Dating Despair: Why finding love in Bangkok is hard for foreign men

 

Dating Despair is a four-part series about why dating in Bangkok, well … sucks. This story is a collection of anecdotes from foreign men who live in the capital.

Blah, blah, blah, yes, we’ve seen every lad article, bro blog, sexpat soliloquy and beyond singing the praises of dating in Thailand for foreign men. Want to date a Thai girl? Obviously, the city’s full of them. Interested in foreign women? Apparently, most lowered their standards when they moved here so you just might pull a girl that would be beyond your reach at home.

But what about the dark parts that are mentioned less often? In these interviews, we heard from men who question why women are interested in them, who have to endure long weekends with extended Thai families, and feel constantly judged by complete strangers.

Shall we get to some massive generalizations? Yeah, thought so.

Judgement all around

Many of our interviewees talked about how perception puts a damper on dating. From Thais on the street who look at them like they are sex pests to being lumped together with every other foreign guy on a grand two-week vacation in Pattaya — guys feel judged.

Tim*, 35, an American teacher, mentioned the stigma of not wanting to be “that guy” — another foreign dude with a Thai girlfriend.

“I feel like people judge you when you’re out with your Thai girl. People assume you are here — or with them — for the wrong reasons. I feel especially vulnerable at Chatuchak [a popular weekend market]. There are many older white men with hot, young disheveled women there who are obviously out in last night’s clothes. I feel like people see me just like those guys.”

David Toborowsky, of the TV show 90 Day Fiancé, lived on the outskirts of Bangkok as a teacher for two years before meeting Annie, the Thai woman he married on the popular American reality show. He knows a bit about the difficulties of dating in Thailand and has been friendly with many older foreign guys that date younger Thai women. One thing he noticed about these mixed couples is — no matter what the circumstances — those around them tend to view these relationships as disposable.

Chase, 37, is from Canada and reports feeling judged by other foreigners when he dated a Thai — largely because he recalls making the exact same judgments about mixed couples when he moved to Thailand seven years ago with an American girlfriend.

“When I first came here and saw those couples, it was my default assumption that those were not real or meaningful relationships. When I saw two foreigners dating, I thought, ‘They’re dating, they’re probably in love,’ but I didn’t think that about mixed couples. That was even more true if they had an age difference or appeared to have a class difference.”

He recalled that he and his American girlfriend would often catch each other’s eye in the presence of these mixed couples and whisper “true love” as their own private joke.

Several years later, as a single guy in the city, he was hesitant to join the throngs he had so harshly judged. It took him a long time to overcome that feeling, but he did eventually date a Thai woman for over a year. “Once I was actually dating someone, it became more personal and I stopped thinking about it so much. I’m not going to let the thoughts of people on the street affect who I actually fall in love with,” he said.

Thompson, 28, an American entrepreneur, remembers looking at other foreign guys in the city and thinking “Are you here ‘cause you’re a pervert or what’s up?” when first sussing them out.

Those thoughts can even turn aggressive. Steven, 41, a British journalist, reports feeling angry when he sees his countrymen behaving in ways they wouldn’t dare to at home. On a recent night at a popular outdoor food court, he couldn’t stop flashing death stares at an oblivious table of three average white Englishmen in their mid-50s eating dinner with a Thai girl with pink hair and tattoos that appeared to be under 18 and the girlfriend of one of the men.

Under the right circumstances, he has told these types exactly what he thinks.

Tim mentioned that, being here with his Thai partner, he is often aware that others may believe he came to Thailand after failing with women in his own country.

Thompson, who has never dated a Thai, more or less confirmed Tim’s suspicion.

“Some people come here because they are running away from something. Some come to date attractive women, to date women as attractive as the girls they didn’t have access to back home,” he said.

She likes me for me (I hope)

There are certain elements of dating in Bangkok that lead foreign men to ask themselves a lot of tough questions about why women like them, love them, or are with them.

Many men we spoke to reported questioning women’s motivations. When dating a Thai, they tended to ask themselves if they were together because of chemistry or because she liked his (relatively) big paycheck and the status of having a foreigner on her arm.

David reported being on dates with Thai women and, at times, feeling more like a status symbol than an actual person.

Thompson pointed out how the opinions of friends and family only tend to reinforce doubts. The way he sees it, a Thai woman could be a banker with a bigger bank account than her farang boyfriend, but his friends and family back home will still perceive it the same way.

“If you go home with a Thai girl, people will ask, or even joke, ‘Is she a prostitute?’ They know what happens here. What they really mean isn’t ‘Is she a prostitute?’ but ‘Is she with you for your money?”

He referenced a book he saw in a mall bookstore written for Thai women and foreign men who plan to get married. One of the sections for Thai women specifically addressed how to keep his family from thinking you are a prostitute.

In the case of foreign men dating other farangs and the stereotypical view that foreign women in Bangkok are lonely, Thompson has — somewhat viciously — asked himself of women interested in him: “Is it because you’re into me or have you just been alone so long that it’s broken you?”

Though not the most popular option when a foreign man moves to Thailand, some farang still prefer Western women — and find the playing field very different than it is at home.

Thompson, who is African-American, recalled being with another black guy at a recent art event and having two white women make a beeline for them to chat. “Farang women that would never look at you twice at home move here and, all of a sudden, they are super open,” he said. “It makes you think ‘I know you don’t fuck with black dudes at home’.”

He thinks these women moved here for an Instagram-perfect life and imagined themselves with some standard white stud by their side. He said, “You came here and expected to be with the quarterback but he’s not interested in you, so you have to look at everyone else.” Ouch.

You’ve only just begun

In some cases, the culture shock didn’t fully set in until they got past the fear of judgement and motivation and entered into long-term partnerships with Thai women.

Greg, 34, is a reader that reached out to me with his views after reading the first three articles in this series. He has been in two long-term relationships with Thai women.

“It’s normal — and considered healthy — to spend time with friends in the West and get away from your partner for a coffee or an evening out,” he said. “This can create a lot of tension in a relationship, with [Thai] women believing something more sinister is going on. Upon returning home, I’m often given the third degree as to who I’ve been with and where I’ve been.

“This insecurity — although perhaps understandable, as Thailand has some of the highest infidelity rates in the world — is destructive and leads to resentment. It’s only in recent months that my girlfriend has begun to cool on her line of questioning, but she still has her moments.”

David, the reality TV star, also mentioned humor and entertainment as culture clashes. He mentioned that you probably aren’t going to be sitting down to watch the latest political drama together or telling complicated jokes since most Thai humor is simple, slapstick comedy and mixed couples likely deal with language barriers. “When you go out with a Thai woman, you fall asleep watching Doraemon,” he said.

There can, in some cases, also be differences in experience and maturity that are more cultural than a comment on an individual’s personal development. Grown Thai woman sometimes do like to receive stuffed animals as gifts and feel loved by being sent stickers over LINE all day long. Steven reported going on a few dates with a 25-year-old that had never kissed anyone — and that’s not that uncommon if you go for a non-Westernized girl.

Another thing many men who move here and get into a serious relationship with a Thai woman don’t realize is the different role played by family in the culture.

“Family is more important and traditional in Thailand,” explained David. “You put in more time with them and there is also an expectation to help financially, though that’s more with rural families outside of Bangkok. Wherever the Thai family though, you can trust that they are very important to a Thai woman.”

Said Greg: “Guys can enter relationships not fully appreciating what’s expected of them. I’m expected to spend time with my girlfriend’s family, which is absolutely fine once in a while, but it can be too much. My free time is important to me, and if it’s limited, this leads to resentment.”

Dating in Bangkok can still be a dream come true to many foreign men, who are viewed as rare, prized, and exotic. They often enjoy more attention than they would dream of in their home countries. The truth is, most 60-year-old men could never score a hot young partner at home and the woman with them here probably do have ulterior motives that may exist side-by-side with feelings of love or, at least, fondness. But, as these men shared with us, that’s not the entire story.

*Names have been changed for privacy

Like this story? Read the rest of the series here:

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