My cousin and his wife recently designated themselves my personal matchmaker. It started with a series of questions, similar to what you might find on a dating site. “What’s your age range? Does she need to be Asian? Does she need to have good values? Would you date a hipster? What if she’s only a quarter hipster?” I answered each of their questions one by one, pausing when they asked me if 19 is too young. “Of course it is!” I need a partner with a reliable voting record (at least three election cycles). It felt like a grueling interrogation. My palms were sweating and the putrid stench of stress hormones filled the air. I imagine love feels eerily similar.
I’ve been hesitant about this whole dating thing for a while. As an Asian male I have a lot of insecurities about dating and romance. During prom, my date Elizabeth G., captain of the gymnastics team, ditched me for a White guy (#onesuperdreamydude). I’ve never gone out with another gymnast since. Pop culture portrays Asian-American men using all sorts of stereotypes—both positive and negative. Some people ask me, “What’s wrong with being portrayed as good at math? It’s better than being called a thug.” Simple: I don’t care about being good at math!!! I have a smartphone for that.
These stereotypes are harmful because they misrepresent Asian-Americans and distorts the perspective other people may have of us. I want to be an Asian James Bond, but can’t easily do that if people view me as the guy who fixes James Bond’s in-car navigation system (which I could easily do, don’t get me wrong). Asian men are not portrayed as heroic, charming or romantic. Instead we are typecast as science geeks, sidekicks, people who can’t speak English, comic relief, or just plain weird like that Asian guy in “The Hangover” (interestingly, Ken Jeong is a licensed as a physician in California…typical Asian).
My cousin finally tells me “Ok, I think we got you a match James.” It sounded awfully suspicious and made me wonder exactly where this “match” came from. “She’s an optician, works at Sam’s Club, stable.” He then asked me for my own stats: height, weight, college major, favorite animal. I was reminded of the AOL chat rooms that I used to visit in middle school. Instead of greeting people with a “hello,” you would open with “ASL” (age, sex, location). These chat rooms were great because your online identity was only limited by your imagination. I didn’t have to be Asian if I didn’t want to (and I rarely wanted to). Instead, I could be CoolDude96746, the “out-of-town-bad-boy” who is mysterious and alluring but will leave you broken hearted because he’s too cool to emote. Later, when the World of Warcraft came along, CoolDude96746 was violently slain by Valkor the Orc Champion (20/Male/Narnia).
The match turned out to be my cousin’s wife’s friend’s sister-in-law. I calculated this out to four degrees of separation, though my cousin reasons that we are simply separated by two screens. I told him that I would consider it and get back to him. “When you see a Porsche, you drop all the other Pintos,” he encouraged. I lol’ed politely, but didn’t completely understand the analogy since I have no interest in cars. If a Porche were to punch me in the face for insulting his mother, I still would not be able to identify one out of a police lineup. Had my cousin made a more culturally relevant analogy (“Once you’ve eaten a bánh mì you’ll never go back to Subway”) I would have totally understood it and perhaps even given a more sincere lol.
A few days later I was at our family Tet gathering. I confided to my uncle and little cousin Kylie about my dating problems. I thought having the perspective of an elder and child might be insightful. “Why don’t you just date one girl, it would be cheaper,” she suggested. “Awww, that’s so cute Kylie! But dating is like shopping for clothes. You have to try on everything before you find something you like. There are no refunds!” I think I may have destroyed her childhood.
Is dating really this hard for Asian guys? Or maybe it is super easy and I just suck at it. What has been your experience?