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Case 5: Dating Cultural Gaps

As the author of this column and the “love rep” of my section, I engage in lots of conversations about love, dating, and relationships. (some people call the activity simply “gossiping.”) In one conversation with various international students, we discussed about different cultural norms and patterns in the practice of dating in different countries.

A friend from a Middle Eastern country was telling me how surprised she was when she found out about the very liberal dating culture in the United States. Apparently, young people are much more conservative about dating or sex in her country than in the US. About 50% of the female population does not engage in premarital sex. She was astonished that even highly educated crowd like HBS students frequently exercise “random hook-ups” and the like. She also pointed out the paradox of American culture that it is very liberal on one hand but religious on the other. Although these random hookups are very common among young Americans, some people are very religious and a topic like abortion is one of the most discussed social issues in the country.

On a lighter topic, I come from Japan, the land of go-con. Go-con (GC) is a uniquely Japanese practice which is similar to blind dates. It is a multiple blind date-the organizers invite an equal number of men and women and have dinner, drinks, and karaoke. If people hit it off during a GC, they usually exchange their numbers and take it to a next level individually. It is also usually themed; I have led a group of my fellow consultant girls to GCs with Goldman Sachs’ i-bankers, Nomura traders, and even All Nippon Airways pilots. I have met some nice people, but no GC resulted in a serious relationship for me personally. Nonetheless, it is such a popular practice among young professionals in urban Japan and it somewhat represents Japanese people’s group mentality that is rarely seen in the rather individualistic US.

Unlike in Middle East or Asia, guys seem to love aggressive girls in the US. My survey shows that American guys find aggressive and flirty women very attractive. One person told me that no matter how ugly the woman is, once she shows her interest in him and willingness to you-know-what, her attractiveness increases by about 10%. Physical contact is the key and flirty comments like “you are kinda cute” or “have you been working out?” are tacky but greatly appreciated.

It is one of the many benefits of being at HBS that we get to learn about these cultural differences in dating. My belief is that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I highly recommend trying a prim and proper platonic relationship when in Beirut and a wild GC with Japanese salarymen in Tokyo. And when in Boston, let the girls play the game!

February 10, 2003
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