be accepted is felt more heavily by Chinese females, especially those over 27, who are considered “leftover women”, while females over 30 get a free lifetime membership to the Crazy Cat Lady Club. So basically, if you’re a Chinese female aged 23-28, you better be DTF (i.e. Dazzling The Family). It seems absurd that your future love life is in the hands of some (with all due respect) old lady while you’re racing against the clock with images of cats looming in the distance. Women should be signing up to date men, not their mothers.
FOR: Your parents only want what’s best for you
In China, there is a very practical approach to dating. That’s why probing questions about your salary, how many partners you’ve had and whether or not your uterus is cold are light icebreakers in the Chinese dating game. Traditional Chinese see dating as a way to pick a partner, and settle down to create a stable and reliable environment to ensure successful perpetuation of their lineage. Your parents will be out to pick someone who can provide for you and make sure you won’t be struggling to make ends meet.
AGAINST: You should get a chance to be young, wild and free
That practical approach to dating makes it a means to an end. Your Chinese parents would view your dating the way Jay Z and Kanye West view their hit song: “We’re gonna do this one time, and one time only.” Though views are changing with the modern generation, traditional Chinese don’t see the point of “dating for fun”, hence having several past relationships is frowned upon (sex outside marriage was illegal until 1997). In Australia and many other parts of the Western world, however, dating is seen as a fun, youthful rite of passage – a chance to explore yourself, and find out who you are and what you like by how you connect and interact with different people. Many people would agree these opportunities to discover what you like in a person form an important foundation in your partner selection checklist.
AGAINST: Being a kidult only limits your potential
Recently, China has come under scrutiny for allowing a generation of “kidults” to emerge – young adults who, through a combination of social, economical and political factors (i.e. the one child policy and a burgeoning economy), seem to have grown up in a strange, sheltered bubble, both shielded and restricted by their parents’ love. Imagine living a life where you actively only do 70 percent of the things you could be doing. Now imagine where you could end up if you had the freedom and support to do the full 100 percent. It would be incredibly restrictive to heed your parents’ “well wishes” 24/7.
FOR: Letting your parents have a say in who you marry is the respectful and dutiful thing to do
Chinese children are constantly reminded how much “sacrifice” their parents have endured to provide the best for them and often feel a sense of filial duty towards them because of this. Coming from a Chinese background, I can understand but not totally accept this approach to dating and parents' interference in your adult life. In my household, my mum has done so much for me over the years: packed my lunch, done my laundry, written this article… So it would feel rude to completely disregard her opinions in something as big as my life partner when she had so much input into making me the person I am today. When I get married, I would hope my mum is happy so she doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about whether I made the right choice. (Yes, Mum would do that because I’m her favourite child.)
AGAINST: If you set out to please everybody, you’ll end up disappointing yourself
The issue is not whether to let your parents pick a partner based on what they think suits you, the real issue is around why you should stick with a partner despite your parents not liking them if that’s what you really want to do. It is impossible to constantly please everyone. This holds true even if those people are your parents. Substituting what you want for what your parents want is not a one-time thing. It would be a proverbial habit chain you wouldn’t want to break, which inevitably leads to unnecessary stress and pressure.
Absolutely none of this wisdom has been heeded by the contestants on Chinese Dating with the Parents , which airs Saturdays at 7pm on SBS VICELAND.
Missed the first episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand: