Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dating advice for expat women, from an expat woman.

Note: contains some strong language (aka, Sorry, Moms)


OK, I’m writing this even though I don’t actually have any dating experience in Taiwan.
That’s not entirely true – I had a date in Taiwan before my then-soon-to-be-boyfriend-and-now-husband moved here. It was unequivocally the worst date of my life. Because I am a terrible and tawdry gossip (I know. I KNOW) I’ll tell you about it if you know me personally and ask.
I just feel that while the Intertubes are filled with floofy articles on expat women and dating – like this one and this one (and one blog post so offensive that despite it coming up fairly high in search results, I won’t link to it) - this one is pretty good though. Few have anything constructive to say.
Basically, they’re fine in that they do a good job of describing the situation, but, like Captain Hindsight, they don’t really confront the problem and give real, first person, been-there advice or ideas for single women living in Asia.
That may well be because they don’t want to say.
A lot of what I would say is universally applicable, at home or abroad, and yes, a lot of it is a bit hackneyed and even more of it is “prepare for a desert, a dearth of options”. In the end though, it all boils down to “be you – Super Awesome You – enjoy your adventures and let the rest take care of itself, luck willing”.
But I always know what to say – or at least what I want to say – so I’ll give you my own advice:

1.) For all that is good in the world, do not approach the dating scene with bitterness…

…even if you are single and looking to date, and you want to feel bitterness. It’s not that it’s wrong to feel that way. There’s definitely something to it. It’s just that letting it flow out of every pore or making it the topic of heated conversations, eye-rolls, complaints and smirks is the least conducive action you can take towards making things work for you.
I do NOT mean this as “be upbeat, ladies, because men like women who are happy! So if you’re sad, turn that frown upside down and pretend to be happy!”
Because a.) that’s a big pile of stinking dumb right there, and as Queen Cynic I am the last person to preach what I don’t practice and b.) it applies to men as much as women. Do you want to date a man who is bitter, angry and willing to start uncomfortable debates over it, and rolls his eyes at anyone who seems happier than he is? No, you don’t. And come on, not every male expat in Asia is like that. You’ve surely met That Guy and surely thought “not if the Apocalypse happened and it was between him and a mutant cockroach. I’ll take Roachie.” – but don’t judge all foreign men because of That Guy.
It’s not a gender thing, it’s a “nobody wants to date a whiner” thing. For both men and women.
Seriously – talk about your last solo driving trip across Chile, or the time you crapped on a pig because the toilet in the village was on stilts above a pigsty (the most awesome guys will love this). Talk about your language classes or how you went camping in the jungle, or how you were detained at a border but got out of it by smooth-talking the immigration officers. Don’t go on about how dating sucks for female expats in Asia (because everyone knows that it does – that’s nothing new and doesn’t make you sound interesting).
This is admittedly hard to conquer, because it’s so easy to feel bitter about a culture – expat and local – so clearly stacked against you. It really is unfair, and yes, it really is stacked against you. Yes, it sucks and yes, it would be great if there were a way to change it. But…
2.) …instead, jump into life abroad with an “I chose to be here, I know the downsides but I’m having a great time, there’s a lot to see and learn, and you can go stuff it if you assume I must be bitter” attitude.
Really. If you know the scene before you arrive and you come with an “I don’t care, I want to have this experience anyway” outlook, it will all turn out better for you. You may decide that you really like independent life and decide to stick around, or that being single is an acceptable likelihood of the exciting life around you.
And approaching it with calmness and confidence will simply make you more awesome.
3.) Don’t assume you definitely won’t date. You might.
As I said, I can name gaggles of women for whom the stereotype isn’t true. When worked in China with my friend Jenny – single, Western female – right around the time I left she snagged a musical Brit, the only other expat in town. They’re now married. I had a brief fling with Brendan in Beijing when we clearly like each other but before we got together (hey, it’s all good, we’re married now). When I lived in a shared apartment during my first months in Taiwan, the other roommates were all male and at least one of them partnered up, albeit briefly, with a South African woman. Out on a group outing, I met a couple who had met while they were both teaching in Korea. One does come across Western woman-Taiwanese man couples – plenty of Asian men are eminently dateworthy. Don’t dismiss them out of hand.
4.) Don’t dismiss all the male expats (or all local men), either. Or anyone, for that matter.
My now-husband was a single Western male expat in Korea, and he’s the sweetest, most non-judgmental, most openminded person I know. He’d be a catch for any woman, Asian or Western. There are good guys in the expat community. Don’t judge them all as a monolithic gaggle of dicks. They’re not. Contrary to popular belief, there are expat men who do in fact date expat women.
Similarly, not every local guy is going to conform to whatever stereotype there is of local guys out there. There are mold-breakers worldwide, and if you're confident and cool with yourself, you are more likely to find them.
Heck, don't judge Asian woman-Western man couples, either, unless they are clearly icky. I know they say that you never know, but honestly you can usually tell which couples are genuinely happy together and which are total ew-fests fairly quickly.
And while you're at it, don't judge Asian women. It's too easy to fall into the trap of "ugh, those Asian women all starve themselves, act coy, flirt, go all submissive! And the men love it! I hate that!" - but you know? No, they don't. At least not all of them, and maybe not even most of them. Don't assume. Don't hate on other women generally - you never know who is a stereotype-destroyer and the best way not to find out is to barter in stereotypes.
5.) Make friends. Join clubs.
Seriously. Most countries in Asia have various expat venues in which you can at least make friends. It’s not guaranteed but friends may lead to invitations and introductions that may lead you to a great guy (or gal, if you swing that way. I know almost nothing about the lesbian and bi communities abroad, so I’ll let a blogger savvier in those areas cover that). Even if they don’t, friends are great regardless. Who cares if you don’t have a date (dates can be excruciating anyway) on Saturday night if you have a bar date with your girlfriends or a pub crawl with a local group? If you’re religious, joining a church or other faith group is a good way to meet people, just as it is in the USA.
OK, sometimes this backfires – I heard a story not long ago about a Western woman who joined a photography club somewhere in Asia and while she wasn’t rebuffed, she was basically ignored during meetings and outings – the men there, who often brought their Asian girlfriends, didn’t want her there. This isn’t the sort of club you want to join, but I promise, most are legit.
So hey, is the place where you’re working having an outing or happy hour? Go! Is there a club, pickup team or whatever group meeting regularly? If it interests you, go! At least you’ll have social opportunities, you’ll probably make at least one or two friends, and it’ll put you in touch with the wider expat community.
I have to admit that I haven’t been proactive with this in recent years. I used to go out with my teacher recruiting company on their regular nights out, but I cultivated my own set of friends, got a boyfriend-now-husband and don’t feel the need to go out on late-night club crawls. If I want to go out, I invite some friends to Shake House or somewhere similar and drink good beer while talking.
Taiwan has plenty of these groups – as I said, my teacher recruiting company (years ago when I was a buxiban teacher and not in corporate training) has regular nights out, I know of at least one soccer pickup club, a Community Services Center book club and other groups you can join.
There are definitely opportunities to socialize, and if you make the effort, it’ll not only lead to meeting more potential dating partners, but even if that doesn’t happen (and it often doesn’t), if you have a full social life, you’ll be more inclined to be content with being single.
Finally, don’t be afraid to venture out to lively nightspots on your own (at least in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong where it’s fairly safe – I can’t speak for the rest of Asia). Stay away from known seedy hangouts of men looking to ogle Asian women simply by virtue of them being Asian and go somewhere more young and studenty. Chances are you’ll have at least a few decent conversations.
6.) This is going to sound clichéd, but be yourself.
No, really! I mean it! I know it sounds downright ridiculous and is probably something a stupid self-help book also said, but really. You’re here because you love the food, the language, the whatever-whatever, and you regularly show up to Chinese Club or Hiking Club or pub crawl activities. You knew what you were getting into before you came, and you’re fine with it because you wanted to explore the world – and your desire to travel trumps any desire to settle down and attach yourself to a man.
Let that show, and while dating is not something all that common for Western women here, you’ll be far more likely to get…err…lucky. In the totally not-dirty sense, but maybe the dirty sense as well.
Because, seriously, what’s more attractive: a woman who is all “Oh my god, all the men here date skinny Asian chicks, that’s so gross and disgusting, and I can’t believe it!” or a woman who is all “yeah, I’m here, I’m learning Chinese, I’m taking a kung fu class and if you think I’m bitter because I’m single than you can shove it up your butt, in fact I’ll help kung-fu kick it up there”?
(Same goes for men: what’s more attractive – a guy who whines “Western women are so demanding/fat/nagging/opinionated/difficult! Why would I ever date one again!” or a guy who is all “yeah, I love confident, awesome women regardless of where they come from”?)
7.) Know when to fold ‘em.
I know – you go out with a group and there’s always That Guy who goes off on why he always dates Asian girls – it doesn’t even matter what his reason is (you can fill in the blanks for all the usual ones). You want to shout at him that he’s a sexist, pseudo-racist jerk.
Here’s the thing – that never works. It just makes you look bad, and it doesn’t change anyone’s mind.
Think of it this way: you don’t want to date That Guy, do you? (No, you don’t). That guy’s kind of a douche. My previous incarnation was the sort of woman who would give That Guy the what-for, and it never accomplished anything.
What you do instead is let him talk – he sounds like an idiot, everyone else knows it (and if they don’t, they’re just as bad) and he’s hanging himself with his own words. I’d say “don’t roll your eyes” because I like to think that I wouldn’t do so, but I totally would, so I’ll toast you for that. Another option is getting up and walking away, because nobody should have to listen to that drivel.
You’re entitled to your opinion, but if you don’t want to date That Guy anyway, and you don’t want to be friends with him either (who wants friends like that?), what’s the use of coming out with it right then and there?
Yes, it’s unfair, and yes there are plenty of guys like that across the expat communities of Asia. Yes, I’d love to change it to. The only way you can even come close to making a dent in it is to be Ms. Super Awesome. Rise above it, don’t give it the dignity of a response it doesn’t deserve, and keep on being awesomely you. Just by being that awesome, you’ll show everyone else that That Guy is a douche, and that female expats are worth their attention, friendship and romantic overtures. This is something that reacting with the predictable bile will never accomplish.
That said, a witty retort, if you have one, is always appreciated. If That Guy is being douchey and your rejoinder is funny, a bit ascerbic but not downright bitter, that’ll earn respect. If it doesn’t, hang out with different people.
And yes, while everyone is entitled to date only people they like and are attracted to, “I only date Asian women because of X” does have a ring of sexism and racism. You’re not wrong. The best way to show that for what it is is to be spectacular – even if that means walking away without a word – and the worst way is to start an argument in a bar on a night out.
Seriously – the best way to throw stereotypes in others’ faces is to be Super Awesome and anyone who doesn’t like it can shove it. If That Guy starts spewing a bunch of idiocy about Asian women and Western women, simply by showing that you don’t stack up to that idiocy, you’re making him look bad.
(Rules are different for Internet forums. I’m not sure that’s worthy of a separate post, though).
8.) Don’t lower your standards and don’t try to compete with local women.
This is the one piece of advice I found while perusing online – “lower your standards” because you’re not going to get the same guys here that you could back home.
That’s a big ol’ deposit in the bullshit latrine right there. Don’t listen to it. There’s no point in saying “don’t have unrealistic expectations” because that’d be true wherever you are. Same deal for “be openminded and let yourself be surprised by guys you might not ordinarily consider”.
Otherwise, if you wouldn’t like the guy back home, you won’t like him here, and that won’t lead to anything good. You have not lost any rights to set standards for yourself just by living in Asia. Stick with them – the guy you want to date will meet them (there’s no guarantee you’ll meet that guy, but if you do, he will meet them).
Basically, if you are who you are and know what you want - just like back home -
Likewise, you probably have a different complexion, life outlook, set of mannerisms, body type and bone structure that is fundamentally different from women in most of Asia. Don’t think that you have to try to force those things into a mold of what you think men – both local and expat - want. If you meet a guy worth dating in Asia (or girl, if that’s how you roll), he’ll like you as you are. If he doesn’t, he’s not the right guy to date. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad guy, just not right for you. And for all that is holy – be healthy by all means but don’t try to force yourself to look or act like something you’re not.
9.) Figure out what your goals are for dating.
If you’re just looking to have fun or something to do on weekend nights, recalibrate that to include group outings, and at that point by all means date guys you aren’t serious about (within the realm of safety and sensibility of course) if the chance arises. Organize events and invite people to bring friends – you might meet someone or not, but regardless you’ll be getting your fun nights out.
If you are genuinely looking for a partner, then apply all of your regular criteria for finding someone you want to spend time with. Accept that it may not happen – heck, it may not even happen back home – and do your best to attract that person by simply being your amazing self and getting out there to socialize as much as you can, including making friends you’d never date.
10.) Make a diverse group of friends and be socially proactive.
One of the best things about life in Taiwan is that I have a group of friends made up of expat men and women and local…well, mostly women but there’d be men too if the men hadn’t gone abroad for work or school. Having this kind of group can ease loneliness and lead to social opportunities that might – no promises! – bring dating opportunities.
It’s not as hard as it seems to make these friends – especially other female friends. Other female expats are probably just as desiring of female friendship as you are – so seek them out by joining clubs or posting on online expat forums for your country. Local women looking to befriend foreigners, but not looking for a foreign boyfriend, will also be on these forums.
Sometimes it takes a little adjustment – I love my local female friends but there are cultural differences: “I know I said I’d come out but my aunt decided to visit so I can’t”, “it’s almost 11pm, I should get home or Grandma will worry!”, “Oh, no beer for me thanks” – and you might find your social events ending earlier than you’re used to (at least in Taiwan), but that’s more cultural adjustment than anything. Get a group of expats together for late night shenanigans.
I guarantee that by branching out into local as well as expat friends – something surprisingly few expats do despite talking about how they’d like to – you’ll feel more connected and more grounded overall, and if you don’t date as often, you also might not notice as much.
11.) So you don’t want to date That Guy. Who do you want to go out with?
You want to go out with a guy who, while he may be happy to date local women, is just as happy to date foreign women – he likes women that he likes. He doesn’t like women based on arbitrary criteria of racial background, but rather, he likes them for who they are, end of (which includes physical attractiveness). You do not want a guy who will ignore you just because you’re female and not local.
You want to go out with a guy who hears your stories of life abroad and thinks they're fantastic. You want to go out with a guy who likes it when you get a bit cynical or debate-y, and who, while he may not like it, at least accepts that everyone - even women - gets crabby now and again.
Those guys do exist in the expat (and local) community. I married one. They are out there and while I can’t promise you’ll meet one, if you just come here with the intent of having a good time, having a few adventures and stories to tell, and being Your Awesome Self while engaging socially in a variety of activities, he is far more likely to appear.
And the other guys who are turned off by this? Well, you’re awesome, they’re missing out and that’s just too damn bad for them.
I know. Cliched and hackneyed - but how often do you get advice that can be summarized basically as "be awesome, have adventures"?
Not nearly often enough, I'd say!

12.) If you’re female and planning a stint abroad, don’t assume you’ll have as many opportunities to date. To be honest, you likely won’t.
I know that sounds depressing – I don’t mean it to be, but there’s a tragic knell of truth to it. If you’re planning to spend a year or more in Asia, and you’re female, there is a pretty good chance you won’t be doing much dating.
I’m not saying you definitely won’t date – I can tick off so many fingerfuls of expat women who defy the statistics and tell likelihood where to shove it.
That said, you know how “forewarned is forearmed” and all that? Like how if you know you’ll probably poop out half your body weight in India before you go, that it’s not nearly as traumatic when you do, in fact, poop out half your body weight, and it’s a nice bonus if it never happens – but if nobody tells you before you go, when you start with the unstoppable bathroom antics you feel all stressed out and infuriated?
It’s true. If you prepare yourself for the reality of life as a single expat female in Asia, and acknowledge the datescape for what it is, if you do date (and you may) then that’s great, but if you don’t date as much (or sadly, as happens sometimes, at all), at least you came prepared to face this reality, and so it’s not as hard to deal with once here. Having a prepared-and-forewarned attitude about it makes it both far more bearable and makes you far more engaging and likeable, because you’ll be fine with where you are and confident that you’re doing what’s right for you.
I personally came to Taiwan on the heels of a breakup – a fairly clean break, not a long relationship, already clearly better for all involved that we not be together, and we made a valiant effort to remain friends (in theory, we still are, but we haven’t talked in years). Despite this cauterized ending-and-beginning, I still wasn’t entirely “over it” and wasn’t immediately into dating or looking to date – I was happy to spend some time as single me enjoying life abroad. It was pure luck that Brendan showed up when he did – I don’t believe the whole “it will happen for you when you are happy with yourself” because plenty of women who are happy for themselves don’t see romance immediately bloom – just as I felt fine giving up my single lifestyle and yet was happy with where I was. It was a good time to come – not really into dating, ready to spend some time on my own having adventures. If you can find that “you” place where you can make peace with a stint as a single loose cannon, well, that’s just about the right time to come live abroad for awhile.
This also means not centering your life around men and dating, but that would be my advice regardless of where you live. Live for yourself, not some hypothetical (or real) boyfriend.

7 comments:

Cahleen Hudson said...

This post is awesome! I'd love to hear the story about your date with a Taiwanese guy.

Jenna said...

I'm glad you like it! Not everyone did - I had to trash another comment that basically reinforced stereotypes about how expat men in Asia view foreign women, all full of hate and bile. Boo.

Anyway, he wasn't Taiwanese. He was Indian - a biochemistry grad student at Tai-da (that seemed cool - my grandpa is a biochemist. We went to Shilin Night Market but before we entered he insisted on eating at Yoshinoya (WHY!? I don't know - Shilin isn't my favorite night market but...Yoshinoya?). Then he insisted on buying me sugarcane juice because it's "just like in India so you will like it" - I said "I didn't like sugarcane juice even in India so I won't like it" and he said "I promise you will" and bought it...and was visibly annoyed when I *didn't* like it. So we enter and as we talk I realize he really doesn't speak English so well when not talking about science, which is fine, no judgment here, but I knew I couldn't date someone I couldn't easily communicate with.

So we go into an Indian import store in the night market and I try on some clothes. One simply doesn't look good on me and I say "heh, I don't like it" and he says "it makes you look fat...well, fatter." I glared at him and he said "You know I'd never call you slim" (fair enough but you don't SAY that). I went back into the dressing room, changed back into my clothes, came out, we both walked outside, and I said "we're done. Bye" and turned and walked into the crowd.

I didn't know if he really understood me (as I said, his English was dodgy, so "we're done" might have gone over his head as it's a big slang) but I didn't care.

He tried to message me later. Heh. NO.

I have met Taiwanese guys in Taiwan who, if I hadn't been very happily taken, I probably would have dated, though. A lot of Western women say that they have no such luck but if you keep an open mind, they are out there.

Nina said...

My ex was Taiwanese we went to meet his family in a tiny village it was amazing, we separated cause we had no little time together as both my and his work kept us apart, This is some great advice btw listen to Jenna she defiantly is writing from experience

Jenna said...

Aww, thanks!

I agree, by the way - first that there are totally Taiwanese (and other Asian) guys worth dating if you're a female expat. If I weren't married there are local guys here I've met that I would have dated. Second that work is a huge issue in Taiwan - the hours are unspeakable.

Libby (MadLibs?) said...

hey Jenna! I really love how you write :-) kept me engaged throughout and you put forth some interesting stuff there

Dating Advice said...

Another great post.

Lilith63 said...

I enjoyed your post thoroughly. I have just arrived Taipei 3 weeks ago and am very glad to have found your blog. Dating was not high on my list of things to do here in Taiwan. I've lived in 2 other Asian countries and had bad experiences with both expat and Asian men (most ended up being married). That said, I'm not entirely closed to the idea of dating, it just isn't a priority for me. I do enjoy my singleness, but I also miss the company of a man.
More importantly, I would like to meet other female expats for support, advice, general fun, etc. I'm a mature female and wondered if you know of other mature female expats that get together. I'm teaching here and find the industry is saturated with twenty somethings who like to frequent night clubs and the like. Not my interest. Wine bars, museums and theatres, cultural sites are more my speed.
Anyway, great blog. Thanks for the time and great writing you put into it. Cheers.