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The Asian Dating Dilemma
It Boils Down to Self-esteem and Perception

Blast San Francisco Bureau

It was a simple conversation with an Asian male friend which I didn't give a second thought to at the time.

Me: "She's (an Asian-American woman) having another baby."
Friend: "Who's her husband? Is he a journalist?"
Me: "No, I'm not sure what he does."
Friend: "Is he Asian?"
Me: "Yeah. I think he's Chinese."
Friend: "That's good to hear."

Good to hear? What did he mean? Was it good to hear because all we Asian men usually see in movies or on TV are Asian women with white men? Or because we're bombarded with messages about how women – Asian, white or otherwise – find Asian men unattractive?

Or good to hear because the masculinity of a couple of Asian guys was somehow reaffirmed because this Asian woman had married an Asian man and was bearing his children?

Asian men need to hear this kind of "good" news. By now some of you are probably saying, "Oh no, not another Asian guy whining about Asian women dating non-Asians."

But, hold on. This is much more complex than getting a date on Saturday night. At its heart, this is about how society perceives Asian-American men and how this affects our self-esteem.

I was raised in a small, mostly-white town in the Sacramento Valley, where we were among a handful of Asian families. I hated being Asian in this white world, always feeling both culturally and physically different. I remember telling my sister once when I was in grade school that "everyone was looking at me because I was Chinese."

Even as a child, insecurities about myself and my identity made me ashamed of my own family. Standing out was the last thing I wanted to do so, as a youngster, trips to the grocery store with my parents became painful experiences. Because they don't speak English, I spoke to them in Cantonese. It's a terrible thing to say, but I was always embarrassed when I had to speak to my parents in public.

High school presented a whole new set of problems – girls. I went through the turmoil that defines adolescence, but I think my situation was exacerbated by Asian-male stereotypes. Even back then, the few Asian girls at my high school all dated non-Asians. It would be the first time that I would hear the line, "she doesn't date Asian guys." At the time, I didn't fully comprehend all the implications of what that meant. It just made me feel even more insecure. How could someone eliminate an entire group from their dating pool?

Since high school, I've heard a lot of reasons why. An Asian woman I know says she doesn't date Asian guys "because they're ugly." And I've heard, "I like tall men. Most Asian guys just aren't." Whatever the rationalization, the message is clear – Asian men are somehow unappealing.

It didn't help matters that growing up, I was conditioned by my family to be low-key and not boast about myself. In general, many Asians are like this and I can see how this can be perceived as passivity or shyness. But in the game of love, the one who is able to attract the most attention usually wins.

I consider myself a late bloomer, not dating until college. When it comes to dating, I continue to have a hard time believing in myself, in part, because I think I've bought into the stereotypes of Asian men.

Asian men have never gotten a fair shake in the media. The dominant stereotype projected on society is that they are weak and asexual. Movies and TV are full of examples. Take the movie Fargo, nominated for an Academy Award as best picture in 1996. The small role of Mike Yanagita (played by Steve Park) was employed for comic relief, adding nothing to the storyline. Yanagita, a geeky, bespectacled high school pal of protagonist Marge Gunderson, makes an awkward and desperate pass at his very pregnant friend. Later, he is shown to be a truly deranged individual.

And the list goes on and on: "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Bonanza," "Sixteen Candles," "Miss Saigon."

"There aren't many masculine images of Asian males," says Larry Hajime Shinagawa, chairman of the Sonoma State University American Multicultural Studies Department. "The negative images still exist and they're powerful ones. There's really nothing to offset that."

While it's difficult to gauge the power of a media image, most of the Asian women I know are dating non-Asians. Scan the personal ads, you won't find many women, Asian or otherwise, in search of a single-Asian male. More often than not, the single-Asian females are in search of single-white males.

In fact, there's always been a much higher percentage of Asian-American women than men who date and marry outside their race. In 1990, 24.2 percent of Asian women married outside their race, compared to 12.3 percent of Asian men, according to a study published in the Amerasia Journal conducted by Shinagawa.

Sometimes when I'm introduced to the non-Asian boyfriends of Asian women, an image pops into my head of the guy gloating and flaunting his sexual prowess. For an instant I feel powerless, "He's a better man than I." The moment passes and I realize it's ridiculous, but nonetheless, it lingers in my mind.

Viewing myself through the filter of Asian male stereotypes has warped my self-esteem. I worry about how others perceive me and I'm angry. But my anger is not aimed at the Asian women who won't date Asian men, nor is it aimed at the white guys obsessed with Asian women.

I save the wrath for myself. I'm the only one to blame for feeding my own anxieties. I know now that for the most part, it is just in my mind. Stereotypes, no matter who they're aimed at, aren't real. I wish more people would wake up to this, like I have.