Monday, June 3, 2013

Fact and Fiction: on the love lives of Western women in Taiwan

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Not long ago, this ended up on my Facebook page. It was an amusing use of the Batman-slapping-Robin meme, and it was definitely channeling general sentiment (and general assumption) about what it's like to be a foreign woman in Taiwan.

But it also got me thinking - how true is it really? I suppose that could be easily answered with "of course it's true, everyone says it's true, articles and blog posts focus on it, women themselves will tell you it's true", and case closed.

I thought about my female friends, though (focusing on unmarried ones), who live or have lived in Taiwan, and my conclusions were that it's...actually...not true. In fact, I could think of very few who suffered or were suffering from a dead dating and sex life.


As a married woman, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute to that conversation and I wanted to explore this more from other perspectives, so I reached out to all of my unmarried friends. I asked all of them for their input, and some kindly agreed to talk. What I found instead shows issues far more complex. I've included responses from several women (rough ages included because, while it shouldn't matter, sadly, in Taiwan it does).



First, I found that pretty much every woman has chances to date casually or to have a sex life. Of course, that might mean casual hook-ups, and not all women want that (I sure wouldn't if I were single). So in that way this picture is wrong: sex isn't the problem.

Dating - real relationships that last, especially - is the problem. Here, options are limited. We all know why so I won't delve too far into it: the classic points that "the male expats aren't men we're interested in, and anyway they aren't interested in Western women, they're here for Asian women which *can* in some cases be kinda racist/fetishist but isn't always", "Taiwanese men don't go after us” and "Taiwanese men are a possibility but the culture differences in terms of how women are supposed to act and what they are expected to do in a relationship make it harder/impossible”. I'm not a fan of any of these narratives and just don’t want to have that discussion because it's too fraught with stereotypes.



To quote a friend: "I wouldn't ever feel like it's impossible for Western women to find love and, yes, sex in Taiwan. But, I certainly believe that Taiwanese men are much more shy, hesitant, and reserved than what you might be accustomed to in the West. So, I believe if you want it, you'll have to go out and get it.”



The common refrain was "it's easy to find hookups. It's hard to find guys to date."

 Of course, dating and pursuing real relationships is a problem all over the world. This is hardly unique to foreign women in Asia! It may be a little harder here, but it's certainly not very easy in our home countries, either. I see a degree of difference, but not an insurmountable one. And if someone like me, who is not conventionally pretty (I don't think I'm straight-up ugly, just not 'candybox pretty') and not thin, can garner interest (and I do) most women can. Even in Taiwan. Even in Asia.




I found from my friends that experiences attracting interest varied wildly, from "it happens sometimes - it's not so unusual that it'd shock me" (me), to "I get hit on ALL THE TIME" to "it's rare, or I am just approached for hook-ups" to "I feel invisible". But then, isn't that true back home, as well?

Interestingly, a lot of people I know - including women -  "a lot of Western women don't like Asian men", but while they all say that this is a "thing", it's all pegged on these "other women" who "don't like Asian guys" - - but I've truly yet to meet many such women. Either women saying this are trying to disguise their own feelings, or it's an assumption that is not nearly as true as people think.




I also found that the vast majority, when they did date, stuck pretty much to Taiwanese guys. In fact, looking through my friends, I couldn't think of any who'd hooked up with or dated, let alone married, a fellow expat (ed: I've made more friends since this post came out, and that's changed.)

This might be where the stereotype comes from - a few women complain about decreased opportunities (true - but that doesn't mean no opportunities). Then foreign guys notice that they and all their buddies are dating local women, single expat women they meet aren't dating anyone they know, and they know this is an issue in other countries in Asia, and so the assumption that "foreign women can't get none” is born. Without that many foreign women in Taiwan to refute it, it becomes canon.



Add to that the assumption by many expat men - and upheld by foreign women who (as discussed above) don't actually feel that way - that Taiwanese guys aren't desireable, it's easy to see why this idea is so firmly entrenched in the expat community.


Anyway, enough from me. I'm just a boring old married lady who's never actually dated a Taiwanese guy. Instead, listen to a sample of women who have. You'll start to notice a few patterns - you may even think I hand-picked these responses to fit with my theme. Not so - I asked pretty much every Western female friend I have in Taiwan (including Taiwanese/Chinese women born and raised overseas) and these are the responses of those who wanted to contribute. Other than the fact that obviously my friends will fall into the demographic of "older than early 20s" and "people I like and get along with", they're about as close to a random sample as you could ask for.


Enjoy!

"I came to Taiwan married, and am still in Taiwan. As I believe from my first-hand experience that it's easy for western men to find sex here, I found my way to the door of divorce court. And as a newly single American woman in Taipei, I opened myself up to new possibilities.

Over the five years that I've been here, I have been approached several times by random Taiwanese men asking me if they could "be my friend." The first time I naively said yes to Mr. Yikes, thinking, I was married and friends are acceptable. I explained that I was married and living with my husband in Taiwan. This man said it was okay, he was just looking to be friends. Not so! Mr. Yikes proceeded to grow increasingly affectionate over MSN (at the time) and then he began to profess his love and longing for me. Needless to say, I was married, so I stopped using MSN all together! No more "friends" for me."


"After my separation and divorce, I ran into Mr. Handsome, the guy I'm now dating. He worked under my former company. In the beginning, I went back to his company to look for him, but he wasn't working those days. So, I chatted with his friend/boss. We became friends. He was cute and I thought there definitely could have been something more there. But, anyway, I was looking for Mr. Handsome.



Mr. Handsome was finally there one day after I had gone back several times looking for him. He, unlike Mr. Yikes, was much more shy, reserved, and tender. I was the first to make a move. He was busy acting cool or shy, not sure which is was, so I just told him directly that he was indeed Mr. Handsome! He replied in kind, and we hit it off. We exchanged numbers, went on dates, and quickly feel in love and into bed!"



- from a friend in her late 20s/early 30s, American. She, like most of us, realizes it's not necessarily as easy as back home to date, but that no, you're not totally bereft of possibility.



“Dating in your late 40s and early 50s is challenging in most situations, but doing it in another culture, let alone another country, can be either down right hilarious or one of life's greatest disappointments. 

“Take Chinese culture for example, Taiwan specifically, most men in this age group are quite set in their ways and lack the spontaneity and energy I require.  I’m not your mother, cook, maid, personal assistant or spiritual advisor.  

I was recently “spending time” with a guy in his mid-40s, divorced, a 13-year son, owned several properties.  In the beginning, it was a nice experience, easy and relaxing, but after a few months of movies and dinner, I wondered out loud why we didn’t eat near his house.  His response was that his son might see us and be upset. 

Well, you know how that went down, but wait, maybe you don’t. Turns out the kid is very jealous of the father’s time since the divorce of a few years ago. 

Things cooled a bit after this discussion, but revved back up about 3 or 4 weeks later. 

He suggested we might want to take a trip.  Yeah…this is pretty much the equivalent of a sex weekend and I don’t give free samples, but I do love creativity and imagination.  So I declined the weekend, but suggested phone sex instead. Thought he was going to faint.  Out came this little, feeble, old man response of not doing that in his culture. What’s the difference? Really, I mean foreplay is foreplay, come on, get in the game. 

It’s not that I really intended to follow through with this, but just wanted to gauge his willingness. 

I don’t need the fountain of youth, but I do need someone who can keep up with me on my 40km bike rides and is willing to jump the culture divide for some fun and play. 

I’ll keep on looking around, but remain disappointed in how constrained the duality of women’s roles remain in many societies.  You can have a job, but you’ve got to come home, cook, do the laundry, take care of the kids, maintain the house and more.  Watch out world, women are making their own money, have their own apartments and with electricity and imagination, men may become obsolete.”


- from a friend and coworker in her early 50s, American, who was previously married to a Chinese man. 


“I came to Taiwan solely for career reasons. I had lived in Thailand for a year when I was younger and dated a guy there so I certainly find men of all kinds attractive (lucky me!).

When I first got to Taiwan I lived in Hsinchu and ended up dating an international student there briefly who was from St. Lucia. Then, after I moved to Taipei, I dated another international student for a little while from Belize. I should note that, for career reasons, I only ever planned to stay in Taiwan a few years at most and that made me a little shy of getting involved with anyone, especially a Taiwanese guy (not that I saw many opportunities). Most of the time, the interactions I had with Taiwanese men were kind of bizarre and bordering on harassment, but that can be true of dating in any big city.

I met my boyfriend through mutual Taiwanese friends and he was really well-traveled and highly educated which I think did contribute, to some extent, to his open mindset. I think we had some minimal conflicts related to culture, class, and language misunderstandings (Chinese and English) but mostly it was good. He was a wonderful person and very good to me and we had an enjoyable relationship until he went to Guatemala for the Taiwan military service and I came back to the U.S. I guess we just really were able to relate well and our personalities really fit. I do not think I fit American cultural norms and I don't think he fit Taiwanese cultural norms and our personalities were more similar than any of those differences.

I still think it was more difficult to date in Taiwan and maybe I had less of a selection, but that might be "my fault" too in that I felt way more self-conscious and less relaxed in Taiwan. I found, overall, that it was much more difficult to meet people and create friendships in general so, for me, dating was just an extension of that. I also worked in an office full of white men who were terribly misogynistic so that soured some of my day to day thinking about men, lol. Overall, it wasn't that there weren't any opportunities, just that I knew I didn't want to stay permanently. Back in the U.S., I feel much more relaxed and can meet people much more easily.”


- from a friend in her 20s, American, who had an office job here for a few years and has recently moved back to the US. She's absolutely right that it's harder, you have to be more proactive, there isn't as much of a selection etc. but note that in the end she did have a Taiwanese boyfriend after dating a few international students. The pattern holds: it's harder, but not impossible, and "Western women don't like Taiwanese men" isn't nearly as true as people think it is.



“My husband is quite unique and was not the norm at all. I made a huge effort to win over my hubby at the time. There is also the fact that lots of Western women are not attracted to Asians. I was different because physically my husband is not typical in that he is broad and has body and facial hair that I find attracts me to a "guy". And, my husband's family is not traditional and does not influence him so him so he had freedom to date me.


Let's also not forget that it is easy to "hook up" and hard to seriously date. If Western women approached Taiwanese men aggressively there would be lots of success stories. All I can tell you is that if a girl is assertive and takes the lead the guys will follow. It is true that the Asian men are intimidated and probably won't make the first move.”


- from a friend in her 30s, American, who came here to study, came back to visit, and on that visit met the Taiwanese guy she'd later marry.


“I have lots to say about this. My experience is pretty different from what I hear a lot of Western women talk about. Overall, I feel like I get hit on or have guys ask me out in Taiwan on par with or maybe even more than in the U.S.

Just last night, for example, I went to a small local bar I'd never heard of because a Taiwanese female former colleague invited me there to chat. Over the course of a few hours, the Taiwanese bartender started chatting me up, we played the dice game (I'm not sure what it's called but something akin to Bullshit), he asked me if I'm married multiple times, told me I'm beautiful and otherwise flirted with me, walked me out to a cab and stopped just short of trying to kiss me. Another guy, an ABC, who we had barely chatted with, came up and quite directly asked me if I wanted to go home with him. This kind of thing doesn't happen every time I go out, but it's not terribly unusual. This isn't just in bars - I've had students aggressively hit on me in the middle of class, dudes approach me in coffee shops and someone ask me out on the MRT.


I'm not sure what to attribute this to, but I have a few ideas. I think I generally have an attitude of not really giving a fuck, that is to say, I don't put out the vibe that I'm looking for someone. I think that this is pretty attractive to some people. I'm also fairly outgoing in a social situation and will be friendly and shoot the shit with strangers, which I think can put people at ease a bit. I tend to go to more local places, as opposed to places that cater mainly to foreigners, and a lot of people I have met seem really pleased about that and tell me I must be Taiwanese at heart.


One Taiwanese guy I dated told me that a main reason he was attracted to me initially was because I am "manly" (his words). He went on to explain that I don't act super "feminine," meaning that I don't seem obsessed with my appearance, am not submissive and very different from most Taiwanese girls. (These comments could generate another very lengthy discussion entirely).

I'm certainly not the bee's knees, either. I'm 34 (with no husband or kids!), which basically makes me useless to society. I think I'm pretty charming and brilliant, but I'm not a knockout that people would trip and fall gawking at on the street. I've dated 2 Taiwanese guys in the last year and I've had guys ranging from 20's to 50's ask me out and at least 3 local girls ask to make out with me.”


- from a friend in her 30s, American, who has been here for a little over a year. Since she's been here she's dated two local guys and garnered interest from others. Her experience truly is a bit atypical in that she's had more luck than most Western women, but the pattern still holds: Western women do date Taiwanese men, they do like them more than is often assumed, and they do have opportunities. We're not all chaste nuns over here, jealous of Western men swaggering around with women hanging off their arms. In fact, we're not even dating those men for the most part. We're not interested. 



"I've observed this from afar as someone who's been attached entire time living in Taiwan, HK and Indonesia. The general quality of guys who move to Asia compared to the standard of women they believe they can get is something of a contrast. But after five years in Asia I know a few happy expat couples who met here. Yes there are a lot of horrid little men who date Asian girls and believe they must also be a serious catch for Western women. But lets not fight over them, ladies. Quality guys are few and far between. But its also very difficult to identify quality single guys aged 30 to 40 in London.

 Taiwanese men are often lovely, aren't they? Must be the aboriginal mix? Tall and handsome often. Life is a bit harder for Western women in HK.”



- from a British friend in her 30s who has since left


“I was warned before I came here, but did not take it seriously because I thought I would be an exception the rule. Maybe others experiences are different than mine, or maybe the warnings were just not specific enough and not in enough first person voices to convince me that they applied to me too. For instance, I have the impression that Western men outnumber Western women by a large margin. Off the top of my head I can think of 9 Western women I know personally here. Two are married to Westerners, one is in a relationship with a Taiwanese woman, and the rest appear to have been single a long time. Through others, I know of a couple Western women married to Taiwanese men, but not well enough to know their names. If you wanted to look at patterns, age is probably a factor in how things play out too.

Age matters. I have met impressive local men, but they were younger than me and in marriages with small children. There's a definite stigma against older women with younger men that some of the younger men who seemed interested in me could not stand up to. The other issue being the importance of having children to Asian men. So the large number of chronically single western women I know here tend to be in their late 30s and older.


There is a crop of men who become available in their 50s here, after their children have grown up. Some are divorced or some just permanently separated from wives. Many of the divorced guys are not educated, or don't have money. The separated guys I've met are sometimes quite wealthy, but are rather old school and sedate, with or have well established habits in terms of what they expect of a woman. One issue I find with retired men is that they are at a different stage of life from me.



I feel more of an affinity - and probably share more assumptions in common - with specific younger Taiwanese men than I do with older ones, men in their 20s and 30s, but I am nearing 50. "Lao niu chi qing cao," (老牛吃青草) one man in his 30s who flirted with me constantly said, indicating that he did not have the strength of character to stand up to the stigma. Moreover, he did not want to disappoint his mother, who expects grandchildren.


My advice to a young American woman who majored in Chinese and asked me if I am making my life here and what I think about her moving to Taiwan - my advice was to put a time limit on it. If you don't want to teach English and don't find a job doing something else within one or two years, then leave.”


This is from an American friend who is in her 40s (I believe - I've never asked) and hasn't had the same luck, and feels overall her love life her has been a negative experience. She's right that age does matter.


She agrees with a lot of my other friends that there are men you can hook up with, and Western women are generally more interested in dating them than one might think, but it's a lot harder. She's invited male friends over to her apartment - as friends - and had them act really weird about it, or show up and be "nervous", until she realized that they just assumed it was all about sex. It hadn't occurred to them that she had friendship in mind. One, she said, would not cross the threshold from her patio to her apartment out of "respect", and one said he was surprised she'd invited him and he had to gather the courage to come over (indicating he thought more was intended by the invitation).


She's noticed that it's different from China, in that in China men were interested in sleeping with her because they assumed American women were “easy” or out of sheer curiosity and intrigue - whereas here they're more just shy. This doesn't mean they're uninterested, just that they don't have quite as strong assumptions about American women and they don't act on their thoughts. 

In keeping with that, pretty much every Taiwanese male friend I've had has admitted that the idea of a Western girlfriend intrigues him, but he's either already in a relationship or too shy to act on that interest. As she said above, the older men aren't on her wavelength or are already married (although some become available in their 50s following divorces) and the younger one too put off by the stigma of dating an older woman.

She also noted that there seems to be a cultural space for "pink friends" - friends of the opposite sex (or that you have some attraction to if you're bi) with whom there is some chemistry, and to whom the married of the pair of friends can pour out, as to a confidante, all his (usually his) marriage misery. Sometimes those relationships turn sexual, other times not. She's not interested in them, having been through it once. 



* * * 


Looking back on these responses, all I can say is this: sure, stereotypes about Western women in Taiwan exist, mostly negative ones. We're sexless, female incels. We're not attracted to Asian men. We can't compete with 'local women' (oh man that statement is so fraught with racist/sexist stereotypes that I don't know where to begin).

But hear this: Western women in Taiwan have their own stereotypes of the typical male expat here. You know - horrid little misogynists who think they're hot shit because they can get here what they couldn't get in their native countries. Charisma Men.

These stereotypes are not always true - many of my friends are Western men who are super cool guys, whether they are single (which not many are these days, a function of age and my social circle settling down), married or dating and whether their partners are foreign or Taiwanese. But there is a basis for them, and I've met a few Charisma Men as well.

But then, I wouldn't necessarily say it's harder to meet good men here (though admittedly I haven't tried). Not because it's easy, but because it was also hard to meet them in the US. Before I married, I might have had more dates in the US, but that doesn't mean the men were any better or any more worth my romantic time. Most weren't.

I, and most foreign women here, avoid them. We live our own lives, make our own friends, hang out with the cool guys, form local friendships and in some cases relationships, and are basically normal people living normal lives.

So, expat men. If you think we're angry celibate shrews just because we're not dating you, then perhaps you just don't know enough expat women and perhaps you just don't know much about our experiences, because you haven't lived them. 


3 comments:

blobOfNeurons said...

This post prompted me to ponder what the dating scene is like for non-Westerners in Taiwan. What have all the Indonesian, Vietnamese, Philippine, Malaysian and Japanese people been up to?

Jenna Cody said...

I'm interested in that too - but I don't have anybody to ask so I am not qualified to write about it. I get the feeling many of them, being as there are more of them (and the men and women of those groups are interested in each other, which isn't much the case among Western expats I've found - and that goes both ways), date and marry among themselves...and a lot of Southeast Asian women marry Taiwanese men.

Life said...

Hey!
A great article to see the situation from a different perspective.
I am a Taiwanese guy who has been living in NZ for 14 years since 1996 when I was 14.
I have never dated a western girl, but yes for being as friend.
There certainly are many differences in terms of life experiences, culture background. However, these do improve as more understanding from both side. From understood nothing to laugh out loud on western jokes. As long as both want it, you will get there. We are all not that much different once understood each other. =)