Everything You Need to Know about Dating an American and Having the ‘Relationship Talk’

Having lived in the U.S. for two years now, I have been experienced many firsts, but none of them compare to the first I experienced last week – my first Valentine’s Day. Well, the first Valentine’s Day I actually got to celebrate, anyway.

It is hard to believe that my first big day romance-wise happened in a country that I am not from and with a guy who is not Chinese. But I think it just made the whole thing fun, cool and memorable.

My friends were so surprised that at 24 years old I had never had a real Valentine’s Day, but I am pretty sure I am not alone (please LEAVE COMMENTS below if this year was also your first V-Day!).

Last Valentine’s Day, my friend told me not to be sad that I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with – when the time is right, it will exceed all your expectations. And he was right.

So let’s go back to talking about the big V-Day date, and chatting about some points that I think are interesting to share.

Having “the talk”

Before V-Day this year, my boyfriend and I had been dating for a couple of months, and we were right at the point of “defining the relationship.” We had a big, formal talk over dinner one night to discuss where we were in this relationship and where it should be going, and this talk basically determined if we would celebrate Valentine’s Day together.

Why do Americans have these big relationship talks?

Two American girls talk about their experiences having “the talk”

Well, there are so many types of relationships in the U.S.: dating, casual dating, relationship, open relationship (this one does not make any sense to me), serious relationship, etc.  It’s easy to see how people could be confused about which stage they are and which stage their partners are.

Why V-Day is scary

Valentine’s Day creates pressure to sort out all this confusion, and also gives people an excuse to define their relationship with certainty. Both people have to agree if they are already in or want to move into a relationship, which determines whether they do the V-Day thing together.

I was listening to On Air with Ryan Seacrest a few days ago, and a girl called in crying, saying how disappointed she felt that the guy she was dating did not take her out for Valentine’s Day. The hosts said that this was normal – the guy and girl did not have the exclusivity talk to figure out where they were in the relationship, and obviously they were not on the same page. So she got hurt.

A couple of my American friends told me they would rather just be alone on V-Day, even though they are dating someone. Why? Because they are just not sure if they are ready to take the dating to another level, and they do not want to create a misunderstanding with their partner.

My own V-Day

In my case, both my date and I are very cautious and drama-free.  We used this V-Day to make it official that we are only dating each other, and we got the chance to have beautiful V-Day date night at the beach.

In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship.  You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends, so there is no chance to be confused.  In other words, when it comes to V-Day, people either have it for sure, or don’t even think of it.  No discussion needed.

Is this the case in your country?  Let me know in the comments!

Here’s an example of how frustrating defining the relationship can be 🙂

Overall, Americans are very very cautious on the dating scene. It can sometimes take a long time for a romantic relationship to develop into an official boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.  Sometimes that never happens at all. There are all kinds of different stages of relationships that foreigners need to be aware of, and some of them will always seem kind of ridiculous (like the open-relationship stuff, I am just never able to get it).  But the key is that everything is talkable, and open communication is the key to navigating the relationship scene in a country that we are not originally from.


  1. That is the best article on American dating I’ve ever seen from a Chinese writer. If that doesn’t make it perfectly obviously like American guys like a relationship with a Chinese girl nothing will. It’s so much less complicated and you communicate without having to spell everything out. There’s also few single moms in China so now having to worry about meeting her kids. The one thing is that we are cautious about getting too serious because we see so many divorces, whereas Chinese often plow forward into a serious relationship and marriage without as many worries.

  2. As an American guy, I have to say that “open relationships” are largely a myth. Nearly everyone is familiar with the term, but it think you’d be hard pressed to find a couple that would actually define their relationship that way.

    As far as “the talk,” goes, I’ve been in relationships where we have had “the talk,” and I’ve been in relationships where we have not.

    I’m married now (three years as of February), and I’m pretty sure we never had a “DtR” discussion. I just introduced her as my girlfriend and got a hug and a kiss right away. Later in the relationship, and “I love you,” slipped out, and she said it back.

    I know I’m not alone here. DtR talks may not be common elsewhere in the world, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the US either.

    Just my thoughts. Take care.

  3. Dear Tara,
    I just recently entered a relationship with a japanese guy named….lets call him Itsuki and today actually is Valentines Day.It’s been the best so far.I’m like you,this is the only valentines day that actually isnt just a holiday passing by.I’ve never experienced this day with a guy who actually cares about me and has me on his mind every second,its really cool 🙂
    But what lead me up to this website was my search in whether an american girl dating an asian guy is ok.If you could please respond or if anyone else reads this and has input,i’d love to hear it.
    I’m scared of progressing this relationship if by any chance he’d bring up our ethnicity and say that its a problem.

    If you did (or anyone else) read this,thank you.


  4. there are two very important factors to not forget they are body language which basically is what really shows if a person is attracted to you and your self assuredness which when it is sensed by someone of the opposite sex is a complete and total turn on!!!!


  5. Hi Tara,

    I just come across your article that I really like it, I was looking for How does the American “dating culture” work? because I fell in love with someone and I want to know about American “dating culture”. I found in your article the same thing that one of my friends told me, it’s the open communication which I feel it’s my weakness, I wish I’ll have a good time with her next V-day!!

  6. Open relationship is everywhere not just in America. I have a friend in Japan that has an open relationship (a.k.a friends with benefits) with his “friend”. It depends on the person itself…

  7. Hi tara
    I think american give v.day avery big thing but i think its small and itsnot need all that attention that my opinion.

  8. Hi Tara,

    I really enjoyed your post/article. I am Mexican and just had a first date with an American man. I asked him a few questions about the concept of dating and it seems that there is really no set of rules, I personally don’t get it lol. I guess that the issue that throws me is where the boundaries lye in terms of the physical contact.

    In Mexico you can “date” a girl, which means take her out to movies, dinner, etc. but there is no physical intimacy until you’re official girlfriend/boyfriend status, which implies monogamy, and I think this is where it gets difficult because I have found that in American culture it’s ok to kiss, make out or even more in a casual dynamic….needless to say this little issue is causing me a little trouble…shame because I really like this guy… 🙁

    I enjoyed reading every one’s comments! It’s great to learn about different perspectives from various countries….take care all!

  9. I am 22 years old boy from Nepal. How can I make a girlfriend with an american. I want to make a good, mutual understanding and helpful ladies to make a good friendship. I am hopeful that you will surely help me…

    1. It’s kind of strange that i’ve never seen a white girl dating with or hanging out with an Asian guy. My friend is in UK and he was complaining that he couldn’t get a white girl. It seems white girls do not have affection toward Asian guys that much. But don’t get me wrong. It’s of course, worth trying! Maybe it’s because Asian guys tend to be more shy, i don’t know.

      1. Honestly I am an American girl and am dating a Vietnamese/Shoshone Indian guy who I love with all my heart. He is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me. In my opinion there are a lot of American relationships that are pointless and frankly quite stupid, but most are brought about by a broken heart, such as the “Open Relationship”(a.k.a. Friends With Benefits). American men and women can all be rude and disrespectful to other cultures at times, especially in areas where not many foreigners are found. However, in the end if they truly love you and are devoted to you, and treat you right, then they are a good person for you. A lot of Americans can be closed-minded but not all of them are so if anyone ever has problems the best advice is to just keep persevering.

  10. Another thing the American media does is hide actual facts. More than two thirds of American women are obese or overweight, men are 58 percent. There are 7-14% more men than women ( varies state by state ) under the age of 42. 51% of women under 30 have children with no father. ( studies have shown that women prefer fit men for short term relationships , many women only prefer short term relationships in 2012). Women have higher rates and levels of education than men ( the grand majority of women will not date someone who does not have the same education.) Then subtract the homosexual population ( no hate , just numbers) which is reported at 10% ( most likely 20%). Over 50% divorce rate, number one reason was financial crisis, also reported that many women prefer to be alone because the man doesn’t bring as much to the table as before ( through thick and this doesn’t exist anymore). Weak emotionless women, the media and government tore apart love , family…

    Dude not everyone gets to wake up to someone new let alone someone. I have studied women studies, traveled the world, America is the worst place in the world for a young man to be (unless you are a gq model, rich and or connected, a comedian or lucky enough to fall in love at a young age.

  11. Hi! I am an ESL (English as Second Language) tutor and a writer. My favorite chapters in this book are in the Language section. So many of us in America feel exasperated when we go through drive-throughs and accents get in the way. Lance Johnson’s book includes an accent reduction chapter that really works if people use it. I know. I’ve used it with my students.

  12. A great new book that explains these cultural differences – “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understanding crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” A whole chapter on friendship that’s filled with lots of tips.

    1. Thanks Lance. I checked out your book at amazon, people love it!!

      I am Tara, the author of this article, sorry I can not find out the login info for the site, since the articles were posted by editors at VOA (the awesome Ms. Jessica!) I am so happy to see there is a book specifically for foreigners helping them adjust new life in the U.S., I really appreciate your work. My email – tiantiantara@gmail.com, hopefully we can get connected.

      1. Thanks Tara. As I explained in the book’s intro, I wrote it because of the difficulties I saw my immigrant friends had adjusting to “crazy American culture,” as they called it. Your story about Valentines Day remindes me of why I devoted an entire chapter to our Holidays and Traditions. In it, I describe how my friends enjoyed participating in the Christmas spirit of giving and sharing even though they were not Christians. And this is an excerpt from my description of Halloween: “Several years ago I showed some immigrant American friends how to carve a pumpkin.They now do it every year and participate in the festivities.” Understanding our holidays and traditions gives them more insight to our culture.
        On the subject of dating, this is an excerpt from the Friendship chapter on cultural differences: “An Asian American reporter in San Francisco examined the dating relationships of Asians and Americans, and why some Asian American women prefer to date whites, or not date at all. The social dynamics might be relevant to other cultures as well.
        •Asian American men are too old-fashioned, too sexist, or too short.
        •Asian American men are thought of as inarticulate, unromantic, unfeeling, and
        only interested in money and material goods.
        •Japanese American men tend to keep their emotions hidden, which distances
        them from wife and children.
        •Traditional male gender roles of authority cause some Asian American women to
        seek relationships with those of other ethnic backgrounds.
        •Because Asian American women tend to become acculturated faster than Asian
        American men, there is greater incentive for them to adapt because they gain
        more power and freedom. There is less incentive for men because they already
        are held in high esteem in their own cultures.”

        I think it is important that we be honest about our cultural differences, including dating, friendship and a whole boat load more that I discuss in the book to help foreigners adjust to our culture. Thanks for offering this important forum.

  13. Wow, I had never even HEARD of “DTR”, which is surprising to me, as this is my fifth year in the States and I’ve seen all sorts of relationships bloom and wilt around me. I guess people don’t really publicise their DTRs, though. Is there a “DDTR”? Besides the Facebook relationship status, I mean.

    Still… It all seems a little artificial to me. I mean, if two people care very much for each other, I imagine their relationship will grow and develop over time, more naturally. That could be unrealistic or maybe even naïve in some circumstances, admittedly.

    Maybe the DTR is a requirement in a fast-paced world, where people move around a lot, and have access to general and personal information, such that it necessitates that the two explicitly agree on their terms. If there is a large and vibrant market, then contractual obligations seem most secure. But there, it’s already sounding unnatural and – worse – not romantic in the least!

    1. I honestly hadn’t heard of DTR either until I found these videos on YouTube, although I had heard of what I guess is the same thing referred to as “the relationship talk” (always with an air of dread around it – sort of like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdIID_TGwhM). But I think there will always be turning points in a relationship that are uncomfortable or scary, because you have to put yourself out there and hope the other person feels the same way. Like the first time you refer to the person you’re dating as your boyfriend (do they think of you as their girlfriend? What if they are horrified that you called them your boyfriend?), or the first time you tell someone you love them.

      Regardless of whether you live a wild, Sex and the City sort of life, or only date one person at a time and don’t plan to have sex until after marriage, I think these types of things still come up. And I REALLY hope there’s a good middle ground between talking through it and forming “contractual obligations,” because as far as I know, there’s only one type of sexual relationship that relies on a contractual obligation, and I don’t ever plan on having that.

      1. Also, I read DDTR as Dungeons and Dragons the Relationship. I’m not exactly sure what that would be, but probably awesome (This relationship’s alignment is lawful good?)

        1. A DD-ification of a relationship would be a fantasy come true, if you ask me – as long as it’s not a first edition love and the magic does not have to be renewed and recast every day. 😉

          (Although that might be fun too, if a bit tedious, à la “Fifty First Dates”.)

  14. Twenty four and never had a Valentines day with a boyfriend is quite common in China. I’ve met many here just like you.

    It’s less and less as the years pass mind you.

    The whole ‘big talk’ thing really blind-sides many Chinese girls in the mainland if they start dating an American. The girl just assumes they are in a relationship, and they guy assumes they are not.

    Hope you have many more Valentines days.

    1. Hey Sam

      You are exactly right! Chinese girls are the queen of “creating things bigger”. (Sorry, all my Chinese fellows, I just want to point out the cultural difference, nothing offensive).

      If an American guy wants to date a Chinese girl without dealing with the daydreams, I suggest him to find someone who has dated American guys before and knows how Americans perceive relationship, otherwise, he will be titled as player for no reason.

      1. Yep Tara, you’re right. And if they do go into a relationship with a Chinese girl like this, they’ll find it real difficult to escape if they want to afterwards.

        Chinese girls seldom give up in my experience, it’s the man who gives in. They are very determined when it comes to relationships.

        1. I used to read an article about how difficult it is to break up with a Chinese girl, and I could not help LOL.

          I wrote a list of “the reasons you should not date Chinese girl” on my own blog(for fun, no offensive), you can view it here. http://www.asiangirlwhiteguy.com/?p=2715. Let me know what you want to add, I would like to make it 100 items.

  15. I am Asian and I think that American guys like temporally things.Asian girls are mostly loyal and they can handle long distance relationships.But not sure about American guys… Of course it is my personal opinion.

  16. I really like this blog.I usually read your post on VOA.
    I have been dating with American guy for almost 17 months ( i am an Asian girl). we didnt have Vday together this year just because i left US to come back my country.I love him so much but now i dont know where we’re gonna be. We are thousand miles apart.:(. How long can we keep this long distance relationship???Idk. Anyways,i hope that the Asian-American couples will overcome every difficulty to have happy ending.

    1. Hey Jojo,

      Thank you very much for liking my posts.

      Many people have to deal with long-distance relationship, it could be a little bitter-sweet at the beginning, but it would be more of the bitter side as time goes by.

      I do not know what the past stories were between you and your bf, but if you love him so much, why did you leave America? Any chance you can come back or he goes to Asia? There are indeed a few people work out long-distance, but it is not something fun to try in nature. You can email me at tiantiantara@gmail.com, and or facebook me at “Tarra TiTi Chggnnee”, I would be glad to discuss with you. : )

      I hope all young girls to find love.


  17. Lol really enjoyed reading this. I’m also confused by the concept of open relationships as well but oh well–i guess that’s just American culture 🙂 I’m glad you had a wonderful valentine’s day experience

    1. Thank you Kola

      I agree with you. I think Open-relationship is totally bulls**t. It is just for being not ready for relationship, and create a new title.

      1. I don’t think it’s a bullshit. As long as the couples are fine with it and want to explore themselves more, there’s nothing wrong in it. I am not an American, but for it seems OK thing to exist. But of course, having open relationship should be explicitly agreed between the couple, otherwise it might leave one of them disappointed. Taking everything serious sometimes can be a pressure.

  18. “In China, and I believe in other Asian countries as well, there is only ONE type of relationship. You are either boyfriend and girlfriend, or pure friends”

    Same in England. I think this is just an American idea.

    1. That’s interesting to know. Because of any country in the world, I would have imagined England would be most similar to the US. Do you have the concept of “hooking up” like Americans do?

      1. England and America are surprisingly different!

        We have the phrase hooking up, but it’s used quite ambiguously as I understand it is in America too.

        1. QUITE. Anything from kissing to sex, I think. Although I feel like it always implies that you’re not dating the other person…

      2. Hello nice to meet you and may i know where speaking from fresh’I love to have interesting conversation with, and hopefupppay attention with me

    2. Same in Brazil you are either friends or boyfriend and girlfriend. This is defined in the first kiss, not need to talk.

      1. I’m from Brazil as well, and I’m pretty sure that ‘hooking up’ is valid in here!

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