For a Westerner, dating a Vietnamese person is not without challenges. For one thing, Vietnamese women in particular are tightly bound to their families, and traditionally the path to dating one runs through the parents. Suitors are expected to meet the family, sometimes frequently, so they can gauge his character before giving him permission to court their daughter. There is still a strong expectation that males must take the lead in pursuing a relationship, and, yes, pay for dinner, drinks and other accoutrements of the date. Men are also typically expected to offer small gifts (flowers, chocolates etc.) at the outset of each date—for her part, the woman’s choice to accept these presents indicates her acceptance of his love.

And then, of course, there are the codes regarding public displays of affection and sex. For the most part, the rule about PDAs is don’t do them and the rule about sex is don’t have it before marriage (at least, if you’re asking the parents).

Vietnamese dating customs may seem rigidly traditional from an outsider’s perspective, but it’s worth remembering that the country’s experience of Westernization over the past century plus has hardly been an unmixed blessing. Between the French colonial period and America’s intervention in their 16-year civil war, not to mention Chinese antagonism and post-war political mismanagement, Vietnam only normalized its relations with the rest of the world in 2000. They are a people coming out of a long period of isolation, and as a result many things are moving quickly in a country that boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It’s no surprise that some Vietnamese have been slower to move away from the traditions which have sustained many generations through difficult times.

With all that said though, if you’re talking with a Vietnamese person on Findmate, there’s a good chance they are younger and more open to non-traditional dating. Many young Vietnamese have a powerful fascination with the West. After all, many reports have described the country as being in the process of a “quiet sexual revolution”:

The changes are especially sharp for single women, whose job opportunities and mobility have become equal to those of men in recent years of high economic growth and increased incomes as agrarian Vietnam moves toward industrialization.

Living arrangements are changing, especially for migrants who left home villages to study at university or work in offices and factories around the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

Internet chat rooms, web sites, blogs and columns in the state-run "mass media" have become forums for young people to discuss love and sex and sexual orientation.

Vietnamese say attitudes towards sex and relationships have become much more open. However, most preferred not to use their full names in interviews, a telling sign that traditional family values still hold sway.

Photo by Kristina Flour / Unsplash

Vietnamese online daters often belong to this new generation, and, particularly in long-distance relationships, there will be an understanding that opportunities to go through a familial vetting process are limited. In the major urban centers like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, young couples are having pre-marital sex and even living together. Young Vietnamese are often more comfortable flirting through text where they have a degree of privacy. Vietnam’s also one of relatively few countries that have never historically outlawed homosexuality, though there is still a lot of progress to be made in areas like marriage equality and trans rights.

On a final, darker note, women in particular should be aware that in Vietnam men are traditionally understood to hold the power in relationships. Beyond being “head of the household,” there is a stereotype that Vietnamese men will take mistresses, and a sad fact that the country has extremely high rates of domestic violence:

A National Study on Domestic Violence against Women in Viet Nam showed that “34 percent of ever-married women reported that they had suffered physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some time in their lives…and more than half (58 percent) of Vietnamese women reported experiencing at least one type of domestic violence in their lifetime… There is a gap between the theory and the practical implementation at all levels.” The study offered as explanation that domestic violence is considered “a private family matter in which society should not interfere” and that “violence is considered normal behavior.” (from The Date Report)

This is not to say that all Vietnamese men are abusers, and there are some indications the paradigm is beginning to change. But as in all interactions between cultures, especially intimate relations, we recommend you go in with your eyes open and be sure you and your partner share the same expectations for how to behave towards one another.