It was difficult dating after divorce.
For one, I was out of practice. Secondly, being in my mid-forties, I had emotional baggage so substantial that it merited its own postcode.
Yep, that’s me, a fun mix of rabid insecurity and wide-eyed optimism.
And thus, it made perfect sense when I ended up dating a white man.
Who was older than me by 12 years.
People would openly stare at us
Every time we ventured out in public, I was very aware of eyes looking at us, either in mute judgement or silent mirth.
It didn’t help that my partner had a full head of white hair, and it certainly wasn’t useful that he was affectionate and enjoyed hugging me.
The palpable unspoken assumption was that because he was Caucasian and (heavens!) older, I was clearly a delusional woman suffering from Pinkerton syndrome.
Pinkerton syndrome is this perception created by movies/literature that all Asian women are submissive and want a white guy.
There’s also a difference between the stares I get when I walk in some locales and in others. Mont Kiara, Damansara Heights, and Bangsar are okay, whereas the Changkat Bukit Bintang area is a big no-no. Changkat is famous for the white man pick-up and when you go there, people kind of assume that you’re there like a lot of Asian women ie. to poach a white guy.
The older ones, especially white older women, tend to give us that judgemental look. When he was married to his white Aussie wife, her white women friends would complain about Asian girls.
No sympathies for that one when she’s finally used up and discarded *eye roll*
Apparently, we were “stealing their men”. It’s convenient how the man’s part in leaving his wife is forgotten and how the stray husband is merely a helpless pawn in the grip of an Asian girl.
To a slightly lesser extent, I would get judged by Asian men. There’s a sort of ‘why do you date outside your race, are you saying we’re not good enough for you’ feeling.
I feel that the judgement radiating from them was both condescending yet tied with insecurity. Even the most modern and educated Asian man has still a deep-rooted belief in his place as the head of the home.
Many times, I was casually thrown the question as to whether I had tried dating Asian men instead. You fell in love with this mat salleh? Oh, but why?
But the truth is, if an Asian woman has a very liberal way of thought, chances are it will be much easier to find a companion in a white man.
I do feel that at least for the Western side, there is more openness to discussion and the dissection of opposing views. Whereas Asian men either outrightly deny, passively resist or pay lip service to the whole issue.
There were still cultural differences between us
At one point, I didn’t even enjoy going out with my partner anymore and when we did, I was almost afraid of holding his hand.
The weight of a thousand stares from strangers crushed my already fragile self-esteem. The chattering monkeys in my brain literally would not shut up.
In addition, I also had to deal with negative self-talk.
Having once been unceremoniously kicked out of my marital home by an ex-husband who called me and the children ‘motherf**kers’, I was petrified of abandonment.
Normal disagreements with my new man, took on a life of its own. It’d be as simple as him being a bit quiet suddenly.
Immediately my mind would weave together the idea that he was obviously tired of me and wanted to leave. And I would be: sure let’s break up, no problem.
As a fellow divorcee once told me, we’re always one step from walking away.
I remember the surprised questioning as to why I didn’t just tell my employer what I thought about the company using the MCO as an excuse to cut wages.
Was it an Asian thing to avoid unnecessary conflict? He seemed to think so, and simply could not understand why I didn’t ‘fight for my rights’.
He also thought nothing about wearing shoes indoors, and I nearly choked watching him soak dishes in soapy water, then take them out without rinsing.
It tickled him that I liked (read: love) rice and on my side, I’d never seen anyone eat so much toast!
The challenges of being with someone so different
Image via The Diplomat
I started to realise that the challenges of being with someone so different from me was actually a blessing. It certainly kept things interesting!
We had deep conversations about racism, and the microaggressions minorities had to deal with. You know, when someone says Your English is really good for an Asian.
He tried to make sense of the complexities of living in Malaysia, and grappled with the notion of how deeply religion and race were interwoven into life here.
He once said: “I’ve lived in Asia for a long time, so I’ve had some sort of understanding of this part of the world.”
But to me, he only had an understanding of what it was like to be a white man in Asia; he would never know what it was like to be an Asian in Asia.
Not only an Asian, but a woman. Not only a woman, but a female who has to conform to the rules of a patriarchal society, while being a member of a minority race in Malaysia.
The country which embraces you if you win an award that honours it, yet tells you to be silently grateful for being allowed to stay.
The Malaysia that seemed to him to be so ‘respectful’ at a glance, was the same Malaysia where one could be subjected to death threats for wanting to leave one’s religion.
And because I was keenly aware of being a member of a minority race in Malaysia with all its associated hidden meanings, I felt misunderstood.
So yeah, we had difficult conversations. And although he couldn’t truly grasp what life was like for people like me, I admired the way he tried to empathise.
I learnt to make peace with my own insecurity
I also started to realise that maybe it was just me being sensitive to what people thought of us as a couple. So what if they stared?
Ultimately, those who stand in judgement of us as a mixed-race couple, wear their prejudice like the emperor in his new clothes.
I learned to make peace with my own insecurity. I decided that my happiness was not predicated upon the approval of others.
In addition, his maturity also afforded him a certain calmness when dealing with my painfully obvious commitment issues, and he knew how to handle my distress.
I decided that it was enough that my parents liked him, that my friends thought he was good for me. It was enough as long as I thought it was enough.
Today, my partner and I have been together for almost a year. We’ve survived differences in opinion, my abusive past and unfair stereotyping.
We go out a lot now. And I always hold his hand tightly.
For more stories like this read: Dating Older Guys Were Great – Until These Realities Hit Me and Are Malaysian Men Intimidated by a Confident Woman?
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