Modern dating is complicated across the board, but it’s a little more so when you’re Asian-American.
For starters, online dating app users don’t necessarily favor Asians: One OkCupid study from 2014 found that Asian men have a harder time with online dating than people of any other race. In a speed-dating study conducted at Columbia University in 2006, Asian men also had the most difficulty getting a second date. Asian women have to deal with race-related dating frustrations, too, including rampant fetishization on and offline.
To get a better feel for what it’s like to date as an Asian-American today, we asked our readers for real talk on everything from dating apps, sexual stereotypes, interracial dating and parental expectations. Here’s what they had to say.
“I’ve come to learn that I cannot build up my confidence based on other boys’ perception of my looks or my race.” ― Kevin Ma, 22
What do your parents want for you in a partner?
My parents grew up financially unstable in China. They look back at it and laugh now, but my mother recalls having to share one bowl of rice for dinner with all her siblings. Whenever the rice got too low in the bowl, they would add water to make the illusion that there was more food.
My mother’s past spills over into her expectations with what she hopes to see in my partner. She’s always telling me to find someone wealthy. She says, “Kevin, you need to find someone who is going to take care of you.” But I struggle with this, because the biggest thing I’ve learned from my mother is to always hold my own, no matter what.
Everything I want, I get on my own. Like my mother, I am resilient and I am a go-getter. I don’t place financial status at the forefront when searching for partners, and neither should my mother, because she did everything right in raising me to be the independent person that I am.
What have your experiences with interracial dating been like?
My last boyfriend was black. At the time, I was working and living in New York City. We met dancing at a club in NYC on a Friday night. I appreciated the experiences we shared, but looking back, I think I let my insecurities get in the way of fully living in the moment of our relationship.
Whenever we would go out clubbing together, boys would always hit on him first. Granted, he was more muscular and taller, but when things like that happened, I became much more afraid of losing him because I thought that I was easily replaceable. As an Asian man, standing right next to him, dudes would just completely disregard me. I thought that my chances of finding another guy were much lower, so I convinced myself that I needed this relationship more than my partner. In my head, our races created a power dynamic and the pendulum swung more in favor towards my partner.
But I’ve come to learn that I cannot build up my confidence based on other boys’ perception of my looks or my race. It’s more of a reflection of them as opposed to me, and I owe it to myself to never internalize someone else’s poisonous opinion.
“Not only do I not wish to date within my own race, I prefer to date my own gender.” ― Alyx Wynn, 28
How did your parents respond to you being a lesbian?
My mother is very adamant and not discreet in her disappointment that I have not yet found a nice Vietnamese man to date. Not only do I not wish to date within my own race, I prefer to date my own gender.
This has caused a great rift between her and I, and only now has the subject been periodically breached, as I’m very open about my sexuality and my current partners. It’s always an internal battle of whether or not I tell her, as I will never change, but knowing she will never openly ask about my partner has been very difficult.
Even before I came out to her, I had a black boyfriend. She was not happy about that. It’s interesting to see the amount of inherent racism that is evident in Asian cultures. My first girlfriend was white, and when my mom found out I was dating a white woman, she kicked me out of the house for being gay, but not before saying, “Well, at least that b***h is white!”
How would you describe your experiences with interracial dating?
I feel like Asians fall into that gray area of not being accepted as a person of color while being seen as a weird fetish. I’ve gone on dates with women who seemed great on dating apps, only to have them tell me, “I love ethnic girls.” Dating interracially, there have been times when the woman I am dating shows no interest whatsoever in my cultural background, just that I’m a “hot Asian.” It’s very rare for someone I’m dating to show any interest in the cultural customs I grew up with or my race.
“I tried East Meet East. It was gross: fetishes for Asian women everywhere.” ― Vicky N., 25
What have been your experiences on dating apps?
I’ve been on them all, and Tinder seems to have the most diverse pool of users in terms of ethnicity. I got on it when I was bored and paid for an upgraded subscription that allowed me to move my location to Pyeongchang to see the pool of users there ― no shame.
As for my experiences with the others? Bumble: Full of white guys. Coffee Meets Bagel has the most male Asian users from what I’ve seen, but the conversations I’ve had on there haven’t been great. I tried East Meet East. It was gross: fetishes for Asian women everywhere. I was on it for less than 30 minutes and deleted my account.
“I get the sense that not many women that make their way to Pittsburgh are looking for a guy who looks or thinks like me” ― Keith Portugal, 31
What’s it like being an Asian-American guy on dating apps?
I’ve used Bumble, OkCupid and Coffee Meets Bagel. Bumble and OKC have been the best so far in terms of matches and responses. However, I get the sense that not many women that make their way to Pittsburgh are looking for a guy who looks or thinks like me. If that study on dating apps showing Americans’ cultural dating preferences is to be believed, it’s probably true. But also, maybe my pictures and profile just don’t do it for many women, even if they are open to dating Asians.
How does your Asian-ness intersect with your ideas on masculinity?
I grew up practicing self-defense and playing competitive sports, but I also cooked and cleaned and sang and danced in musicals. I hope I present myself as a well-rounded individual, but without feedback on dating apps, it’s hard to judge. The women I have dated understood that I desired equality within a relationship, that we would be partners.
I haven’t had to deal with Asian fetishization; I mean, how often have you heard women say, “Oh shit, I only date Asian guys!”? I also haven’t dealt with outright discrimination. Nobody has ever said to me, “I’m not into Asian guys.” That said, actions speak louder than words, and I don’t match as often as I’d like on dating apps in Pittsburgh.
“In Indian culture, it’s not just the person you marry that matters; it’s also the family they come from.” ― Dhara S., 29
How have your parents’ expectations influenced your dating life?
It’s been a huge struggle. I’m a pharmacist and I was engaged to someone who didn’t graduate college, and it created such a problem in my family. There’s this expectation that the man should have an equal or higher degree than the woman, and for me and my fiance, it obviously wasn’t the case. It took a lot of time and convincing for my parents to accept him, even though it didn’t work out in the end. In Indian culture, it’s not just the person you marry that matters; it’s also the family they come from. I know my parents want the person I’m in a relationship with to come from a good family that has good values.
What have your experiences been like dating newly arrived Asian immigrants?
Well, I’m on a dating app, and I’d say 80 percent of the profiles I come across belong to FOBS. It’s interesting; they don’t seem to know what’s appropriate to say and what isn’t. Physical appearance is something they always bring up and they always come on extremely strong and in your face from the beginning. Personally, I don’t date them because I just think we’d be very different culturally.
“A [dating] ‘preference’ can easily tiptoe [past] the ‘fetish’ line.” ― Samantha Chin, 27
Do you ever struggle with balancing your parents’ expectations with what you’re looking for in a partner?
Yes, because my parents have two pretty different perspectives: My mother wants me to find a husband who is stable with a lucrative career, while my father seems to be more concerned that I find someone that I can really emotionally connect with, someone that’s simply a good person.
The fetishization Asian-American women have to deal while dating is pretty widespread. Has that affected your dating life?
There’s always a question in the back of my mind of whether the person I’m dating is attracted to me for the right or wrong reasons. I completely understand having preferences when it comes to who you’re physically attracted to, but a “preference” can easily tiptoe [past] the “fetish” line. One of my biggest gripes with the fetishization of Asian women is that it reduces us to purely physical objects, associated with being docile and obedient. The fact that this kind of archetype has been portrayed in the media, film and entertainment for decades hasn’t been helpful, but I’m glad that it’s beginning to change. It’s refreshing to see characters that are also Asian women who are strong, independent, and free-spirited.
“I have always been drawn to men who find my independence to be empowering, not emasculating.” ― Marie Guerrero, 26
What effect does your Filipino culture have on your dating life?
Well, I had a fairly matriarchal upbringing, which is common among Filipino families. My mom assumed the position of financial and familial authority, and my dad supported that dynamic entirely, taking on the role of raising my sister and me at home. This dynamic translated into my views of masculinity and feminism, and ultimately, my dating preferences. I value my independence, financial and otherwise, and have always been drawn to men who find my independence to be empowering, not emasculating. That’s not to say that I haven’t come across men who tried to fetishize me as a submissive and weak-willed. Needless to say, they were immediately disappointed. Too bad!
Do you date Asians exclusively or have you had experiences with interracial dating?
I’ve dated Asians in the past, but my dating history has been mostly interracial. It’s a great opportunity to learn about cultures and customs that are different from my own.
The one struggle I’ve come across, specifically with white men, is trying to communicate the struggles of people of color, specifically women of color, without being immediately dismissed. I found it difficult to convey the reality of the marginalization of POC, and the real-life consequences that we must face because of our country’s history and policies. Fortunately, instead of minimizing my concerns, my current boyfriend (a white male) listens to my grievances and makes a conscious effort to advance the cause of racial and gender equality.
“Making a move seems more difficult because here, I’m not the typical Southern guy. ” ― Kleon Van, 24
Do you ever struggle with balancing your parents’ expectations with what you’re looking for in a partner?
Yeah, it’s hard to bring people home to meet my parents. The only person it was easy with was someone who was Asian ― Korean, specifically. They’ve told me in the past that they’d like for me to marry someone who was Vietnamese, so they can converse with older family members painlessly.
I think the pecking order is something along the lines of: 1) Vietnamese; 2) Asian ― they want someone who will respect the culture (I always tell them that most people do respect culture, but they don’t get it) and 3) Everything else.
What’s it like dating in the South as an Asian guy?
I’d say making a move seems more difficult because here, I’m not the typical Southern guy. I wouldn’t directly call it discrimination, but I’d say I’m not suited for this dating environment. I don’t think I’ve had any bad experiences with interracial dating. I’d say that only one or two dated me because they were into Asian guys in general, and the others liked me for me. Being in the South, it’s hard to find other Asians to date. I’ve talked to a number of them, but only dated a couple of them. For an American-born Asian, it’s tough for me to connect to people who are FOBs.
“Dating before college? Forbidden. Dating someone who isn’t Asian? Extra forbidden. Dating girls? Extra, extra forbidden.” ― Jezzika Chung, 27
How do your sexual orientation and gender identity affect your dating life as an Asian-American?
Growing up in an extremely religious Korean household, almost everything was forbidden. Dating before college? Forbidden. Dating someone who isn’t Asian? Extra forbidden. Unless they were white; oddly, my mom thought that was more palatable because she was fed this idea that white equals success. Dating girls? Extra, extra forbidden.
When I was 12, I remember being attracted to women. I didn’t know what “lesbian” meant, and I didn’t know any other girls at school who were dating other girls or talking openly about their attraction for other girls. And I definitely couldn’t talk about it at home with my religious mom, so I suppressed the thoughts. To this day, whenever I have intimate thoughts or feelings for women, I hear my mom’s disapproving voice whispering all the ways I’m being “sinful” and “unholy.”
Korean culture puts a heavy emphasis on social status and image. Anything that strays from the accepted norms is frowned upon and labeled “wrong.” To my mom, anything outside of the hetero norms is invalid. There’s no debate or reason, it just is the way it is. To be honest, I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever find a way to let her know that I’m attracted to both genders.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.