Moving to Thailand from the U.K. was the best decision I ever made, but it wasn’t without its challenges. I had to leave everything I knew behind, adapt to a new culture, and learn a new language. But the most difficult part of all was navigating the dating scene. Eight years in, I’m still trying to get the hang of it.
As a foreign, single, heterosexual woman, the odds are not in my favor in the Land of Smiles. The foreign men who flock here are generally more interested in Thai women, who they assume will be more submissive, compliant partners.
Thankfully, white men who fetishize Asian women don’t make up the entire dating pool. I’ve matched with lots of Thai men who’ve shown keen interest in me. Offline, however, things can be tricky. Many tend to be reluctant to approach me when there are no screens between us, I imagine due to a combination of the language barrier and cultural differences. Messaging from the safety of your couch can be a good way to overcome those differences, but it comes with its own set of difficulties.
Online dating can play on your insecurities no matter where you are, but in Thailand, even more so. This is partly because of the country’s extreme beauty standards. The body positivity movement hasn’t quite caught on here yet, and the definition of beauty is generally limited to a petite, waif-like appearance. As a naturally larger foreigner, I’ve often felt like an ogre in comparison, especially as the locals think nothing of calling me “fat.” Usually, it’s playful — such comments aren’t considered impolite here. Still, when a man named Jack asked me my weight within five minutes of matching with me, it was an immediate turn-off. He invited me to “grab a bite,” but I declined. I suspect I would have eaten far too much for his liking.
Thailand is filled with those living temporary lifestyles — they’re either traveling through or planning to work here for just a short while. Á constant influx of new people keeps things interesting, but saying such frequent goodbyes can be disheartening. The travelers and short-term expats usually give themselves away with the flags of all the countries they’ve been to in their profiles, which they wear as badges of honor. I don’t write these people off, but as someone who has put down roots here, I’m more interested in where they’re going than where they’ve been.
That brings me to the backpacker bros. Their profiles are full of dreamy Instagram photos, featuring their shirtless bodies layered over white-sand backdrops. Some of them also use selfies with tigers and elephants, but that’s an immediate Nope from me. When we do match, they usually pitch dates with lines like, “Let’s go out for drinks and you can give me some travel advice!” Tempting, but I don’t want to invest too much of my time in people who’ll hop straight from the barstool across from me to their next destination. Instead, I make a point to seek out dates with those who are as settled in the country as I am. This has lead to a few relationships with local men.
First, there was Day*, a Thai-American guy with whom I enjoyed a casual relationship for a few months. We bonded over a love of Muay Thai, the country’s national sport and, well, not much else. Still, I was smitten. Before I was about to leave for a trip home to England, we had the awkward are-we-exclusive conversation. He enthusiastically told me that we were and promised to pick me up from the airport upon my return a few weeks later. But he didn’t. Instead, he ghosted me after finding a new girlfriend. “What did you expect?” he asked when I finally got hold of him. “You weren’t here!” That was the end of that.
Later, there was an intense six-month romance with another Thai man, Neung*. Before long, we were utterly infatuated with each other. Alas, it was too good to be true. Eventually, it transpired that the ex-wife he’d mentioned wasn’t an ex at all, and it seemed as though I’d inadvertently become a gik.
Let me explain.
Gik (กิ๊ก) can loosely be translated to “casual sexual partner.” In Thailand, some men — while it’s much more culturally acceptable for men to have affairs than it is for women, the latter does happen — might have a gik, or several, as well as a serious partner, or faen (แฟน). This essentially allows them to enjoy all the fun aspects of a relationship without any of the commitment. It’s usually a mutual agreement, but Neung had failed to mention any of this when he was wooing me.
My time with him was fun while it lasted, but the realization of my status marked the end of it. I was hurt at first, but I now see my time as a gik as a rite of passage. It was a firsthand introduction to the rules of dating in Thailand. Since then, I’ve had a few giks and faens of my own. Until my next one comes along, I’ll keep flipping through Tinder.
*Names have been changed to protect to the privacy of innocent daters.