Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Lonely Hearts Narrative

I’ve written before on Western women complaining about their inability to land a man, Taiwanese or otherwise, here and here. I guess this is becoming a series of sorts. To some extent I still believe everything I wrote before, to some extent I don’t. In my own journey adjusting to celibacy I have found myself joining in this “lonely hearts” mentality from time to time, but if I am honest, the narrative I have been reciting (more or less the same as the other Western women) is not the truth – or at least not the whole truth.

The narrative goes something like this:

I am single because all the white guys have yellow fever and all the Taiwanese guys are either too afraid to speak English or not attracted to white women. (Whether or not the speaker knows Chinese is irrelevant, because it is generally assumed white people can’t speak Chinese at all unless/until they prove otherwise.)

Though there is some truth hidden within this narrative, it is still just that, a narrative. It is a culturally acceptable way of expressing loneliness (to oneself or to others) that blames outside factors, thus leaving the question of the speaker’s desirability out of the equation. This narrative is loosely based on a true story.

So what is the real problem then? Why are there so many lonely hearts in Taiwan? I wish I had a definitive answer to this question, but I don’t. What follows are my guesses, based on mine and others’ experiences in Taiwan, mostly, but not always, in the capital, Taipei. It is also based on answers that Taiwanese men and women have given me and others when directly asked about this.

Because this one topic is clearly too large for a single entry, I will list the answers here, elaborate on the first one, and then follow up with explanation on the rest over the next few days or so. As I am trying to remain open-minded, however, there is a chance my ideas may change. If they do, I will make sure to point out what I got wrong today. So here is the short-story of what is happening:

1. yellow fever

2. white fever

2.1 masculinity is a cultural construct

2.2 cultural differences in expectations

3. language and body language barriers

4. 杞人憂天 (alternate title – not a translation of the Chinese: fear and inability to take risks)

OK, let’s begin.  I put yellow fever at #1 not because it is most important, but because it requires the least amount of explanation. I’m going from easiest to hardest in this list, which subsequently means from least important to most imho.

Yellow fever is suffered by most – but not all – white men in Asia. This should not come as a surprise to any of the expat women here, however, considering the sexual eroticization of Asian women back home. For many Western men coming to Asia is akin to a kid in a candy store and white women look like broccoli. No one chooses broccoli over chocolate. Not all men are so inclined though, and for some a couple of local girlfriends is enough to cure them. This isn’t a jab at Taiwanese women, it is a comment on the difficulty of sustaining a cross-cultural relationship. of course some men will never be cured of this affliction. In those cases I would recommend any pining women to just give up. There are other fish in the sea.

Enough about the white guys. They’re a minority here anyway. So why do white women get so bitter over yellow fever? Tune in next time to find out.




  1. Well done; a structured introspection is the first step for all serious social scientists. Your own (unconscious) “frame of reference” aka “cultural background” aka “sensory acuity” is your first and most important discovery. - Maybe, you could elaborate on this more from an outcome frame. Related to your first sentence (“…to land a man…”), you might ask yourself: “What, exactly, is a man good for?” Find some distinctions on Robert Dilt’s logical levels (e.g. on identity/mission level, where a man could be described (…and landed) as a “provider”, “impregnator”, “sex partner”, “travel companion”, “surrogate father”, “co-worker”, “co-owner of your house”, etc.). – How many different individuals do you need for all these diverse identities/missions? One, two, more? Simultaneously, or one after another?

  2. Excellent question Matt, what is a man good for? As it so happens, after discussing this partially with my friend-who-doubles-as-my-Chinese-tutor we decided I should write a personal ad for my homework this week. I am going to take your comment into consideration while writing it and see what I come up with. Of course while thinking about what I might want I also have to consider your question since many of the things you have listed I can do alone or I have no interest in.

    Off the top of my head I would say a man isn't good for anything that I couldn't find from a woman or from myself, and yet, if I am honest, I've always dated men and I would eventually like to do so again. Why? Because I am human and we are pack animals. Anyway, after I work out an answer to your question for my Chinese homework I will translate it into English and post it here.(Maybe it will even help me finish up the "homework" you gave me due this September:)

  3. I quote you: "I've always dated men ... because I am human and we are pack animals..." - I am sorry, but this doesn't seem very conclusive to me. If I took this seriously I would recommend (i) a membership with a pack of toast masters, (ii) to sing in a choir pack or (iii) to play field hockey in a great hockey pack, depending on your (communication, singing, physical) talents/skills. - Obviously, you date men for another purpose. Go back to my first comment, listen to your inner voice or picture your desired outcome on your internal screen, and find your individual answer/s to my non-trivial question: “What, exactly and specifically, is a man good for, for you?” - You might want to find answers on a mind map, or to write a list… Do it now.

  4. OK, but when I think of a "pack" I am thinking of something like a wolf pack, that lives and sleeps together - family. These "packs" that you mention are social groups outside of the home. There is not, so far as I know, a toast masters commune. Think about it, I live in a hostel. I prefer communal living. For all the excuses I sometime use when explaining to people why I live here, at the end of the day the main reason is that I like living with other people. The only thing missing, for me, from hostel life is someone to warm my bed - literally and metaphorically. What do I mean? Someone as a sex partner, someone to sleep next to, and someone to share a life with (love).

    Other than my empty bed, I really do get a lot of what I need from simply living here at the hostel, but I don't see this as a viable permanent living situation. If enough of the other long term residents left I would lose the sense of family and no longer be happy here, because it isn't random people coming and going every few days that keeps me here, it is the long term residents. (Not that I don't also enjoy the random interesting visitors such as you two.) Whereas I would imagine (ideally) having a lover as a more stable arrangement. The long term residents here are all single and so in making decisions to stay or leave they only consider themselves for the most part - not saying there is anything wrong with that, just a statement of fact. The closer bond and more intimately shared life I would like to have with a partner I would assume that major decisions such as leaving or staying in a place would be made together.

    My list
    1. someone as strong, but preferably stronger than me emotionally & physically
    2. smart enough to challenge me intellectually
    3. passionate
    4. affectionate
    5. mentally stable but not overly rational