Dating in Hong Kong
“I met a guy on OKCupid, ” my friend said.
“Fantastic! What’s he like?” I asked.
She proceeded: He was in his late 20s, single, British, a journalist.
I stopped her. She didn’t even have to tell me his name. There was only single British journalist in his late 20s on OKCupid in Hong Kong, and I had already been out with him. And so had my roommate.
We had a good laugh about it, but neither of us was surprised. The dating pool we found ourselves in as American women living in Hong Kong was decidedly shallow, and the dating site didn’t have nearly the reach there as it had in other big cities. OKCupid says it has about 2.8 million users in New York, and 45, 000 in Hong Kong — two comparably sized cities in terms of population.
Dating is daunting just about everywhere. But dating as an expat — “expiration dating” as some call it — brings its own unique set of frustrations.
I gave my blessing to my friend, but their courtship fizzled after a second date.
I was 25 when I moved from New York to Hong Kong, a city that, despite an obsession with new architecture and modern infrastructure, still classifies unmarried foreign women as “spinsters” on official visa documents. My work assignment had no definite timeline, a fact that put significant strain on my relationship at the time. My boyfriend couldn’t move with me, so we joined the ranks of countless couples before us who were going to defy the odds on long-distance relationships. Predictably, some would say, after six months of Skype and several 16-hour flights between us, we broke up.
The dating scene in Hong Kong wasn’t hopeless, but it became almost a cliche in my friend circles to complain about dead-end prospects. We were jet-setting and making huge strides in our careers, but our love lives felt stunted. Why, I wondered, did this otherwise vibrant, diverse city seem so lacking when it came to young, single men?
Hong Kong isn’t a hard place to be as a Westerner, generally speaking–decades of British rule established English and Cantonese as the city’s two official languages–though the city presented plenty of daily challenges, such as chronic air pollution, overcrowding and punishing sub-tropical heat. There’s no shortage of young people or places to meet them.
But it wasn’t just the expected East-West cultural divide that limited our dating prospects; for many of us, it was feeling foreign even among fellow expats. The 20-something hetero single expat scene was dominated by an echelon of bankers and lawyers. It’s a stereotype, to be sure, but not an entirely unfair one. Going to a club in Hong Kong often felt like a well-dressed frat party in which bar tabs bigger than my monthly rent would disappear with the swipe of an Amex. There were of course kind, attractive men in that group who defied the stereotype, but I didn’t have much luck meeting them, online or off.
“Couldn’t you go out with local guys?” friends back home would ask. Yes and no. I had friendships with Hong Kongers but no romantic sparks flew. That could have been a because of “cultural differences”–a phrase I grew to hate for its broad oversimplification of the expat experience–or it could have been simply that there was no spark. It wasn’t a problem of clashing cultural values when a man on OKCupid messaged me to say that even though he was married and lived in Singapore, he would like to set up a “mutually beneficial” relationship with me for when he traveled to Hong Kong on business.