It was a brisk December night in the Big Apple when I stood under the Washington Square Arch, as the greens and yellows and purples of the skyline glowed in the background. I was already exhausted from walking across Manhattan, having visited the National Museum of Mathematics and walked the High Line, but I also felt excited as I stood in the park waiting for our group of Subtle Asian Daters to form.
It had been less than a month since I joined the Subtle Asian Dating group — SAD for short — on Facebook. For those who don’t know, SAD was created by Asians for Asians to find dates. People post bios about themselves or their friends in order to “auction” them off on the page, while others then “shoot their shot” by messaging those individuals, asking them out.
Occasionally, SAD members organize meet-ups so that people can meet each other in real life. It just so happened that there was one in New York City over winter break. At first I didn’t want to go — I don’t go out very often, and I was already planning on going with friends into the city the following week — but then I thought “Hey, I have two weeks to kill, may as well try this.”
I was nervous in the hours leading up to the event. “Will it be super disorganized?” I thought. “Will the event even happen? Maybe only 10 people will show up.” Indeed, an hour before the meet-up was supposed to start, I found out that it had been pushed back by several hours. Great.
Fortunately some SAD members happened to have already arrived in New York, so for the next few hours I hung out with them drinking bubble tea, the quintessential Asian beverage.
While the turnout ended up being good — around 40 or 50 people showed up at Washington Square — we quickly fell into disarray as we split up and looked for places to eat. But in the end, it was all good. I met new people, ate good food (Shake Shack to be precise) and even showed off my dance skills in a karaoke booth.
Yet I didn’t do the main thing these meet-ups are ostensibly for: find a date for my single self. Indeed, it felt nigh-impossible from the start, given that the male to female ratio was about three to one. And how could I compete with these other men, many of whom were taller, more suave and more charismatic than me?
That is the main problem of SAD. Going on there every day can easily damage your self-esteem when you see people who are more beautiful and successful than you will ever be, and when so many potential partners have standards — for height, beauty, whatever — that you could never meet. Besides, shooting your shot on SAD is far from a guaranteed success; it has never worked for me, for what it’s worth. But for all its flaws, SAD has a purpose.
Being Asian American (or Asian Canadian or Asian Australian) means to have an identity defined by sex and love, and it’s often not in good ways. Being an Asian man often means feeling emasculated, unlovable and incapable of finding love.
Meanwhile being an Asian woman often means to be fetishized, seen as nothing more than a docile and submissive object that solely exists for someone else’s pleasure.
While SAD was created for Asians to find dates, its true purpose may be for Asians to find community. And it is a big community: At the time of this writing, SAD has more than 350,000 members. That SAD has become this large speaks to a need, a need for a space for the Asian diaspora to explore romance, for Asians to love each other as people and not as stereotypes.
With every meme about being single shared in SAD or its sister group Subtle Asian Traits, with every meet-up that intrepid SAD members organize, we bond over our collective struggles, our struggle to find love and our struggle to navigate our identities and figure out who we are along the way.
As the lights of Manhattan faded into the distance and I rode the train back to New Jersey, I reflected on my experience that evening. I may not have found love at the meet-up, but that was okay; romance is a marathon, not a sprint.
And I did find friendship among the other SAD members, individuals that I felt comfortable sharing stories of my personal experiences with as we drank bubble tea and sang karaoke. During our time together, we discussed everything from sex and love to our lives at school and career aspirations, to reflecting on our childhoods and how we have to come to understand our identities as we navigate what it meant to love as Asian Americans.