I have one Khmer (Cambodian) friend who was close with a few us expats (foreigners who live in Cambodia), and she knew my other friends for over a year. But between all of us, we didn’t know she had a boyfriend until she announced that she was engaged. Keeping boyfriends or girlfriends a secret until engagement, especially from their families, is common in Cambodia.
Girls especially appear to be much more secretive about dating because if a girl introduces one boy to the family and community and another one later on, people will easily judge her. I’ve been fascinated with the dating customs here and asking different friends about their experience or that of their friends.
When couples would go on “date,” they are often with groups of friends, and not usually hanging out alone. One friend told me dating practices are changing this generation and now where couples will go on dates alone.
Many couples in their 20s don’t kiss much if at all before marriage. I have a friend who was 26 years old and never kissed anyone by choice, even when she was away from Cambodia for a few years. I asked her why she never kissed anyone and she said, “Because we feel if we kiss someone it should be with the person you will be with.”
When one of my Khmer friends went to a club with his European girlfriend, he assumed that most of the couples in the club were dating each other. But she explained to him that they were not necessarily seeing each other and he couldn’t understand that concept.
These dating customs are so opposite from Western culture where the common trend now where people will often sleep with each other before there is a click and the talk of being in a relationship is much more serious than making out with someone or more.
Marriage is taken very seriously here and anyone older than 25 years old is considered, “old” for marriage, particularly in the countryside. When a tuk tuk driver asked how old my friend and I were, we said 28 and 29 and the first thing he said was, “Ohhhhh so old.” We just laughed though, we know 25 is the western equivalent to 30 in Western countries.
Many women in the countryside are considered less suitable to be a wife if they are more educated. Women in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh who have finished university or in the process of finishing their degree often marry at a later age. Though many of them, including my friends, have pressure from their parents to marry while they are focused on their studies.
There are changing trends with this generation and I hope part of that trend doesn’t start to resemble the West too much where girls will start dressing skimpy at a younger age or people will start being judged for not kissing anyone by their teenage years. But with increasing exposure to Western media and shows and more expats settling in Siem Reap, you never know what will happen.