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December 28, 2010

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New rules in the dating game

ANSON, a 20-year-old psychology student, quietly follows a young woman from the entrance of a bookstore to the sixth floor. He may seem like a stalker, but he's just a plump, inept guy waiting for the perfect moment to practice the PUA (pick-up artist) skills that he paid 2,000 yuan (US$331) to learn.

This is a practice session. He and seven other guys with sweaty palms and butterflies in their stomach have gone to a bookstore to approach a girl -- hopefully they will chat and she will agree to see him again.

They're just a few of the many young Chinese men who have never had a date and are painfully awkward and uncomfortable about approaching girls. This is partly because they've been sheltered and pampered, and as single children they have gotten virtually everything they wanted. Partly because they think expressing interest in a girl will put them in a weak position and they will be rebuffed. Sometimes parents have forbidden them to date and they're not used to being around the opposite sex.

It wasn't like this 10 years ago; guys were more forceful. There were also courtship rules for relationships - introduction by friends, first coffee, flowers, first meal and so on - that were supposed to lead to marriage. These days there aren't simple guideposts.

Back to the bookstore.

To look nonchalant and hide his face, Anson picks up a book at random, "How to Feed Your Baby," with a half-naked nursing mother on the cover. He ducks behind book cases and blushes each time the very sexy young woman comes closer as she browses. She's wearing a very short skirt, black stockings and high heels.

"Be confident, be positive and use eye contact," Anson whispers to himself, repeating the 2,000 yuan's worth of key points. He abruptly comes up to the woman, who is startled but polite.

After a moment of awkward silence, he mutters to the woman holding a CD, "Isn't the book interesting"?

Thinking he's weird and maybe a stalker, she immediately drops the CD and runs to the elevator, without saying a word.

Meanwhile, one of Anson's classmates, also flunks and is literally pushed away by a mature young woman when he asks, "Are you a high school student?"

These rookies are taking two-day, personalized how-to-meet-a girl course taught by self-proclaimed "love guide" Frank Zhao, eight other coaches and a young women they "practice on." Each weekend, eight guys, from 19 to 35 years old, enroll in courses held in different cities.

"Many Chinese guys are far too shy and lacking confidence. They are too conservative and timid to even take the first step. And even if they do start, they don't know how to do it," says Zhao.

The love guide writes a popular blog under the name Han Jiangxue and claims to have approached around 2,000 girls who were strangers and obtained their phone numbers. One is now his girlfriend. He's something of a collector, but he does offer some useful advice.

Zhao says he is self-taught and well read in Western books, such as Neil Strauss' "The Game."

Bold girls

Girls rule. Because guys are so awkward, young Chinese women feel obliged to take the lead and act more assertively, especially when their parents and society at large expect them to get married before the age of 30. Otherwise they will be "left-over women."

"Something has definitely changed in the past 10 years, although I'm not exactly sure what has," says 29-year-old Sammy Wu, who got married in November.

"Ten years ago, when I was a sophomore, my mom told me never to ask a guy out, because it would make me look too forward, 'fast' and cheap," she says. "And that could make my in-laws look down on me forever."

But today TV dramas, talk shows, movies, celebrity gossip and stories of acquaintances all show that nice girls can indeed take the initiative and still be respected. They can marry the guys they approach and lead a happy life.

Despite that early warning, Wu's mother later became one of her best advisers as Wu asked her husband-to-be out for a first date 15 months ago.

"I would not have gotten married, if I had never made that first step," Wu told her girlfriends at her wedding, before she threw the bride's bouquet.

"Look at how silent my husband is! Guys are like this today, they are so afraid of making the first move. So, fight for the bouquet and make your first step."

There's an old saying that sums this up: "It's a tall mountain to traverse when a man has to take the first step, but it's only a thin piece of cloth to pierce when a woman takes the initiative."

Wu's husband Jerry Lin, who works in finance, admits he would never have taken the first step, even though he was interested in Wu, his former colleague. The 28-year-old didn't catch on for three months, though Wu made what she calls "very apparent and repeated signs."

They met at a gathering seven months after Wu left the company and was preparing for a Chartered Financial Analyst's foreign language test at the time. She asked Lin, who had taken it already, whether he could help her prepare. They had frequent online chats, exchanged SMS and phone calls.

"I did ask myself if it was possible she was interested in me, and I told myself 'no,' though I hoped she was. I seriously thought she just wanted my help," Lin recalls.

His wife disagrees.

"It was quite obvious and so ridiculous that he didn't realize it," she says emphatically. "We chatted online almost every day and met every week. I was physically close to him as well, sometimes fixing his tie, and I asked his opinions on relationships."

Oftentimes, such distinct characteristics - one being assertive while the other is passive - also characterize a marriage, as in the case of 32-year-old Serena Zhao and 36-year-old Mark Zhu, married for five years.

Zhao makes all the household decisions, including where to spend vacation and when to have a child. Zhu has never objected or expressed different opinions.

"Before we started dating, I was so discouraged that he was not very assertive and didn't have a lot of confidence in himself," says Zhao.

"Now after five years of living together, it's convenient that he just goes along with my decisions."


What girls want guys to know

? If I call you, text you, chat online and hang out with you a lot, I'm waiting for you to ask me out.

? If I give you a thoughtful present on your birthday, I'm interested in you.

? If I try to hold your hand, I want to date you.

? If I suddenly get upset and don't ask you out anymore, I've been waiting too long for you to ask me out.

? If I keep talking about a movie, concert or drama, I want you to invite me to go.

Tips for guys

From dating (hunting) coach Frank Zhao

? Choose a good location.

Universities are good because young women are usually attractive and innocent, easier to approach and more open to strangers.

? Use the right opening lines.

The prologue between two strangers is crucial and "love guide" Frank Zhao has come up with two sentences, which frequently work, and directed all his students to recite them.

The first is "You're really elegant, why can't we be friends?" The second is "My shy friend has a crush on you, so please be kind enough to help us."

Although they seem silly, Zhao says they are quite successful.

"Sometimes PUA skills that work with Western girls don't work with girls from Eastern cultures and adaptation is necessary," he says.

? Raise the voice a bit, so one doesn't sound like a salesman on the street with a pitch.

? Think of interesting topics.

? Maintain eye-contact.

? Keep a non-threatening physical distance.

Here are some general tips for shy guys:

1. Join a club or group, from biking to cooking.

2. Avoid bars if you're looking for a "nice" girl.

3. Be yourself, don't pretend to be something you're not. Try to relax.

4. Don't think of her as a girlfriend, just look for a friend and see how it develops.

5. Be confident - girls like guys who are assertive but also sensitive.

6. Go for it. Take a deep breath, make yourself approach and say, "Hi."


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