Beijing has been referred to as a "dating wasteland" by some of the capital’s single residents. Rightly or wrongly, criticisms often revolve around the common stereotypes that all the men are looking for Chinese women, and all the women are looking to get married. Beijing’s singles scene is unlike anywhere else in the world and it takes a lot of guts, perseverance, and hope to navigate it. Especially if you’re a single parent.
A single mother from the UK, Sarah Cooper moved to Beijing five years ago with a 3-month-old and a sense of adventure. Having left her career in law to start her own life-coaching business, creatively named Cows From My Window, she was more focused on getting her new life in order than hitting the bars. When she did venture out, Cooper found the scene to be somewhat lacking. "There are people in my age group and there was the odd date. But [dates were]much less frequent [than in the UK]," says Cooper. "Were there slim pickings? Not really. There are a lot of great young guys here really embracing China," she adds. Therein lay the problem. A lot of the men she was meeting were here for their careers, not necessarily to commit to a relationship and young child.
Getting Out There
Actively participating in the dating scene can be cause for embarrassment in some parents, and can leave them emotionally vulnerable. Sometimes all that’s needed is time. "Some people aren’t ‘out’ yet as single mothers. That [acceptance]happens over a long period of time," explains Cooper. However, she believes that trying to find someone to share your life with should not be frowned upon and is simply human nature. "To be with someone is a fundamental human need," she says, but warns, "It’s not a need at all costs." Before putting yourself out there, parents are advised to develop themselves as individuals first. "Feel good about you rather than dependent on having a partner," says parenting expert Kathryn Tonges. If you’re worried about what a potential date may think about your status as a single parent, Cooper reminds moms and dads,"Having a child is a useful filter and helps attract the right person."
Explaining Date Night
Tonges strongly encourages parents to explain their decision to start dating again. "It’s important to explain that just how they enjoy spending time with their friends, you like to spend time with adult friends," says Tonges. She explains that when parents start dating, children may have feelings of confusion and can worry about where their other parent fits in this new development. "Really listening and accepting children’s feelings is vital, especially [if you’re all]still coping with feelings of sadness, insecurity or hurt following a separation," says Tonges.
When To Make the Introduction
Bringing new people into the family unit is a delicate task that should be handled with patience and understanding. Children can be fiercely loyal to the parent with whom they are no longer living, especially if they feel that they’ve been unnecessarily removed. Alternatively, children can bond quickly with new people, not understanding that this new person might simply be temporary. "Working in a family support program, there were two common mistakes I saw: introducing the date too soon and displays of affection that were too much too soon," notes Tonges. Before exposing your children to new partners, be sure you’re both on the same page and want the same things out of the relationship. If you feel this person is a temporary part of your life, best to keep them separate from your kids.
If you do choose to bring your new partner into your family, be aware of how your behavior can affect your children and keep the cuddling to a minimum. "Older school-age children and teens are trying to cope with their own emerging sexuality, let alone the embarrassment of witnessing yours. Even young children can feel jealous, confused, angry or frustrated," Tonges explains.
What Will the Neighbors Think?
China is not known for openly embracing single parenthood, particularly where older generations are concerned. It is not unheard of for elderly divorced Chinese couples to live in the same house, tell their friends they’re happily married, yet lead totally separate lives. However, the fear of being seen as "different" should not stop people from leading an active dating life. "We don’t have much direct control over our love lives. But we shouldn’t actively discourage it," says Cooper. She adds that despite China’s generally traditional views on marriage and family, she didn’t feel any stigma from her local Chinese friends or from those in the expat community.
As always, dating involves taking a good hard look at yourself. If finding someone to share your life with is important to you, it’s worth assessing whether or not Beijing is the most suitable place to find that person. "It’s an understandable human need to want to share one’s life and one’s parenting with someone else," says Tonges. "Of course, any move requires careful planning, lots of listening and discussion with your children."
Cooper, who recently left Beijing, believes she made the right choice for both herself and her daughter. "I really want more children and I want to meet somebody. I’m taking the best route at a critical time. I don’t want to look back and think I didn’t do everything I could." She hastens to add, "I don’t want to rule Beijing out, it’s just for a different kind of person."
Living in Beijing is definitely not the end of your dating life, but it does require a more concerted effort than back home. Actively socializing, going outside your comfort zone and accepting that there will be some upsets along the way are all part and parcel of life in the capital. "What single parents need is to be extra mindful of developing friendships and support systems for their parenting. They [need to]have someone to safely share their parenting concerns with so they don’t feel isolated," advises Tonges. Remember, you’re dating for two, so take your time.