Tinderp Tale #14: Let’s (Not) Learn Cambodian!

Once in a while, I long for the ability to talk with my mother about my dating life. I want to be able to complain to her about fuckboys, ask for her advice on whether I should keep seeing someone I feel ambivalent about, cry to her about my shitty first time, the works. Unfortunately, this wish will always remain a fantasy, planted in my head by Western media depictions of mothers and daughters who don’t face linguistic and cultural barriers that could hinder their relationship the way they’ve long hindered my own relationship with my mother. In addition to these barriers was my mother’s apparent apathy on the matter. Not once has she ever tried to ask me about my romantic misadventures. She’ll occasionally wonder when I’ll get a husband, but seems to have zero interest in knowing about the journey it would take to find someone I would want to marry (and vice versa). Not that I’ve ever actually been on that journey or anything. I was having a hard enough time trying to find someone who wanted to see me past five dates, never mind someone with lifetime potential.

I wonder if my mother’s disinterest stems from the naive assumption that I am an innocent virgin who has never been on a date. Which, to be fair, was a mostly accurate assumption until about five years ago. (I was still a virgin then, but went on a bunch of dates for the first time–and was a lot more optimistic and wholesome about it compared to later years.) Or maybe my mother thinks I’m a hoe and when she tells me “Stop spending money and going out, you need to settle down,” it’s really code for “Stop being a hoe.”

But Ma, I would say. I haven’t even started being a hoe. At least let me give it a shot first!

Just kidding. There would never be a conversation with my mother in which that would be considered a relevant or funny response. More importantly, I had no idea how to say “let me try being a hoe” in Khmer.

I wonder what she would say if I could somehow tell her about losing my virginity. About the asshole who clumsily and selfishly took it, then blamed me for letting him when I told him how he hurt me. About endless nights of crying my eyes out until my chest hurt and my bed was littered with soggy tissues.

What would she say?

Well, that’s what you get for spreading your legs. 

tinderp 14.1f

Okay, so maybe my mother and I are better off not talking about this kind of stuff after all.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to say that the disconnect with my Khmer roots is something that has deeply and painfully colored my lived experiences, even though I haven’t really addressed this subject in relation to my dating stories. I mean, it rarely comes up with the guys I meet up with, because talking about the dissonance and trauma of Cambodian diasporic identity isn’t exactly in the top 10 list of hot topics to discuss on a first date. I had also never been on a date or even in a flirtationship with a Cambodian dude–the only potentially romantic situations I could see in which this heavy subject would be culturally relevant to unpack. (Okay, so there was that one guy Minh, but eh, he doesn’t really count.) The dearth of Cambodian dating prospects wasn’t some intentional self-hating thing either. It had more to do with my passivity when it came to interacting with guys, a lack of access to a Cambodian American social circle or community, and the fact that Cambodian Americans are a minority even when only considering Asian America.

However, on a coincidental and meaningless day at the end of 2016, I finally stumbled across a fellow Cambodian American on Tinder whom I will henceforth refer to as Ricky. I have to admit, I was not aware that Ricky was Cambodian when I first looked at his pictures. (Modern day Cambodians are a multiethnic people, okay.) I swiped right because he looked like a cute, vaguely brown boy to me, which was sufficient enough to pique my interest. He was the one who brought up ethnicity immediately.


You matched with Ricky on 12/21/16

Ricky

Are you Khmer?


Me

Yup how’d you guess


Ricky

One of your pictures with the dress was a good clue. Do you know the culture and language well?


Me

Kind of. I speak it conversationally. I’m not as close to my roots as I would like to be but it can’t be helped at this point.

What’s your ethnicity? [yes I know, I was a little slow to catch on ok]


Ricky

I feel you on that. I wish I could speak conversationally, but Ive lost it through the years. Take a guess on my ethnicity


Cue my epiphany.


Me

Wait, are you Khmer? Lol. My next guess would be Filipino


Ricky

Ya, Im Khmer. Ive been mistaken for Filipino though. Being able to speak it, youre closer to the roots than I am lol. Whats missing?


Me

You mean how am I disconnected from my roots?


Ricky

Ya, thats what I meant, sorry


This was an unnecessarily profound question to ask a stranger you literally just met on a shitty dating app, the kind of question I would typically evade answering 100% honestly. But he was the first legit Cambodian guy I had met through online dating, even if his refusal to use apostrophes was sort of annoying the fuck out of me. I ultimately decided our shared cultural identity made this question affirming rather than problematic, and responded from a place of genuine vulnerability.


Me

I’m just really Americanized/Westernized. I had some Khmer friends when I was young but they weren’t good friends so we either drifted apart or I cut them out of my life. I spent most of my life reading and writing in English and even got a degree in it. The few Khmer people I run into don’t recognize me as Khmer. And although I grew up on Buddhism, I’m not very spiritual.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being Khmer or anything. But I do feel a degree of separation from my heritage. Earlier this year I went to Cambodia with my mom and her friend and while I’m glad I went, I did feel like an outsider most of the time that I was there

So what’s your identity crisis story lol


Ricky

Your story sounds similar to mines [sic]. Im very Americanized, even though I grew up around a lot of Khmer people. I understood and could speak the language when I was younger, but now I don’t understand many words and cant speak it properly. However, I was always shy/quiet, with introverted tendencies, when I was younger so it made things worse. I also grew up Buddhist, but I consider myself more Agnostic. My mother is very religious so I only do religious things for her sake. I dont really fit in with Khmer people, but I can somewhat relate based on experiences. Cant say Ive ever been to Cambodia though, lol. Has this identity crisis for you always been there or did it somehow get worst [sic] recently?


Me

Yeah introversion played a big factor in my disconnect too.

It’s always been a thing for me. Just having a lot of complicated feelings about being Khmer American. I think I came to terms with certain things eventually. But the identity crisis did get worse in Cambodia, not gonna lie. Idk. This year has been a tough one for me. Something definitely changed when I came back, I kinda feel like I lost some part of myself somehow. Or like visiting there made me realize how deep my loss was, if that makes sense.

Yeahhhh emo stuff going on lol we can change the subject if you want


He reassured me that he was fine with whatever I wanted to talk about, which was kind of him. Our conversation went on to explore introversion further, then lapsed into a bleak discussion of what a post-Trump-elect era would look like:


Me

I think sadly many reproductive rights, civil rights, and environmental protections will be rolled back or undermined. Hate crimes will continue at an unprecedented rate and [be] sanctioned by the state since Trump has a bunch of racists in his cabinet. Deportations and the wealth gap will probably increase. And we may get into a war or two. Ugh


Ricky

Sounds on par with conservative values and the 1% screwing over the 99%. Republican states will most likely feel the full brunt of it though, case in point, the current political climate of North Carolina. Globally, things are going to look scary for everyone.


I found myself enjoying this intellectual exchange. Apparently he did too, because he asked me out.


Ricky

We should grab a drink sometime and get to know each other better in person


You know someone’s interested if they’re talking to your random ass from Tinder on Christmas Day. I happily seconded his idea to meet up.

tinderp 14.2

He admitted he didn’t go out often, and asked if I had any suggestions. I proposed Lost and Found, a cool bar I had found out about through my brief stint with Meetup (which is the worst mechanism for making friends/getting laid when you suffer from the double whammy of introversion and social anxiety–just speaking from experience). Ricky and I made plans to meet there on a Tuesday night, just two days later.

I felt somewhat hopeful about this date. Hopeful enough to dress really cute, anyway. I had on some tight-fitting pants I purchased for just $4 from a market in Cambodia, a floral sweater I borrowed from my mom, and a dab of coral lipstick on my mouth. What if Ricky and I hit it off? Transformed our bonding over identity crises into some cathartic fucking? What if he was cool enough to introduce to my mom? Wouldn’t she be delighted at her daughter bringing home a Cambodian dude? Wouldn’t that mean I had finally succeeded in her eyes?

I spotted a lone figure outside the bar as I walking over. Ricky…was a bit smaller than expected, but he would have to do. “Hey,” I greeted him.

“Hey, I think this place is closed,” he said.

The bar was dark and empty and very much closed. Oh, shit.

“Oh, shit. Goddamnit. Okay…” I used my phone to look up the nearest bar on Yelp that was currently open. “Oh, how about Luka’s?” Luka’s Taproom and Lounge was a pretty popular place for drinks and food; I had only frequented it once but didn’t recall anything negative about my experience.

Ricky consented to meeting there instead. On the way there, we made sporadic small talk, but for the most part, I focused on getting us to our new destination. Luka’s was literally just a street over from Lost and Found, but I didn’t trust my geographically challenged ass to take us there on my own and was relying on Google Maps to guide me. Once we arrived, we made a beeline for an empty table in the back and seated ourselves. After a waiter took our order, Ricky and I resumed our small talk. I soon found out that he was living at home with his parents because he was taking a break from school and work. This turned me off. Immensely. Like, what the hell was he doing on this date? Shouldn’t he be at home working on his existential crisis? Could he even afford to be on this date? Was he gonna ask me to foot the bill?

A part of me was aware that this was a very classist and reactionary response, and that he might have been taking a break from productivity for the sake of his mental health  or some other totally valid reason, but the other parts of me didn’t have the patience or optimism or even the compassion to give Ricky the benefit of the doubt. I remained turned off for the rest of the evening. Or rather, the rest of the hour, because I definitely didn’t stay for much longer.

It wasn’t just because he didn’t have a job. Ricky reminded me of a little boy–not necessarily because of his petiteness, but because of his demeanor. He was meek, quiet, hesitant. I didn’t like this at all. Ricky had mentioned being shy and introverted in our messages, but I still expected the charm of his personality to shine through somehow. Where was the guy who talked so knowledgeably and confidently to me on Tinder? I found myself comparing him unfavorably to Nick, the asshole who devirginized me. At least Nick had carried himself with the self-assurance of a grown man, even if he was an asshole.

Ricky’s communication style was also throwing me off. At a certain point it started to feel less like a conversation, and more like an interview. He would ask me question after question without really commenting on anything I said, and giving me no time to ask him something in return. It was weird. This dynamic was also probably due to his shyness, but again, I didn’t have the capacity to really sympathize. It then dawned on me mid-conversation that I had never been given this much space to talk about myself on a date with a dude. I decided in that moment to take advantage of this opportunity. Why not? Fuck wasting my time and energy trying to peel back his layers and coax out his true self, whatever that was. This dude was lackluster as fuck, and I was a badass bitch. So I rolled with it. I talked on and on and on about my passion for writing, my interests, my anticlimactic history of online dating. I laughed at my own jokes and gave unnecessary details I would have normally kept to myself. I had zero fucks to give. Maybe my assholishness would ensure his lack of interest.

tinderp 14.3

Nope. After splitting the bill, Ricky offered to walk me to my car. I humored him so I didn’t come off as totally rude. When we got to my car, he asked, “Is it okay if I kiss you?”

“Oh, uh…no,” I said, smiling and getting into my car before the chastened look on his face could leave an imprint on my conscience. I drove away without looking back.

Of course, I was kind of bummed that my Cambodian lover fantasy didn’t end up coming to fruition, and that I had wasted one whole cute ass outfit on some dude I was never gonna see again. And yeah, it would have been nice to date someone whom I could share a history of intergenerational trauma and diasporic Southeast Asian identity with–someone I could have eventually introduced my mom to without being burdened with more worries about the linguistic and cultural barriers that have haunted me all my life. But hey, at least Ricky and I would always have our one cultural bonding moment from the time before. Before he asked me to kiss him, and I declined. Before he realized he was attracted to me, and I realized I wasn’t attracted to him. Before I walked over to him waiting outside Lost and Found and came face-to-face with a disappointing human being, instead of a charming paragraph of carefully chosen words on my phone screen.

Sometimes the Internet is better, and real life ruins everything.

tl;dr Learkana is emotionally fucked up from losing her virginity and goes on another meaningless date in an attempt to fill the void in her heart and her vagina!

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Luka’s Taproom & Lounge
Rating: ***
Review: It’s a decent place to chill with a date or friends, but definitely not my go-to. The aesthetic is too basic. I need divey, eclectic, or upscale–nothing in-between.

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