It’s the third time you’ve been to this bar this month, you think, as you struggle to open the heavy wooden door in your high heels. The smell of fine whiskey brings a sense of familiarity. You are not a fan of the drinks, especially given the price, but the bar is dark, it’s quiet, and it’s perfect for a swanky first date.
You are wearing MAC lipstick with a pair of shiny earrings that swing as you walk. The two white guys in the corner are clearly giving you a look of interest, but you avoid eye contact as you vaguely remember matching one of them on Tinder.
Your date is already 20 minutes late. He’d better be worth the wait, you think. On your right sits a Chinese girl, talking to a blonde guy in her broken English. She laughs hard at the guy’s stupid joke, and in return he gently lays his hand on her lap. They are definitely going to fuck tonight, you think, and the girl will only realize she’s been used a week later when he stops texting back. This thought almost amuses you, but your smile starts to fade once you realize that she might think the same thing once your date walks in.
Three years ago you walked into this bar for the first time. You wore a pair of flats and no makeup. A guy with green eyes bumped into you, and you started to talk. A week later he asked you out for a drink, and then invited you over to his place to watch a movie on his projector. Later in life you’d realize it was just a trick to get a one night stand, but at that moment you were excited, not only because you had never been with a foreigner before, but also because he was Jewish and an investment banker.
On the cab back to his Andingmen apartment, you were nervous. Is his penis huge? Am I wearing matching underwear? How do I talk dirty in English? A million questions swirled in your mind. But when he took off all your clothes and saw your natural bush down there, you realized that was the thing you should have been worried about.
The sex was average, but you still texted your friends once you got into the cab of shame the next day. It was a long ride from Andingmen back to Jinsong. You kept your eyes closed, thinking about how you woke up next to him earlier, and how the morning sunlight left shades under his long, curly eyelashes. You thought about introducing him to your friends, and how jealous they would be. You thought about taking him back to your hometown for Chinese New Year, and how your grandma would be terrified by his eye color. You even thought about marrying him on a beach in Bali and having cute mixed babies. Evan and Emma, you would call them. Smiling to yourself, you soon dozed off, not knowing that would be the last time you’d ever see him.
Your date walks in and apologizes for being late. He wears a short-sleeve button down which makes you feel over-dressed. He picks up the drink menu and subtly complains about the price. You start to talk in fluent English, trying to prove that you are better than the naive girl sitting at the table next to you. But after finding out that he’s just an exchange student at BLCU, you completely lose interest.
You were not always unlucky in your love life. In fact, you had plenty of good experiences after learning your lesson from the first guy. You slowly learned all the dos and don’ts of dating foreign guys: they split the bill, they need space, they don’t carry your handbag, and they don’t commit easily. You weren’t a player, but you needed to know the rules to be part of the game.
Your efforts paid off. You matched with an American guy on Tantan last year and things worked out great. He worked at a Hutong preservation association and spoke fluent Chinese. After casually dating for seven weeks he made it official. And though that you knew he’d never be as cheesy as a Chinese boyfriend, you liked how he respected your opinions and treated you like an independent woman. But every now and then you still felt unfulfilled, especially when you saw the photos of other couples on your Moments, or when you simply wanted a text message wishing you good night.
Other than that, your relationship was smooth. You saw each other once during the week when he wasn’t going to Quiz Night. You spent weekends together but you left on Saturday morning because he had to practice frisbee. He took you to typical expat activities – a July 4th BBQ, camping on the Great Wall, beer pong championships, and tons of parties: birthdays, going-away dinners, and 5-year China-anniversaries. Your calendar was packed, and you felt happy.
But even so, the social scene with his friends still bothered you for some reason. Although you spoke fluent English even before you met him, you struggled to understand what everyone was saying half the time. Slang like “DTF” and “Netflix and Chill” might be easy to pick up, but a lack of cultural background made it impossible for you to get the reference. You were like the five-year old nobody took seriously, or a doll on his key chain following him wherever he went. You got tired of pretending to get the joke when the whole table burst out laughing. You felt left alone when everyone sang along to an American pop song from the 80s. And you were mildly offended when people said stuff like “Oh my God, you’ve never seen Seinfeld?!?”.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” you said when you broke up with him a year later. You were frustrated. Why don’t you just find a Chinese guy and get married soon like everyone else? You dwelled on this question, but once you thought of the life with a Chinese guy – the macho expectations, the subservience – you knew you’d never go back.
Your date has started talking about how much he loves Yunnan food and how he will become an English teacher after graduation just to stay here. Bored, you start to think back on all the interesting conversations you had with other dates – about football, about Sci-Fi, or about Ming Dynasty history. You actually quite liked one guy in particular, but like many of the foreign guys in China, he decided to move back.
Your date switches the topic, and begins talking about how hard learning Chinese has been. You acknowledge him with a smile, but then you notice his huge biceps. He’s boring but at least he’d be a good fuck, you think. But is a good fuck what you need? In the past two years you have hooked up with a hot Brazilian, an ABC entrepreneur, a French artist, and a Danish architect. You will be 28 years old soon. Shouldn’t you be looking for something more?
Your date offers to pay for your drink, but you reject. You are an independent woman. When you walk out to the main street, he tries to kiss you. But your Uber is waiting, so you tell him to wait till next time.
But there would be no next time, you think, as you close the card door. Outside of the window the fleeting city lights have begun to streak past. You think about how another lovely night has been wasted. The guy texts you to wish you a good night, but you couldn’t care less. Instead you remember your vibrator has run out of battery, and that you’d forgotten to buy new ones.
Damn it, you think. Looks like you’ll have to use your fingers tonight, instead.