A Letter to That Awkward Asian Kid From a White Girl
“How long have you two been dating?”
It had been a long few months, full of challenges that life had decided to throw my way. I had holed myself up in the bedroom while struggling with my demons, but for the first time in a while, I felt like I could breathe again. Seizing the moment, my husband and I decided to get out of the house, a hopeful step in the right direction.
I wanted to move on from the paralyzing grip of depression and be myself again.
He wanted Subway.
As we entered the eatery and approached the counter, I realized how unfamiliar the once comfortable restaurant had become. It had been years since I’d set foot inside a Subway, so I paused to recall how to place an order. What types of bread did they have? Wait, isn’t Subway bread bad for you? Maybe they have a salad option… ugh, maybe I’ll skip dinner again… no, that’s not why I’m here, I need to get better. I need to recover.
Between occasionally answering my husband’s questions and getting lost in thought, it was hard to hear the employee as he tried to make our sandwiches in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, his voice cut through my mind’s fog:
“How long have you two been dating?”
We looked at each other, bewildered. Usually, we were only asked this after cashiers had mistakenly rung up our orders separately under the assumption that we were not together. Asking how long we’d been in a relationship was the immediate follow-up question, a way to ease the awkwardness of the situation that had been created.
Was this the first time someone had asked us right off the bat like that?
Why was that so noticeable?
We looked back at the employee. He was a young Asian guy, probably a college student, with an eager look on his face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” I asked for clarification.
“Uhh, how long have you two been dating?” he pressed, still beaming.
“Oh, we’re not dating. We’re married.” I answered reflexively.
“Cool! Where did you meet?” he continued, his eyes lighting up.
“We met on FaceBook through mutual friends,” my husband responded.
“Oh FaceBook? Wow, that’s awesome!” the employee said.
I buried myself in my phone, as I figured I knew where this line of questioning was about to go and it made me feel a little awkward. I’m not one for the spotlight, but inevitably I end up standing front and center when these interactions occur. It’s always the same — an Asian guy approaches us, asks my husband how he “got me”: a White girl. How I’m supposed to explain what it is about Asian men that I find attractive, how he’s supposed to share some deep, mystical secret that will enable the random dude to snag a Becky of his own. How the conversation I’ve been a part of for over a decade doesn’t seem to have changed, despite the fact that I have.
I’m suddenly tired.
My husband excused himself from the impromptu interview and left to grab a table while I finished up my order. The employee, still grinning from ear to ear, continued to ask me questions.
“Do you have any kids?”
“No, no kids.”
“Oh, okay. I heard that kids sometimes cause problems for the husband and wife.”
“Yes, kids will do that.”
A long pause. I waited for the next script — how Eurasian kids are the most beautiful, how AMWF relationships make healthier families than their AFWM counterparts, how our racial dynamics somehow meant our kids wouldn’t be fucked up.
I’m tired again.
“But…you want to have kids, right?”
“Oh, that’s good!”
He gave me our sandwiches, his eyes twinkling. “Have fun!” he said awkwardly.
I thanked him and sat down, relieved. For once, I avoided the seemingly inescapable pressure that comes with being an idea. The crippling weight that comes with being the solution to someone else’s perceived injustice. The forced neutrality that comes with being “perfect”.
Was I always this tired?
My husband giggled throughout the meal, tickled by the exchange. “Do you think he’s going to go home and go on FaceBook and talk about the AMWF couple he saw at work? Do you think we made his day?” he asked between bites.
It was possible.
He chuckled. “You could tell he wanted to ask more, like ‘how did you get a White girl’, you know? It was so obvious,” he continued.
It was feasible.
We finished our meal and left, but not before the employee went out of his way to bid us one last farewell.
It was awkward.
The symbolic first step forward out of my rut a success, we decided to head home. He played video games, I worked. We relaxed. But for some reason, I couldn’t shake the interaction with the employee from my mind. Every conversation up until that point inevitably turned to praising me for choosing an Asian man and exalting my husband for somehow achieving the impossible in snagging a White woman. Why didn’t this one?
It wasn’t until later that I realized — he just wanted what we all want.
He just wanted to be loved for who he is.
In our attempts to understand some of the most simple things in life, we sometimes make them more complex. The Asian-American online community loves to dissect Asian/White relationship dynamics in excruciating detail to the point where there’s a clear line drawn in the sand between the genders. Asian women want the freedom to date whomever they choose, while Asian men want to be seen as desirable romantic partners. Both sides accuse each other of White worship, and both sides resent being passed over for a White person.
But both sides yearn for the same thing — love and acceptance.
As a Mormon, if I had married a Mormon man, I fear he may expect me to act a certain way or to live a certain lifestyle. I can empathize with the Asian woman who doesn’t want to marry someone she believes holds shared cultural expectations for her.
Due to life experiences, I fear being passed over for someone who is prettier, smaller, and/or thinner than me. I can empathize with the Asian man who has been told he is inadequate due to his stature, his features… his race.
I can empathize only on a basic level, but it’s that level that connects all of us: the need to love and be loved for who we are.
That Asian kid at Subway didn’t want to get a White girl because he places White women on a pedestal — the look on his face was brimming with the youthful naïveté of someone who hadn’t ever considered such a notion. Instead, I believe he reacted that way to us because he saw that an Asian man had overcome his potential insecurities to find someone.
I believe what I saw was hope.
The hope that he wouldn’t be rejected because of who he is on the outside long enough for someone to see who he is on the inside.
The hope of connecting with someone who he can’t stop thinking about and who can’t stop thinking about him.
The hope that maybe — just maybe — someone would want to be with him. To accept him. To love him.
To laugh. To discover similarities. To watch movies or play video games together. To be vulnerable and honest with one another. To work together on shared goals. To enjoy simply being next to each other. To struggle together. To build each other up. To wish each other good night.
To be happy.
So, to that Asian kid at Subway: thank you for reminding me that the simple things shouldn’t be needlessly complicated.
I don’t feel so tired anymore.
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