People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.
So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.
As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.
This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.
The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.
She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.
It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…
They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.
Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.
Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.
Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”
Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.
Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.
What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?
A few weeks ago, a fan wrote to me asking, “Do you and Jun ever fight?” She mentioned fighting on occasion in her own intercultural relationship — her husband’s Chinese, she’s a non-Asian woman from a Western country — and sometimes it was not easy for her to resolve the tension because they had different ways of arguing. While she wanted to talk it out, he just stonewalled her.
One thing I’ve never written about is that, in some ways, movies have helped us overcome fights and open up conversations, especially about cultural differences that could potentially cause a snag or too in a relationship. Call it my intercultural love hack, #108.
I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic comedies on TV and the big screen, which meant my husband and I would often watch them when we declared it a “movie night” (or “TV night”). In the early years of our relationship, we lived together in China, and at the time I was desperately missing my home country of America. Movies were a way for me to vicariously visit the US in the comfort of my own home, so I often chose titles set in America. And hey, it was great for both of us, since English is my native language and Jun’s second language.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in choosing these English-language romantic comedies from America, I was inadvertently schooling Jun in dating and relationship culture in the US.
See, Jun and I had met in China, and while he’d studied European-American culture in college, he’d never traveled or lived outside the country before we met. Meanwhile, my two years of living in China, plus previous relationships with Chinese guys, gave me a leg up that he didn’t have when it came to my culture. (I’m the first and only woman he has ever dated, so it’s not like he had other women, or even foreign women, to compare with me.)
But movies stepped in to fill the gap, in ways I never anticipated.
The thing that first caught his eye in American movies? Kissing in public. Name me a romantic comedy from the US and there’s a more than 90 percent chance the couple ends up locking lips among a crowd of people (often their friends or family), and probably a more than 50 percent chance that said crowd showers them with applause. It was fascinating to Jun because…well…that’s not how it’s done where he grew up, where people prefer to kiss in more private places and spaces. And so it opened up a whole conversation about public displays of affection, and differences between our respective countries and cultures.
But of course, all movies – even romantic comedies – thrive on tension and drama. Which means many, many films had couples arguing about all sorts of things. Even stuff that was eerily similar to things we might have been hashing out on our own.
Here’s the thing, though. When you see people fighting about something that you’ve encountered, but it’s in a movie, it gives you a certain distance to talk about it in a more nonjudgmental way. It’s not the two of you doing it, it’s the characters.
Not everything is about culture, either. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personality too. But either way, seeing it reflected on screen can provide an opening to talk, where you’re discussing the characters instead of fingering the other person.
It’s also really helpful if you can find examples that encompass each of your respective “argument styles”, because everyone has a different approach. Bonus if they portray the fights in a humorous way, so then the two of you can laugh at them (and hopefully, later on, yourselves).
While watching a movie won’t magically solve all your intercultural marital woes, it could raise the kind of awareness — cultural and otherwise — that opens up possibilities for resolution and understanding. Plus, it’s fun and who wouldn’t want an additional excuse to prop up their legs, bring out the popcorn and declare it a movie night?
So maybe that old cliche should be updated to, “The couple who watches movies together, stays together”?
What do you think? Have you found movies to be a beneficial way of encouraging mutual understanding across cultural or racial lines?
But if you actually watch the entire Youtube series (it’s only five episodes, 20 min or less each, and totally free), what you’ll find is a thoughtful exploration of life and love through the eyes of an Asian-American guy named Andrew – played by Wong Fu’s Philip Wang — and his mainly Asian friends.
Wang cited inspiration from series such as “Insecure”, “Atlanta” and “Master of None”. And the basic storyline — which centers on Andrew’s journey of self-discovery and soul-searching through his relationships, including with friends, lovers and family — isn’t necessarily groundbreaking on the surface. Yet Wong Fu’s “Yappie” feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before on TV.
“Yappie” takes the familiar, such as ideas about yellow fever (as it relates to white guys and Asian girls), and then cleverly subverts it to great comedic effect. One exchange between an Asian woman and a white man at a bar takes a surprising turn when it ends up reflecting dynamics more typical among Asian men and white women in the interracial dating world. This is just one of many examples of how the series excels at setting viewers up to assume one thing, and delivering something else entirely.
Wong Fu’s “Yappie” has also cast a Blasian woman, Janine Oda, as Andrew’s love interest. It’s refreshing, and not just because you hardly see Asian men and Black women paired up on TV or in the movies. Her presence opens up a lot of conversations rarely heard in the media – from race relations between the Asian and Black communities to Asian identity itself (at one point, she reminds Andrew that she still has her “Asian card”). And all of the interracial dating issues going on in the series will especially resonate with anyone who has ever, to borrow the title of the Diane Farr book, kissed outside the racial lines.
While Wong Fu’s “Yappie” sees the world through an Asian lens, you don’t have to be Asian to appreciate it. After all, the main character of Andrew is a bit awkward and uncertain about life in a way that transcends racial boundaries, making him incredibly endearing and relatable to audiences. And it’s a pleasure to watch Andrew in these moments where he pushes himself, even a tiny bit, outside boundaries drawn by his family or society.
The first season of “Yappie” proves that Wong Fu still has many compelling stories to tell. Let’s hope this is the start of more series to come.
Recently, I awoke to a powerful headline in the China Daily:
Determination is everything
The headline accompanied a group of photos underlining elite athletes’ perseverance in the world of sports. But I found myself so inspired by the phrase that I used a pair of scissors to cut it out of the paper and asked my husband to paste it on a door in our apartment.
Given the determination we’ve had to summon in the past several years to fight against a grave injustice (a fight that is still ongoing as I write this), it was inspiring and comforting to read these words, to be reminded of the power of sticking with it even when times are tough.
But as I pondered the phrase, I also recognized that it could apply to interracial relationships, including what I’ve experienced and observed among interracial couples here in China.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall what happened many years ago when Jun and I first began dating, and he returned home to share the news about his new girlfriend from America. His father said, “You can be friends with a foreign girl, but not date her.”
You can imagine, then, that when I once again encountered this response from Jun’s father, I thought our relationship was done. It was as if a parent merely uttering any rejection toward dating a foreign woman would automatically set in motion a cascade of events that inexorably led to breakup.
Except, in our case, it didn’t.
Jun just shrugged his shoulders, as if his father had merely offered an opinion on the latest news or one of their neighbors. It didn’t matter to Jun that his father disagreed with him about dating me. Jun was going to date me anyway.
He was determined to date me. So we stayed together, and eventually got married.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to connect with and meet many other women like myself, who were not Asian and happened to date or marry Asian men. And what I’ve found is that many of them have very similar stories, with their beloved’s parents voicing some kind of opposition to the relationship. But they persisted, they stayed together and everything turned out OK too.
I’m also reminded of the many stories I’ve read of other interracial couples, who had to navigate all sorts of landmines before they eventually made it to their wedding vows, and more than just a statement that it’s not good to date someone. Things like friends who reject your partner, racial epithets from strangers who happen to see you and, worst of all, family who decide to disown you. I’ve read stories of couples so deeply committed that being shunned and even disowned by their families didn’t stop them from moving forward in a life together.
Now I’m not saying that determination is the answer for everyone. Sometimes we’re faced with really tough choices when we date differently, and not everyone can afford to risk a rupture for life with their families.
At the same time, I’ve also learned that there’s a difference between families who would outright expel you for your choice to date outside cultural and/or racial borders, versus families who might not initially welcome it (but could warm up to your presence, over time). And in the latter, a strong dose of determination by a couple could decide whether the two of you end up together in a glossy wedding photo – or apart, writing out the painful history of what went wrong in a diary.
What do you think? Do you believe determination is everything, even in interracial relationships?
The other day, you told me how people constantly ask you, “Why would you date Chinese men?” You recalled that girl who grimaced at you just because you dared to date men in China. You said you felt like you were spending so much energy and time trying to defend your choices. You sounded tired of it all.
Believe me, I understand. Your comments brought me back to my first year in China, when I was sitting around the lunch table with my foreign female colleagues. One woman said, “When I arrive at the airport in America, the first thing I notice is the men, how handsome and how tall they are. I’ll just stare at them for hours, as if I were Chinese and had never seen a foreign man before in my life.” I knew what she was getting at, though another foreign female colleague put it more bluntly. “Chinese men don’t really seem that attractive.”
Even though I understood their every word, I couldn’t understand how they could brand an entire population of men as undateable. China is, after all, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people – and more people means more diversity and, ultimately, more great men.
But what do you do when the people around you just don’t get it? When they keep annoying you with the same worn-out questions about why you’d dare to date Chinese men?
Then again, who says you have to justify anything?
There’s nothing wrong with your decision to date Chinese men. Love is love. In a world rocked by so much hatred, fear and uncertainty, shouldn’t we all be delighted when someone gives their heart to someone else? Doesn’t that tiny act of goodness make the earth just a little bit brighter for everyone? Why should it matter that person happens to be a Chinese man?
It’s sad when people are so caught up in their own stereotypes about an entire group of people that they’re blinded to the possibility of happiness for someone like you.
But what’s worse is when they try to verbally walk you into a corner, putting you on the defensive for something nobody needs to defend in the first place.
So next time someone asks you “Why would you date Chinese men?” it’s time to put their proposed conversation in perspective. You might start with, “Why don’t you have something better to say?”
What if the love you always hoped for never came to be, despite how hard you tried to make it happen? That’s what happened to an anonymous woman who desperately loved a young Chinese man who went to her university. She shares their story in this emotional post.
Do you have a powerful story you want to see published here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your words featured here.
Five and a half years ago, I met you for the first time when I went out to eat at a small Chinese restaurant with my grandmother. It was a magical moment to me even still today.
I was much younger then, fresh out of high school and going to a little community college. You had just moved to America to start at the university soon. I was in the same boat; about to transfer into the same university, but also in a poor and unhappy relationship.
The moment I saw you, you looked at me and smiled, even though it was an obligatory smile to the customer, I felt that smile all the way to my toes, and I remember blushing so hard I thought my head might pop.
You wore glasses just like me, I still remember they were circle frames, and you looked so handsome. You kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, because that was still pretty big then, right? But you were also Chinese, and you didn’t speak much.
Oh, but I tried so hard to talk to you. I tried really, really hard.
I had already learned some Chinese beforehand, but you renewed it. I started bringing a dictionary every time my grandmother and I ate there. When I turned 20, I wrote it out, in Chinese, telling you it was my birthday. I remember you smiling a little but you still never talked to me.
Then one day you did talk to me. As we talked a little bit, you made me love a culture I knew so little about a little bit more, because you were a part of it. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know you.
I fell in love.
My relationship ended. I looked for you. I tried. I couldn’t have done more than if I waved a flag in your face that said, “Please, ask me out!”
I knew you liked me. I saw it on your face. The way you acted. How you talked when you said hello. How you smiled at me differently than the other customers when I would come in. How you would ask the other servers to trade with you so you could have me at your table and you could sit and talk. How close you would get to me even though it was in front of my grandmother. You even started testing my Chinese, seeing what new I might have learned on my own.
But, you never asked me out.
Then someone else did, someone else took the chance and asked me out. I remember thinking about you. I thought about how no matter how much I tried, or poked, or talked, or bugged, or wrote sweet things in my poor attempts at Chinese, you didn’t want to ask me out. So I said yes.
Then you actually asked me out, after I had already said yes! You asked me to go shopping with you, because you needed a new jacket for winter and didn’t know where to go. You waited too long and I said yes.
But I went shopping with you anyways. I explained that since I was just helping you find a good store, it would be ok. I remember how fun we had had. How well we had gotten along. All the misunderstandings when we tried talking but you would reassure me that it was ok. It was so perfect and fun.
But I had already said yes to someone else, and it ended that day.
When I told you that I intended to go out with the guy, because I had said yes, you never talked to me again. Never.
Then I had gone to the college with the one I said yes to one day. I was helping him reregister for school because he wanted to go back. You were there in the office, and you looked up, surprised to see me there with him. I remember seeing you, and remembering how hard I had fallen for you. I made myself swallow it all down, because I cared about the man I was sitting next to as well. I had already made my choice and commitment. But you smiled at me, and came over to us, and talked to us. You mostly talked to him, I remember that. But it made me so happy to talk to you again. And then you let me exchange phone numbers with you again. Our friendship felt like it was at least renewed. I tried to approach it as just friends.
But for three years, we never really talked again. Not much. We ran into each other often, chatted a little, and would catch up.
Then last year, you surprised me. You did something out of the ordinary. You called me on the phone, and told me that you had a gift for me. It was so surprising. You wanted me to go out to lunch with you and catch up.
My god, I said yes! I didn’t care, I missed you so much.
We talked for hours, all night. We went out again, and again, at least 5 more times. We talked about the past, about everything we had done. We talked about the one time that we had gone out and how awkward it had been.
Then I told you how badly I had wanted you to ask me out. Then you confessed that you had thought I was so cute and it was sweet that I would eat every Sunday with my grandmother. You told me that all your coworkers had teased you and questioned you why you had never asked me out. Who cares if I had had a boyfriend at first, they told you. I clearly liked you more and I was unhappy. You even told me, you remember seeing us together and that I never stopped looking at you the whole time. You said how mean he had been towards me from the moment I had come inside. You remembered all of that.
You told me you had never realized how much I had liked you. You always assumed I wouldn’t want to go out with you. You laughed as we talked, because you couldn’t believe how foolish you were to not have noticed.
But now it was too late.
Every date we went on, you were more attentive then the last. You went back to teaching me about your culture. You told me things that I should know before I went to China. You even scolded me for using my chopsticks improperly but were impressed that I could use them so well. You called me a Chinese girl in disguise when I explained some of my beliefs and dreams and hopes. I told you how my number one dream was to be a mother and good wife. You liked that. You didn’t think many American girls wanted that anymore. You liked that I wanted to be a teacher, and I liked you just sharing things with me about your childhood and your past and what your home was like.
Then you came to me one night online, after seeing me so often now. I wanted to go out again soon. I wanted to show you a great place to go hiking and have picnics. It was my favorite place in the world. I told you, you could bring friends here. We could bring friends too.
But you stopped me.
You told me you had gone to talk to one of your professors. “I asked my professor if it was wrong for me to want to try and take a girl from her boyfriend,” you said. “I never hung out with you in the past as much as I have these last few weeks. I never realized what a great a girl you are. You are a lot like Chinese girls. I really like you. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
You said that to me, and I didn’t know what to say at first.
Then you continued, and told me, “But I respect your boyfriend. I like him. He is a good man and you seem happy with him, I’m not going to talk to you anymore after today. We shouldn’t be friends. I had fun together though.”
I cried for hours. Every time I thought about you, my eyes watered and I had to swallow the pain I felt deep in my chest. I cared for and loved my boyfriend. But my feelings for you had never changed. They had never died. I know and feel I can only blame myself. But I’ve chosen my path and I can’t stray from it. Some things have to be set in stone.
But here I am writing this right now. That’s because tonight, tonight I re-lived that moment I first met you 5 and a half years ago.
You walked into the store I work at now. You turned and looked at me, with shock in your eyes, and a smile creeping onto your lips. A smile spread across mine, and I felt the tingle in my toes again. For a brief moment, I felt that giddy feeling again of seeing you.
And you talked to me.
I told you it was my last semester of college, and it was yours too. But I had customers I had to take care of. You wanted to linger. You skirted around, trying to talk to me. But I was busy. So I smiled, and I said, “You can message me online.”
But then your smile was gone.
You looked away, just briefly and told me “I can’t, not anymore.” The pain came back again. My hurt came back, but I just smiled it off. “Are you seeing someone now?” I asked you. You said yes. “That’s great,” I said. You still lingered though, you wanted to talk to me more. I could see it. When the line formed again you apologized and left, with a short good bye. You didn’t even buy the thing you had come in to buy.
So I swallowed my pain.
The customer looked at me and asked, “Is he your boyfriend? You two really seem to have a connection.” I didn’t know what else to say but, “No, we just used to be good friends.
Tonight, I am here crying over you again.
I don’t know what else to do but to cry and accept the fact that all that remains between us is gone. Not even a friendship remains. In a year I will leave for japan. I don’t know where you will be after your graduation. You were still trying to stay in America, but you know you may return to China for good as well.
I can only hope and pray you are happy, and that I made the right choices. That, eventually, whatever it is that I still feel for you will go away one day. That it will become just another fond distant, sometimes painful, memory.
I was shocked to learn your steady Asian boyfriend of several years had left you.
Even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like you’re an old friend. Maybe that’s because we’ve both been in interracial relationships with Asian men. Or because I came to know you through what you shared with me over the years. Or even because you’ve supported me when I needed it most.
So I don’t think it’s enough to just say, “I’m sorry.” Sorry is such a small word, and small comfort. Honestly, I would rather give you hugs, just holding you the way friends have for me when I’ve weathered breakups.
Although I wasn’t the one on the receiving end of this experience, I could feel your heartbreak in the messages you sent to me. I know what it’s like. I’ve had Asian boyfriends break up with me out of the blue. I’ve spent days, even weeks, mourning the loss of a relationship.
One Chinese guy left me after studying abroad in Europe; he just couldn’t manage the distance. Another said goodbye to me because his parents could never accept a foreign girl. There was also that young man studying in Nanjing who I was smitten with for months; things never got off the ground because his parents insisted he marry a Chinese girl. That felt almost as bad as a breakup.
All of these were relationships I desperately wanted to continue. They did not.
With every breakup or rejection, my heart shattered. Somehow, it felt even harder to carry this sadness with me in China. When these Chinese men said goodbye to me, sometimes I wondered if the country was doing the same. Especially when family got in the way. Why did his family have to stand in the way of love?
… I have heard from a multitude of sources that places like Bali, France, Holland, Russia (and other eastern European countries) as well as various Latin American countries have the disparity between Asian men paired with local women vs vice versa as either being near equal or vastly skewed in favor of Asian males. I just wanted to point out that our dating situation is not so extremely pathetic in every part of the world as your article may make us out to be. From what I hear amongst Asian male travelers abroad is that the dating scene for Asian men is most bleak in Anglo nations. [Emphasis added]
Any sexual imbalances that exist due to the unique alchemy of sex, race and class in the United States fade in the face of a globalized world; one in which the playing field is different, and so are the players and rules. In the Caribbean, for instance, intermarriages between black women and Asian men are relatively common. In fact, asserts AznLover member David Nghiem, a globetrotter who recently completed an epic bicycle trip across the entire length of Latin America, “Outside of the ‘anglosphere’ — North America, England, Australia and New Zealand — things are completely different. Asian men are in general seen as dateable, sexy and interesting. Most of the world has their own media, in their own languages and subtleties, and Hollywood’s attempts to spread stereotypes about Asian men and their sexuality literally stops at the anglosphere’s edge, simply because the rest of the world doesn’t understand it and doesn’t care.” [Emphasis added]
So, is the interracial dating scene friendlier to Asian men when you leave the Anglosphere, the English-speaking world? There’s some tantalizing anecdotal evidence in support of this.
…it seems that French women seem to have a thing for Asian men…. I’ve also noticed that Russian women don’t seem to dismiss Asians as easily as most other white women, maybe because of Russia’s proximity to Asia. In general, it seems that the worse that women speak English, the nicer they are to Asians….
Come to Paris, I’m french and with a little bit of introspection I had it easy…. Girls are open minded and you stand out a lot for breaking the stereotype if you’re Asian, funny and outgoing with above average game!
And I’m not even from Paris but the countryside. I’ve been on a weekend with the Gf in Paris and we’ve spent the entire day in China town and I kinda missed standing out because I was far from being the only Asian with a white girl like I’m used to. I also saw a lot of mixed group of friends with both Asians boys and girls with people from other race which is nice….
…It’s not a coincidence that women outside the Anglosphere view Asian men differently.
I came across a post of a Polish woman who had asked other Polish women if they had any experience with Asian men as she met an American Chinese whom she liked very much, but she wasn’t sure if our two cultures were compatible. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive!…
In Hey-Ai, a poster singled out a number of places he considered friendlier to Asian men, including France, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Sweden and Denmark:
…But overall, I think French people are very tolerant about Asian people….
Germany seems to be a very good place for Asian men. I was approached by pretty german girls in Munich, Budapest and NYC. And I often have very good relationship with german people usually.
I’ve just been in Austria a few days, but the perception of asian people seems the same….
Tallinn, Estonia. Asians people are almost non existent, there are very few tourists, so we are very rare. I felt very welcomed by Estonian people (men or women), they want to know more about you and some girls may flock you…
Northern Europe. I think that Sweden and Denmark are very open toward Asians people. They are very tolerant, polite and sometimes curious. I think a lot of people from Scandinavia have an interest about Asian culture. In fact, I met so many Swedish people when I traveled in Asia….
…Large areas in Eastern Europe, in particular, the Baltic countries of Estonia and Lithuania (currently EU members), have shown to be very accepting and friendly to American Asian males, and is a place where a growing number of such travelers have been able to find incredible opportunities for social life and romance….
Belarus is another country where Asian men, even those who are not American, have been able to feel accepted, and where they have enjoyed good treatment and many new possibilities for abundant “romancing”.
Parts of Russia and other CIS countries (outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg) have also been described as very good for such Asian men…
Parts of Brazil, according to some sources, have proven to be excellent, and some Asian men have been able to mingle freely with the local population and date beautiful women there.
France is another country in which Asian men (those who can speak French- a necessity there) have reported that they have been treated quite well by the local females….
I would stress these are only personal reports. Still, unlike what I’ve laid out in my Huffington Post piece, these anecdotes suggest a more hopeful picture of interracial dating for Asian men.
But I’d love to hear from you too. What do you think? Do you have any stories or other evidence of how Asian men fare in the interracial dating scene outside the Anglosphere? Sound off in the comments!
How many of you have had your heart broken? I’m willing to bet pretty much everyone reading this has their own sad, crushing stories of love lost.
Well, Ning Li of Ning Li Dating has graciously offered to share his first heartbreak – and why, in the long run, he’s grateful for everything that happened with her, even the painful times.
Do you have a heartbreaking story or other guest post you’d like to see here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about having your words published here.
You always remember your first real crushing, aching heartbreak. The kind where you don’t sleep, your stomach feels hollow, and food tastes like ash.
Mine actually saved my life.
I’ve always been attracted to white girls my entire life. I grew up in a white town, hung out with white friends, and spoke like a white person.
I look… incredibly Asian.
On the scale of mouse to elephant, I would probably say my Asian eyes are probably about ant-sized.
Tiny, even for an Asian.
Nonetheless, I had a weakness for white girls that looked cute and innocent, like the kind you’d bake cookies with.
While the traditional “hot club girl” was visually (and mentally) stimulating, they were never the types of girls I could see myself sitting by a fireplace with, staring deep into her eyes, and uttering those three words that made your armor disappear.
Which was why when I met Cheerio girl, my brain basically exploded.
It was my junior year at Cornell, and I was at the running club, stretching out.
There were a couple other people there, and then she walked in.
She had green running shorts, a yellow “Cheerio” shirt, and a bouncing, brown ponytail. Freckles dotted her face, and she had big doe eyes that glowed hazel in the sunlight.
Her shirt read “Graham” across the back.
“Oh, you guys are running the Forest Home route? I was just thinking that!”
Smooth, Ning. Smooth.
We got to chatting on the run, and I found out that she’s pre-medical school, a swimmer, and was from a town only an hour away from Ithaca.
We walked back to our dorms together, and I thought to myself, “oh boy Ning, we’re in trouble.”
I saw her a couple times a week for about a month, and I eventually mustered up the courage to stammer through a dinner invitation.
We went to probably the most romantic place you could think of: the dining hall.
There, we were talking about our plans for the weekend when she dropped an anvil on the table that I tried to brush off:
“My boyfriend is coming up to visit …”
It’s okay, I guess we’ll just be friends, I convinced myself.
At the next run, I pulled a sneaky, devilish move that Jesus and my mother would both have been ashamed of.
“Hey, I was thinking of doing a triathlon, and I’m terrible at swimming. Do you think you could give me a few pointers?”
We started meeting at the pool each Thursday, and then going to dinner afterwards.
I started thinking about her. Daydreaming about her.
I looked for her on Facebook under “Graham,” before I face-palmed, realizing that that had been the name of the cereal company, not her last name.
At the end of the semester, we met up after finals to feed the goslings. As we squatted next to the lake, tossing bread onto the grass, my heart hammered.
“What’s going on between us?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Ning… I really like you, but I have my boyfriend…”
“I really like you, too.”
Ugh, were we in middle school or something?
That summer, they broke up, and in the fall, Cheerio girl and I became an item.
We started eating together, doing crosswords together, and one night, cuddling on a worn out sofa and on the edge of sleep, I told her I loved her.
“I love you too.”
Before it started falling apart, we spent the next five years on what felt like a rollercoaster ride.
It would be all love, daisies, and fuzzy warm blankets for a couple weeks, and then it would crash into jealousy, insecurity, and tears the next.
Over and over again, like a record on repeat.
For what it’s worth, we went on some life-changing adventures together.
I brought her to China.
We met each other’s families.
We went on two cross-country bicycle tours.
We went on vacation together.
We ran races together.
I visited her in Nicaragua on her study abroad semester.
Her family brought me to Mexico with them.
I thought that I was going to marry this girl.
When she moved to Buffalo, we naturally tried to make the distance thing work. I’d drive up one weekend a month, and she would come down the next.
One weekend when I was up, she was taking a test, and I was packing to go, when I noticed a note she had written, lying in a box.
Something about that note didn’t feel right.
I felt like a slug for snooping, but I took it out, and as I read, I felt more and more pressure on my chest.
She had written this to some guy in medical school, and she told him that she liked feeling his body next to her.
In a jealous rage, I leapt in my car and sped the three hours back to Ithaca. I left her a scathing voicemail, and alternated between screaming and sobbing on the phone to my sister the whole way back.
I sat on my porch and stared, a hollow, empty gargoyle.
Ten minutes later, she got out of her car and sat down next to me.
“Did you hook up with him?”
Her eyes flickered.
“No, Ning. It’s nothing. I care about us, I care about you.”
I was desperate to believe her, so I did.
When we stopped having sex, she told me it was because she was stressed and tired from med school.
When she made plans to do a “Floating Doctors” program in Panama that summer, she swore that med school guy was in the same program purely by coincidence.
Again, I was desperate, so I believed her.
I was an idiot.
At times, even when she told me she loved me, I knew that it was a wish, not a declaration.
Looking back, I learned my lesson.
A lie isn’t necessarily a manipulation as much as an agreement. To be lied to, you have to believe the lie.
Crushed, heart broken, and lost, I decided to pull some “Eat, Pray, Love” shit and go on a cross-country bicycle ride on my own.
Across New York, Ohio, and Indiana I cried.
I should’ve been having the adventure of a lifetime, meeting people and seeing places, but all I did was cry.
My lowest point came one night as I was camped out on Carlisle Lake just east of St. Louis. I remember the moon was full, and despite being on the shore of a serene reservoir, there were no mosquitoes.
She skyped me from Panama, and on the phone with her, I cracked and had a nervous breakdown.
All I could think was, she would’ve loved this place.
“I miss you so much,” I told her over and over again.
Having a good crying session is like having a lollipop. It always makes things better, at least for a little bit.
It wasn’t until the middle of Kansas that I started feeling better.
I met a wonderful family in the middle-of-nowhere town of Riley, Kansas that took me in, fed me, and listened to my stories.
I played X-box with their son, played basketball with the father, and they even let me drive around town in their golf cart.
It was one of those magical traveling moments where you realize that no matter how different people are, no matter how strange their culture, they are humans just like you and me.
In the middle of the sprawling, barren Kansas prairie, I thought to myself, I’m finally recovered.
It had taken almost 1,500 miles on a bicycle, but I finally felt whole again.
Naturally, the next day she Skyped me.
“What do you think about me flying in to Denver and joining you for the rest of your trip?”
She was supposed to go to Peru after Panama. Apparently she had had a change of heart.
How was I supposed to say no to that?
We spent the rest of the summer camping in the desert, climbing mountains, and falling back in love.
“Okay, let’s finally make this work,” we told each other.
When we flew back from San Francisco, I moved to Buffalo.
We lived a mile away from each other, and in November, she finally came clean.
She had been hooking up with this med school guy all throughout the spring, all through Panama, and had been lying to me about it for 8 months.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had moved to a shit-hole city, taken a shit-hole job, all for what? For this?
I told her it was over.
I moved back to Ithaca, got my old job back, and focused on one thing: moving forward.
I got some graduate school interviews, and started filling the void inside me with a slew of meaningless hook-ups and one night stands.
In June, I stopped my overstuffed van at her house in Buffalo, ready to say good-bye one last time.
We both cried it out, and finally I headed off to Colorado, where I was to start my life anew at a PhD program in Fort Collins.
From the ground up, I built my social circle and created my universe. I immersed myself in my studies and started dating again.
I felt whole.
Cheerio girl still called and we still talked, but she was seeing someone and I was seeing someone.
I was happy, and I told her that after all was said and done, I was grateful for everything that happened.
I was grateful for all that we had been through together.
I was grateful for the challenges she brought me.
I was grateful for having the chance to grow and become stronger than who I was.
I was grateful because hey, what’s life without a couple curve balls, right?
A year later, she called me and said something surprising…
“Hey, I know that you’re seeing someone and I am, too, but I got a residency interview in Denver in January. Do you want to hang out, and maybe climb a mountain or something?”
I replied with one word.
Ning Li blogs, and writes dating advice for Asian American men at Ning Li Dating (http://ninglidating.com), and currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado.
It’s funny how things in life mysteriously collide – that two seemingly unrelated events I’ve heard about recently actually have something in common. Specifically, the concept of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race or culture.
In the discussion in the comments section, I noticed that people started linking this murder to the idea of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race/culture. See this comment from A. Madhavan:
I can’t help but notice the deep misogyny in this murder – many times when we date out of our race/nationality, men of our race will try to “claim” us and shame us for dating/marrying outside of it. As if we are pieces of property and only belong to them. I have seen this happen with white men to white women; black men to black women; Indian men to Indian woman – how dare a [sic] we women marry outside her race and have complete autonomy over our decisions? It is threatening to A LOT of people…
This sometimes happens in America, too. It happened to me when I was dating a black American man. I was accused by a small group of black women (who I didn’t know) of “taking one of theirs.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think there is a lot of frustration. Black women face a lot of discrimination while dating and have a significant smaller dating pool than white women do because of cross-race dating preferences. This happens to Asian men as well.
To be sure, there is a shortage of women here in China because of the gender imbalance, leading to a growing population of unmarried bachelors in China’s countryside known as “bare branches”. According to this article from Tea Leaf Nation, “an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” Personally, I’ve even heard Chinese men who lament that China is “exporting” far too many of its women overseas.
The Shanghaiist confirms in a recent story that the Sanlitun killer “said he ‘hated Americans’ before attacking Chinese-French couple in Beijing,” specifically asking the woman’s husband if he was an American before stabbing him and his wife. And while it’s never explicitly stated, I can’t help but wonder, does this man represent the anger and frustration of millions who feel a certain entitlement to Chinese women over foreigners because of the shrinking dating pool?
Obviously, this is an incredibly complicated and potentially delicate issue, depending on who you are and whether you’re one of the folks facing a more limited dating pool simply because of your race and/or culture.
What’s your take on this? What do you think about the idea of people who think they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture? Is it ever justified? Sound off in the comments.
UPDATE: I’ve edited this post because that some of the content was inappropriate and insensitive towards the Jewish community. I made some poor choices in what I had written and failed to consider how my words might actually come across to readers (including the individuals I had specifically mentioned in this post). I want to apologize for this mistake.
Thank you to those people who were courageous enough to reach out to me to point out the errors in the original content. I wanted to append this apology to let you know I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the importance of being sensitive about how groups of people are portrayed on this blog, as well as what should and should not be quoted in posts.
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