I found myself enthralled with each message he sent, the lightness of our banter and lively discussion over peer-reviewed research and the life of a teaching assistant. I didn’t expect him to message me again, over and over, even wandering outside the boundaries of imgur.com to list his e-mail on my blog’s guestbook page. I noticed shortly after, his account was deleted; yet he created a new one to send me a reminder to register myself on Kik. His persistence perplexed me.
Creating my account, I finally got a good look at him and realized he wasn’t like the boys in my periphery. Darker, fuller lips, facial hair groomed with a meticulousness I still cannot adopt when organizing my dozens of art supplies. Yet when he insisted that a messy room wasn’t a problem, and that I should make myself comfortable, I remained logged into Skype, and we repeated things we shouldn’t have. This was the third exchange of what my upbringing declares unbecoming behavior. He told me, several times, that while his family’s religion prohibited premarital sex, he wasn’t religious himself. Thus, the Skype meetings were acceptable.
Thousands of miles away, he casually mentioned, “Persians and Filipinos are a pretty common mix. I know the reason why.” I wasn’t sure if he was attempting to flirt, as he never told me the “reason.” Though he was kind in telling me I was pretty and smart, and while I continually told myself that I would casually date to sample varieties not presented to me for much of my life (as I grew up surrounded by Caucasian men who commented on my “Asian-ness” like telling a bad joke), I also told myself that I would not fall in love. I would engage in the “fun” shared by others my age, but I would not develop feelings. Somehow, I thought I was “better than that.”
His messages and actions confused and upset me, so much so that I felt his sporadic engagements had to do with my ethnic and socioeconomic status. I was not a medical student and worked a low-paying (yet respectable) government job to save up for graduate school I still wasn’t sure I was “good enough” to attend. Given that our interactions were more casual and liberated with a false sense of security offered by digitalized contact, I shied away from asking what his true intentions were. I found him wonderful, seeking something long-term. He found relationships a time-draining distraction, a shot to his grades and an ache to his much-encumbered head. Yet he told me he was developing feelings for me, and I found myself falling down a pothole that required a call to the fire department.
I’ve long felt a sense of inferiority, flipping through pamphlets of top graduate programs to see clusters of East Asians, but very few Southeast Asians like myself. Education wasn’t stressed throughout my upbringing, though I learned through encouraging middle school teachers that delving in academics would help me drive away from a community where scholasticism is often laughed at as a sign of the dreamer’s arrogance. After all, how could I walk down a path so divergent from my parents, sitting through lectures and reading books that they’d never care to hear of? Are we not good enough for you? The question was loaded enough.
I wanted to be good enough for this boy, though it seemed my endeavors soon lost their interest as our weekly interactions dripped more so with frustrated infatuation and loneliness we clumsily addressed.
I was falling in love with him, and given my limited interactions with men, I couldn’t make sense of his words, actions, and choosing to message me at two in the morning while imgur offered a plethora of girls he could choose from and enjoy, for one time only as a means to discover what he really wanted.
The first two months, I was confident, scoring perfect evaluations at a stressful job and doing well on standardized tests while solely motivated by him, what I thought was his warmth, his caring, and a respect I later concluded was reckless womanizing.
Confused and unsure of how to start a constructive conversation about intentions and words we exchanged, I made a misguided move to peruse interracial dating forums. The boy did not know of an experience I had at a bar, where a man who was also Persian made sexual advances towards me, even licking the inside of my ear to where I pushed him away and stormed out the bar, crying on the way home with a face red with shame.
Dating forums didn’t help. If anything, they confirmed my sense of inferiority. The posts read:
“I’m a Filipino girl. My boyfriend is Persian, though my mother tells me not to take it seriously. Once he’s had sex with me, I’ve served my use. He’ll then leave me for a virgin.”
“I myself am Persian. And I’ll tell you that we’re playboys. We tend to go for the easy women. You know, Filipinas and the Vietnamese.”
“I am a Filipino woman. I know that this relationship will not go anywhere, given that he is a married man, but I’m driving myself crazy over this affair.”
Here I was, driving myself crazy over a boy who could have just seen me as one of dozens of girls he may have already encountered on a regular basis. I wasn’t special. I wasn’t smart. I was spending the past four months striving to achieve, but this seems to often transpire in vain whilst projecting one’s ambitions on someone else.
While words were exchanged that I do regret, I know better than to blanket a group with the acidity of stereotypes. I feel I’ve had my share of that, proving to others that I am competent, independent, and yes, worthy of publishing a book, gaining admittance to a worthwhile graduate program.
I didn’t need medical school to prove my self-worth. Neither did I need to cater to his late night requests, ignoring his disregard for my having a job myself, seemingly ignoring my admittance that I had difficulty understanding what his intentions were as I attempted to express what I thought deserved a chance, even if the chance was granted to a long distance relationship.
The four-month exchange, tumultuous and ambiguous as it was, refreshed me in ways that I was exposed to someone different. Someone I felt society forbade me to interact with because of negative stereotypes and misinformed expectations of whom I must date as a “proper woman.” Though I was hurt, and still hurt over what transpired with a further derailment from the pursuit of an advanced degree, I’m coming to realize that while I shouldn’t expect the best from Internet strangers, I should at least remind myself that we are all human, burdened by imperfections that we inflict and sustain injuries from. Self-serving people exist in every community, though to punish others in certain groups continues to limit and confine, censoring new perspectives and stifling heightened awareness of struggles, oppression, and sadness shared by a culture that once so intimidated you. Insight shines, even through experiences that leave us confused, hurt, and vulnerable. But to garner the most of these lessons presented, we must overcome the temptation to hate, the weakness in hating ourselves, the violence in branding others with the unfortunate outcomes of isolated situations.
In a world of billions, individualism prods clarity. The happenings remain, though they sprinkle the ground with seeds for growth, a blossoming that hopefully empowers as we grow to value ourselves and cherish the differences in others, irrespective of stereotyping, today’s political fear-mongering, and generalized angst.