This article was first published on March 7, 2023. It was republished on October 23, 2023.

If you were raised in an Asian household, you may have encountered the ‘no dating until marriage’ rule and were left bamboozled. 

‘No dating until marriage’ is an oxymoronic phrase playing on the traditional Asian belief that falling in love and finding a partner should only happen when you’re ready to tie the knot.

Asian parents often teach their children that dating is for marriage, not for fun, and only once they are of a suitable age. 

Are Asian families setting their kids up to fail on the dating scene? Re: News contributor Janhavi Gosavi asked four different young Asian New Zealanders how they talk about dating in their households, in an article accompanying our series Dating While Asian.

Grace and her mum Shirley talking about dating in episode 1 of Dating While Asian

Breaking it to your parents that you’re dating 

Disha, who is not using her real name because she doesn’t want her parents to find this article, is a 24-year-old Indian woman who started dating her boyfriend while at university.

She kept her relationship a secret from her parents for over two years, only coming clean once she had graduated – and strategically sandwiching that info in between academic achievements.  

Disha is close to her parents, who have always known her to drink and party, but never date.  

After understanding how much her parents had sacrificed to come to New Zealand, she was determined to protect their peace of mind by procrastinating telling them about her dating life.

“No one lives a better double life than the oldest daughter of an Asian family,” Disha says. 

Sally is a 28-year-old Chinese woman who also got into a relationship while at university. It took her a year and a half to tell her mother about it, a phone call she describes as “very awkward” and “taboo”. 

“I kind of said it out of the blue: ‘I have a guy friend who’s more than a guy friend’. Mum’s first reaction was: ‘But you’re still studying?’” 

Sally’s mother was dismissive of Sally’s relationship and only expressed interest in it once Sally had graduated from university. 

Anna says her father begrudgingly agreed to let her start dating when she was 16. 

He was drunk when Anna’s family convinced him to physically put it in writing: “I allow my daughters to date and I support their decisions.” 

Moving out of home at 20 allowed the Vietnamese woman to “make more spontaneous decisions regarding dating” and be more than just a role model for her younger siblings. 

“It's nice to be able to have sex in my own flat and not get a lecture afterwards.”

Grace’s mum sharing her wisdom in Dating While Asian

Are young Asian people being set up to fail in their dating lives?

Raised in a “strict” Catholic Filipino household, Ryan – who asked for his name to be changed for privacy reasons – says his parents hoped he’d be married in his 20s. 

Growing up, discussions of relationships either escalated straight to marriage talk or were avoided completely to prevent talking about sex, he says. 

“I was never officially ‘permitted’ [to date], I just figured it out on my own.”

In the past year, Anna has opened up to her father about her sexuality and dating life. In return, he has shared stories of his dating experiences before marriage. 

“I feel like if I had heard more stories from my parents about their dating experiences when I was a teenager, I would have made less mistakes,” Anna says.

Neither Anna nor Ryan have ever introduced their partners to their parents. Anna wonders if it's because she’s only been casually dating. “Unless I see myself marrying that person, I don't see myself bringing them home,” she says.

“The guy I'm currently seeing… we’ll be in bed together and he’ll Snapchat his mother. He’s white, of course. It boggles my mind. I could not imagine that kind of openness.”

The pressure to marry

According to Sally, a young Asian person is expected to find someone to date between the ages of 21 to 25, and marry them between the ages of 27 to 30. 

She says it’s an unrealistic and rigid time frame and doesn’t account for breakups.

Sally’s parents put the heat on Sally to turn her six-year relationship into a marriage, and she says she wonders if she stayed with her ex longer than she should have because she wanted to “prove something” to her parents.

When Sally and her boyfriend broke up, Sally’s parents were on the phone to her older sisters, suddenly worried that Sally was 25 and single. 

Now, at 28, Sally is single again after coming out of another long term relationship. 

Desperate for her to get married soon, Sally’s parents recently tried setting her up with a man…And Sally suspects she’s not his type.

Source: iStock

Once you’re in, you’re in

All that said, both Ryan and Sally say that once your partner is accepted by your Asian family, they firmly become a part of the family. 

All of Sally’s siblings’ partners are well taken care of by her parents.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” Sally says. 

Navigating dating with Asian whānau can be frustrating, insightful, confusing and funny. 

Our parents are intent on us finding committed partners who are financially stable, socially upstanding and hopefully Asian. 

But underneath their rules and expectations lies unspoken love and the need to ensure their children are provided for. 

Janhavi Gosavi is a journalist based in Pōneke. She holds a BA in history, cultural anthropology and theatre. In 2022, she was the editor of Salient Magazine. 

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